Stop to Smell the Flowers (and Check Out the Hvac)

April 9, 2001
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PONTIAC, MI — Local home and garden shows provide an excellent opportunity for manufacturers and contractors to show their wares and talk up their capabilities to homeowners looking to remodel or build a new house.

At the Michigan Home and Garden Show, held recently at the Pontiac Silverdome, there were several hvac-related booths promoting energy-saving products and more.

TAKING THE GEO PLUNGE

WaterFurnace International, Inc. (Fort Wayne, IN) exhibited its geothermal heating and cooling line, including the Synergy3™ system. Integrating radiant floor heating with geothermal technology, this system will provide forced air heating and cooling to ducted zones, while also providing hot water to radiant floor zones.

The efficient geothermal system is said to provide low operating costs, minimal maintenance, and long equipment life. Features include Copeland Scroll® compressors for efficient and reliable performance; variable-speed blower motors for quiet operation; and microprocessor control for intelligent staging and control options, says the company. The system qualifies under the EPA Energy Star® program.

Art Thayer, marketing territory manager for WaterFurnace, also noted that the company is now introducing a new R-410A system in its Premier geothermal line this month.



The Concrete Home Pavilion housed a display explaining the benefits of insulating concrete forms (ICFs).

A CONCRETE OFFER

Wouldn’t a homeowner prefer to live in a house that was cheaper to heat and cool, resisted rot and insects, posed less risk from fire, and cost less to insure? Those are the benefits touted for framing a home with insulating concrete forms or ICFs.

Displayed at the show’s Concrete Home Pavilion, ICFs are made from expanded polystyrene foam and steel-reinforced concrete. After the footings for a new home are poured, polystyrene forms are used to outline the walls and are filled with concrete. A waterproof membrane is applied, then building proceeds as normal.

According to Phil Pellerito of LaFarge Corp. (Wixom, MI), “The basic ICF systems follow three forms: block, which come like Legos; wall panel, which is like a larger block system; and plank, which is built on-site.”

It must be noted that most builders typically charge 3% to 8% more for ICF homes than for traditionally built homes. This means consumers may wince at the higher initial cost — until they consider the energy savings and other benefits, stated Dick Whitaker, president of the Insulating Concrete Forms Association. According to Whitaker, a major advantage of ICF construction is energy efficiency.

“Concrete homes are much more energy efficient than wood homes,” he said. “The concrete wall is encased in polystyrene foam, which makes it a tremendous insulator. It virtually will not permit air leaks, and it helps to maintain a more consistent internal temperature.”

Sound dampening is another advantage.

“People are literally amazed at how quiet a concrete home is,” noted Pellerito. “When the doors and windows are closed, you hear virtually nothing from the outside.”

One more benefit is resistance to fire. Where a normal wood wall might have a 30-min fire rating, concrete walls offer a 3-hr rating.



PROMOTING HOME SAFETY

A complimentary carbon monoxide detector for each visitor was just one of the draws at the Better Heating and Cooling Bureau (BHCB) booth. Sponsored by the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), BHCB contractor members undergo rigorous training to ensure that hvac systems are installed with an emphasis on efficiency and safety.

Participating contractors provided tips on how to prevent home carbon monoxide poisoning, how to avoid “sick home” syndrome, and how to save on utility bills with gas prices going up. Rebates were also offered on air conditioning, heating, and new duct systems.

A topic that remains a hot button with contractors is the struggle with utilities over fair competition, and one member provided the latest word in Michigan.

Walter “Pete” Reckinger III, president of Reckinger Heating and Cooling (Dearborn, MI), said that Michigan’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has promulgated rules for utilities concerning fair competition. Regarding hvac activities, he stated, “The rules say you can’t commingle assets.”

This means that a utility’s hvac operation can’t use the same trucks, the same employees, or any of the same assets as its regulated business.

In developing its rules, the PSC gave all parties involved the opportunity to provide input. On behalf of contractors, the Michigan Alliance for Fair Competition pleaded its case, with both open shops and labor unions involved. Now that the rules have been issued, the utilities have appealed for a rehearing. The PSC may or may not act on their appeal.

Unfair activities are still going on, Reckinger contended. One utility is offering a home appliance service contract, direct from the utility, with its billing. He remarked that there “will probably be years of challenges.”

Summing up the feelings of many of his peers toward utilities, Reckinger proclaimed, “We ought to stick to what we know best and they ought to stick with what they know best.”

Publication date: 04/05/2001

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