HVAC: Radiant Heat Helps Turn Former Barn Into a Home

Homeowner Jeff Duffy, whose background is in commercial real estate, served as his own general contractor on this conversion of a 10,000-square-foot barn into an 8,600-square-foot home.

September 30, 2003
Company: James Brown Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, West Chester, Pa.

Project location: Exton, Pa.

Age of home: 123 years

Scope of work: stone bank barn gutted and renovated into a three-level residence


Homeowner Jeff Duffy, whose background is in commercial real estate, served as his own general contractor on this conversion of a 10,000-square-foot barn into an 8,600-square-foot home. The building sits on 3 acres in a beautiful neighborhood with far-flung lots and was the last original structure in an area that had had similar barn-to-home conversions.

Duffy emphasized keeping the barn's original details intact during the 1 1/2-year project. All of the stonework was redone, sandblasted and re-tucked. Most of the original timber and the existing roof were not removed but simply reinforced with an insulating, commercial-grade roof on top.

"We had seen similar conversions in the neighborhood, and some seemed forced and too contemporary," Duffy says. "We wanted something more natural." He chose natural finishes for the interior, using plaster on the walls and ceilings as well as milled white oak, made from 300-year-old trees cut a century ago, for other applications.

Heating an 8,600-square-foot home of exposed stone - with a large portion of the rear done in glass and a great room with 40-foot walls that stretch from the first floor to the roof - presented a huge challenge. Mechanic Scott Brown of James Brown Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning knew radiant heat was the best choice under those circumstances.

The first floor and the two second-floor bathrooms use hydronic radiant heat. Three hot-water coils in high-velocity air handlers heat the rest of the second floor. Including the finished lower level, the home has 14 radiant heating zones, mainly because Duffy wanted individual temperature control of each room based on its usage and orientation within the floor plan. But having so many heating zones also was vital because of the home's varied floor coverings - hardwood, tile, slate and carpet.

The great room's radiant zone uses an outdoor reset feature. A sensor in the floor calculates the temperature of the concrete and works with another sensor outside under a windowsill to keep sunlight streaming into the home from distorting indoor temperature readings. Additionally, if the entire home drops below the desired temperature, the air handlers automatically kick in as a secondary heat source.

"I love the radiant heat because there's not a lot of guesswork," Duffy says. "The features Scott installed require no thought or effort on my part."

The radiant installation cost $70,000 to $80,000; the entire renovation cost $800,000. At its last appraisal, the home was valued at $1.2 million.


Radiant heating: Wirsbo     Boiler: Buderus     Air handlers: Unico

Honoring the homeowner's desire that all piping and ductwork remain out of sight and accommodating more than 2 miles of tubing for the radiant heating system wasn't easy. A control board in a lower-level mechanical room houses all controls for the radiant system. Snaking the radiant tubing throughout the first floor required Scott Brown to pipe around sleepers and, in some cases, bore through 14-inch logs. Brown boxed out an area away from the wall to hide the radiant piping in one second-floor bathroom, and he hid the ductwork for the other underneath stairs. Once the tubing was laid, a lightweight concrete floor was poured. In the kitchen, great room and entryway - areas where Jeff Duffy wanted to keep a streamlined, clean look - Brown placed remote sensors in the concrete instead of using thermostats. The sensors automatically adjust the temperature based on predetermined settings. The home's water boiler provides all the necessary water for the radiant system and the hot-water coils as well as for general domestic use.

About the Author

Overlay Init