Bitter sweet reunion with jobs bid, but lost to competitors, on both residential and commercial projects. You’ve been there too, and the call asking for your help is a Siren’s song too hard to resist. You know you want to see what corners the bums cut to undercut your bids.

“Our radiant heating doesn’t heat beyond 60°F and the room over the garage is under 50°F,” said the homeowner.

The real salt-in-the-wound was that the radiant heating had been added to the scope after I had suggested it to the architect while extolling the virtues of radiant heating.

Here was my chance to see what had been done — or should I say not done? I arrived to the home first and parked across from the garage doors to allow the owner access to the garage for his expensive Mercedes-Mayback. As he pulled into the driveway, the garage doors opened, and I spied two 80-gal. electric water heaters, a single Taco 011 circulator, and just two ½-in. PEX tubes rising from the concrete. My design had a gas-fired high efficiency boiler with seven 250-ft. loops of ½-in. PEX. Their design, as it turned out, had one 1,000-ft. loop! The second-floor room that was so frigid? It was open to the lower radiant-floor along its width via a balcony railing.

“We were told the radiant heat would find its way up there and no loops were placed under that floor,” said the homeowner.

The fix was more cost than they could bear, so the addition’s central A/C system was swapped out for a heat pump. I’d call that a double inside the park hit.

Visiting another homeowner with a comfort problem, I arrived for a new boiler estimate, and asked why they wanted the fairly new Burnham in good shape replaced.

"We had another contractor work on it and he said it needs to be replaced,” said the customer. “Ever since he was here, it stopped heating very well."

It turned out he turned the four-way mix for the radiant slab to 100 percent hot water (no mix), which was sucking up Btus like an energy vacuum and had also turned the high limit down to 130°F! The lower water temperature prevented the convectors and baseboard elements from heating the home (could not heat above 60°F) while the radiant addition was experiencing a fairly wide flywheel affect with temperatures rising well above the thermostat setting.

The estimate turned into an adjustable fix. No boiler sale, but a very happy couple and new customer.

I had him turn up the thermostats for both zones and due to the four-way mix the boiler could not rise above 125°F. The manual four-way valve was reset to an approximate 50/50 mix and the temperature gauge began a fairly rapid rise, but cut off at 130°F.

“He [other contractor] said it had been heating to an unsafe temperature and that this was much safer and that we need a new boiler,” said the new customer.

I reset the upper limit to 180°F and made sure that’s when the burner cut off. His wife hollered down from the first-floor asking what we had done to restore comfort. The estimate turned into an adjustable fix. No boiler sale, but a very happy couple and new customer.

Given that this was just before Christmas, I did not charge the new customer — grand slam!

Commercial customer

Two furnaces with two A/C systems. They ended up with two 92 percent efficiency furnaces, not the 95 percent we had bid. The two new downflow furnaces had the A/C coils below the furnace and they had failed to retain the prior duct clearance above the floor that previously provided sufficient clearance for the old condensate pumps.

The fix — whack a hole in the plywood deck and suspend a condensate pump on thermostat wire while wrapping the ends around drywall screws. No condensate traps on the A/C coils and evidence that this had caused condensate to be held back due to the negative air pressure caused by the Venturi Effect of air rushing by the drain outlet, which had stained the sheet metal.

The safety disable switch on the lone condensate pump (receiving condensate from three furnaces and three A/C coils) had been ignored with the two wires terminating in air. Short pieces of CSST tubing had been used on the two new furnaces that had been hard-piped and passed through the cabinets to the gas valves. No electrical bonding in advance of the CSST and the breaker panel is just a few feet away. All low voltage and high voltage wiring was installed through the furnace cabinets without protection (box connectors or rubber grommets) and stretched tightly over the cabinets sharp edges. Adding insult to injury, the old filter racks were gone. No air filtration, but the property manager had figured that out and required the installers to correct that. Their solution? Cut the return plenum ells and install sheet metal ledges on three sides to hold filters while adding poorly fitting rectangles of sheet metal over the holes attached with self-tapping screws. Pricing submitted to correct all defects was accepted.  Home run!

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