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Help setting up a Slant/fin baseboard heating system?

dano415 Member Posts: 22
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     First I want to thank all of you,  for your wisdom.  I'm new to

hydronic heating.  I've read

Siegenthaler(Moderm Hydronic Heating), and scoured the internet for system

ideas.  My goal is to heat a four bedroom house(1300 sq ft).  I'm in

the San Francisco  bay Area. 

I know I should subcontract out the job to a professional, but I don't have the

money.   I would like some input on my proposed system? 

     The particulars of my system:  I live in San

Anselmo, Ca.  The weathers are  pretty mild(gets down to 40 deg.

F).  The house is an old 4 bedroom single story home with single pane

windows, with wood siding.  It's not insulated.  I don't have an

accurate Heat Load yet for the house, but it's coming. 

I don't want to spend

a fortune on the system, but I want an efficient system.

The radiant floor

(plates under the house) looks like a lot of work and expensive?  I’d use Runtal radiators-- if I win the


Slimline baseboard is too expensive, so I decided to go with Slant/fin baseboard.

My proposed system:

1.  I will be use 1/2", or 3/4 inch Slant/fin baseboard. 

Is 3/4" over kill for a 1300 sq. ft.  house?  What do most

contractors use when heating residential homes with fintube emitters?

2.  I'll probably use an energy efficient condensing Natural gas

boiler(cast iron).  Is this typical? Any recommendations on brand? 

It will be under 90,000 Btu/h for sure.

3.  I plan on having three heating zones.  I think I'll use

electrical zone valves? 

4.  Besides the use of zone valves, I further want to put flow regulation

valves on each run of baseboard emitters(on each baseboard).  I want to be

able to regulate the heat in each room. I plan on using simple ball

valves?  Does this sound reasonable?

(The valves will be on all the units).

5.  I would love some input on system piping.  As I stated, I plan on

using a multi-zoned system using zone valves(single circulator and three 

electric zone valves).  I'm assuming the boiler will have the variable

speed motor as an option.

6.  I'm planning on using a 1" manifold(zone header—I’m assuming

their the same, but have different names).   with  three 3/4" supply  outputs. 

I am going to run 3/4" PEX to the emitters.  I am going to run 1/2"

PEX (Parallel configuration) to each emitter on each of the three runs.  The supply will

have three 3/4' pex pipes going back to a return header.  (I will provide

a pdf. drawing if anyone wants.  It probably sounds complicated? 

7.  I was planning on using zone valves that are "normally

closed", so I won't need check valves in the system—right--I'm not sure of this? 

8.  If the boiler I buy only has a (fixed speed) motor, I will incorporate

a differential pressure bypass valve on the manifold.  If the boiler comes

with a variable speed pump, I won't need the bypass on the manifold?

Are these two assumptions correct?

9.   Just one more time—If I have a differential pressure bypass valve on the

manifold—I will not need to use boiler bypass using a a four-port mixing


But, at the end of the job, if the Delta

T of the boiler is still out of spec., 

I will incorporate a boiler bypass anyway(just to protect the boiler

from cycling on/off too many times, and saving energy)?

 10.  I need to install an air purger above the expansion

tank--right?  Do I still need to put individual air vents on the

baseboards, if I use an air purger in the system?   (The boiler will be in the basement.)(Piping and emitters allare above the boiler).

 11.   Or scrap the entire project, and

just go with One pipe system with diverter valves?  I’m almost there. 

Any input will be Greatly appreciated.  I know I need a Psychiatric evaluation.  As gratitude, I can answer most

automotive , or electrical questions—Thanks  Dan



  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I am not a heating professional.

    "The house is an old 4 bedroom single story home with single pane

    windows, with wood siding.  It's not insulated.  I don't have an

    accurate Heat Load yet for the house, but it's coming. "

    If your house is like that, if you have any heat at all now, let me suggest that you insulate the house and replace the windows with thermopane type windows first. This may save you more money than a more efficient boiler, for example. Since that should reduce your heat loss, you might then be able to go with a smaller boiler and save yet more money, both in initial installation cost, and in continuing operating cost.

    You should, of course have your present system checked out for safety first, because there is no point getting killed by CO or fire before you complete the project.
  • Heating System

    I'll try to answer some of your questions.

    - Most contractors use 3/4" baseboard (BB).

    - Some condensing boilers and their manufacturers:

            Munchkin (Heat Transfer Products)

            Prestige Solo (Triangle Tube)

            Knight (Lochinvar)

    Condensing boilers are great for radiant heating where water temperatures are low.  For high temperature BB, the boilers won't condense as much, so savings are not as great. 

    - Yes, you can use ball valves on your piping to regulate flow, but as Siggy points out, the range-ability of the valve would be too small, a minute turn of the handle would greatly change heat output.  There are better ways to do this.

    - If your heat loss is 90,000 BTU's, you will need a 1-1/4" header with 3/4" branches to each zone.

    - The zone valves heating contractors use are normally open.

    - You don't need a 4-port mixing valve for BB heat.  It goes straight to the emitters from the boiler.  And you won't need a differential bypass.

    - The air purger doesn't need to be above the x-tank.  Yes, air vents on each BB and anywhere else that will accumulate air.

    I live in Berkeley and spend a lot of time in San Anselmo (girlfriend) and Fairfax (mtn. biking).  Let me know if you need anymore help.

    Alan Forbes

    [email protected]
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22

    Thanks for your interest.  I will eventually  insulate  and retrofit the house with

    new windows, but right now the house has no heating system--besides

    portable electric oil filled heaters(PG&E loves us).  I plan on sizing the

    boiler a bit  smaller than the current heat calculation calls for--so when the

    remodel is complete the boiler will be roughly the right size.  But right now--

    I want to get the system installed.   I know it's a bit backwards.
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    Thanks Alan!

    Thanks Alan:  I have a few more questions, if you have the time.

    - Most contractors use 3/4" baseboard (BB).

    (Thanks--I'll use 3/4 " baseboard throughout the system)

    - Some condensing boilers and their manufacturers:

            Munchkin (Heat Transfer Products)

            Prestige Solo (Triangle Tube)

            Knight (Lochinvar)

    Condensing boilers are great for radiant heating where water

    temperatures are low.  For high temperature BB, the boilers won't

    condense as much, so savings are not as great. 


    - Yes, you can use ball valves on your piping to regulate flow, but as

    Siggy points out, the range-ability of the valve would be too small, a

    minute turn of the handle would greatly change heat output.  There are

    better ways to do this.

    (Thanks--it makes sense)

    - If your heat loss is 90,000 BTU's, you will need a 1-1/4" header with 3/4" branches to each zone.

    (I'm a little confused here.  I don't need a manifold, but I will need a header.  I can

    make the header(keeping the supply pipes close together--the pipes can't be farther than 4X the diameter of the header pipe(so if I had a 1.25" header pipe, the 3/4"

    supply pipes could be spaced 5", or less?  I'm assuming I can buy a header

    with four ports at any plumbing supply house?

    - The zone valves heating contractors use are normally open.

    (If their normally open--I need to install check valves on each 3/4" supply line,

    in order to keep the water from flowing backwards in the pipe when one or more zones are operating?)

    - You don't need a 4-port mixing valve for BB heat.  It goes straight to

    the emitters from the boiler.  And you won't need a differential



    - The air purger doesn't need to be above the x-tank.  Yes, air vents on each BB and anywhere else that will accumulate air.


    One more question:  Is my system too complicated?  How would you pipe

    a baseboard system?  Without seeing the house and knowing how many feet

    of baseboard,  I know it's a  unfair question--just looking for some guidance.

    Again--thanks for you help. 
  • BB System

    We usually make our own headers out of copper pipe and fittings; it's not hard.  You can also buy headers, but they may not be an "in stock" item locally.  Check online.

    Sorry, I gave you bad information on the zone valves.  I was thinking of something else.  Yes, the zone valves are normally closed and they power open.

    Your system is very un-complicated compared to most.

    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • Slimpickins
    Slimpickins Member Posts: 323
    to heck with zone valves

    You have a perfect opportunity to use a condensing boiler if you're starting from scratch. Size the amount of baseboard to heat at your design temp using 140 degree water. It won't be that much more baseboard in your area. Also consider using TRV's with a remote stat in place of zone valve's and use continuous flow working off the outdoor reset. Throw in a differential pressure pump and you do away with bypass pressure valves and you have the ultimate heating system. 
  • NRT_Rob
    NRT_Rob Member Posts: 1,013
    hold on

    I strongly suggest you spend some money on insulation first and foremost.

    THEN worry about how to heat.
    Rob Brown
    Designer for Rockport Mechanical
    in beautiful Rockport Maine.
  • Slimpickins
    Slimpickins Member Posts: 323
    yes to insulation first

    As NTR Rob and others have said, insulate 1st. That would be the only way my heating suggestion would work.
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    Thanks again Alan

         I'm probably irritating you now, but just a few more questions.

    1.  I looking for a plumbing supply house that will sell me most of the materials I need.

    2.  Traveling to Berkeley is no problem.  Do you, or anyone reading this post, know

    of a reasonably priced plumbing supply house?

    3.  I'm obviously not a HVAC contractor, but I have an inactive general contractors license.   I've emailed a few supply houses around Marin, but no one has called back--I'm assuming my job is too small for their time.  I'll probably spend at least 5K on materials.
  • Supply Houses

    Hi Dan:

    You're not irritating me in the least.  As far as supply houses in the area, I know that none of my suppliers will sell to homeowners. They prefer dealing with contractors for a multitude of reasons.  If you want to do the job on your own, your best bet is to purchase materials on the Internet, but beware of false claims and inferior materials. 
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    Here in New Jersey ...

    Supply houses will sell to me (a homeowner) things like pipe (copper and PVC) and fititngs, vacuum breakers, pressure relief valves, backflow preventer valves and controls such as aquastats. I know that for sure. I have no idea if they would sell me a boiler, but I know my technical limitations (not a contractor), and would not install a boiler myself, even if I could lift one. I can work on 1/2" copper tubing, but I would not try 1 1/4" stuff. I suppose I could screw together iron or steel pipe (never tried it) in the smaller sizes, but I would not want to thread or cut the stuff.

    Of course, Big Box stores will sell me all kinds of stuff, but I tend not to go to them, because of quality issues. Also, they do not sell important things or even know what they are. E.g., vacuum breakers. My heating system does not use vacuum breakers, but my darkroom does. (I do not want photographic chemicals getting back into my water supply.)

    I have bought items on the Internet, but those were things like pH meters, specialized (small) torque wrenches, etc.
  • Hey_Obie
    Hey_Obie Member Posts: 66

    I am a home owner and have been able to find everything I need for heating at PEXSUPPLY.COM. And the prices are way less than at Home Depot. Shipping is free over $300.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    This Example

    Is one of the quirks I hate about giving info. Homeowners come to the Pros and then don't support the Pros by shopping at local wholesale supply houses. It irks me to no end. Yeah go ahead and shop at Pex Supply and then after you get the material come back to the wall and we'll tell you how to put it in. That's supporting the trade that supports you and that's a great job by us in supporting local tradesman.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • DanHolohan
    DanHolohan Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 15,425
    edited August 2010

    perhaps you should ask him why he shops where he shops. Seems to me that would be a great way to learn about what he sees as the advantages of his choice.
    Retired and loving it.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    I buy some things on the Internet.

    I buy some things on the Internet. For example, books, sheet music, some photographic equipment and supplies. Computer parts (mostly): I build my own from standardized parts, and I cannot get them locally anyway.

    Other stuff I buy from dealers near me. Plumbing supplies, for one thing.

    I think, as a homeowner, there are a few reasons for my choices.

    First of all, I hate to buy low quality stuff, because it may well turn out to be no good and I will have to replace it. Other stuff I have to look at in person, or perhaps need advice on what to buy. I cannot tell from the pictures on the Internet if something is carefully machined from good metal stock, or stamped out or cast from pot metal. If I can look at it, I can tell. So, when I need to see something, touch something, get professional advice, get it right away, and so on, it is only fair to buy from the dealer who provides that extra service. He should be paid for this; I think it would be the height of rudeness to look at something, open a box, ask for instructions, etc., and then buy the product on line or at a big box store. Also if something turns out to be unsatisfactory, it is easier to deal with warranty issues with a human being instead of some anonymous URL on the Internet. Remember, if I do not buy from a local supplier, where will he be when I really need him (or her)?

    I am more likely to buy from the Internet if it is a standardized item where I do not need to see the actual product, where I do not need advice, where I am not in a hurry, where the need for warranty service is vanishingly small, or where I cannot get something locally.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    Good Point

    Dan you make a very valid point.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085

    In this case the Pex is the same Pex he would buy at a local supply house. Here's the skinny on PEX Supply. THEY ARE A WHOLESALER that undercuts the trade they are suppose to support and sells to anyone at pretty much trade price. They just front a different company to do it. I don;t even think the contractors in their market that buy from them on the wholesale side even realize it.  
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085

    Dan makes a valid point. Why did you decide to purchase from them instead of your local supply house? Would you have been able to purchase what you needed on your own without the help and advice from the Pros here as to what you needed?
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • Unknown
    edited August 2010
    I hear you Chris,,,

    and without being specific, I know where you are coming-from.

    From a tradesman angle, I concur with your thoughts!

    Whatever cheap-skates will do with pricing, they cannot get what they pay-for,,, so let`s try not to tell him anything.
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,195
    How about this approach

    Share valid productive information, be open and honest with our opinions, and IF there is a problem show up and get paid to properly install the job. In Mass boilers are not sold to consumers from most, note I did not say all< wholesalers. Their reasoning is the liability is compromised by not knowing a licensed installer is working on the equipment. Many manufacturers invalidate their warranties unless their product is installed by a licensed professional. I spent this week installing a higher end toilet the consumer purchased for a mere 20% more than I would have sold it for and it did not come with a seat. Then I had to replace auto mag zone valves that were damaged when a home owner installed the new money saving programmable thermostats. Two weeks ago the circulator was replaced by another company but they failed to notice that the power close zone valves had dead headed the old circulator so they just installed a new 007 to replace the old B&G 100 and even left the old circulator as a door stop for the customer, not even mentioning that the chimney is corroded and the "Magic heat" recovery unit in the breeching pipe of the Burnham oil boiler is not just against code but also a potential hazard for the home owner.

    Some people do not need us to install their stuff as they are satisfied with it simply works, others want it to work well, and others want it to work its very best.

    I have found very little in merchandise on the internet that could not be bought of higher quality and equal or cheaper prices in the real world.

    As always Dan's library is the exception.

    Many times by the third paragraph of instructions people realize this is a trade of acquired skills not a hobby.

    Others are simply broke and need out of a jamb.

    PEX supply has its own set of characters and fans. I find them over priced and the idea of waiting for parts to be shipped in in "a few days" is not professional so I do not even entertain it as an option.

    Taking our ball and going home is probably not very productive.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,195
    One more thought

    Some of the installs by pros are not any better than those done by the homeowners. As long as "They" install equipment I will never go hungry.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666

    "Some of the installs by pros are not any better than those done by the homeowners."

    When I built my darkroom, I did all the plumbing and other work. At the time, I could not afford a professional plumber, and I would not have known how to find a plumber qualified to get all the parts I might have needed. I would have needed to provide him with a complete layout of all the valves, fittings, etc., both for the hot and cold water supply, and the drains. And designs for the sinks (not commercial items). By the time I prepared all the drawings, I would have needed both a plumber and a carpender. It was easier to do it myself. It turns out I had no trouble soldering 1/2" copper tubing because I had many years experience soldering electronic equipment. And gluing PVC drain pipe was easy enough. I had picked up enough knowledge to know the slopes for drain pipe, to use a trap when needed, that I needed vacuum breakers to keep solutions from getting sniffed from the sink back into the water supply, etc. So 100 or so soldered pipe joints worked just fine and no leaks. A professional would probably have used a little less solder on the joints, but I got pretty good by the end. And when anything goes wrong, I know everything in there, why it is there, and how to fix it. After about 30 years, I had to rebuild a Lawler pressure-balancing thermostatically controlled mixing valve, and that was easy enough. I had to get the original valve, and the rebuild kit, direct from their distributer. The nearest I could get from a wholesaler locally was a shower valve that would not maintain the accuracy I needed.

    When I wanted to replace my 50 or so year old oil boiler with a mod|con gas boiler, I knew that was beyond me. Furthermore, I knew it would have to be done according to various codes, and I did not know those. I am not sure if I could have done it myself and just had it inspected by the town, but I did not need those problems. So I hired a contractor with whom I had previous experience at my local Quaker Meeting. And that has been a mixed blessing. At the Quaker Meeting, in an almost 200 year old building originally heated by coal-fired pot beliled stoves, were two gas burning forced hot air furnaces. These were installed by a "professional" (one of "Them"). The building is basically two approximately equal sized rooms. That "professional" merely tied the two furnaces in parallel instead of properly twinning them. So if one furnace heated up slightly faster than the other, the other one got back pressure from the first and its blower would be forced backwards. We replaced a lot of blower motors. The ductwork, in a crawlspace, was not insulated. The ducts from the main ducts went through elephant-trunk hoses to the registers. They were just pushed on and not fastened. So after a while many of them fell off, keeping the ground hogs warm at our expense. We did not know about the ground hogs.

    We had problems with these furnaces in addition to excessive blower motor replacements. These furnaces were serviced annually, but one time one of them did not work right, and was burning with a yellow flame. I knew that was not right, so I called the service man who said it was a gas pressure problem. The gas company measured the pressure and said the pressure was in spec. It turned out that the real problem was that the heat exchanger (5 or 6 vertical flues) had two of the flues plugged with soot. The serviceman had never cleaned them. We got a new heating contractor who knew to clean them every year, and checked and cleaned the burners (lousy design, needed wire brushing every year). But he did not really want to work on our systems because he normally dealt with much larger industrial customers and we were really too small for hem. But he did know his stuff.

    About that time we realized there were problems with the furnaces and ducts, so we tried to locate a suitable contractor. That was really difficult. We wanted to get proposals from three of the better-known contractors around here. One would not make a commitment as to when he could come to see our building. He seemed to think we could open our building and sit around until he came. He would not even pick a day. So he was out. Of the two who came, one glanced around the building and made a quote. We were not impressed, not because the price was wrong, but he did not ask the right questions, and did not seem to really appreciate the difficulties. The other contractor did ask the right questions (e.g., do you get enough heat with the present system); he measured the length, width, and height of the rooms, sizes of the windows, etc. Basically figuring out a heat loss. Looked into our crawl space and found the disasters there. He went away and took a week or so to compute heat loss, etc. We had his company do the duct work first, making it into a two zone system (important, because often we do not use one of the rooms) with insulated ducts. Later we replaced the furnaces with much better ones (removed ComfortMaker and installed Rheem). We also had humidifiers and electronic air cleaners added. These have now been working very well for about 10 years. We have had them do the annual maintenence, and they are OK but not great at that. (Different people seem to do installations, that they are very good at, and maintenance, which I have my doubts about.)

    So when I wanted a pro to do my home boiler replacement and conversion to gas, I picked them. And it was the same. They did a very good installation (except for two minor points), The trouble was when they came for the first annual service. The technician did not have a clue, and did not have the equipment and parts required to do the work. He clearly had never seen the installation manual which details the work to be done for an annual service. I called the contractor several times, and they never called back. I sent them e-mails and got no reply. I wrote them a letter.

    So now I have a new heating contractor who may be better. I will know by next year I guess. Finding a good heating contractor (this is not just a problem with heating contractors) is very difficult. Find A Professional here might have been a help. I am not sure. I did check with that when I became dissatisfied with my former contractor, and there is only one anywhere near here.

    Meanwhile, I have figured out how to measure the pH of the boiler water, adjust the outdoor reset curves, and so on. I have decided not to get a combustion analyzer and set the burner though; I really think that should be done by someone who is trained and does it on a regular basis.

    I just think it should not have been that hard.
  • Hey_Obie
    Hey_Obie Member Posts: 66
    edited August 2010
    Three Types of People

    Chris, You comments kind of set me back a little. Nothing personal. I kind of felt like you don't want me to find the best place to buy supplies and you don't want me to use this web site unless I pay through the nose to buy at a store that supports the pro's.

    I don't know if you work on your own cars, but that would be like me saying that you need to buy all your parts at the dealer to support the local mechanics.

    I think there are three types of people when it comes to any type of project (not just talking about heating).

    1 - There are the professionals that do it on a daily basis.

    2 - There are the individuals who do not have the time or the ability to do it themselves.

    3 - There are the individuals who have the aptitude, ability, tools or skill to try to do it themselves.

    You are a 1 and your primary market is a 2. I think the 1 and the 3 is the type of person who will use this site and not a 2. While the 3 is not your major market, you must still appreciate who they are because they may provide referrals or income in an indirect way.

    I appreciate this web site a lot and all the help I have received from the 1's and 3's that have helped my through my learning process.

    I did buy Dan's book, 'Pumping Away' and I put my Wilo variable speed pump (recommended by people on this site) on the supply side. I was scared, but it is working. Added DHW. Couldn't have done it without this site.

    The reason I mentioned that I use Pexsupply is that I have learned a lot from the site, it saved me hundred's of bucks and I was trying to give back to this website by helping someone out. I was trying to give and not receive.

    Didn't mean to take anything from you. It is just the real world now. The internet has changed how and where people purchase goods. I use ebay all the time. I bought 4 new Taco zone valves for about $40 each versus $80. I bought all kinds of large copper fittings (1 1/4") for a fraction of the price. Check it out.

  • Hey_Obie
    Hey_Obie Member Posts: 66
    edited August 2010


    I went from trying to help someone out to being called a 'cheap skate'. To a plot against me, and I quote, "so let`s try not to tell him anything". WOW

    This is not even worthy of a response.


    As to why I use Pexsupply, I was searching for boilers and supplies on the internet and I came across them. What helps me is that there are good pictures of the products, the searches are good, and the descriptions of products are supplied by the manufacturers, so they are pretty helpful. Also taxes are an issue. Buying out of state at this time is tax free if there is not a store presence in your state. I will have spent about $4,000 by the time I am done, at 7%, that is $280 savings

    The negative for buying on the web is that you can not see or touch. So pictures really help. Shipping charges are negative too. But if over $300, it is free. But even under that, paying for shipping is less than buying at Home Depot. I am in MD and Pexsupply is in Ohio. My products usually get here next day US ground. As a home owner, I can wait a day or too. As a pro, not sure that works.

    I have gone to 2 of my local HVAC wholesalers. While you would think that there is added value in going to the wholesalers, in my area, there is no added value at all. I have to deal with non-professional clerical people who just process orders and the prices are double. I paid $30 for two copper tees 1 1/4". I only go there for unique fittings or if I need something immediately. Sad to say, when I need some advice from experience, I go to my local ACE hardare store because there is a guy in there with 40 yrs experience who is glad to help me with weird fitting issues.

    I hope this helps.

  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,195
    No it should not have been that hard.

    But in this nation we have differing codes and differing training required. There has been a long history of " You do not have the grades to get into college, you should learn a trade." This is part of the dumbing down of the trades. I have been to large cities that used to export contractors to areas like mine and found what is being done there is work I would fire an employee for doing. (This also explains why my father and I have a small shop) What is normal is well below what is a good job. That is why Dan even needed to start this site and write his books. Heating contractors should not need to be consulting Dan as to why the systems do not work., but they do as they can not gain the knowledge he offers in his classes from their employers or mentors. I have highjacked enough of this post and I need to go fishing with the kids.

    Chris best of luck and come back with your questions when you need to.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • "so let`s try not to tell him anything"

    Hey_Obie,,, read my post again.

    I tried not being "specific" to anyone, and apologize to you for taking it personal.

    But I do understand where Chris is coming from.

    Guess I should have used the word "them" instead of "him",, my bad.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    No Offense Taken

    I can understand your frustration concerning pricing and I don't blame you for shopping the best price. That's the American way. Just a quick question. Is there a pro here that is in your market? Could he possible have supplied you with the materials or would you have given him a chance to quote the materials? I'm referring to a trade contractor.

    I think at times we are the best advertising for the internet sites. We give the answers and they just have to ship product. So it becomes a price game. It's really no different than the many post I have read where guys go out and do heat losses, anwser customers questions and quote product. Then a low bidder comes over and undercuts them because someone else did the leg work. 
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    Order Takers

    I hear your there. I'm in New York and I hear that all time concerning supply houses. I have a trade contractor that is a customer in Virigina and also one in California. I ship them everything from boilers down to fittings.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • Hey_Obie
    Hey_Obie Member Posts: 66
    edited August 2010
    I tried to use a pro


    When I first started this project about 6 months ago, I knew very little about water boilers. I knew nothing about DHW, monoflo, pumping away, heat loss calc, radiant heat, outdoor reset, zone valves and buying the boiler for the coldest day of the year. I am very handy, I have renovated three of my residences over 30 year period, but none with hot water heat.

    With that being said, I called one on the local HVAC companies when I knew very little. They sent a nice guy over. Showed him the boiler and he told me I could save 50% on fuel with a new Buderus 215/4 boiler. They added DHW. They were simply swapping a boiler and controls, circulator and adding DWH and removing the old. The price was a little under $10,000.

    As far as sizing, the guy just went around and looked at the existing baseboards and took notes. So no heat loss cal was done.

    Now I have gone on this site and mentioned that I was looking at a Buderus 215, and the guys here consistently say that is way too large. They never put in anything that large in a basic house. They ask me about my heat loss, so I finally did one and I came up with 86,000 in MD with a coldest temp of 10 degrees.

    So what I got from my pro was an oversized unit with Net output of 120,000 firing rate of 1.1 and I figure 86,000 firing rate of .8. So the professional is sizing me about 50% larger than I need. I think $10,000 is very high for what they are bringing to the table. The material may be about $4,000-$5,000. I think $5,000-$6000 to install is excessive. But I understand it is business and you have to make the numbers work. But if you don't like a proposal, you are allowed to look for alternatives.

    If I burn $1500 a year in oil and spend $10,000 to install a new unit, my payback at 50% improvement is a savings of $750 a year. 10,000/750 is about 13 years. I doubt a 215 will save we 50% either. If it saves me 30%, then 10,000/500 is a 20 year payback. I am 57. So I will be dead when I break even.

    On top of that, that is after tax money. So I have to make $15,000 to pay someone $10,000.

    So here is what happened. I went to a pro with the intent of having them install it if I felt it was not cost effective and looking back, they oversized the system because it was the easiest route. I feel that a 13 to 20 year payback is not cost effective, so I was forced to explore doing it myself.

    By doing it myself, for $4000, my payback will be closer to 50% with a smaller unit. $4000/750 is a 5.3 year payback. I can live with that.

    As far as your statement about doing a heat loss calc and then a low ball guy comes in and gets the business, that is truly frustrating. You are doing the right thing and then the next guy comes, saves the customer a couple hundred and you lose.

    The problem is that these are not good times in the construction business. There was a good 15 year run when people made money and were very busy. Now, everyone is fighting to stay a float and competing for the same business. The guys that can hold on for 10 years will kick **** when it starts to rock and roll.

    Let me know what you think about my comments.


  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    doing a heat loss calc and then a low ball guy comes in and gets the business

    "As far as your statement about doing a heat loss calc and then a low

    ball guy comes in and gets the business, that is truly frustrating. You

    are doing the right thing and then the next guy comes, saves the

    customer a couple hundred and you lose."

    My view of this, as a customer, not a contractor, is that contractors should charge for doing things like heat loss calculations. They should at least break even on the cost fo doing this (including their time, depreciation of computer, depreciation of software, fair profit, etc.). That way he would be compensated for that effort in any case. If he gets the order, the price for the order could be reduced by the amount already paid for the heat loss, because the responsible contractor would have to recover that cost sometime or other. And the irresponsible contractor might not know what to do with a heat loss calculation anyway. Heaven help one of his customers.

    The trouble is this. Imagine you are the first contractor in an area that tries this pricing policy. Everyone else does "free estimates." Why would anyone pay for what they perceive they can get for free? It would require something like an area tradesman's association to get all contractors to start doing this at the same time for it to work. And the  ones that do not participate in this might still get customers who do not realize what is really going on.
  • Hey_Obie
    Hey_Obie Member Posts: 66
    I was thinking the same thing

    I would try to charge for the heat loss calc up front. Tell them it takes an hour or two. Do it in front of them. You would have to explain why it is important and why some guys will just put in a larger system. If you charged $100-200, you would save them that much on downsizing one model alone and you'd save them a couple hundred a year in fuel.

    Give them some of your references who could vouch for you, who understand downsizing and you may get the deal. Give your references a couple of bottles of wine or free services if you get a nice deal. References sell more systems than technical skills.

    Do any of you guys send birthday cards to the husband or wife every year. It is a great tool especially if you are sincere. Pay one of your kids to do it. Maybe $.50 a card. If you make business personal, people respond.

    Just my thoughts from being in marketing for 30 years.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,085
    edited August 2010
    JD & Obie

    An estimate is I come to your house. Look at what's there and provided you an estmiated price on replacing what you have. An exact is I do the heat loss, design etc and that costs money. Would you like the estimate or the exact? The exact costs 750 bucks and I will be more than happy to take that off the cost of the job if you choose me. Of course I will explain why a heat loss, proper design etc..

    I think in our industry we have given "estimate" a new definition and have conditioned homeowners to think that an estimate is an exact. They are two different things.

    To anwser your question about trade associations. I did just that. I formed my own here in Hudson Valley NY. We are also an ENERGYSTAR partner.  I have 20 full tradesman members and also leading mfg associate members. Our focus is just that but we have taken the route of high efficiency as our playing field. We feel that education of not only contractors but homeowners in our community it the road to travel.  We have already made in roads with our local gov't sustainability web site and are getting ready to unleash our web site to homeowners in our community. We have a forum section similar to what Dan has produced here as well as a find a pro section.  We have BPI certified contractors and others that specialize in radiant, high eff heating and cooling.

    Right now we are looking at holding classes at the local libraries and communities centers on how to choose a heating contractor and heating 101. No promotion of produtcs etc just educating homeowners on what they should be looking for and questions to ask.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    Your approach sounds really great to me.

    Since I am not a contractor, I was really surprised at what you need to charge for a heat loss calculation. This does not mean I disagree with it. I did three different approaches for my system. And they took quite a while, since I had never done before. First was that I had a 0.5 gallon/hour nozzle in my old oil burner and a Beckett burner in there. They said that would be 70,000 BTU/hr input and I always got enough heat. So that was the upper bound for what I needed.

    I then filled out a bunch of pages on the boiler manufacturer's web site and it came out with around 35,000 BTU/hr. I do not know if that is input or output.

    I then used the Slant/Fin program and it came out with just over 30,000 BTU/hr. These were all assuming it was 0F outside. Since then I found out that the proper design day around here is 14F, so I probably need even less, if last winter is typical anyway.

    The guy from my contractor paced around the house so he knew roughly the ground floor area and proposed an 80K or a 105K boiler, recommending 105K to be on the safe side. By that time I figured out that even the 80K was on the very high side, but the smallest one in the product line. At least it would not have to modulate all the way down on the design day. Having run the thing over a winter, I would be better off with a 40 to 50K boiler that modulates down to about 8K, but there is no such thing in the product line.

    I assumed they knew what my house might need because many of the houses around here use the same plans (a single developer build 1/3 to 1/2 of this town) so they could use similar estimates for each. I guess this is not true because I have all new efficient Marvin windows, walls solid foam, 6-9" of fibreglass in the attic,... so my heat loss must be less than average for around here. So in one sense, their quote was an estimate, although they wrote a contract where I selected which boiler.

    Now for me to do a heat loss, I had to make many assumptions to get the data for the Slant/Fin program. Just what is the R value for the Urea-Formaldehyde foam in the walls? How good a job of it did that contractor do. How much leakage here and there around the windows and doors, and so on. I had to guess and these assumptions could lead to fairly large errors. A professional might be able to make better assumptions, But his time may have been more valuable than mine. Hard to say. He must support himself doing this and I need not. But the nominal cost of the heat loss is not a big deal if he subtracts it from the cost of the job. He has to do it anyway, whether up front, or hidden in the total cost. Unless he does not believe in heat loss calculations.

    Let us pretend that no heating contractor does a heat loss. I suppose I could hire John Siegenthaler's company to do a heat loss. Probably would cost more than $750, if they could even be bothered to do such a job.

    I think your organization doing a heating design 101 class at a local library is a brilliant idea, even if no one decides to do their own heat loss calculations. It could instruct people about what really goes into building a heating system besides getting supplies and screwing or soldering them together. I hope it really pays off. Who knows. If I customer could clearly communicate what he wanted and the contractor could clearly communicate what he proposed to do, there might be far fewer misunderstandings and disappointments. Good for everyone.
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    Wow--had no idea my post would be controversial?

    1.  I didn't mean to start a war.

    2.  I'm an middle aged, tired, broke general contractor.  I'm working as

    a handyman most of the time.  I'm tired and feel overwhelmed most of

    the time.  Plus, I just had to put down my dog--(Chester, you will always be remembered.  He was the sweetest dog)

    3.  The heating system is for my older mother.  She is on a very fixed income, and

    I don't have much money.  Things just didn't work out for me.

    4.  I've put off this heating system for along time. 

    5.  I plan on using a local supply house.  That is-- if they will sell to me(I have an inactive contractor's license).   In the past, I've used Ongaro and Sons,

    San Anselmo, Ca., and they have always been very helpful.  I Hate Home Depot!!

    I try not to shop there.  I could go on and on about the store, but I don't want to

    waste the space.  Again, if I can find a supply house, with a knowledgeable

    salesperson--I will buy from them.  When I state knowledgeable--I'm not asking

    for an expert, but will have the curtsy of pointing out an obvious mistake.

    6.  If I had the money, I'd subcontract the job out.  Reading Siegenthaler's

    1st edition book is something I didn't want to do, but I wanted to do the job right.

    The book is kinda Dry, but loaded with information.  Every time I pick it up, I learn something new.  It's tough to read straight through--at least for me.  And believe

    it or, not, hydronic heating is not commonly used in this  area--most HVAC contractors use forced air heating.  Things are changing quickly though with the popularity of solar. 

    To any of you who think I'm just cheap--why on earth would use Slant/fin baseboard?

    It's so ugly, I'm already looking at making baseboard covers.

    7.  I want to thank all who responded.  A special thanks to Alan in Berkeley. 

    8.  I hope I can ask a few questions in the future?  I really don't know how to give back

    other than what I stated in my first post:  I can answer most electrical, or automotive questions.  I can answer questions on bankruptcy, and Chiropractic(I dropped out

    of a school in the 80's).  You might not like my take on Chiropractic care though.

    Believe me, I'm doing this baseboard job out of desperation. 
  • Like I said,

    I'm in San Anselmo almost every week and would be happy to talk to you about your heating system, no charge.

    Click on "Contact this user" just to the left and get in touch with me.

    All the best,

    Alan Forbes
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    Thanks Alan!

    Thanks again Alan--I think I got things worked out.  I have your email and owe you

    --I know you don't want anything, but  I didn't respond to your email because I didn't want to be pushy, and I've been a hermit lately. 
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    Finally finished Weil Mclain boiler install!

    After a lot of procrastination, two cords of wood, it's pretty much done.

    (Need condensate pump, strap everything, and insulate the Uponor)

    1.   I want to thank the people on this site, especially Alan Forbes(radiant heating).

    He knows his trade and is a nice guy too.  Alan, if you happen to read this, I feel

    you should be teaching, or authoring a book on radiant heating.  The books out there are too basic, or too advance(to many charts and equations), or just give you

    half the information.

    2.  I tried to buy the boiler and baseboard locally, but No one returned my emails,

    and I have a Contractors license--just a B, not a HVAC license. I didn't tell the supply houses I had a contractor's license--I figured a sale is a sale.  I was wrong.   Alan offered his assistance, if I ran into trouble procuring materials, but I didn't want take him up on his offer without paying him.  I ended up buying off the internet.  It went O.K., but buy locally if you can.  I've noticed the site(the site I used) I used is getting bigger, by the month, and so are their prices, but they got the order right(just a few mistakes).

    I don't like their warranty policy though.  My boiler came with a defective display unit.

    They want the part returned in order to replace the part--crazy(IMO), but that's their policy.  If they didn't have that screwed up return policy, I mention their name.  For an

    internet company I was impressed.

    Oh yea, the clock and the date  function on the Weil Mclain ultra boilers are only their for  remembering faults--if any, and the clock is in the display module, not the ultra

    main control board.  One more item;  when you unpack your boiler check every bolt and nut.  I had a wire missing, and a missing bolt(an important bolt). 

    3.  Here's a link to my boiler.

    4.  If anyone needs basic assistance on a project like this(basic boiler and baseboard);  feel free to email me.

    Again thanks heatinghelp---and Alan Forbes(Radiant Heating)
  • lchmb
    lchmb Member Posts: 2,997

    Did you have a tech come in and do a first start on your system using an analyzer? Also, make sure to have it serviced EVERY year. Trust me, it should be done. Also make sure to test the PH level in the boiler water and fix if necessary. The ultra is very specific about this for a reason..
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22

    Thanks for the advise.

    I got a used Bacharach chemical tester off Ebay, and I made a manometer.

    Everything seemed to check out, but I will take your advise and have a professional

    double check it.

    I used the Ph kit Weil Mclain provided and the Ph color was yellow--the color they claim it should turn.

    Again thanks--Any advise is appreciated--I just looked at what Weil Mclain is charging for parts, and it's very high. 
  • dano415
    dano415 Member Posts: 22
    On second thought--


          I've gotten more than a few emails asking for advise installing a Radiant system.

    I am Not a qualified professional.  I made a lousy video and I guess some of you

    thought if this idiot can do it-- I can?  I don't think this is a DIY project.  It is Not a do it yourself project.

    I think you should have a qualified professional like, Alan Forbes(California Radiant),

    build your system.  They have the expertise, know the dangers of CO, have the new digital combustion analyzers--plus they get the parts cheaper.  A guy in an adjacent town just blew up his basement working with natural gas.  I think he's O.K., but every year

    someone gets hurt.

    I will still answer any questions, but just as a layperson.
This discussion has been closed.