Sunday, February 15, 2009


So Kyle at Allen Lumber (our new favorite hang-out; more posts to follow on them soon) suggested that we check out Cocoplum Appliances in Essex Junction. I am so glad we did. Norm was possibly the nicest and most helpful salesperson I have ever encountered. He spent over an hour explaining all of the options and showing me various products, even after hearing our budget. After getting familiar with our project and our desired price point, Norm steered us to the Whirlpool Gold series. He really likes and trusts Whirlpool products. So here's what we ended up purchasing. Norm got us a good deal and we did not pay the suggested MSRP on these (although I provided them for reference).

Whirlpool 24.8 cu. ft. French Door Bottom Mount Refrigerator (Energy Star) [$1899]

Whirlpool Built-In Super Capacity Tall Tub Dishwasher (Energy Star) [$849]

30" Self-Cleaning Freestanding Gas Range [$899]

30" Canopy Range Hood [$899]

Radiant heat

We are going to heat our house via hydronic radiant floors. Unlike baseboard heat that provides warmth by heating the air, PEX tubes carrying heated water will snake underneath the floorboards and generate warmth from the ground up. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, "Radiant heating has a number of advantages: it is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts. The lack of moving air can also be advantageous to people with severe allergies. Hydronic (liquid-based) systems use little electricity, a benefit for homes off the power grid or in areas with high electricity prices."

While hydronic radiant floor systems have become an accepted home-heating method and don't raise as many eyebrows anymore, the particular way we are configuring ours is considered quite unconventional for two primary reasons:

1) Our house will not have a boiler. The system will be powered by a high efficiency Polaris water heater.
2) The same water running under our floorboards to heat the house will be used for domestic hot water (showering, washing dishes, etc.)

The system described above is referred to as an "open direct system." The brainchild behind it are the geniuses at Radiantec, a Vermont-based radiant heat floor company. We're so proud. Here's what it looks like in action.

And here's why the open direct system is the best, according to the Radiantec website:

1 . The open direct system is a combination system getting two uses out of one unit. Stand-by losses of two units are avoided.
2. The money saved from not buying a boiler can be used to acquire a high-quality condensing water like the Polaris.
3. The overall low temperature of the unit improves efficiency.
4. Radiant heating is the most efficient heat delivery system.
5. The overall simplicity of the unit means that parasitic electrical pumping cost is minimal.
6. The flow of cold make-up water through the floor reduces the cooling load in the summer.
7. This nuisance heat is delivered to the domestic water heater where it becomes an energy saving benefit.
8. The open direct system is appropriate for solar energy assistance. (*We are installing two solar hot water collectors.)

While the system makes a great deal of sense to us, it freaks many plumbers out. Like really freaks them out. One, they believe that a radiant heat flooring system without a boiler is blasphemous. What kept running through my head when talking to plumbers about this yesterday (in the process of requesting bids) were the "inconceivable" scenes from The Princess Bride.

[Addition 3/1: I wasted a good 15 minutes of my life watching clips from this movie on YouTube today. Here's a montage of all of Vizzini's "inconceivable" lines. Love it.]

Secondly, they think that anyone with an open direct system will quickly contract Legionnaire's disease. Seriously. I had a plumber tell me yesterday that he was okay with putting in this system if I was okay with Legionnaire's disease. Radiantec has weighed in on this one: "It is our opinion that the risk of Legionnaire's disease in domestic hot water systems is "an emperor with no clothes" that is largely created by special interests groups in the heating industry. Legionnaire's disease is a reportable disease according to law and public health authorities make every effort to determine the cause when it appears. We are not aware of even a single case of Legionnaire's disease that was caused by a domestic hot water based heating system. If it were a real issue, there should be many."

I have to say that my conversations with plumbers yesterday were almost enjoyable. It is exciting to know that we are going to be putting in such an efficient, effective system...and it was fun to convince these folks of our choice...and to have a ready, researched response to their arguments.

Plumber: What type of system are you using?
Me: We're using an open direct hydronic radiant system from Radiantec.
Plumber: With what type of boiler?
Me: No boiler.
Plumber: (Insert some patronizing platitude here). You have to have a boiler.
Me: Actually, you don't. The system is heated solely via a Polaris hot water heater.
Plumber: (Blink, blink) But where's the boiler?
Me: Let's move on. I want to explain to you that all the water for our home will run through this water heater. There will be no separation between the hot water for the floors and the domestic hot water source. Have you ever installed such a system before?
Plumber: Well, that's illegal. You and your family will quickly be stricken with Legionnaire's disease and die.
Me: That's sweet of you to worry but the Radiantec system has been reviewed and approved by the International Code Council, which has been adopted in full by the state of Vermont. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control, there has never been a case of Legionnaire's disease in open direct systems. So I think we'll take our chances.
Plumber: (Blink, blink) What type of boiler are you going to use?

Our super efficient, intelligent, innovative heating system: $10,000.
Proving plumbers that a chick like me might know a little more than they think I do about radiant heat and international plumbing codes: priceless.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Revised house plans

We've made a few updates to the plans in the last couple of weeks so I wanted to post the most current version. We upped the pitch on the mudroom roof from 8:12 to 10:12. We also changed the configuration of the windows on the south elevation. I think the new design looks a bit more modern. We also eliminated two awning windows on the north face (in the kitchen and master bedroom) in favor of more affordable 3'x3' casements.

Window shopping

So I know we've been promising this post for awhile...and, finally, here it is. I've been deliberating the best way to share the information we gathered on window prices and performance. The problem with posting the complete quotes we received from various manufacturers is that you would not be comparing apples to apples. Some quotes included shipping, others did not. In addition, we re-configured some of the windows in our plans in the middle of requesting bids (I know, bad idea) so the window sizes and quantities are not exactly the same from quote to quote. What I ended up doing so that we could keep track of it ourselves was create a spreadsheet in Excel that listed the price from each manufacturer for each window size we requested. That enabled a side-by-side comparison. For the purposes of sharing this information via the blog, we've decided to list the prices we were quoted for the window most used in our design--the 3'x3' casement. Sizing differs a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer but all were able to give us a window that roughly meets these dimensions.

The other reason comparing prices across manufacturers is problematic is that the product from each is not the same in terms of quality, performance, construction, exterior material, etc. It seems too labor intensive for me to track down all of the performance specs for each of the windows we priced out (you'll understand when you see all of the quotes we requested) so just know that fiberglass outperforms aluminum-clad each and every time. Also, casements are more efficient than double-hungs. This is the main reason we have so many casements in our design. If you're interested in the exact u-values for each of the windows listed below, all are available on the companies' websites.

You'll notice that we did not request bids for any vinyl windows. We would like to avoid vinyl if we can.

So here goes. Below are the prices we were quoted for 3'x3' casements. They'll give you a general sense of how the companies compared to one another.

Accurate Dorwin (fiberglass): $434
Fibertec (fiberglass): $466
Inline (fiberglass): $392
Marvin Integrity (fiberglass): $302
Marvin (aluminum-clad): $373
Eagle (aluminum-clad): $310
Pella Pro-Line (aluminum-clad): $241
Jeld-wen Builder-clad (aluminum-clad): $230
Loewen (aluminum-clad): $544
LePage (aluminum-clad): $401

Now the tough part. What to choose. We really, really want fiberglass windows. The Canadian manufacturers (first three listed) are too expensive for our budget. Although we requested one, we never received a quote from Thermotech...but I'm assuming their prices will be similar to the other Canadian brands. We have heard wonderful things about Marvin's Integrity line from a variety of builders. They also speak highly of the company--very responsive customer service, honoring of warranties, etc. Plus, the windows are beautiful. They offer the efficient properties of fiberglass, relatively low u-values (although nothing beats the Canadian companies), and rich wood interiors. They are a bit more than we wanted to spend, however. We are not particularly excited by the most affordable options (Pella and Jeld-wen aluminum clad). But we can't pretend that we have money we don't. We tend to choose the more expensive option when faced with tough decisions (e.g. standing-seam metal roof over asphalt shingles) and need to get real at some point with our budget. Then again, windows are part of the building envelope and that is what we are choosing to prioritize with this build. I have been losing sleep over this. Truly.

Another intriguing option is that Pella's fiberglass Impervia line will supposedly be available in casements starting in March. We met with the Pella rep yesterday and were able to see an Impervia double-hung. Very nice and decent u-values. Perhaps most importantly, the Impervia double-hung and fixed came in at the exact same price as the aluminum-clad. So we know it fits the budget. The downside is that they are fiberglass inside and out. None of that nice, warm wood interior that we've grown to like. But performance comes before aesthetic. So if we can't afford the Integrity, Impervia might be a good second choice.

We've requested one more quote for the Integrity line from another lumber yard. We'll see if they can beat our first quote. We're also going to do some reading on the Pella Impervia to see what the reaction has been to the line.

Best of luck to anyone selecting windows. This has definitely been the most trying and difficult of decisions we have made to date on this house. Please feel free to comment or email me if you have any more specific questions on the quotes we received. Hope this post was helpful to anyone else in our same position.