Good building science is at the heart of this residential heating and cooling system's redesign.
“It was like they were speaking a different language.”
That’s what John Goodreds, the owner of this 5,500 sq ft home in Stamford, CT, said when comparing the whole-house comfort proposal made by Climate Partners’ Tom Casey Jr., to the proposals he received from other contractors.
“Tom’s proposal was in a class by itself,” Goodreds says. “The other firms really just delivered a mechanical solution and that was it. Tom’s proposal helped me thinking about insulation, drafts, and efficiency issues. Tom was the only one who came in and delivered a whole-house solution. He also had the patience to explain everything to me.”
What Goodreds calls patience might be better described as passion. Casey is a multiple Quality Home Comfort Award winner, and his previous company was named Contracting Business’ Residential Contractor of the Year in 2001. Since then he has not stood still, but, rather, has appraised the state of the HVAC industry and seen its future: total home performance.
Objectives and Choices
The project started shortly after the Goodreds bought their new home in the fall of 2011. In conjunction with Connecticut’s Energy Efficiency Fund, Climate Partners conducted an energy audit of the home. During the initial visit, infiltration and airflow were measured, and some basic energy improvements (CFL lighting upgrades and water conservation measures) were made. It was recommended that the home’s existing HVAC systems be evaluated for retirement, due to a combination of age, condition, and homeowner comfort issues.
“The homeowners wanted an eco-friendly HVAC system, but didn’t understand and hadn’t considered the whole-home approach for integrated results,” Casey says. “Also, as they had only recently purchased the home, the owners didn’t have years of experience to support their investment decision; they had to rely on good building science being translated into accomplishing their objectives.”
Originally, the project was going to be a geothermal installation. However, after much conversation and review, it was mutually determined that although the geothermal solution itself would be energy efficient, the overall home needed so many other essential energy improvements that it would be inadvisable to pursue geothermal. That’s when the redesign commenced to address the whole home.
“The number one priority was to make core improvements to reduce how the owners used, lost, and wasted energy,” Casey says. “The second priority was to upgrade the existing systems for improved comfort, efficiency, and air quality.”
Climate Partners’ whole-house approach included an attic renovation and encapsulation (including replacement of all HVAC systems and ducts in the attic, and a sealing of all ceiling thermal and pressure boundaries); a basement renovation and retrofit to eliminate the space’s uncontrolled infiltration; and a renovation and retrofit of the garage, which had an exposed duct from the attic that allowed direct communication from the garage to both a bedroom and office above. Only after all of that work was completed was an HVAC system upgrade performed.
Challenges and Solutions
Originally, there were two separate systems installed in a hostile, leaky, under-insulated attic. The situation resulted in excessive ceiling loads for both winter and summer, driving capacity, as well as increasing operating costs to the homeowner. The ductwork and air handlers were subjected to extreme conditions, resulting in excessive duct heat gains and losses, because they were installed outside of the building envelope.
By encapsulating the attic and relocating the temperature and pressure boundary, Climate Partners was able to bring all the ductwork and equipment into the building envelope and reduce the size of the system while improving its overall whole-home efficiency in both heating and cooling modes.
The first floor system was an atmospherically vented furnace connected to leaky, inadequately sized ductwork. On that system, the duct leaks, coupled with an excessively leaky basement envelope, were causing massive humidity and draftiness issues to the basement and occupied spaces above. By addressing the basement envelope, rectifying the ductwork issues, and upgrading to sealed combustion, Climate Partners was able to effectively eliminate the moisture/humidity issues, while driving up the comfort and efficiency of the home.
“The existing systems were a jumble of heat pumps, electric duct heaters, and LP-fired furnaces, plus an LP-fired water heater. This hodge-podge was eliminated and a new, hi-efficiency hydro air system was installed in its place,” Casey says. “Two attic systems were consolidated into one right-sized system, with a two-stage condenser and a variable-speed hydro-air handler, with two temperature zones. The atmospheric draft LP-fired furnace in the basement was upgraded to a right-sized two-stage condenser and a variable speed hydro-air handler, with one temperature zone. A 96% AFUE sealed combustion, modulating boiler was installed to provide both comfort heating as well as meet all the domestic needs of the homeowners.”
Systems were verified and tested at each phase, including multiple blower door tests to confirm progress and results. Upon completion of the entire project, a quality assurance was performed to verify all systems and components performed up to Climate Partners’ high standards. Follow-up inquiries were also made with both homeowners to confirm satisfactory operations.
A Successful Merger
“This project is a real-world example of the successful merger of energy-efficiency programs with integrated whole-home solutions that extend beyond the boxes,” Casey says. “Integrating solutions to the building envelope to reduce consumption and loads with energy-efficient systems results in significantly improved home performance that extends outside system performance only. Integrated solutions are why we were successful in landing this project.
“Other contractors — quality firms — proposed mechanical HVAC solutions only, ignoring the bigger issues that drive the comfort and energy efficiency of a home,” Casey adds. “Integrated solutions such as those we used here are the future of quality home comfort, because professional turnkey solutions must be integrated across all the clients’ goals and objectives. Quality home comfort is more than SEER or AFUE, more than geothermal or renewables: it’s whole home solutions aligned with the clients’ must-have’s.”
Products Key to Success
• American Standard air handlers
• American Standard two-stage, 16 SEER condensing units
• Honeywell zoning system
• Apco ultraviolet air purifiers
• Utica boiler
• Utica indirect water heater
• Goliath secondary drain pans
• Dow Tuff-R rigid insulation
• Tom Casey Jr., project design/management
• Rebecca Lattanzi, project coordination
• Rich Papcun, Mike Coleman, lead technicians