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Winter Work

February 4, 2009

The obvious goal during winter construction is heated workspace. This seems to be conundrum for this house, however. We need heat to keep the water lines into the house from freezing, and we need water in the radiant pipes to heat the house. Plus, we need electricity to fire up the furnace and the pump, and propane for the furnace to function to heat the water for the radiant floors. We seemed to be making such progress when the roof and windows were installed, but suddenly it seemed as if we’d hit an obstacle the could knock our schedule off track.

My first impulse was to call the mason and ask him to come and build our Tulikivi fireplace, which I was guessing could supply all the heat we’d need.

Tulikivi Soapstone Fireplace

Tulikivi Soapstone Fireplace

Turns out, of course, that the mortar used in building fireplaces needs heat to set properly, so he won’t come until we’ve heated the building (and don’t need him?)

Temporary heat was clearly called for. Turns out many contractors have access to temporary heating systems which are fueled by propane or kerosene, and in our case both the plumber and Mapletree Building have these systems. It also turns out that these are simple combustion engines, where the combustion waste gases are mixed with the heated air and carry large warnings against indoor use. This building, once roofed and windowed, was too airtight for this kind of equipment.

We did have a post with temporary electric service just down the slope from the house, from which we’d been running extension cords for the power tools. So we decided the simplest method to warm up this four thousand square foot house, full of very cold concrete floors and steel beams, was to plug in a few electric space heaters. The carpenter had one, his assistant had one, I had one and I bought another. Average cost: $39.98, maximum output 1500 watts. We plugged them in and let them run over the weekend, and tried to keep as many of them going as possible during the day, but usually we’d need the circuits for the saws and drills.

Two of the four space heaters heating 4,000 square feet

Two of the four space heaters heating 4,000 square feet

The weather suddenly turned very cold. The water lines to our trailer froze, despite my efforts to wrap the line in heating tape and bury most of it. There were sub-zero days and at least one morning with temps of minus seven degrees F.

iPhone shows -7 degree outdoor temp compared to indoor

iPhone shows -7 degree outdoor temp compared to indoor

Imagine how delighted we were to discover that this big house, with one thousand square feet of windows, could be kept above fifty degrees by running four or five little electric space heaters at night. Of course, for me, this happy outcome triggered the question: why am I spending forty thousand dollars on a propane fired radiant floor heating system when I could have done the job with half a dozen fifty-dollar space heaters?

Just one of the radiant floor manifolds

Just one of the radiant floor manifolds

One Comment leave one →
  1. Henri Fennell permalink
    September 27, 2011 6:19 pm

    Often the HVAC design team and the building enclosure design teams do not coordinate their work. It is more common practice in commercial work to “right-size” mechanical systems to the building load, but residential is sort of “one size probably fits all; or, I’m sure it will be plenty.” Based on the heating load you demonstrate with the small electric heater, this house should have a much smaller combination domestic hot water heater with a loop to provide space heat from the water heater. I expect your hot water needs are well above your space heating needs.

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