Reimagining the Forever Home

by Natalie Jacobwith
 

When Justin Johnson and his family began building their dream home in the spring of 2020, they had already spent five years planning every detail of the property. As a union pipefitter with 25 years of experience in plumbing and HVAC, Johnson was itching to have a few wish-list items he had seen on worksites over the years that he wanted to add to his new home.

“I had to have radiant for our new home, no matter what,” said industry veteran Johnson while he shared design details.  

Johnson saw Uponor PEX-based plumbing and radiant heating systems in numerous projects throughout his 25-year career, and he knew the systems were a must-have in his family’s new space. Using Uponor systems would make a comfortable, efficient, and clean home for his family. It would also be significantly less expensive to operate.

“Coming home, slipping off your boots, and walking across the warm floor after a long day’s work is the best,” shared Johnson. “All of our Minnesota neighbors take immediate note of that, too, when they are visiting.” 

“Coming home, slipping off your boots, and walking across the warm floor after a long day’s work is the best,” shared Johnson. “All of our Minnesota neighbors take immediate note of that, too, when they are visiting.” 

Johnson added that eliminating dust and dry air through in-floor heating made for a cleaner and healthier environment to live in as well.  

Slab-on-grade foundations are less common in the northern United States, but the Johnson’s were set on using the foundational style to accommodate a radiant heating system. These foundations, which feature a concrete slab directly on the ground, save a considerable number of resources.  

According to EcoHome, “a ton of concrete in every new-build project produces about a ton of greenhouse gases.” Slab-on-grade foundations have significantly less environmental impact than the more traditional approaches to building because they require so much less concrete material. It is also a much more cost-effective option than the raw materials and labor needed to build a basement.  

With about 5,500 feet of Wirsbo hePEX™ tubing from Uponor, the Johnson’s team created a network of flexible PEX pipes buried directly into the concrete slab, designed in seven zones. In-slab radiant systems are more beneficial because they prevent mold and damage to ferrous components. Additionally, this allows the system to be more efficient as the heat stays near the floor where people are located.  

The Johnsons didn’t stop at just radiant floors – they also upgraded their plumbing to maximize efficiency and minimize environmental impact. Plumbing is Johnson’s area of expertise, and this shows through in the house’s design.  

The residence uses a well water system equipped with a booster pump to maintain water pressure. Johnson also chose a variable-speed well pump that works efficiently and quietly regardless of water usage fluctuations.  

The plumbing system is designed in a trunk-and-branch layout, so one main pump delivers water through several smaller branches that extend throughout the house. The design uses about 800 feet of Uponor AquaPEX® in diameters between ½" and 1¼" with water recirculation – another must-have amenity from Johnson.  

The recirculation system consists of one circulator with two balancing valves to control the gallons per minute to each circuit. A timer controls the system and moves warm water to different outlets throughout the house based on regular usage patterns.

“With the half-inch recirculation line, it’s always instant hot water,” said Johnson. “The fact that hot water is not constantly circulating means increased efficiency, because no heat is wasted.” 

“With the half-inch recirculation line, it’s always instant hot water,” said Johnson. “The fact that hot water is not constantly circulating means increased efficiency, because no heat is wasted.” 

The Johnson home is on the forefront of good design and shows how intentional planning creates safe and healthy solutions. Creating cost-effective systems with thoughtful technology is essential. However, the Johnson’s peace of mind for their family’s future in their home is paramount.  

“Knowing that our home has cleaner air is a big positive,” said Johnson. “In my experience, this is becoming a major homeowner demand.”