Novel Prefab Method Cuts Installation Time Down to Two Days
With an impossible deadline to meet, Trautman & Shreve needed an ultra-efficient tool to meet the twin performance criteria of energy efficiency and cost control for the new Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, CO. So they prefabricated 42 miles of Uponor’s cross-linked polyethylene (PEX-a) tubing into customized “radiant mats” and installed them in just two days, dramatically cutting both labor time and costs.
The NREL is the nation’s only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization, and deployment of renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies. When it came time to build the $64-million, 220,000-square-foot RSF, NREL engineers looked to Uponor radiant heating and cooling to help meet their energy-neutral goals.
“In designing and building the new facility, our aim was to move the needle in how America uses energy to heat and cool buildings,” NREL Senior Engineer Paul Torcellini said. “It isn’t enough to be energy-efficient when commercially viable technology exists to make buildings energy-neutral.”
Housing 800 staff members in an open work environment, RSF boosted NREL’s campus square footage by 60 percent but increased campus energy use by only six percent. Achieving this outcome wasn’t accidental. Thorough planning with the following mission-critical goals helped guide the design process:
- Design and build a safe work environment
- Achieve a LEED® Platinum rating
- Aim for ENERGY STAR “Plus” in terms of energy usage
Unique Radiant Installation
Tony Barela, project manager for Trautman & Shreve, said, “The job schedule was critical on this project,” Barela says. “We knew that the five days allocated to us were not enough time to build all the radiant heating and cooling zones. It was critical we find another way.”
Barela and superintendent Don Martinez worked with the local Uponor representatives to devise a prefabrication plan for the radiant zones. After mapping out all zones, Trautman & Shreve purchased Wirsbo hePEX™ tubing in standard 1,000- and 500-foot rolls, then, using three-foot plastic rails (with loops in six- to 10-inch spacings to hold the pipe together in an even width), they prefabricated their own radiant mats.
A crew of five people spent three months in the yard at Trautman & Shreve prefabricating each zone—laying out the tubing, tying it to the rails, and rolling up each mat for storage until the decks at RSF were ready for the tubing installation.
“Zones on this project ranged anywhere from 48 to 250 feet long and up to 24 feet wide,” Barela explained. “We customized each mat in whatever dimensions were needed.” For example, on the widest zone, four 6-foot mats were connected to complete that zone.
Once the RSF decks were ready, Trautman & Shreve used a crane to lift the large bundles of tubing. A crew unrolled the tubing, tied it down, and quickly made the necessary connections. The entire radiant tubing installation took only two days, enabling Trautman & Shreve to beat the deadline by three full days.
“Overall, we saved 28 days in the construction schedule,” Barela said, estimating the true day-savings was much more like 60 versus the time required in a conventional radiant installation. These savings, in turn, helped NREL meet its budgetary goals and tight construction schedule.
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