Repair or Replace – how easy can it be?

Firsthand Experience

As General Contractors, it wasn’t their first installation of infrared heaters in a space. But, when Mighty Energy Solutions’ co-founders, Laura and Doug Elfline, got sick and tired of replacing parts in the electric furnace that was the only source of heat in their West Seattle rambler, they saw it as an opportunity to make their home more energy efficient and more comfortable at the same time.

They chose to upgrade to the two most efficient (and all electric) heating and cooling solutions available: a mini-split ductless heat pump in the open concept space at one end, and infrared radiant heat in the rest of the home. Mini-splits are great for the main space they are installed in. However, without ducting, the architecture becomes the path for the forced air to travel through. Cool air travels low and easily reaches all the spaces. Hot air, on the other hand, rises into the unused space above everyone’s head as it moves into the space. The further away from the mini-split, the colder the rooms become. This makes an infrared radiant solution in the rooms down the hall a perfect addition. And the advantages didn’t stop there. There was no need to heat the bedrooms during the day when they were not in use. And it was never necessary to turn the heat up in the whole house when it was chilly in one room.

From this firsthand experience, it became clear that one major advantage of the infrared radiant products Mighty Energy provides is just how easy it makes replacing an inefficient, ineffective, or broken down heating system.

 Avoiding Future Headaches and Expense

One customer already had infrared radiant heat and loved it for years. It was the kind that was installed above the sheetrock in the ceiling. But then a tree fell on the house and ruined it. The home was repaired along with the ceiling. The homeowners could have opted to have the system they loved replaced in the process. Instead, they chose Ducoterra‘s  SolaRay II ceiling panels. Why? Because they provide the same cozy, direct, silent heat, are super thin, paintable, and almost as unobtrusive as their previous heating system. Plus, they offer the additional peace of mind that a lifetime warranty combined with simple process to uninstall and replace the panels in the event of failure for any unexpected reason.

Another Disaster Mitigated

Twenty years ago, a high-rise condo went up in Bellevue, WA. The units, which now sell for over $750,000, were fitted out with a hydronic heating system. Hydronic systems provide radiant heat from hot water. Recently, some of the units experienced major failures. In this case, this entailed large volumes of water leaking into the unit and, in some cases, into the unit below. In at least one case, the damage was over $10,000 just to clean up and repair. The heating system in that home was now defunct and the home owner had no intention of trying to repair it only to have it catastrophically fail again.

Had the systems been properly installed, this may never have been an issue. However, it became clear that, since the system was installed by the same outfit in every unit, the risk of more failures throughout the building was mounting. There is no space in the units for a ducted system. There isn’t even the proper space outside the units for a mini-split compressor. The ceilings are covered in can lighting and the tops of the walls house a sprinkler system. This ruled out the Ducoterra ceiling panels and even Radiant System’s Comfort Cove heaters that Mighty Energy also offers. However, BioSmart‘s in-wall solution turned out to be the perfect fit – literally.

These 1000 watt, whisper quiet, infrared radiant heaters fit perfectly into the existing cavities that housed the hydronic heaters. And the risk of flooding is gone for every unit that chooses this option. In addition, in the event that a heater should fail – either in the five year warranty period, or decades down the road, repair and/or replacement will not be complicated or overly expensive. And, in the brief interim waiting for repair, the other heaters will still radiate warmth rather than leaving the homeowner to tolerate an entire home without heat.

Some Solutions are Great – Until They Aren’t

It’s true that our infrared radiant heaters warm up the floor in the rooms they are installed in. They take off that cold edge, which is especially nice in the bedrooms and bathrooms where people are most likely to be barefoot at night and in the morning when the temperature is the lowest. That said, we would be the last people to claim that underfloor radiant heat in a bathroom isn’t awesome. Getting out of the shower onto warmed-up tiles is a simple luxury that is hard to beat. Still, what happens if it fails. Improper installation, the occasional factory flaw, etc. can mean the system stops working or, perhaps, never works properly. There is always the possibility of installation errors or factory flaws with any system or device. With underfloor radiant heat, if this happens, you have to tear up the floor to get at the problem.

Other Solutions are Simply Great

With the installed infrared solutions Mighty Energy offers, many repairs are a simple matter of a part replacement. And if any of our products happens to fail, removing a few screws and wires is all it takes to get at and resolve the issue. And, did we mention that there are no filters to clean, no moving parts, and little to no maintenance whatsoever for decades?

So, when you are choosing a method of heating your home, consider how much of hassle you want to deal with when it comes time to fix, upgrade, or replace it. We doubt you’ll find a great solution that is also as easy to live with as our products.

Geo answers: Sustainability – Part 9: Social Equity and Justice

Social equity and justice are issues that are least talked about in the context of sustainability, yet they are likely the most important factor in actually mitigating the effects of artificial threats to the environment such as climate change and pollution. These two things are true for the same reason – almost at any scale, the poorest, most oppressed people produce the least pollution per person while suffering the greatest from the effects. And it is an unfortunate state of affairs throughout history that these populations receive the least consideration in ostensible solutions to challenges that humanity has faced and is now facing.

The people with the least power – political, economic, energy, resources, etc. tend to live in the least desirable areas at high density (though poverty certainly exists in more rural areas, this principle still applies in a relative way.) As we have discovered during the pandemic, these populations can also make up much of the most ‘essential’ workforce. They work under the least safe and most toxic conditions. And, ultimately, no amount of money or power will protect anyone from the worst effects of our environmentally damaging behaviors if we don’t pull together as people. The poor and disenfranchised are simply getting the earliest effects.

The vast majority of these vulnerable populations are the first to be made refugees by war, political turmoil, and environmental degradation. This, in turn, puts pressure on those areas that are less affected (or not affected yet,) causing more turmoil and greater pressure on existing infrastructures, etc. The knock-on effects from this dynamic only exacerbate the underlying issues. Imagine if we had healthy communities living sustainably in what are now slums, ghettos, and warzones. Surely more affluent areas would be better protected from the worst effects of a deteriorating environment and climate. However, if the affluent areas simply try to hold on to their currently and relatively livable conditions without applying the solution to those in greater need, those areas are only forestalling the inevitable demise of their living conditions.

So, even if simple fairness and compassion isn’t enough to put the plight of these people in the forefront of our concern for our fellow human beings, it behooves us to realize that they are simply ‘first in line’ to experience what we all will have to deal with if we don’t all work together for a sustainable future.

Once again, these populations are essential in any efforts, writ large, to stop the runaway train to an unlivable future we are all currently aboard as passengers. We need new infrastructure and we will need to maintain it. We need everyone to help build it and keep it working, just as we did in the Great Depression in the New Deal and the Works Projects Administration, and during the World Wars where Rosie the Riveter rolled up her sleeves, and people everywhere planted Victory gardens . And we must reduce general strife as much as possible in order to reduce pollution, carbon emissions, the spread of disease, the migration of refugees, the endless tragedy of war, etc.

It isn’t just a platitude to say that we are all in the same boat. And we can’t just throw people overboard to prevent the whole thing from sinking. As the saying goes – there is no Planet B. And we need all hands on deck to weather this storm.

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational EmissionsPart 6: Installation Impact | Part 7: Resilience | Part 8: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Project Spotlight – Tacoma Furnished Monthly Rental

Project Spotlight – Tacoma Furnished Monthly Rental

Back in the fall of 2019, we visited an in progress project in Tacoma, Washington that was initially intended as off-campus housing for Pacific Lutheran University students. The project involved an extensive expansion and full renovation of an existing single-family home. The first floor’s larger, shared amenity spaces were covered by a mini-split, ductless heat pump. However, because the airflow properties of the floorplan causing ‘cold spots,’ and the fact that each private room needs its own thermostatic controls, the developers chose to use Ducoterra’s Solaray II ceiling heat panels – provided by Mighty Energy Solutions – for the majority of the space, including the entire second floor.

However, since the project completed in early 2021 (during the pandemic,) it was decided to make the project available on Furnished Finder – an online service used mostly by traveling nurses who need temporary accommodations when they are in town.

Park Ave. Tacoma, WA Bedroom w/ceiling heat panel

Independent Control

Since some units go unoccupied from time to time, and each person staying here are on temporary assignment with no lasting connection with their fellow occupants, the feature of the infrared heating panels (up near the ceiling light in the photo) that allows each room to be independently heated was perfect for this application. Rooms not in use can be kept at a minimal temperature, saving energy and money. Meanwhile, each occupant is able to control the temperature to their own comfort levels with no effect on the preferences of other occupants.

As you can see, the panels are unobtrusive and completely out of the way. The infrared radiance they produce that warms the room and its occupants is entirely invisible, and total absence of moving parts means that they are completely silent and do not stir up the air and any particulates in the room. This healthy, practically invisible approach is appreciated by health professionals. And no one needs to hear a loud bang when the heat comes on  – especially people who may be experiencing jet lag.

Complete Cozy Comfort

While the mini-split ductless heat pump in the great room does an efficient job of heating that space, the developers chose to augment this solution with additional panels for increased comfort and even distribution of heat in the shared amenity spaces.Park Ave. Tacoma, WA great room and kitchen using mini-split, dutless heat pump and infrared radiant ceiling heat panel

This efficient hybrid approach that takes advantage of the two types heat creates more flexibility of control and is a common means of providing additional heat the less than perfect coverage of the mini-split system, which has the added benefit of providing air conditioning in the increasingly hot summers in the area.

And, in terms of property management, the life-time warranty and 100% maintenance-free aspect nature of the infrared radiant heating panels was very attractive for the owners. And they won’t have to replace the panels for decades.

Park Ave HallwayPark Ave - kitchenette

Project Amenities

  • Nine private, fully furnished bedrooms
  • Secure remote access to the main entry and your personal room
  • Bathroom shared with only 1 other room, which may be empty at any given time
  • Weekly housekeeping to keep everything spotless
  • All utilities including WIFI and cable included
  • All basic toiletries provided and restocked weekly
  • Outdoor patio with BBQ and entertainment space to enjoy with new friends
  • Kitchen fully stocked with all appliances and items you may need
  • Kitchenette outside bedroom for quick and convenient access
  • Security System and cameras in common areas for additional sense of security
  • New laundry facilities
  • Air conditioning in common areas
  • Reserved parking space
  • Less than a mile to the freeway
  • Less than 15 minutes to all local hospitals and medical centers
  • 5-10 minutes from 3 major shopping centers

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 8: A Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Nothing lasts forever. Even with the up to 40 year life-expectancy of infrared radiant heating devices, like nearly everything, eventually they will wear out. And it might not be the heaters that fail. It might well be that the building itself needs to be demolished, or a major renovation results in a great deal of interior demo. Salvaging still useful parts of a building is a great new trend. This aspect of demolition may be more precisely called “disassembly,” where anything reusable or recyclable is kept intact and used elsewhere, or transformed into new things, rather than just packed into a landfill. This is referred to as  ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach. And Ducoterra infrared radiant heating panels have been way ahead of the cradle-to-cradle curve.

Ducoterra infrared heating panels are easily dismounted from the ceiling by removing a maximum  of eight bolts or screws (depending on panel size,) and three wires. Once removed, the panel can be easily broken down into four readily recycled components: the aluminum ‘box,’ the steel back, and the sheet of aerogel insulation and wire element inside. So, either decades after, or when the building or some part of it is being demolished, it will take very little time, effort, and energy to return a panel’s materials back into usable components for new, useful items going forward.

What this means, in terms of sustainability, is that a cradle-to-cradle product remains sustainable even after it is no longer useful in its current form. This mimics what nature itself does. Rather than producing waste as an ultimate end product, it produces resources in a closed loop cycle where there is never any actual waste. A dead leaf, for example, becomes food for small organisms, which, in turn, become food for larger organisms and the cycle continues.    

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational EmissionsPart 6: Installation Impact | Part 7: Resilience

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 7: Resilience

Resilience is a special subset of durability and reliability. Something may be built to last and work as intended for a long time, like a solid old car. However, it may not adapt well to contemporary uses, or lack modern safety equipment and amenities, or otherwise become obsolete in a new and changing context. The car may run great, but it runs on gasoline and was, possibly, even intended to run on leaded fuel. And, for example, it will never be autonomous.

Systems in your home that run on electricity are resilient in that, no matter how the electricity is generated, or how much that method of generation changes, electric systems and appliances will continue to work without skipping a beat.

Electric infrared radiant heat requires few to no moving parts to fail or wear out. And the parts that can eventually fail (usually after decades of regular use) will, very likely, continue to be readily available or effectively substituted for the foreseeable future. These appliances can easily be salvaged from a building that has outlived its usefulness and be reinstalled in another setting. Since they are usually mounted well above the floor, they are far more likely to survive all but the worst floods. They don’t have any pressurized refrigerants, so there is no chance of toxic leakage that will also render them useless until repaired and recharged. And they can be easily adapted to ‘smart device / smart home’ control systems, no matter how that technology evolves.

Building things to last and be readily repaired is great. Building things that can also survive and adapt through rapidly changing technological landscapes, large-scale infrastructural changes, and even increasing environmental threats is even better. 

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational EmissionsPart 6: Installation Impact

Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 6: Durability and Reliability

How long something continues to work properly and efficiently is practically synonymous with the concept of sustainability. Using durable shopping bags instead of one-use paper or plastic is a simple example of this concept. The more use we get out of things generally points to those things being more sustainable as they don’t have to be replaced as often. That being said, keeping an old, gas guzzling car around isn’t sustainable in a number of ways. And, as long as homes generally last, failing to upgrade the insulation, appliances, windows, etc. is problematic in this sense as well.

However, when you have a system in your home that works efficiently and well for its purpose for decades without the need for repair, that reliability and durability is not only one less thing to worry about, but it is one less thing adding to the waste, embodied energy, etc. that is choking our landfills, and heating up our planet in production and transport.

Motorized fans, heat pump compressors, valves and piping, and many components of forced air heating systems are subject to inevitable failure because of the friction and pressures involved. These systems don’t work if they can’t blow air around, or if they spring even the smallest leak. That tiny leak in a pressurized pipe, for example, represents dangers such as carbon-monoxide poisoning, the risk of fire or explosion, or a release of toxic refrigerants.

Using gas to heat air is a further example of how, even if the system were to last forever, the inefficiency and impacts of burning fossil fuel means the system fails, in the environmental sense, well before it ceases to function. Upgrading to an electric or geothermal solution is the only way to increase the sustainability of your home heating solution in this respect.

On the other hand, far infrared radiant heating is a great example of the type of sustainability associated with a solution that is truly built to last. Because the technology uses no moving parts, it is not only silent and unobtrusive, the opportunities for failure are small. And, since the basic technology used in infrared radiant heat has been around for decades, its durability and sustainability have been proven over and over again in actual use around the world. Finally, since it is converts electricity directly into heat, upgrading the source of the electricity automatically upgrades the system itself.

This is why Ducoterra, maker of the SolaRay II infrared radiant heating panel have established a lifetime warranty. Most people will have to upgrade or replace the insulation in their walls, and install new windows before they have to replace their infrared radiant heating system.

The more we can apply this simple principle of sustainability to how we design and build the things we use every day, the greater the overall sustainability of our society will become. When something works efficiently and effectively for a long time, it’s hard to see the downside.

see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon | Part 4: Installation Impact
Part 5: Operational Emissions