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For Michael Long, there’s no question about the most comfortable way to heat a home.
Radiant heating, in which a boiler pumps warm water around the home to keep surfaces at a steady, cozy temperature, has a big advantage, says the owner of Michael Long Plumbing & Heating, a third-generation company in Whitehall, Pennsylvania. So when it came time for Long to build his own forever home, he had no doubt about the heating system he would use. A hybrid heating system with a heat pump and radiant heating from a propane boiler was the way to go.
“The house feels way different when it’s the forced air compared to the radiant,” Long says. “It’s a little more drafty. The floors are colder, obviously. In the dead of winter, when the boiler is running, you can walk around barefoot and be comfortable.”
In a sense, Long’s home is a comfort showcase. The 4,000-square-foot home, which he was building when his wife learned she was pregnant with twins, was his chance not only to customize the design for his family but also to demonstrate his expertise in radiant heating and custom plumbing. The home’s high-performance heating system and a luxurious his-and-hers shower became two of the home’s centerpiece features — and both utilize a high-efficiency propane condensing boiler.
Choosing a home fuel source
In Long’s Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, market, natural gas is generally available in urban areas like Allentown but not in more rural areas like the one where he built his home. “I had the choice of either electric, propane, or oil at my house,” he says.
But Long says he always recommends customers use a fuel rather than going all-electric, advice that he followed on his own home. “We will not put in an electric tankless water heater,” he says. “First off, they take up so much power. A lot of the homes don’t have the room in the breaker box. We had some people that had some really bad experiences with the electric ones.” And compared with oil, propane and gas systems offer better modulation and control that lead to higher-efficiency systems, he says.
So for his own heating system, two heat pumps provide air conditioning and shoulder season heat. Once it gets cold out, the system switches over to radiant heat from an Aspen condensing propane boiler from U.S. Boiler. The system includes 10 heating zones and a domestic hot-water zone that feeds a 70-gallon indirect tank. The whole house is zoned with circulators, as Long prefers zoning with pumps over zone valves. To offset the electrical consumption of using a large bank of circulators, Long used Taco’s 007e ECM circulators.
The high recovery rate of the boiler-fed domestic hot-water system is key for using the home’s 7-foot-by-12-foot full body shower. “There are two showerheads, three rain heads, four body sprays, and a hand shower,” Long says. “When we designed the house with the architect, we actually had to make a little wing off of the house for the master bathroom because the original design didn’t allow enough room for that big of a shower.”
Beyond comfort and domestic hot-water performance, the condensing boiler offers ongoing energy savings. “You’re heating water to 95 degrees to heat your house, rather than if you have radiators or baseboard, you’re heating it to 180,” Long says. “It’s really paid off with fuel usage.” When Long compares his propane bills to the electric bills and oil bills from his neighbors, he’s found his system to be a lot cheaper to operate.
Heating and cooking
Having propane available also allowed Long to include other gas features he and his wife wanted in their dream home. A propane pool heater extends their pool’s swim season, and a gas log in the fireplace makes startup a breeze. While the couple initially disagreed about electric versus gas cooking — his wife grew up with electric — Long won the argument and chose propane for a simple reason: “I do all the cooking.” He also ran a line to a gas grill and smoker in the outdoor kitchen that accompany a wood-burning pizza oven.
When a plumbing and heating specialist takes the time and care to perfect the shower and heating system in their own home, it inevitably becomes a showcase. Long can now show off his work for clients interested in having the most comfortable option. And for his own growing family, Long has peace of mind knowing the system he designed will always make home the coziest place to be.