How Do You Do?

This may very well be one of my favorite music videos of all time…

Dutch duo Mouth & MacNeil with their #8 hit from the summer of ’72, “How Do You Do?

The 70′s were different, especially in Europe…

And speaking of Europe, there’s a tendency in our industry to look at Europe as the “Gold Standard” for hydronics.

“Well, that’s how they do it in Europe” is an oft-repeated phrase by those who are said to be “in the know,” as if European origin is somehow automatic validation of superiority or, at the very least, an indication of the latest, greatest and most efficient.

So, are European heating systems “better” than the heating systems we have here in the US?

Well, they’re different.  I’ll give you different.

But better?  For that we need to dig deeper than hearsay.

Roughly 90 to 95% of the homes in Europe are heated with hydronics, while only 6 to 8% of  US homes are.  The typical European hydronic heating system is made up of panel radiators with thermostatic radiator valves (TRV’s).  These radiators are installed using a home-run parallel piping system, meaning there’s a direct supply and return line to each radiator from a centrally located manifold, using small diameter PEX or PEX-AL-PEX tubing (usually 14MM, the equivalent of our 3/8″).

Yep, that’s a pretty typical European residential hydronic heating system.  Have  you ever wondered why Europe does it that way?

Turns out there’s a very simple, very logical and incredibly practical reason.

A study of European residential construction is pretty interesting.  Roughly 42% of the residential housing stock in Northern and Western Europe (where most of the people live), was built prior to 1960, and most of that was pre-WWII.  The statistics tell the tale of the ravages of war.  In the UK, more than 55% of the homes were built prior to 1960, while in France that number drops to 43% and in Germany it’s only 35%.

And how were those homes heated?  Usually by either a coal stove or a hearth.

But starting in the late 60′s and continuing into the 70′s, these older homes were modernized with oil or gas-fired central heating systems. There were several reasons for this modernization, not the least of which was an increase in anti-pollution legislation.

Coal was pretty dirty back then.

As anyone who’s ever done it can attest, retrofitting an old home with central heating is a bear of a job. Technology came to the rescue in the early 70′s, with the rising availability of natural gas, the development of small, wall-hung boilers and the advent that new-fangled (at the time), flexible PEX tubing.

The really small stuff could be fished through the walls and timbers to each room. All you had to do was hook those home-runs to a radiator, slap a TRV on it and call it a day.

These types of heating systems became common throughout Europe simply because they were the easiest, most convenient and least expensive to install.

It’s not that they were better, more comfortable or more efficient than series loop baseboard systems, mono-flo systems, or two-pipe reverse return systems like we were installing here in the US.

They were just the easiest and the least expensive systems to install in the types of structures they had.

Now, this type of system – panel radiators with TRV’s, piped in a home-run manner using small diameter PEX, have very specific pumping requirements.

Aesop told us necessity is the mother of invention, and the pumping necessities of those systems led to the development of a very specific type of circulator for that very specific type of application – a circulator that was very different from what we were using over here in the good ‘ole US of A.

Which we’ll discuss next time.

And yes, Mouth and MacNeil were HUGE in Europe back in the early 70′s.  Wonder how they heated their homes?

Yep, life changing lyrics right there…


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