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How to Efficiently Heat a Luxury Home

The second home that Michael Hans built for his client was destined to be fueled by propane.

In 1998, when Hans, owner of Upton, Mass.-based Homes of Distinction, built his client’s first home in Dover, Mass., the client opted for heating oil to fuel his home. But after just five years of less-than-satisfactory efficiency and performance, the client chose to convert his home to propane.

“He was dissatisfied, not only with the uncleanliness of the oil, but the smell of it in his finished basement,” Hans says. “He also added an oversize, in-ground swimming pool and tried to heat it with oil, and it was a nightmare. His ROI from the conversion in 2003 was less than seven years for a complete conversion from oil heat to propane. He was sold on propane’s cleanliness, operating cost, efficiency, and reduced greenhouse effect.”

This year, when the client set out with Hans to build a new 11,700-square-foot country home in Dover, he insisted on the most energy-efficient technology and luxurious appliances available. For Hans, fueling the home with propane met both of those needs.

High-Efficiency Heating

One of the home’s residents, a Floridian, loves to crank up the temperature in the winter, so outfitting the home with an energy-efficient heating system was a must. Hans took a multifaceted approach to meet that goal. The building envelope is insulated with a combination of spray foam and blown-in insulation, then it’s wrapped on the exterior with 1-inch tongue-in-groove R-7 rigid foam insulation. Four energy recovery ventilators provide fresh air without losing the home’s heat. Domestic hot water is provided by two 119-gallon Lochinvar Squire propane indirect water heaters.

The luxury custom home features an outdoor water park with a propane-fueled gas grill, heated swimming pool, and 12-person spa.

The home’s efficient space heating centers around a geothermal heating system that utilizes a 1,500-foot, 15-ton open-loop well with seven water-to-water heating and cooling exchangers. The customer asked for the geothermal system after seeing similar systems at his brothers’ homes in Canada. He decided to include it in his own home despite the higher upfront price tag: Installation alone cost $250,000, though that cost was partially offset by a 30 percent tax credit.

While the client asked for geothermal for the home’s primary heating and cooling, Hans says there was “no question” that the backup heating would run on propane. The geothermal system supplies 60 to 85 percent of the home’s heating and cooling requirements and has 100 percent backup from two Viessmann Vitodens 200-W 98 percent efficient wall-mount condensing propane boilers.

The propane heat kicks in when Massachusetts temperatures drop below freezing, rendering the water temperature in the geothermal well too cold to heat the home.

Beyond backup heat, the propane boilers supply heat for several of the home’s luxury amenities. The hot water they provide melts snow and ice on the home’s six porches, as well as walkways and upper driveways.

The boilers also provide supplementary hot water for the home’s outdoor water park: a 100,000-gallon swimming pool – heated year-round to 82 degrees – and a 12-person spa maintained at 95 degrees but capable of reaching 104 degrees when occupied.

Creature Comforts

Fueling the home with propane made it easy to provide his client with the other luxury amenities he desired, Hans says. In fact, if the home had used oil for heating, it would have needed two fuel sources: “Oil to run the house, and then propane to provide all the luxuries.”

In the Dover house, those luxuries include seven fireplaces (three of which run on propane) and three outdoor propane grills: one portable, one attached to the house, and one in the outdoor water park, a 32-inch Weber Summit. The indoor kitchen has a propane-fueled 60-inch Capital range top with six commercial-style burners, a 12-inch griddle, and a 12-inch charbroiler.

“The vast majority of cooks, particularly in these upscale communities, are putting in these large gas range tops,” Hans says. “They don’t want to cook on electric burners.”

With a house of this quality, Hans wanted to help his customer protect his investment. The house is equipped with a 30,000-watt Kohler liquid-cooled generator that worked “flawlessly” during a six-day power outage resulting from Hurricane Sandy in late October. That protection will be even more vital during the cold winter months, Hans says. “You can’t imagine what a home like this would be like if it had freeze-up damage,” he explains. “If an outage happened in January, trying to keep 11,700 square feet and 10 bathrooms warm and not frozen, you might have a problem.”

Because it serves as a second home that is occupied periodically, the house’s propane consumption can vary throughout the year. The home’s propane retailer, Osterman Propane, is doubling the assurance with a remote tank monitoring system that alerts the propane company whenever the tank needs refueling. “The homeowners wanted to make sure they’d never run out of fuel,” Hans says, “and that’s been resolved now.”

Although Hans used an electric clothes dryer to accommodate late design changes in the laundry room cabinetry, his approach mimics the Propane Energy Pod model for new construction, which treats a home’s five key areas of energy use – space heating, water heating, cooking, fireplaces, and clothes drying – as parts of a whole-home energy package to maximize efficiency, performance, comfort, and carbon reduction.

In fact, the home’s combination of extensive insulation and energy-efficient appliances provided measurable results. The home rates 72 on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS), meaning it is 28 percent more efficient than a comparable home built to current building code requirements.

Hans took the Pod approach even further by using a variety of Pod PLUS propane applications – outdoor features that add value and comfort – including the standby generator, snow melting, outdoor cooking, and pool heating. Using propane to fuel these features reduces both their initial installation price and ongoing operation costs.

To learn more about how you can incorporate energy-efficient heating and Pod principles into your next home, check out the Propane Training Academy.