Radiant Flooring Warms the Illinois Holocaust Museum

If you look closely, you can see the pains taken to fuse separate slabs of concrete to avoid seams that could have compromised the tubing for the radiant flooring system.

Once in a while, for those who work in the HVAC industry, a project comes along that has special meaning for those who work on it. It might be a children’s hospital, a sports facility, or a restoration of a building with some real history to it. For Dan Watkins, Sales Engineer at Bornquist, one such project was the memorable build of the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, for which Bornquist supplied radiant floor heating as a solution for this unique structure’s needs.

By the time groundbreaking took place in 2006, the plans were in place, but where did things begin, and why was radiant flooring such a valued solution for what would become one of Chicagoland’s most important cultural institutions? “Lehman Design came to me and said, ‘We’re working on this project, and we’re looking to do radiant floors,’” Watkins recalls. “And a lot of the reason was, just because of the architectural design of the building, there weren’t good places to put terminal units for heating. They were looking for some sort of a solution, so they came up with radiant floors as a good way to go. They knew we handled Watts Radiant, so they contacted me and we kind of took it from there.”

Watkins met with the engineers at Lehman Design to go over the floor plan and decide how they wanted to zone the system. Anyone who’s been to the Illinois Holocaust Museum knows what a unique structure it is and how labyrinthine its spaces are, and consequently, can appreciate the complexity of the planning that went into the process. “We just kind of broke it all up to figure out the best zoning, and then figured out from there,” Watkins says. “We used a program that Watts Radiants had, where it could just go in and start inputting that data, so we could go in and say, ‘OK, so one is going to be ‘Room 101, it’s going to be 800 square feet, this is what the total heat load is, and therefore we want to do — we’ll pick an on-center spacing for the tubing, so usually 9-inch on center.’ Sometimes 12-inch. Depends on the heat load and everything. Basically, the program will give you a breakdown of how much tubing in each zone, what those lengths are, the flow rates, the pressure drop in the tubing, the water temperature needed — all of that data. That’s kind of the initial, preliminary stuff. From there, you start getting into an actual tubing layout.”

The museum does employ forced air systems for cooling during the summer, and for some supplementary heating at other times of the year, but the radiant flooring is the primary heating source for the facility.

Zoning for Efficiency and Warmth

The tubing layout may typically come later in the process — at this stage, it’s enough to know what tubing will be required and how much, so that the estimate can be prepared. How exactly it’s laid out doesn’t affect the estimate. But what did need to be considered at this point, with this particular project, was where to put the many manifolds — and that required bringing in the architect.

“The manifold can’t be a significant distance from the zone that it serves,” Watkins explains. “I can’t put the manifold 100 feet away, because I have 100 feet of tubing just to get to the zone, and then 100 feet to get back. It’s a lot of extra tubing. So that would come into play during the design phase, and making sure the manifolds can be put somewhere that they’re hidden, or they’re not accessible to the public — especially in a space like this.”

Distance wasn’t the only difficulty that needed to be negotiated. The aesthetics and function of the building itself presented problems of their own. “The space is a challenge, because it’s very industrial — it’s all concrete and steel,” Watkins says. “It’s not like an office building or a home, where there are closets, and you can just hide it in the closet somewhere.”

Clever placement and grouping were the key to solving that particular challenge. In instances where there was no good place to put the manifold, grouping rooms together to be controlled by a manifold in a single spot, served by the same tubing. “Radiant tubing sometimes becomes a bit of an art,” Watkins asserts, “to just factor in all of those details and make it work, as the engineer is concerned about heating the space, but also from the architectural standpoint of, ‘We don’t have the manifold on the wall that people in the museum are wondering what it is.’”

Maintenance? What Maintenance?

One of the great advantages of radiant flooring is that once it’s installed, if done correctly, it’s virtually trouble free. “The tubing comes with a 25-year warranty,” Watkins says. “You look at something with that long of a warranty, clearly we don’t expect that tubing to fail within 25 years. And to be honest, really, the only reason it probably would fail, assuming it was all installed properly and nothing was done wrong, is if the concrete cracked and shifted, and sheared the tubing. We fully expect the tubing to last as long as the concrete would. That’ll be there for a very long time.”

The tubing itself is polyethylene, a plastic sort of tubing that resists erosion over long periods of time. Keeping that in mind, Watkins still recommends taking care to work with the system by not placing any seams in the concrete across the tubing laid underneath. “If you have a 300-foot run of tubing, you have two ends, but those are out of the floor, connected to the manifold. But that 300-foot run is one, long, continuous piece. And you don’t want to have a crack or seam over any of that length of tubing.”

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Posted by on Feb 1st, 2018 and filed under Feature Story. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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