JOHN LEMING, The Morning Call
Special to The Morning Call See related story "Where the unusual becomes standard," by JOHN LEMING (A free-lance story for The Morning Call) which appeared on page G01, THIRD EDITION.
One of the features in a house built by Monogram Custom Homes is its heating system.
It's a baseboard hot-water heating system, known in the business as a "hydronic" system, and it's a departure from the forced-air systems that are almost standard in the region.
Before World War II, two of the most common home heating systems were steam and hot water. They're difficult to tell distinguish, as both used cast-iron radiators.
The difference was noise and upkeep. Hot-water systems tended to be quieter and easier to maintain than steam systems, says John Marran, president of Energy Kinetics Inc. of Lebanon, N.J., which makes high-tech, hot-water heating systems.
After the war, says Marran, heating system designers came up with baseboard heat, which is simpler to install and much less obtrusive than the old radiator systems.
According to Monogram Custom Homes President Tony Caciolo, hydronic heating systems are used in about 90 percent of the houses in Europe, where heating fuels like natural gas and oil are much more expensive than they are in the United States.
One of the things that makes it possible for Monogram to offer such systems in Pointe West in Upper Macungie Township is that the subdivision is served by a gas company, UGI.
Caciolo said hydronic systems yield much more "even" heat, without the up-and-down cycles familiar to those who live in dwellings heated by forced air. In addition, hydronic systems don't dry out the house during the winter.
Further, the systems can be "zoned," meaning you can set temperatures in separate areas of the residence to different levels by a series of electronically controlled valves to control the amount of hot water going to a particular area.
But this kind of comfort doesn't come cheaply. Gino Nicolai, president of Hannabery HVAC, Allentown, has installed Energy Kinetics' systems in many Monogram-built houses. He said such systems cost "about $3,000 to $4,000 more than a hot-air system," which probably explains why forced-air systems still account for more than 95 percent of the heating systems he installs.
Furthermore, the homeowner will need duct work installed in the walls anyway to handle central air conditioning.
Energy Kinetics' showcase product is the System 2000, which uses an small boiler -- about 3 feet across, 3 feet deep and 3 feet high - - to handle an entire 3,600-square-foot house. Nicolai likes Energy Kinetics' equipment. "They build them contractor-friendly," he said.
Marran explained that a 3,600-square-foot dwelling in this region that's heated with forced air will cost about $850 a year. However, he said, "The typical warm-air house has an electric water heater," which costs about $600 a year to run, producing a combined annual heating and hot-water bill of somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,450.
He says it's much cheaper to use an oil-fired or a gas-fired hot- water heater -- which still costs about $230 a year to operate -- and results in a combined heating and hot-water bill of about $1,080.
But with one of his company's systems, Marran says "my guess is that the total heat and hot-water costs in that house is about $900 a year," all coming from the same unit all year. Further, he say, a homeowner even can use the same unit to heat the swimming pool.
Copyright The Morning Call. Reproduced with permission.