The Codes and Hydronics
Building a framework for an entire industry
What are codes for? Depending on individual points of view the answers can vary but most everyone gets around to indicating they exist in order to ensure the health and safety of building occupants. Construction codes often do much more than this, though. At times, they provide regulation to an industry, a level playing field, or a much-needed starting point for projects and the individuals who make them happen. In some cases, the codes help establish a baseline and foundation for an entire industry.
The Radiant Professionals Alliance is an organization dedicated to the advancement in the use and proper installation of hydronic heating and cooling systems. In an effort to serve this mission, the RPA is intimately involved in the development/redevelopment of the IAPMO Uniform Solar Energy Hydronics Code by providing their expertise and guidance to the development of comprehensive hydronics provision. In the development of these provisions, it is the RPA’s intent to include anything that utilizes water for the transportation of energy, be it for heating or cooling in all settings, including residential as well as commercial.
One of the advantages of codifying radiant and hydronics is that consumer confidence will be significantly increased. In a field that has seen little in the way of formal regulation, the USEHC provides a framework of minimum standards the industry needs in order to further validate the use of hydronic systems and ensure their proper installation. The intent of the RPA and this code is to increase the number of installations that incorporate radiant and hydronics, create a high degree of confidence in these systems and put more people to work installing one of the world’s most highly regarded comfort systems — radiant heating and cooling. This benefits not only the consumers, but also the contractors who install the systems and the manufacturers of the various system components and piping.
IAPMO’s proposed USEHC has made its way through the first phases of code development and is now available for any interested party to read. It is available online by going to www.iapmo.org/codes/aspx.It should be noted the Uniform Mechanical Code also has provisions in it pertaining to the application of hydronics. This code is nearing publication. When completed, a Technical Correlating Committee will make certain the USEHC and the UMC match in all of their related code requirements as it pertains to the application of hydronic heating and cooling systems. However, the USEHC will delve into hydronics in a much more detailed and rigorous level.
Among other things, the hydronics provisions will include requirements for:
- Expansion tanks;
- Floor supply fluid temperatures;
- Maximum floor surface temperatures;
- Radiant tube length;
- System installation and design;
- Heat sources; and
All of these provisions are aimed at safeguarding the health and safety of the public in way that has never happened before in the radiant heating and cooling industry in the United States. For example, the proposed provisions regarding maximum floor temperature will limit the floor surface temperature to a maximum of 85 degrees Fahrenheit in areas where prolonged foot contact is expected. These types of areas would include kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, dens, family rooms and other similar spaces. While some individuals may find it desirable to have a room heated to a higher temperature, evidence has shown that prolonged foot contact to higher temperatures can cause blood circulation problems in small children and the elderly. This may not be a very well known piece of information that, without the framework the code will provide, could very well lead to potentially dangerous installations.
Guidelines for tube lengths and diameters within an installed system will also be addressed. Radiant heating systems function based on the heat from the fluid in the tubes radiating out to the space requiring heating. If the diameter of the tubing is too small or the length of tubing is too long, the fluid in the system experiences too much heat loss before it reaches some of the areas it is intended to serve. This results in an ineffective system that could lead to owner discontent. Incorrect sizing could also lead to systems that are no more efficient than forced air heating systems. Since one of the top selling points for radiant systems are that they are highly efficient, having owners receiving energy bills that do not show any notable savings also will contribute toward an undeserved bad reputation for these systems.
The same principles hold true for the floor supply fluid temperatures. If the temperature of the fluid being pushed through the system is too hot or too cold, the system either cannot provide the comfort level of heating or cooling desired from the system or inefficiencies are introduced that, again, do not lead toward the energy savings people are expecting.
The radiant heating and cooling industry as well as the RPA are focused on growth and do not want the negative impact of poor installations becoming a barrier to that growth. A code like the USEHC takes great steps in providing an enforceable backbone to the industry that benefits everyone from the manufacturer to the installer to the owner.
If you are interested in helping the RPA in the areas of Code Development or in the development of the documents that will support the code and the industry contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.