John Palecek and Claudia King of Smart Solutions Inc. discuss plans of the Armstrong home.

When it came time to build their 7,400-square-foot dream home in Lewiston, Idaho, Rebecca Armstrong and her family made energy efficiency a top priority. With rising fuel prices, the Armstrongs felt it was imperative to look for practical, alternative solutions to heating their home. Also, with a family member suffering from serious health problems due to prolonged metal and chemical exposure, they wanted a home that minimized toxins and pollutants as much as possible, including those that could arise from any materials used to build their new home.

To achieve these objectives, the Armstrongs turned to Smart Solutions Inc., located in nearby Kamiah. Smart Solutions describes itself as a "high-performance building products distributor, offering specialty design and consulting," with an emphasis on energy-efficiency and healthy living. "What we proposed was a new and innovative indoor comfort system that combined heating, cooling, domestic hot water, and ventilation," said John Palecek, who serves as an engineering/technical consultant for Smart Solutions.

His company and the systems it recommended did not disappoint. Upon completion in the fall of 2005, the two-story, 23-room Armstrong home was estimated to be at least 75 percent more energy-efficient than homes built to the 1993 Model Energy Code benchmark, developed by the Council of American Building Officials.

As a result of Smart Solutions' efforts, the structure recently earned the grand prize in the first annual Uponer Dream Home Competition. Uponor - formerly known as Wirsbo - is a manufacturer of plumbing and heating systems, featuring crosslinked polyethylene (PEX) tubing, for the residential and commercial building markets across North America and Europe.


One of the products Palecek opted to use to achieve optimal efficiency was Uponor's Aquapex® tubing for the home's plumbing system. It was chosen for its installation flexibility and lower cost, and also because it is corrosion-resistant and considered more environmentally friendly than copper pipe.

Aquapex is made of PEX, which eliminates many of the joints necessary in rigid plumbing systems - copper or plastic - thus saving time and money. It has been used around the world for more than 30 years, first in radiant floor heating systems and later for plumbing lines. PEX tubing has a life expectancy of more than 100 years when used under normal operating conditions.

The Aquapex system features ProPEX® fittings, which use the shape memory of the tubing itself to form a fast, permanent, and reliable connection. The connections are made with a ProPEX expander tool that expands the tubing enough for the fitting to be inserted. The tubing then shrinks around the fitting as it returns to its original shape. The result is a connection that actually gets stronger over time. ProPEX fittings allow for visual inspection and eliminate the need for torches, glues and gauges.

"That's one of the things that sold us on Aquapex," said Palecek. "It was important to find something that was flexible and required minimal welding, since we were working with polystyrene in insulated form construction, which can melt or recede when soldering joints."


Palecek made the unusual decision to use Aquapex not only for the plumbing in the Armstrong home, but also for the radiant heating and cooling system. It might have been expected for Palecek to choose Uponor's hePEX plus tubing, which has an oxygen-diffusion barrier, designed to prevent corrosion - not in the tubing, but in the ferrous components in the radiant system. However, since Smart Solutions specified nonferrous heating components - namely brass and stainless steel - that barrier protection was not needed.

Responding to his client's priorities, Palecek opted for radiant heating and cooling over forced air citing his preference for better comfort, health and energy efficiency. With forced air, vents are typically situated on one wall at ceiling level. With radiant, heated or cooled, water flows from the heat source through PEX tubing installed underneath the floor in a looped configuration, with the pipe loops set equidistant from one another.

As a result:

  • Heating and cooling is quickly and evenly dispersed at floor level where it is most needed by the home's inhabitants.

  • The temperature is always consistent from room to room, regardless of location and despite the home's 12-foot to 24-foot ceilings.

    The great room in the Armstrong home, warmed with radiant heated floors.


    "Given the unique nature of this project, it would have been very difficult to install the Armstrongs' plumbing, heating, and cooling system without the use of Aquapex," Palecek said. "I would estimate that we saved more than 40 percent on labor costs alone, since PEX tubing is much easier to work with than copper. We were more than happy with the results - in fact, we were ecstatic."

    Rebecca Armstrong and her family echo that sentiment. She reports that the heating system cost an average $4.23 per day to operate during the winter of 2005-06, including heating, domestic hot water and ventilation.

    "We are extremely pleased with the operating costs," said Armstrong, noting the size of the home with its "exceptionally high ceilings. The rooms have an even temperature throughout, and there are no cold spots. Overall, the entire system is outstanding and far exceeds anything we contemplated."

    Publication date: 11/27/2006