Because of its proximity to East Coast population centers, the Amish Country of Pennsylvania has become a wedding destination for out-of-towners. Lancaster County’s historic architecture can be seen all over the countryside, and it has garnered a lot of attention from wedding planners in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia as “rustic” weddings have become the latest craze.
Gap, Pa., boasts as much old-time, Pennsylvania Dutch culture as anywhere in the state. Tobacco was the main cash crop for decades, and still is to some degree. Plenty of well-maintained tobacco “sheds” still remain, though the term “shed” doesn’t do the buildings any justice. Typically, they’re long, tall buildings with an intricate timber frame and clapboard siding that tilts out vertically to allow air to move through the structure as tobacco hangs to dry.
While beautiful, tobacco sheds pose bigger retrofit challenges than other barn styles found in the area. Outfitting one with a state-of-the-art HVAC system while maintaining historic integrity isn’t a job for just any contractor.
Patriot Water Heater, in nearby Kirkwood, specializes in commercial water heater installations and hydronic heating. President Tom Soukup and Vice President Rich Zalepa founded the company nine years ago after moving to southeast PA from Long Island, NY. They forged their skills in New York City, and are no strangers to old buildings or unique applications.
“We consider ourselves ‘hydronic artisans’,” said Soukup. “We pair old-school workmanship and ingenuity with modern technology to provide high-efficiency solutions for any building.” They’re also known for never backing down from a challenge.
Soukup met the owner of a large horse farm in 2009, as they were entertaining the idea of turning their huge tobacco shed into a wedding venue. He was hired to help to turn the shed into what is now known as Weddings at White Chimneys. As the years passed, the barn was refined and the cost to host a wedding steadily increased. But without an HVAC system, it was only useable for four or five months of the year. In 2015, the owner approached Soukup and Zalepa about changing that.
“It always starts with the math,” said Soukup. “We did a full heat loss calculation to determine the heating capacity required for the building. They had insulated the building envelope a few years ago when they installed AC, so it wasn’t as bad as you’d think, but we still needed more than 100,000 BTUH.”
After they had the numbers, the real fun began.
Unique building, unique design
The barn’s open 3,700 square-foot floorplan and its vaulted ceiling presented a challenge in respect to heating the space evenly. So the plan was to use a fabric ductwork system connected to two five-ton Trane air handlers. In addition to supplying AC via the existing condensing units, the air handlers each include a hydronic coil with heat supplied by a US Boiler X-C condensing boiler.
“Economy was key here, both on upfront cost and operating cost,” explained Soukup. “Both the fabric ducts and the X-C boiler were chosen because they offer a lot of bang for buck. The boiler’s controls also provide a ton of flexibility without sacrificing simplicity.”
The value-priced, stainless steel X-C features the same Sage 2.2 controls found on Alpine and K2 boilers. It’s available in five sizes from 80 to 180 MBH and provides up to 95% AFUE.
Two, 32-foot-lengths of fabric ductwork are installed on a simple hanger system high on the left side of the barn. The fabric duct collapses when the air handlers aren’t running, and inflates to provide uniform, low velocity air supply when in operation. This keeps heating or cooling temperatures consistent from the front to the back of the barn without any noticeable draft. But Soukup took extra precaution to be sure that warm air wasn’t stratifying up toward the ceiling. Several ceiling fans are installed on mid-height beams throughout the building to ensure consistent temps from floor to ceiling.
Patriot Water Heater also had to consider one more aspect that separated the White Chimney’s project from nearly every other commercial or residential application they tackle on a regular basis. Despite being ready for year-round use, the barn often goes unused for two or three weeks at a time.
Two-stage, cold start
“If there isn’t an event planned for an extended period of time, the owner understandably doesn’t want to heat the facility during downtime,” said Soukup. “So we needed a way to bring the temperature up quickly without having a huge input at standby. The simplicity of US Boiler’s Sage 2.2 controls allowed us to do this.”
Soukup and Zalepa created a two-stage system while utilizing only one zone of heat. Stage one operates as normal, supplying as low a water temperature as possible to the hydronic coils based on outdoor reset. This is typically between 120°F and 145°F. Stage two runs off the boiler’s DHW contacts, and bypasses the ODR to supply 180°F water to the coils.
This arrangement brings the building up to temperature rapidly, while providing high efficiency through lowered water temperatures for the other 95% of the time. According to Soukup, he hasn’t found an application where the flexibility of the Sage 2.2 boiler controls has left him without options.
“These Sage controls are one of the main reasons we switched to US Boiler products about a year ago,” explained Soukup. “Since then, we’ve installed about 25 Alpines and K2 boilers. This is the first X-C we’ve put in, and it will be one of many.”
Outstanding technical support, both from US Boiler and rep firm ROI Marketing, is the other big reason they stopped using other brands. Dave Raabe, district manager at ROI Marketing, was a big help during the initial design phase at White Chimneys. His input ultimately helped Patriot Water Heater forge a lasting relationship with the owner at the wedding venue.
“The owner at White Chimneys is more than pleased with the performance of the system,” said Soukup. “It’s comfortable, efficient, and just as importantly, it’s quiet.”
At the moment, there’s glycol in the hydronic system for those periods of cold-weather shut down. But Patriot Water Heater is planning to install a radiant system under the barn floor next summer, along with another X-C boiler. That will allow the barn to remain at 50°F between events, and limit the amount of time the heating system needs to fire on stage two.
“Patriot Water Heater has always done a great variety of work in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York, but I have to admit, this is the first time we’ve ever worked on a barn,” said Soukup. “If the rustic wedding trend continues, it might not be the last.”