Hydronic Upgrade!

When we brought the new high velocity air handler online, we had made a temporary connection to the radiant manifold with 3/8″ pex tube. While this would help us get through the cold weather, it did not provide for the second air handler, and the control for the slab in Harley Haven was wonky. This also did not position us for a chiller to provide air conditioning.

We went with the classic primary water loop, with secondary loops connected with a pair of closely spaced tee fittings. We were able to get a tee/valve assembly – the valve allows to fill/ purge the secondary circuit easily.

This feeds into a mixing valve which reduces the water temp going into the air handler or radiant slab. This goes into a circulator.

Once this is assembled, we can connect it to the air handler. (Or at least hang it next to it).

The upstairs air handler was not in use, so we were able to connect it all the way. We also included a drain valve at the bottom of the unit. We also have a pair of shut off valves at the top so we can isolate the mixing valve and circulator for service. This unit also had a 14″ return vent above the equipment, so we had to hang it from the blower module.

With the secondary loops in place, we could start in the primary loop. The first part was the connection to the boiler. This was basically a secondary loop, so it has much of the same valves and pump.

From here, we have a purge/drain valve, followed by a loop shutoff valve, followed by air purge unit, pressure regulator and expansion tank (all valved for easy service) another valve and the primary circulator. All of these valves make it easy to purge air from the system after service.



Next up, we had to power and control the circulators. We installed a 6 zone Taco zone controller. This included a circuit for the primary loop, as well as for each secondary loop. The boiler pump connects to the aquastat. The zone controller also tells the aquastat when a zone needs heat.

Since most of the circulators were not below the controller, we came out of the bottom of the controller with EMT, and looped it up to some junction boxes for distribution to the pumps.

The radiant panels (the few that were still in place) are offline now. The electronic valve controls are dead – note putting control boxes below valve manifolds is a bad idea.


A breath of fresh (or at least warm) air

With the windows and door in place, and basically sealed, we were able to relax a bit – no more snow blowing into the kitchen and feral cats running about inside.

We were able to start holiday preparations, albeit with some distractions like Joyce’s fender bender (no people hurt, but lots of damage to “her baby”)

20140120-195645.jpg. We also were able to connect with the folks at “Operation Snip”, a trap, neuter, return operation, who came and trapped 6 feral kittens, neutered them, and returned 5 (one got kept for adoption). They even came back and took the kitten who broke in and put her up for adoption.


But even with the new windows in place, the cold weather was coming and we needed to do something. When I had the outside wall open, I had pulled in two lengths of 2″ duct for a high velocity HVAC system. Poking around my email archives revealed the design for the HVAC for the house we did 5 years back when the ceiling was open. A quick review of the design, a few emails, and a pile of parts was on its way from Unico. Actually it was delivered by Comfort WinAir in Green Island. These guys were very helpful.

The first order of business, was to locate the return air plenum. This would really drive where I could locate the main air handler. Years back, when I installed an AV cabinet in the living room, I had rigged up a filter in the bottom to help cool the stacks of equipment. Well, the march of technology has reduced the stacks to a single AV receiver. What was even better, this spot was well located given the other equipment. So, I needed to cut a hole in the bottom of the cabinet for the return grill.

20140120-204817.jpg and then install the plenum adapter in the basement. Access was a bit challenging, but I got it in.

20140120-204954.jpg. But despite the pipes and conduits, I was able to sneak the 14″ return duct into place.

20140120-205104.jpg The next step was to assemble the blower system – a cold air return module, a chilled water coil, and finally the blower module. I first had this on a dolly so I could move it around until I found a good spot. Once it was in place, I could start adding the supply duct 7″ round pipe with an insulation wrapper.


With the supply duct in place, I could start tapping it for the 2″ branch ducts.

20140120-210048.jpg. The taps were pretty easy to install, but the hard part was to drill holes in the floor for the outlet ports.

20140120-210606.jpg. The sun room added a second floor to drill through, so we added an extension to the bit.

20140120-210845.jpg. With a bunch of ports in place, it was time to switch the Nest thermostat to the new blower.

20140120-211118.jpg. The last bit of blower work, was to measure the output flow for each port. For a 2″ port, you can simply multiply the speed in knots by 2 to get the CFM for each port.

The blower has a computer link that lets you adjust the blower rate and rpm. The pretty well matches the output values we measured.


At the moment, all of the heat comes from a 3/8″ feed from the radiant manifold. Next up, the new piping.

Upgrading windows and opening doors

Now that the new windows and doors were on site, and my brother was available for an extra long weekend, we started work in the sunroom. The first step was to rig up a tarp over the windows and deck so we would have a sheltered work area.

20131110-204457.jpg. Since we would be opening up the wall, we also needed to isolate the sunroom from the rest of the house, both to keep the inside cats inside and the outside cats outside, and slow down the weather. We built a plastic enclosure around the back side of the fridge, re- installed window sashes in the center window, and installed an exterior door (from Kevin!)



With the site secure, we could start removing the existing windows. We started with the picture window – this was a salvaged window with a steel frame. We thought might have a use for the glass, so we took that out and set it aside.



With the windows out, it was time to move the new door up to the deck. We put some planks on the stairs, and used a come-a-long, and some ropes to move the door upstairs.


The sunroom is built on top of a porch roof, so there are two floors – before installing the door, we needed to reframe the wall and extend the floor.



With a new floor, we added new wall framing and set the door in place.


With the door in place, we started on the big window next to the door.


Before we could close up the wall, we pulled in some power cable and flex conduit to allow for outdoor lights and services.




After a visit from a furry inspector, we started on the upper windows. The wind was picking up, and really blowing the tarp around.




But we finally got all of the transom windows installed, which really cuts down the wind inside!


Escaping the rain, missed deliveries and a place to stand.

With the stairs and wiring in place, we are almost ready to start decking, but first we have to install the RainEscape system. This is a set of collectors between each joist


20131022-200427.jpg that are fed with troughs between each joist.

The RainEscape was installed in two phases, the first goes next to the house. Once that was in place, we did a temp set of deck boards to determine where the starting board needed to go.

With the position of the first deck board established, we could finally start decking.

A call from Home Depot – the doors and windows for the sun room and finally arrived! The main door was too big for the trailer, so I asked them to deliver the order. A few days later and the truck arrives with the door. Just the door.

So, hooked up the trailer and off to HD, where they got the rest of my order.

But, I was able to fit all of the windows and parts into the car and trailer.

With the windows unloaded and stored in the south wing, work resumed on the decking. This included an inspection from Feral Mom One

But work continues.


Treading lightly

A few fair days midweek gave me a chance to install the railing posts on the stair stringers. A little extra blocking helped stiffen them a lot.

With the rail posts cut, it was time to switch the chop saw back to the Trex blade, and start what my buddy Kevin calls “The Money Cuts”, turning a pile of 16′ planks into 4′ stair treads. Rather than move the saw outside, I was able to work through the open door.


With the treads cut to length, the next step was to route grooves for the hidden fasteners we are using to attach the decking. Using a story pole for the location of the grooves helped move the process along.


Things got a bit tricky making the cutouts for the posts, but the jig saw was up to the task.

20131006-214038.jpg. I eventually finished all the treads, and made enough shavings from the router to fill a 5 gallon bucket.

The next task was to install the low voltage landscape wire for the post lights. The basic plan was to install a loop of cable all around the deck, with loops for each post. The first step was to drill and punch holes in the joists, add a bushing to protect the cable, and start pulling it around. Since I couldn’t pull around corners, I pulled extra cable at each corner, until I has it all the way around.



With the low voltage wire in place, including another conduit run into the house, I could start the RainEscape install. This was cut short due to rain.


Step by step, some rough electrical ( and old electronics ) and some distractions

The house next door is being sold, and as a result, we are loosing the garage we have been renting for 15 or 20 years, so one day was spent clearing out a lot of stuff!

20130929-212034.jpg. I also took this as an opportunity to repack my store of antique vacuum tubes ( antique might be redundant when talking about tubes. ) this seemed to be a good use for a bunch of empty cat litter buckets.

With the paint on the stair stringers dry, the next step (so to speak) was to install the stringers.


Home Depot called, they had cleared the paint off the second door. So a quick trip with the trailer to get that, and while I was there, picked up some conduit fittings, so I can do the rough electrical for the deck. We had decided on two power circuits, with outlets on each of the big posts below the deck

As well as power on two of the posts above the deck.

20130929-213905.jpg the conduit on the north side went in ok, but on the south side, the blocking was different, so I changed tactics and drilled some holes for the conduit.

20130929-214112.jpg. I actually started with the drill, and switched to conduit punches for larger holes.

Along with the two power circuits, I added a run of 1″ conduit for low voltage stuff. Had to do a bit of field bending on this to avoid interfering with the RainEscape system.

20130929-214609.jpg. A few minutes with the heat gun, and I was able to tweak the path of the big tube. The rest of the runs got converted to smurf tube once they were run into the house. The last bit of wiring was setting up 5 ceiling boxes (which required more blocking). Used a laser to mark the path for the conduit that needed a series of holes through the joists.

20130929-214953.jpg. This project also proved to be a good workout for my PVC cutter – a nasty looking tool, but quite effective.

Maybe I can get to the stairs next weekend.

Post time, stairway too.. And start of phase three

Had some good weather forecast for the week, so took a few more days off from work. First up, was to finish the posts for the railings

20130922-204823.jpg. There were a few different configurations, but all involved more blocking. In a few cases, we need to trim the “ears” from the end of the block joist so it can slide into another joist.




There were some delays in the project – the folks two doors down we’re having a large tree taken down, and I had to observe some of the activities.


With the posts done, we started on the stairs. The first step is to lay out the cuts for the treads, using a framing square and stair guides. This was my fathers framing square; I expect it has been used on a lot of projects.




On e the first one was cut, and dry fit, it acted as a template for the rest of the stringers. This generated a good size stack of pressure treated triangles.


Once they were all cut, I painted them, which will be easier to do before they are install.
As part of the next phase of the project, we are replacing windows and doors in the back room, which includes French doors between the kitchen and back room. Home Depot said that these doors were in (the rest of the order is expect next month). But, one of the doors had a splash of paint on it! This would make it much harder for Joyce to stain.

20130922-211024.jpg. The other door was ok, so we loaded it on to the trailer and moved it home.