At this 3,380-sq-ft ambulance station in West Chester, PA, the in-floor radiant system allowed for quick and comfortable heating at floor level. The new design also consolidated boiler location into one room.
By definition, an ambulance garage must be in a constant state of ready alert. Vehicles need to be quickly and thoroughly cleaned, decontaminated, and serviced so they're ready to hit the streets again on a moment's notice. Turning around these large, complex vehicles can sometimes be a difficult and not terribly pleasant assignment. Ambulances caked with ice, snow, slush, mud, and road salt present a particular challenge to maintaining vehicle hygiene and performance.

When the volunteers at Good Fellowship Ambulance Station in West Chester, PA, began planning a new facility to replace their old, one-story, 2,500-sq-ft structure, they welcomed any suggestion that promised to make their work less taxing inside the garage and more effective on the street. With 20,000 sq ft on three levels, the new station would be more spacious, with room for vehicle storage, offices, and bunks, and also for the Emergency Medical Service Training Institute, which offers certification courses for emergency medical technicians and community first aid and CPR classes.

Expert Opinion

Ronayne's 11-year-old company, Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning, had been asked to bid on the project for a couple of reasons. Brandywine had participated in the capital funding of the volunteer station, and Ronayne currently serves as an assistant fire chief to one of West Chester's three volunteer firefighting companies. In short, Ronayne knows his way around an ambulance station.

The Brandywine design team recommended that the original heating system design be replaced by an in-floor radiant system that would run off a pair of hot-water boilers, to be located in a mechanical room. The latter would also house the domestic hot water system for the kitchen, locker-room showers and lavatories, and the clothes washers.

"In doing so, we were able to confine all of the combustion into a single mechanical room," said Ronayne, citing one of several advantages of going radiant. "That, in turn, eliminated the need for two or three gas-fired water heaters in different parts of the building," as called for by the original plan. In his meetings with Tim Bossert, COO of the ambulance station, and the Good Fellowship board, Ronayne ultimately justified the switch to radiant by stressing its ability to warm people and objects quickly.

The volunteers would also be much warmer since they are usually standing on the floor as they service their vehicles. "Positioned at floor level, rather than at the ceiling, the main heating source would warm people as well as the surrounding objects much more quickly," Ronayne pointed out. "A warm floor is certainly preferable to having hot air blow down on you from the ceiling. Radiant also cuts down on problems with cold drafts."

The radiant system at Good Fellowship consists of 3,492 ft (18 total loops) of 5/8-in. Uponor Wirsbo hePEX plus tubing, installed into the concrete floor 12 in. on center and secured into 6-in. by 6-in. wire mesh. The boilers are Weil-McLain Ultra units, with inputs of 230,000 Btuh. The system supply water temperature is 130°F, and the system flow is 32.34 gpm. Installation took place over three days in May 2004. The facility was completed later that summer.

Good - And Warm - Fellows

In his meetings with Good Fellowship, Ronayne also counseled that radiant would foster fuel conservation, because the volunteers would not have to set the thermostat so high to achieve the desired level of comfort. "Our management team understood that while radiant would cost more upfront, it would save us money over the long haul," said Bossert. While the system's savings can't be documented in comparison to the old single-story building, Bossert said the radiant system "... is absolutely more comfortable than what we had at the old engine bay. We're very happy with its performance." ES