Basement Utilities Reach Critical Mass

07 May

One of the advantages of our basement demolition and excavation efforts was to clear out decades of plumbing, hydronics, and electrical (especially electrical – we had three generations of technology down there, from some original knob-and-tube, to wire conduit, to Romex), and start anew with a basement utility hub that wouldn’t eventually burn down the house.

The additional benefit of the excavation of the southeast crawlspace, specifically, was to allow the boiler (which would supply hot water to the radiators and heated floors), the hot water heater, and the electrical panel to be consolidated in one area of the basement. This would allow maximum utilization of the remaining area. This crawlspace area was barely usable in the pre-reno house. Some pics of the basement before are provided below.

Here’s the old boiler and hot water heater, located on the west side of the basement (really, the only place they could be, due to the limitations in this area):

This is an even better picture of the mayhem that lay dormant in our basement. Looking through the doorway, you’ll see the old electrical panel, located in the quasi-exterior area in the basement. Note the crawlspace area between the door and the panel – previously of limited use, this will be the home of the new home utility hub. The plumbing stack in front will remain where it is (as seen in

Regarding the tangle of old wiring, plumbing, and hydronic elements in the old house, check out this action, which includes hydronic lines to nowhere that were capped off when radiator locations changed during previous renovations:

All of this came to a satisfying end with the demo work. Our contract with the GC specified that everything down here would be eliminated and reinstalled and replumbed and rewired anew . . .

After demo and reconstruction of the expanded basement (, the first step of our new power plant installation was arrival of the boiler and hot water heater. The boxes obviously contain these items; the equipment already mounted to the block wall is the manifold for the hydronic lines, which we’ll see later:

These elements will actually be located in the space that previously was occupied by crawlspace, so, bonus in space utilization, eh?

To the right of the boiler and water heater will reside the “heavied-up” electrical panel (from 100 to 200 amps) to support more electrical. At this point, it’s just the termini of a bunch of electrical cables.

Here’s a photo of the water heater and boiler after initial installation. There’s a lot more to go before this area is complete, including installation of the electrical panel, which is still AWOL at this point. The grey canister is the new expansion tank, which previously was a large, green drum about 5x the size that hung from the joists above the work bench. The old tank needed to be drained periodically, and so we’d have to screw a hose onto it and run the hose across the basement to the utility sink. The worst part was that there was no venting on the drum, so the water that had built up would drain for hours. The new expansion tank has a rubber bladder inside that contracts when water needs to escape from the hydronic lines, then expands to expel it back again when the expansion need abates. No muss, no fuss.

In the photo below, the electrical panel has been installed, as well as additional electrical lines (and the underfloor heating at the back of the house, which we’ll see in more detail). Jim, the lead for the mechanical sub, is doing some install work down here the day the picture was taken. (They did a spectacular job with installation of both the hydronic infrastructure and the AC components.)

Another new development at this stage is installation of the electrical panel (sans connections).

This is what’s lurking behind there – a manifold to route hot water from the boiler to three zones in the house. At this point, there’s only a few lines coming off it, but it’s going to get really crowded.

The three climate zones in the house are:

  • The second floor, heated by salvaged radiators in each of the two bedrooms, as well as under-floor electrical heat in the two bathrooms,
  • The first floor, heated by under-floor hydronic heat in the vestibule and kitchen, and by two small (really, really small) radiators in the powder room and the area at the top of the stairs the basement, and
  • The basement, heated by radiators in the office area and in the unfinished area.

In addition to controlling the radiant heat (as well as the AC) via thermostats on each floor, there are failsafe controls directly on the trunk lines for hot water heading into each zone. These three brass, manual controls can be seen on top of the copper pipes in front of the PVC drain line and above the expansion tank.

The red tubing feed two types of radiant head elements – radiators (before which they are connected to copper pipes) and under-floor heating. In the photo below, you can see some of this latter heating approach.

Here’s a view of the actual heating elements. Insulation beneath the radiant elements will be installed later, with a reflective side against the metal plates.

Unlike the new basement area, where we had brand new, virgin framing to work with, the under-floor heating in the front of the house had to be run through existing space. The guys had to rip out drywall and install the radiant plates and hydronic lines above the built-ins, which we’re retaining:

This is pretty much the apex of hydronic lines. The red ones heading up in the photo are supply and return lines for the master bedroom radiator and under-floor heating in the kitchen.

Late in the infrastructure game, the gas lines were finally run. We had to upgrade our meter to a high-pressure line to accommodate the additional appliances. Gas will be required in the renovated house for the following:

  • Hot water heater
  • Boiler
  • Dryer in the basement
  • Stove
  • First-floor fireplace
  • Master bedroom fireplace (future)

Similar to the manifold approach to distribute hot water for radiant heat, a manifold was installed to distribute gas to the appliances throughout the house:

The yellow gas lines shortly thereafter began to infiltrate the basement. Here’s a shot after the lines were run off the manifold. In addition to the new lines, insulation in the first-floor joist bays has been complete at this point. The area’s dense with equipment, electrical lines, hydronic lines, and gas lines, now that the basement utilities have reached critical mass, but we’re happy it’s all in once place, compartmentalized from the rest of the newly excavated area (which will allow for storage of more bikes, of course . . .).

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Posted by on May 7, 2012 in AC and Hydronics


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