Cool Current Today: Air Conditioning and Back-Up Heating - Page 3

Air conditioning and back-up heating systems that offer comfort and reinforce the modern aesthetic


A Marin county heating firm that works on Eichlers has been exploring a new way to provide radiant heat in modern homes. Rather than excavating through the slab to replace broken pipes, Bob Reid of Reid Heating & Energy suggests installing radiant panels on the ceiling, along the beams, similar to the Valance option.

"When your radiant heat fails, there are not a lot of options," Reid says. "Some people convert to baseboard or forced-air heating, and it's not as comfortable as radiant heat. When you put radiators or baseboards along the walls, you also deal with issues such as furniture placement." Aesthetics is also a consideration.

Reid's Twa (pronounced 'twah') panels, manufactured by Twa Panel Systems, can be mounted one or two per room, attached to water pipes atop the roof. The pipes are inconspicuous, Reid says, and the boiler usually fits into a closet. Plus, with additional hardware, the system can provide cooling as well.

The panels are roughly three inches thick, and range in size from two-by-four feet to four-by-eight, though sizes can be customized since panels are made to order. Panel colors can also be custom-ordered, and include dark colors to match natural wood.

"Radiant ceiling panels have been around forever," Reid says—but not in Eichlers. They are popular in commercial work, and work as well in residential, he says.

The panels work like the original Eichler radiant heat systems—heating objects in the room, not the air. The system is quieter than forced air, Reid says, and much easier to install than baseboard heating.

Installation of Twa panels takes about a week in a standard Eichler. Heat versions cost between $15,000 and $24,000. "If you don't have a high-efficiency boiler, your cost goes up to as high as $30,000 total, depending on the boiler model," Reid says. To add cooling to the same system, he suggests tacking on an additional $12,000.

"The beauty of the Twa system is that it gets people back into radiant heat," Reid says.

Appealing Financial Incentives

Paying for a new air-conditioning or supplemental heating system can put a major crimp in finances. Thankfully, the Federal government and local utility companies are offering a number of tax credits and product rebates to encourage homeowners to install more energy-efficient heating and air conditioning.

Homeowners can claim 30 percent of the costs (up to a $1,500 limit) for the installation of higher efficiency cooling and heating equipment for the 2009 and 2010 tax years. The tax credit applies to the installed costs of the qualified equipment, which includes labor.

"The $1,500 limit applies to many types of energy-efficient home improvements, including windows and doors, roofing shingles, and insulation," Downing's Kevin Stover says. Homeowners may only claim $1,500 in total for any improvements and can choose to use the entire credit toward the installation of one appliance.

Local utility companies, including City of Palo Alto Utilities, are also offering rebates on qualified products, and in particular those with the Energy Star designation.

Homeowner's journal: on an HVAC journey

eric kelly

Eric Kelly embarked on an ambitious project for his family's 1960 Terra Linda Eichler in spring 2007: a new foam roof, a Unico HVAC system, an upgraded electrical panel and wiring, and a 3.4 KWh photovoltaic solar system.

"The radiant heat failed back in the 1980s and was then replaced with an inadequate forced-air system, which only heated half the house," Kelly recalls. "The other half we heated with electrical space heaters, which guzzled electricity and never really did a good job."

Kelly's tar-and-gravel roof was in reasonably good shape, but provided no insulation, making the house an oven on hot summer days. He decided to do these projects all at once since they all involved changes to the roof.

For budget reasons, Kelly originally planned to install a traditional HVAC system on the roof. "However, we quickly discovered a San Rafael building ordinance [protecting the streetscape aesthetics of the Terra Linda Eichler neighborhood] forbidding the placement of anything on the roof rising more than six inches above the surface without a review process before the planning commission."

Kelly settled on the Unico system in conjunction with a foam roof because, he says, he didn't like the look or the complexity of the mini-split option. According to Kelly, the Unico cost $28,800, the new foam roof $25,200.

"The combined cost of the Unico and the roof was particularly jaw-dropping for us," Kelly says. "Had we been able to install a 'normal' HVAC system on the roof and didn't need the special Unico roof kit, the combined costs would have been almost $17,000 less. So this is the premium you pay for a Unico system."

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