Like many sportsmen and sportswomen, celebrity bowhunters Fred and Michele Eichler are committed conservationists. This philosophy extends beyond supporting causes that help protect wildlife habitat, but it’s also evident in the places they inhabit.

The Eichlers own and operate Fulldraw Outfitters, providing guided and nonguided hunting excursions in the Colorado High Country and Eastern Plains. Their new hunting lodge, situated on a butte with sweeping views, combines comfort and efficiency with respect to the surrounding environment.

From the outset, Michele Eichler envisioned a modern rustic retreat with top-notch accommodations and a minimal carbon footprint where hunters can rest and recharge between lawful pursuits of elk, deer, antelope, mountain lion, turkey, and bear.

The 6,000-square-foot steel-frame building includes 11 bedrooms, a walk-in cooler for game, large kitchen, entertainment space, offices, and a gym, but the amenity hunters are perhaps most grateful for is the in-floor hydronic radiant heating system. In this part of the country where temperatures can dip well below 0 degrees, occupant comfort is crucial.

“You can come in from the cold, kick off your boots, and walk across that nice warm floor,” says Steve Fernandez, the project’s mechanical contractor and owner of Twin Peaks Plumbing & Hydronics in Trinidad, Colorado. “It’s the most comfortable heating system there is.”

The Eichlers specified in-floor hydronic heating for two reasons:

  1. As a heat delivery source, water is more efficient than air. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, water can absorb 3,500 times more heat than the same volume of air. That means 3/4-inch flexible tubing can deliver more heat than ducts when both systems are operated under comparable conditions.
  2. In-floor heating meant the Eichlers could forego the bulky ductwork and registers that would detract from the lodge’s vaulted ceilings and high walls displaying trophies. “It’s a clean look throughout the lodge,” Fernandez says.

A 200,000-Btu propane-fired condensing boiler with a 96 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency rating powers the in-floor radiant heating system at the Eichler lodge. The main floor is divided into four zones with independent temperature controls. An outdoor sensor turns off the heat at 68 degrees.

3 keys to maximize radiant heating efficiency

  1. Insulation. Fernandez says the whole building, minus the isolated walk-in cooler, is heated from the main floor, so no radiant in-floor heating was needed in the upper-story loft. That’s due to the building’s tight envelope and wise use of insulation. To minimize heat loss, spray foam insulation was applied to the walls and ceiling throughout the steel-frame building. He also used 2-inch foam board beneath the PEX tubing circulating hot water. “The walls are super airtight and as efficient as it gets,” Fernandez says.
  2. Even loops. Because water wants to take the path of least resistance, it was vital that all the PEX loops are between 280 and 290 feet in length, Fernandez explains. Maintaining consistent lengths across all the loops on a manifold ensures uniform heat throughout.
  3. High-elevation boiler. If your project is at 2,000 feet above sea level, specify a boiler capable of operating at high elevation. Depending on the boiler model, high elevation installations may require a de-rate process during the initial set-up to account for low atmospheric pressure and lower oxygen levels. For the Eichler lodge, which sits at 6,000 feet, Fernandez chose the 270 MBH Aspen condensing boiler by U.S. Boiler Company.

The condensing boiler heats both the in-floor radiant hydronic system and a 75-gallon indirect water heater.

Ample hot-water supply

A separate zone on the hydronic system allows the boiler to provide heat to a 75-gallon storage tank for domestic hot water for the lodge’s five bathrooms, laundry, kitchen, commercial pot filler, and hoses in the game-processing area.

When the system needs to meet a large water load, the boiler will prioritize water heating over the radiant system. Once demand is satisfied, it reverts to supplying space heating. Fernandez also installed a recirculation line to ensure hot water is always primed at fixtures farthest from the supply.

“They’ve never ran out of hot water and never will,” Fernandez assures.

Photos by Dan Vastyan.