LANCASTER, PA — What’s really great about being a mechanical contractor is that if you’re building yourself a new shop, you know exactly what you want from the heating and cooling system.

That was where Rhoads Energy Corp. found itself last year. The company started in 1917 for the purpose of selling kerosene to local residents. While the company still sells gasoline, diesel fuel, fuel oil, and kerosene, it has also branched out into hvac service and installation, primarily to the replacement and add-on market.

Approximately seven years ago, the company moved out of an antiquated building in downtown Lancaster and into a rental facility. But that didn’t suit the company’s needs. As president Mike DeBerdine III notes, “We were growing, and we had other office needs. When you’re in business as long as we’ve been in business, you don’t want to be a renter, you want to be an owner.”

They started looking at possibly renovating a building, but then had the opportunity to move back into the city where they wanted to be and to build a new building from the ground up. It took a little time to settle on the heating system, but in the end, it was decided that a radiant system would provide occupants (and customers) with the best possible comfort.

The new facility has its baseboard hot water system on the second floor, radiant heat in the garage and warehouse on the first floor, and a snow-melting system out front and back. All three systems are connected to a single 300,000-Btu-, side-vented, V-9 Oil-fired boiler.

Not The First Choice

Rhoads’ new building, which is still being completed, is a 9,000-sq-ft facility with 4,500 sq ft on each floor. The top floor consists of office space and a conference room, while the bottom floor (basement) is a five-bay garage and warehousing area.

The five-bay garage will typically be used to house and service three Rhoads fuel oil trucks and a lift-gate body truck. The fifth bay will serve as a wash bay or extra space for another truck. About 10% of the basement will be dedicated to warehouse space and a small break room.

Initially the company planned to put in oil-fired furnaces. “But then we asked ourselves why we were messing around with forced-air furnaces when we really know that radiant is the ultimate kind of heat and it’s the best. Then we thought, hey, let’s just do it right because we’re going to be here a long time,” says DeBerdine.

Since radiant heat warms objects and not just the air, it would be able to alleviate the hot spots that air systems provide. Also, with the radiant system, Rhoads will be able to maintain a natural humidity level, lower static electricity levels, and nearly eliminate drafts, thus keeping dust to a minimum in the garage.

The company also decided to put in a snow-melting system in the parking lot as well as in front of the building, which made radiant heat an even more obvious choice. Unfortunately, there were no plans for a boiler room initially, so it became necessary to redesign the building to include a 9- by 12-ft boiler room.

“When we decided to do the boiler room we had a whole new challenge; the floor above the boiler room was already poured, so we had to direct vent it,” says DeBerdine. “We would have liked to have had a natural-draft chimney installed, but the Department of Labor and Industry had already signed off on the blueprints, so it was a challenge to get what we really wanted in the end. It certainly threw a wrench into the contractor’s schedule.”

The Rhoads facility is the biggest radiant floor job the company has ever done. All the technicians pitched in during installation.

Good Marketing Plan

Another reason why radiant heat was chosen was so customers could come and feel the difference radiant heat can make. “We wanted to showcase what we do, and if you don’t put the best in your own facility, you shouldn’t be trying to sell the best to your customers,” says DeBerdine. The company also wanted zoning.

The result is a baseboard hot water system on the second floor, radiant heat in the garage and warehouse on the first floor, and a snow-melting system out front and back. All three systems are connected to a single 300,000-Btu, side-vented, Burnham “V-9” oil-fired boiler. As a Burnham dealer, DeBerdine says that no other product was really considered, although there was another reason why the manufacturer was chosen: They’re local.

“Burnham is a Lancaster-based company, and we always try to throw business locally whenever possible. Customers who are Lancaster County people will ask for Burnham first, so we figured we ought to be showcasing the local product when it’s the most requested product. We also feel it’s the most solid product on the market. We never considered anyone else.”

It was nice having a local manufacturer, because Rhoads could turn to Burnham for help in redesigning the building to house a direct-vent boiler. In addition, the Rhoads facility was the biggest radiant floor job the company had ever done, so all the technicians pitched in during installation. As DeBerdine notes, it was great to educate themselves on their own system.

Rhoads wanted to control its heat by zoning the new facility, and wanted comfortable heat as well.

Helping Hands Create Design

With Burnham’s help, a tubing design layout was created that would deliver optimal heating to Rhoads’ new facility. The design called for 16 radiant piping circuits, each averaging 310 ft in length.

Once the building foundation was laid and the roof was up, the garage floor was graded and covered with stone. Eight 4- by 125-ft rolls of poly double-bubble foil barrier were placed over the stone, and 1-in.-thick polystyrene insulation was installed to insulate the perimeter of the floor slab.

A grid was formed from wire mesh, to which ¾ -in. PEXc barrier pipe was then tied, forming the loops. A second grid was placed over the pipe to add strength to the floor. Six inches of concrete were poured over the entire area; air testing was performed throughout the process.

For the snow-melting system, the same process was followed, and a brazed plate-and-frame heat exchanger was used. A built-in timer can be set to heat up more frequently as outdoor conditions worsen, or less frequently as outdoor conditions improve.

Rhoads’ technicians hooked up all of the piping to a 1 ¼ -in., four-way mixing valve to mix water temperatures. A motor control mounted on the mixing valve provides outdoor reset capabilities. Essentially, the control can sense when the outside temperature is cooler and tell the boiler what it should take to heat a small zone inside. This offers greater efficiency.

Even though the building isn’t quite finished, it’s obvious DeBerdine is thrilled with the results. “Radiant heat is a warm and wonderful heat. We’ll be able to show customers that when we bring them here.”

Publication date: 09/24/2001