Case Study: Propane for Radiant Heating
Efficient propane heating is a consistent component in Rodwin Architecture's sustainable, Colorado Mountain homes.
What's the use of a house if you don't have a decent planet to put it on? Henry David Thoreau
That quotation runs along the bottom of the "green building" page on Rodwin Architecture's website and it encapsulates what the 11-year-old firm is all about. Its designers look at a project from a whole systems perspective. "Ultimately, the intention of designing this way is quite simply to create a place that works with the world rather than against it," is how this is expressed on the green building page, just above the Thoreau quote. "The result is a building that lives lightly on the land, consumes fewer resources, doesn't pollute you or the planet, is comfortable to be in, is easy to maintain and is a joy to see for a very, very long time."
To that end, propane shows up in many of the firm's projects, especially those located high up in the Colorado Mountains. Hell's Canyon Cottage, for example, is a 1,200-square-foot, off-the-grid custom residence that's a showcase for sustainable design. In addition to load-bearing straw-bale and cementitious plaster walls, it features radiant floor heating and a super-efficient propane electric backup for the home's active and passive solar features.
The Ellsworth Residence, also in the mountains, has a 1,000-gallon underground propane tank that fuels a 98-percent efficient boiler for the radiant flooring and to boost and back up the solar-heated water storage tank.
Photos courtesy of Rodwin Architecture
According to the Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy department, radiant heating has a number of advantages: It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient that forced-air heating. The lack of moving air can also be a help to people with allergies, since dust, germs, and allergens are not circulated by blown air. Hydronic (liquid) systems like the ones Scott Rodwin used in his Colorado Mountain projects are the most popular and cost-efficient systems. These work by having heated water pumped from a boiler through tubing laid in a pattern underneath the floor.
"We find that propane is convenient and a complement to the renewable energy systems that we rely on to make our homes largely self-sufficient," says Rodwin. "It's easy to put in place and not have to think about it, which is one of the benefits. It's just there. Once every year or so you order some more and away you go."
For more information, as well as free AIA- and NAHB-approved education courses about propane radiant heating solutions, go to the products and training sections of our website. The topics discussed in this article are more fully explored in the course Hydronic Heating in Rural Residential Applications.