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Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci was both an artist and an inventor. As an Italian, he knew all about and appreciated early inventions such as naturally heated Roman baths called hypocausts.
Even back then, da Vinci must’ve noticed how these heated spaces tended to melt snow and ice all winter long.
Being a tinkerer, I just know he’d turn an appreciative eye to modern hydronic systems, with tubing to convey warm water under floors and to all sorts of spaces – parking areas, helicopter pads and bridges, too! After all, he designed the most advanced bridges of his time – structures that solved a range of complex problems.
So now that I’ve locked in the connection between da Vinci and snowmelt systems, let’s talk about how these marvelous, problem-solving systems are the highest and most creative expressions of what modern hydronics can do.
“There are no problems just stubborn solutions.”
I doubt da Vinci said this, though it would’ve fit him well. It certainly works for me when I find myself navigating life’s many challenges.
Over the years (and decades), I’ve had the pleasure to meet a lot of interesting and clever people – plenty of modern-day da Vincis. Folks who tend to think outside the box to arrive at brilliant solutions to everyday hurdles.
When it comes to snowmelting systems, one of the biggest pushbacks we hear has to do with cost. Why do we want to spend that much on a system we use just six months a year? Isn’t that the common refrain . . . until we need exactly that one thing? How often do you use the four-wheel drive feature of your SUV? Not every day – but it sure is nice to have when you do.
The truth is, it’s rarely about the cost of something, but more about the cost of not having something. It’s not the cost of the snowmelt system that’s the issue, but rather the cost of not having the snowmobile, an in-ground pool or the high-end sports car. Our clients are going to spend the money, don’t worry about that.
Still, how do we keep costs down and the return on the investment high? Be creative, that’s how. Integrate our solutions. Combine features. Simply simplify. Sometimes less truly is more. Here are ways to do just that:
Make a splash: Pools are a great way to reduce a snowmelt system’s cost and optimize performance. How can a pool help a snowmelt system? Consider this: When are pools typically used? Spring, summer and fall. Most pools use some sort of pool boiler to allow the pool to be maintained at some comfortable level and to help extend the pool use throughout the year. But what about during the winter? Most pool boilers go unused.
That is until we begin thinking about hydronic snowmelting. It’s not uncommon for a pool boiler to be 500 MBH in size, very often just the right size for a snowmelt system. With a little creativity (and a heat exchanger) this typically dormant heat source can be used in the off-season.
Combining the mechanical room’s function allows for the overall cost of the snowmelt system to be lower.
Here vs. there: When we receive a request for a snowmelt design, we usually get a set of plans with a few areas outlined and a note simply designating “snowmelt areas.”
Most people think of snowmelt as an all-or-none situation. If it’s snowing in the front of the house, odds are it’s going to be snowing in the back as well. Although this is true, one thing we rarely consider is how often both areas are used at the same time.
If it’s a residential space, we may want the front drive snowmelted as a priority while the back patio may be more of a convenience. If it’s a commercial space, it might be the parking lot vs. the loading dock. Consider that employees come to work every day, but deliveries may only be made once or twice a week.
In this case it may be possible to set the priority zone to melt automatically with a control, such as with tekmar’s 670 snowmelt controller. The secondary zone (the loading docks in this case) may be controlled with a manual start with an automatic stop feature.
This type of control strategy helps reduce the overall cost of the mechanical room requirements (boiler size, for instance) and operation.
Daisy chain: Another variant to consider is more of a “rolling” system. This is where the overall snowmelt project is broken into multiple zones, like a parking lot, loading dock, and let’s add an exterior patio. Let’s assume these three areas each have a snowmelting load of 200 MBH making the total load 600 MBH.
In a daisy chain, or rolling operation, a system’s configuration may be set up to snowmelt one area, then another. Using tekmar’s 671 or 654 snowmelt controls, up to 12 distinct areas can be chained together. In this configuration, Zone 1 calls for melting and runs until it’s satisfied – then the control shifts over to Zone 2 and runs until melted. This pattern repeats for each zone until all are satisfied.
This type of system helps keep the overall mechanical room size smaller and helps to reduce the overall system cost.
Hidden possibilities: Commercial projects are loaded with hidden possibilities. Some facilities, such as hospitals or power plants, use steam.
A natural byproduct of a steam system is the return condensate. Even though this water is generally much cooler than the steam it came from, it’s still very hot – much hotter than what might be needed for a snowmelt system.
It may be possible to interface with the return condensate line via a heat exchanger and divert some of those unused BTUs to snowmelt.
A similar solution can be found in every small town in America – at the local grocery store. Every town has at least one and inside is an array of coolers and freezers. These units extract heat from the frozen food section and then vent that heat to the atmosphere.
But what if that heat wasn’t just lost to Mother Nature? If a heat exchanger is added to the system, the waste heat could be captured and directed out toward the entry. Very little is required in the way of a mechanical room add-on, allowing the system to be very low cost to install and operate with a high return on investment. No more wet slippery floors at the entry!
I don’t think there is anyone out there who wouldn’t agree with the concept of what a snowmelt system means and the benefits they offer. All we need to do occasionally is to tap into our inner da Vinci and be a bit more creative with what we have in order to make those benefits larger than we initially thought possible. I’m certain Leonardo da Vinci would approve. l
Kolyn Marshall is a systems design engineer for North Andover-based Watts. He has been with the firm for 25 years. His responsibilities include radiant heat and snowmelt, ACV, Powers and IntelliStation systems designs, customer service, and conducting professional seminars regionally and nationally.