It all starts with a dream. Patriot Water Heater Co. was approached by the owner of a rustic wedding venue, White Chimneys Estate in Gap, Pennsylvania, to design and install a heating system for a unique space. The event space is a 3,400-square-foot, converted tobacco barn with a massive volume. As you step inside, you feel like you are standing at the entrance of a cathedral. The goal for the owner was to keep the austere, old-world appeal, and introduce new-world amenities and technology.
Meeting with the client
Thomas Soukup, president and founder of Patriot Water Heater Co., sat down with the owner to discuss her specific needs. She expressed that the system must be aesthetically pleasing, ultra-quiet and have the feel of even, soft heat for the event attendees. Soukup was informed that the building was dormant for weeks at a time in the coldest points of winter and would need to have the temperature pulled from below freezing to 70 F as efficiently as possible. She also wanted the controls to be accessible from a smart device for ease of administration and monitoring. The entire structure was also to be made freeze-tolerant and have as little energy waste as possible when the barn was not being used.
The type of building, location on a farm and the unique customer requests are what initially drew Patriot to consult on the project. The company has an affinity for taking on projects that allow it to apply both its design work and installation expertise. Patriot prides itself in out-of-the-box thinking and has a passion for creating solutions for distinctive spaces. Soukup also has a love for historic buildings in his home county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he enjoys dealing with people who look to preserve those legacies and share them with future generations.
After the consultation, Soukup started with a heat loss calculation. The temperature needed to climb more than 60 F at cold start but also be maintained in the building when it was occupied or used for an event. The volume of the building was also a factor; it had 18-foot walls and was taller than 25 feet at its peak. There also was an extreme amount of heat loss that derived from the vintage, non-insulated doors and a 40-foot row of single pane windows that stood 16 feet above the floor. Complicating matters further was only being allowed to use the existing fabric duct system for the air conditioning.
The AC system that was installed was 120,000 BTU for the southern end of the building and 96,000 BTU on the northern end. With Soukup’s calculations and analysis, the building heating need was 238,000 BTU to raise the temperature from cold start in a reasonable amount of time and have no issue in maintaining the occupied temperature. With this amount of heat being put into the building it would allow stability in the coldest, windiest days of the year. This would allow for the venue to extend its booking season by three months.
The next phase was to research and select the proper equipment for installation to achieve the required results. The first thought was to use a direct expansion heat pump. This quickly was disregarded as straight cool systems were already installed. It would not be an energy-efficient solution in the colder months of the year, as it would require a source of backup heat.
The second option on the table was installing a gas, warm air system, as he would be able to get 95 percent or more efficiency out of the unit. It also would be an extremely cost-effective solution. However, two major downsides are the condensate freezing when the building lay dormant and most furnace manufacturers do not approve entering air temperature below 65 F.
As Soukup specializes in hydronic systems, he decided to go with a gas-condensing boiler with hydronic coils in the duct system. The advantages of using a modular hydronic system are plentiful. The system can be zoned to keep the bathrooms above freezing, the ability to add radiant heating and domestic hot water production. When implementing outdoor reset, it lowers water temperature, which in turn means lower energy consumption for the colder seasons.
Putting it all together
The first part of the installation was started on the south side of the building. A 120,000 BTU, 95 percent efficient, X-C series gas condensing boiler by U.S. Boiler Co. was selected. The boiler is side-wall vented, with polypropylene and a through-wall concentric vent terminal. The fuel is supplied via ¾-inch CSST at 2 PSI and regulated down directly before the boiler. This was done so that the fuel pressure and volume will be constantly maintained with the bonus of being able to adjust supply pressure right next to the unit during the startup process.
With the fuel input and exhaust system in place, Soukup laid out the hydronic piping in a primary/secondary arrangement: an all-in-one, closely spaced tee fitting with a valve that is used for hydraulic separation. The boiler loop pipe was upsized as close as possible to the boiler, and laid out to be as simple as possible with just the pump and required safety devices. The central heat loop followed suit in the pursuit of simplicity and contained a pump to satisfy the extremely BTU hungry hydro-coil, the air separator, expansion tank and make up water feed system.
At this point the setup was standard until the electrical aspect, which needed to contain the smart controls that the owner requested. The head end of the multi-stage, Wi-Fi thermostat was installed in the mechanical room to maintain physical security and ease of wiring. Unobtrusive, wireless remote sensors were placed in the occupied areas.
The first stage of heat is attached to the central heat demand on the boiler, which was configured to provide heat based on the programmed outdoor reset curve with a 140-degree max water temperature. The second stage of heat was connected to the boiler’s domestic hot water demand contacts. The boiler’s domestic hot water set point was programmed to 180 degrees and set up in the thermostat based on the temperature droop. This proves invaluable for starting the building on extremely cold and windy days.
After the system was commissioned they had the first cold weekend of the season, as luck would have it. The system performed admirably and the client was thrilled to not have to drag out noisy space heaters to prepare the event space before a scheduled wedding. She reported back that the guests remarked positively to the even, comfortable temperature.
Now that the infrastructure was in place, Patriot is now designing the next phase of the project: to bring radiant floor heating to the entire space, enabling the venue to operate year-round and increase their revenue streams. The ability for the owner to remotely start the system from the comfort of her own home on those chilly days allowed her to spend more time on the things that matter most. She could focus on her brides, their weddings and the way to make their dreams realities.