Challenges of Dry Climate Installations

October 13, 2008
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Contractor Tito Gabilondo positions some of the 180 feet of ductwork he designed and fabricated for a custom-built home in southern Arizona.


TUCSON, Ariz. - Providing optimal home comfort is the task of every HVAC contractor. Yet as any contractor will tell you, it is easier said than done. Contractors must consider a number of factors to accomplish this goal, such as the home’s size and age, in addition to the homeowner’s system preferences and budget. Another important factor is knowledge of the climate conditions for that home.

In the extreme heat and arid climate of the desert Southwest, designing the right HVAC system can be a daunting challenge for many contractors. Yet, Tito Gabilondo, owner of A.G. Service & Repair, Tucson, Ariz., has been providing comfort solutions for his customers for some time now. Part of his success, he maintains, is by providing and fabricating his own ductwork.



CUSTOMIZED PROJECT

Gabilondo, who is a Rheem dealer, recently developed a comprehensive HVAC comfort system for a 3,300-square-foot custom home in southern Arizona. The homeowner, who had recently relocated from the Southeast, was intent on making sure that the system achieved three main goals:

1. Achieve optimal indoor humidity levels;

2. Use energy-efficient products in an effort to reduce energy usage, along with costly energy utility bills; and

3. Provide superior air delivery in every room of the home.

With these requirements in mind, Gabilondo knew he had the right equipment to meet the demanding system needs. But to bring it all together in a comprehensive way, he also relied on his 30 years of experience and the fact that he provides custom sheet metal and ductwork services.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to providing comfort solutions for custom homes,” said Gabilondo. “When you add the extreme desert conditions - triple-digit heat during the day, significant cool-downs at night, and very dry air - you’re forced to look at every HVAC-related option to meet the specific needs of the house and the homeowner.”

For this particular project, Gabilondo installed two (a 4-ton and a 5-ton) 16 SEER Rheem air conditioners and matched them with two 80-percent, two-stage gas furnaces that feature GE ECM® motors. To improve the IAQ in this dusty climate, he installed a Honeywell media cabinet, designed to capture airborne particles. Gabilondo also integrated a premium Protech-branded humidifier into the system. All system components are managed by a two-stage thermostat, designed to provide customized comfort around the clock.

The combination of these different products into one harmonized system more than met the homeowner’s energy efficiency and humidity requests. For example, the 16 SEER air conditioners are Energy Star-rated and offer greater energy efficiency than the minimum government-mandated 13 SEER air conditioners. According to Gabilondo, this system will help manage ideal humidity levels of 40 percent, thanks primarily to the humidifier. This is a welcome relief when entering the home from the extremely arid conditions of Arizona, he added.



Tito Gabilondo, owner of A.G. Service & Repair, works hard to ensure the homeowner has a comfort system tailored to his individual needs. “There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to providing comfort solutions for custom homes,” he said.

FABRICATE OWN DUCTWORK

Yet to achieve the homeowner’s final request - that being superior air delivery in every room - Gabilondo went the extra mile by using his own sheet metal shop and laying the ductwork himself. In his estimation, the effectiveness of even the best HVAC systems can be compromised if the ventilation system and ductwork are not properly designed. In fact, Gabilondo maintains that many existing duct designs in today’s home plans don’t effectively address the zoning and ventilation needs homes require. This lack of detail is critical to HVAC systems, as it can create spotty airflow, he said.

“By fabricating the ductwork myself, I don’t have any wasted materials,” he explained. “I am able to go to the site, see what I need, and then go back to the shop and create it. When you work with fabricating shops, the wait for custom ductwork can be 7 to 14 days. I can visit the jobsite and draw up plans for what I need and go to my shop and have the ductwork fabricated in two days.”

If any changes or modifications need to be made after a contractor sends the plans to a fabricator, “You’re basically out of luck and have to wait until you get it back,” Gabilondo pointed out. “I have the luxury of being able to make those changes as I go along, which does save me quite a bit of time.”

Admittedly, Gabilondo learned early in his career via trial and error. “You find out what duct sizes work and what do not,” he said. “The big issue today is trying to reduce noise levels for the homeowner. Homeowners don’t want to hear anything when they turn the unit on, and I try to find solutions personalized to each home.”

For example, on a different project, the Arizona contractor had to deal with a home that had the mechanical room located in the master bedroom. The homeowner, of course, did not want to hear the system when it was running. Original plans showed the returns underneath the plenum below the unit, but he recommended that the returns be brought up high overhead, inside of an insulated ductwork, in the attempt to eliminate a lot of the transfer noise from the unit to the bedroom.

Another challenge can be taller ceilings. “We have gone from 8- or 9-foot ceilings to 16-foot ceilings, which eliminates the amount of space I have to work with and creates a challenge for the ductwork,” he admitted. “In Arizona, we have a lot of heat and need to insulate the home to keep that desert heat from coming into the home in the warmer months.”



HIS PLANS OF ATTACK

In most cases, Gabilondo meets with the architect after plans are drawn to discuss what, he believes, “needs to happen and what I would like to do.” This way, both parties are able to come to a consensus on the mechanical plan for the home, he explained.

“Architects are involved with all aspects of designing the home. To me, the most important part of a home is the mechanical plan, so I try to create a plan that will go along with the architect’s designs and still suit the ventilation needs of the home,” he said.

To get the job done right on the custom home in southern Arizona, Gabilondo worked closely with the homebuilder, designing the ductwork and customizing the sheet metal to the exacting standards the house required. After more than two weeks and approximately 180 feet of ductwork, Gabilondo developed a ductwork system that he believes provides the right air delivery.

“In this home, some of the ductwork was made from metal,” he said. “As we started framing the house, some of the elevations on the roof didn’t match with the elevations coming out of the mechanical room. These clearance issues coming out of the mechanical room presented a real challenge that required some significant changes to be made in order to keep the ceilings high.”

In order to maintain proper airflow, Gabilondo said he had to reframe a couple openings, plus had to go over the top roof at one section in order to get the ductwork to the other side of the house.

“The home has active returns in all the rooms to make it a more comfortable environment throughout the house,” he said. “It was a little difficult, but it worked out beautifully and the home- owner is very happy with how it turned out. I’ll go back to the home next summer to balance out the system and make sure everything is still working as it should.”



DISTRIBUTOR DEDICATION

Gabilondo is quick to note that his achievements for his customers are the result of true teamwork, not only between the employees of his three-person company, but also with the homeowner, the builder, and his distributor, Heating & Cooling Supply Inc.

“We enjoy the challenge of finding solutions to our customers’ needs or problems,” said Gabilondo. “If you’re not approaching the HVAC contractor business from this standpoint, you’re always going to miss a greater opportunity to help your customers. By bringing together all the different parts and aspects that we did, we provided so much more than what the homeowner actually requested, which is a great reward for us … and the customer.”

Publication date: 10/13/2008

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