Title:
Modular heat distribution unit for hydronic heating systems
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A compact modular heat distribution unit for a hydronic heating system connects to a hot water source, to supply and return pipes that lead to heating zones of the building, and, optionally, to an indirect water heater. The module is preferably assembled off-site in a factory setting to contain all components of a typical hydronic heating system except for a hot water source and the building heating pipes. The module includes heating zone distribution sub-modules for the different heating zones of the building. A three-dimensional frame supports the heating zone distribution sub-modules. The module may be used in any multi-zone system including hot water baseboards, hydronic radiant heat floor pipes, swimming pool heaters, ice melt systems or in any combination of these zones.



Inventors:
Wawak, Ryszard J. (Lansing, NY, US)
Application Number:
11/354379
Publication Date:
08/16/2007
Filing Date:
02/15/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24D3/08
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
NAMAY, DANIEL ELLIOT
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BROWN & MICHAELS, PC (ITHACA, NY, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A modular heat distribution unit for regulating heat flow to a plurality of heating zones, the unit comprising: a hot water supply manifold supplied by a hot water source; a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules supplied by the hot water supply manifold; a return water manifold collecting return water from the heating zone distribution sub-modules and returning it to the hot water source; and a three-dimensional frame supporting the heating zone distribution sub-modules; wherein the hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are arranged such that the heating zone distribution sub-modules are stacked with respect to each other.

2. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein the hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are oriented substantially vertically.

3. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 2, wherein the hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are arranged on diagonal corners of the modular heat distribution unit.

4. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein each of the heating zone distribution sub-modules comprises: at least one supply connecting element for supplying water to at least one heating line of one of the plurality of heating zones; and at least one return connecting element for receiving water from the heating zone.

5. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein each of the plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules comprises a zone controller for controlling a water circulation in its respective heating zone.

6. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 5, wherein the zone controllers comprise zone circulators stacked with respect to each other.

7. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein each of the heating zone distribution sub-modules is selected from the group consisting of: a) a radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module for distributing water to a radiant floor heating zone; b) a baseboard heating zone distribution sub-module for distributing water to a baseboard heating zone; c) a domestic hot water zone distribution sub-module for distributing water to a domestic hot water zone; d) a swimming pool sub-module for distributing water to a swimming pool heating zone; e) an ice melting sub-module for distributing water to an ice melting heating zone; and f) a spare zone distribution sub-module.

8. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 7, wherein the radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module comprises a mixing valve, a supply header comprising a plurality of supply outlets, a return header comprising a plurality of return inlets, and a plurality of connecting elements connecting the mixing valve, the supply header, and the return header.

9. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1 further comprising a make-up water sub-module for regulating delivery of water to the modular heat distribution unit and to the rest of the system.

10. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 9, wherein the make-up water sub-module comprises a feeding valve, a backflow preventer, a pressure reducer, a bypass valve, a drain valve, a heating water expansion tank, and a plurality of connecting parts connecting the feeding valve, the backflow preventer, the pressure reducer, the bypass valve, the drain valve, and the heating water expansion tank.

11. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1 further comprising an electronic sub-module for monitoring thermostat settings and readings for the heating zones and controlling water flow appropriately.

12. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein the modular heat distribution unit is constructed off-site and requires only on-site coupling to the hot water source, tubings of a plurality of heating assemblies, thermostat wiring, and a power supply.

13. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein each heating zone distribution sub-module supplies one of the heating zones.

14. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 1, wherein the heating zones comprise at least one radiant floor heating zone and at least one baseboard heating zone and the heating zone distribution sub-modules comprise at least one radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module for the radiant floor heating zone and at least one baseboard heating zone distribution sub-module for the baseboard heating zone.

15. A modular heat distribution unit for regulating heat flow to a plurality of heating zones, the unit comprising: a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules arranged in a three-dimensional layout; and a three-dimensional frame supporting the heating zone distribution sub-modules.

16. The modular heat distribution unit of claim 15, wherein the frame has a rectangular parallelepiped shape.

17. A method of assembling a hydronic heating system for a building comprising the step of: a) manufacturing a modular heat distribution unit off-site comprising: a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules arranged in a three-dimensional layout; and a three-dimensional frame supporting the heating zone distribution sub-modules.

18. The method of claim 17 further comprising the steps of: b) installing a plurality of building heating assemblies in the building, wherein the building heating assemblies are selected from the group consisting of baseboard heating assemblies and radiant floor heating assemblies; and c) installing at least one thermostat in the building.

19. The method of claim 18 further comprising the steps of: d) transporting the modular heat distribution unit to the building; and e) connecting the modular heat distribution unit on-site to a power supply, to the thermostat, to a hot water source, and to the building heating assemblies.

20. A method of producing a modular heat distribution unit comprising the steps of: a) assembling a plurality of frames; b) assembling a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules; c) assembling a plurality of hot water supply manifolds; d) assembling a plurality of return water manifolds; e) selecting a selected frame from the frames, a plurality of selected sub-modules from the heating zone distribution sub-modules, a selected supply manifold from the hot water supply manifolds, and a selected return manifold from the return water manifolds; and f) attaching the selected sub-modules to the selected supply manifold, the selected return manifold, and the selected frame.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The invention pertains to the field of residential and commercial heating. More particularly, the invention pertains to a modular heat distribution unit for a hydronic heating system.

2. Description of Related Art

A typical modern hydronic heating system includes three basic components: a boiler, baseboard panels or radiant in-floor heating pipes (referred to herein as heating assemblies), and an arrangement of plumbing and electronics connecting the other two components and controlling heat flow. Many types of boilers are readily available on the market. The baseboard panels or the in-floor heating pipes must be installed on the job site for obvious reasons. This work is relatively simple and straightforward, and it is usually efficiently accomplished in the early stages of building construction. For hot water baseboard heating, hot water baseboard panels are connected by tubing to create several heating zones. For radiant floor heating, multi-loop zones of pipes are built into the floors of the building.

The said arrangement of plumbing- and electronics may include pipes, insulating valves, gauges, circulators, air purgers, expansion tanks, pressure reducers, check valves, drain valves, mixing valves, electronic controls, and electric wires. This arrangement is commonly referred to as the heat distribution center of the heating system. The heat distribution center is the most complicated, expensive, and time-consuming component to construct. The heat distribution center connects the boiler to the baseboard panels or in-floor heating pipes and regulates heat flow to the panels or pipes. The heat distribution center is typically custom-designed and built on the job site for each individual building. However, it is rarely organized as well-defined in a spatial sense, and it is usually fairly complicated, especially in hydronic radiant heat floor cases. This results in high costs, uneven quality, and significant delays on the job site. There is no standard way of designing a distribution center, so each center is different and reflects the individual designer's preferences. Often the on-site-constructed distribution center design decreases the energy efficiency of the heating system.

A.I.M. Radiant Heating markets a “Boiler Room in a Box” that is preassembled in a primarily two-dimensional layout. The box is typically wall-mounted and requires a large amount of wall space which often may not be available in a building.

There is a need in the art for a mass-producible, transportable, compact, fully-assembled modular heat distribution unit that may be connected on-site within hours to any hot water source, to any arrangement of heating assemblies, and, if necessary, to any indirect water heater.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

A compact modular heat distribution unit for a hydronic heating system connects to a hot water source, to supply and return pipes that lead to heating zones of the building, and, optionally, to an indirect water heater. The module is preferably assembled off-site in a factory setting to contain all components of a typical hydronic heating system except for a hot water source and the building heating pipes. The module includes heating zone distribution sub-modules for the different heating zones of the building. A three-dimensional frame supports the heating zone distribution sub-modules. The module may be used in any multi-zone system including hot water baseboards, hydronic radiant heat floor pipes, swimming pool heaters, ice melt systems or in any combination of these zones.

In one embodiment, a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention regulates heat flow to a plurality of heating zones. The modular heat distribution unit includes a hot water supply manifold, a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules, a return water manifold, and a three-dimensional frame. The hot water supply manifold is supplied by a hot water source. The heating zone distribution sub-modules are supplied by the hot water supply manifold. The return water manifold collects return water from the heating zone distribution sub-modules and returns it to the hot water source. The frame supports the heating zone distribution sub-modules. The hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are arranged such that the heating zone distribution sub-modules are stacked with respect to each other.

The hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are preferably oriented substantially vertically. In one embodiment, the hot water supply manifold and the return water manifold are arranged on diagonal corners of the modular heat distribution unit. In a preferred embodiment, each of the heating zone distribution sub-modules includes at least one supply connecting element for supplying water to at least one heating line of one of the plurality of heating zones and at least one return connecting element for receiving water from the heating zone. Each of the plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules preferably includes a zone controller for controlling a water circulation in its respective heating zone. The zone controllers preferably include zone circulators stacked with respect to each other.

Each of the heating zone distribution sub-modules is preferably a radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module for distributing to a radiant floor heating zone, a baseboard heating zone distribution sub-module for distributing to a baseboard heating zone, a domestic hot water zone distribution sub-module for distributing to a domestic hot water zone, a swimming pool sub-module for distributing water to a swimming pool heating zone, an ice melting sub-module for distributing water to an ice melting heating zone, or a spare zone distribution sub-module. The radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module preferably includes a mixing valve, a supply header having a plurality of supply outlets, a return header having a plurality of return inlets, and a plurality of connecting elements connecting the mixing valve, the supply header, and the return header. The modular heat distribution unit preferably includes a make-up water sub-module for regulating delivery of water to the modular heat distribution unit and to the rest of the system. The make-up water sub-module preferably includes a feeding valve, a backflow preventer, a pressure reducer, a bypass valve, a drain valve, a heating water expansion tank, and a plurality of connecting parts connecting the feeding valve, the backflow preventer, the pressure reducer, the bypass valve, the drain valve, and the heating water expansion tank.

The modular heat distribution unit preferably includes an electronic sub-module for monitoring thermostat settings and readings for the heating zones and controlling water flow appropriately. The modular heat distribution unit is preferably constructed off-site and requires only on-site coupling to the hot water source, tubings of the heating assemblies, thermostat wiring, and a power supply. Each heating zone distribution sub-module preferably supplies one of the heating zones.

In one embodiment, the heating zones include at least one radiant floor heating zone and at least one baseboard heating zone, and the heating zone distribution sub-modules include at least one radiant floor heating zone distribution sub-module for the radiant floor heating zone and at least one baseboard heating zone distribution sub-module for the baseboard heating zone.

In another embodiment, the modular heat distribution unit includes a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules arranged in a three-dimensional layout and a three-dimensional frame supporting the heating zone distribution sub-modules. The frame preferably has a rectangular parallelepiped shape.

In another embodiment, a method of assembling a hydronic heating system for a building includes manufacturing a modular heat distribution unit off-site. The modular heat distribution unit includes a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules arranged in a three-dimensional layout and a three-dimensional frame supporting the heating zone distribution sub-modules. The method preferably includes installing a plurality of building heating assemblies in the building. The building heating assemblies are baseboard heating assemblies or radiant floor heating assemblies. The method preferably also includes installing at least one thermostat in the building. The method preferably further includes transporting the modular heat distribution unit to the building and connecting the modular heat distribution unit on-site to a power supply, to the thermostat, to a hot water source, and to the building heating assemblies.

In another embodiment, a method of producing a modular heat distribution unit includes assembling a plurality of frames, assembling a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules, assembling a plurality of hot water supply manifolds, and assembling a plurality of return water manifolds. The method also includes selecting a selected frame from the frames, a plurality of selected sub-modules from the heating zone distribution sub-modules, a selected supply manifold from the hot water supply manifolds, and a selected return manifold from the return water manifolds. The method further includes attaching the selected sub-modules to the selected supply manifold, the selected return manifold, and the selected frame.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 shows a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention in a first embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 2 shows a second view of the modular heat distribution unit of FIG. 1.

FIG. 3 shows a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention in a second embodiment of the present invention.

FIG. 4 shows the modular heat distribution unit of FIG. 3 as part of a hydronic heating system.

FIG. 5 shows a schematic heating system including a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

A modular heat distribution unit of the present invention is preferably an off-site-constructed unit requiring only on-site attachment to the hot water source, to the heating assemblies of the building, to the thermostat wiring, and to a power supply. Heating assemblies may include hot water domestic storage tanks. As such, a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention is easily connected to the other components of the heating system in a matter of several hours. The modular heat distribution unit preferably includes a make-up water sub-module and a plurality of heating zone distribution sub-modules. Each heating zone distribution sub-module is preferably one of either a sub-module for a radiant floor heating zone, a sub-module for a baseboard heating zone, a sub-module for a domestic hot water zone, or a spare zone that may be used at a later time. In other embodiments, heating zone distribution sub-modules serve swimming pool heating systems or ice melting systems.

Although a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention is built using a limited number of subunits and may be mass-produced quickly and inexpensively, it is also highly customizable in order to account for the uniqueness of heating system requirements for different buildings. The builder or consumer may specify the number and types of zones for the modular heat distribution unit, preferably in the range of three to eight, as well as the number and order of the previously-discussed heating zone distribution sub-modules in the modular heat distribution unit. The modular heat distribution unit has the added flexibility of being compatible with both radiant floor heating zones and baseboard heating zones in the same building.

As shown in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, a modular heat distribution unit 2 of the present invention has a three-dimensional arrangement that is preferably free-standing but may also be ceiling-mounted or wall-mounted. “Three-dimensional” as used herein describes a modular heat distribution unit arrangement, wherein each of the heating zone distribution sub-modules is laid out in a compact manner with a width and a depth of similar dimensions. The heating zone distribution sub-modules are then stacked in a third dimension. This layout produces a modular heat distribution unit having a much smaller footprint and hence making it much more compact than preassembled units of the prior art. A three-dimensional frame, which preferably has a rectangular parallelepiped shape, has a width and a depth similar to or slightly larger than the width and depth of the heating zone distribution sub-modules and supports the heating zone distribution sub-modules.

In FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, the elements of the modular heat distribution unit 2 are supported by a preferably metal frame 3 and by other supporting members within that frame. In a preferred embodiment, the frame 3 of a five-heating zone modular heat distribution unit 2, as shown in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, has a footprint of only 18″×24″, and is 60″ high. In this embodiment, when the height of the frame and supply and return manifolds are increased by 7.5″ per zone, heating zone distribution sub-modules for additional heating zones may be added, so that an eight-zone modular heat distribution unit is easily installed in a typical 8′ tall basement. The modular heat distribution unit may be easily custom-built to other footprints and heights based on the needs of the consumer within the spirit of the present invention. In the embodiment of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, the entire modular heat distribution unit is light enough and small enough to be moved around with a hand cart up or down stairs and through doorways.

The make-up water sub-module 5 includes a feeding valve 4, a backflow preventer 6, a pressure reducer 8, a bypass valve 10, and a drain valve 12. The make-up water sub-module 5 delivers water to the system when it is first filled and adds small amounts of water during its operation, when residual air is purged out of the system or some water is lost to small leaks. The make-up water sub-module is preferably located in the bottom section of the modular heat distribution unit 2, along with the heating water expansion tank 14, and an optional domestic hot water expansion tank 16.

As labeled in the lowest heating zone distribution sub-module 11 in FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, each heating zone is served by a horizontally arranged heating zone distribution sub-module including, in this embodiment, a zone controller 18, a zone controller flange 20, and a uni-flange with an integrated insulating valve 22. The zone controller 18 in the embodiment of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2 is a zone circulator pump with an integrated check valve. A zone controller of the present invention may be any kind including, but not limited to, a circulator pump or a zone valve. In an alternative embodiment, the individual circulator pumps for each heating zone distribution sub-module are replaced with individual circulator valves such that a single circulator pump is used to move the water in more than one heating zone. Depending on the type of the heating zone, appropriate connecting elements 25 are installed on the hot water and the return water sides. The heating zone distribution sub-modules are preferably supported by a specially-designed C-shaped metal vertical column 27 located in the center part of the modular heat distribution unit.

In the embodiment of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, the top two heating zone distribution sub-modules 17, 19 serve zones devoted to radiant floor heating, with multiple loops in each of the zones. In this embodiment, the radiant floor heating zone sub-modules include a mixing valve 28 and the supply and return headers 30, 32, respectively. A header as used herein may be any multi-outlet pipe or tubing. Each supply and return header 30, 32 has multiple outlets and inlets 33 to support the multiple loops for the radiant zone. The number of outlets and inlets for each radiant zone may be customized for a particular building heating system. A mixing valve 28 is preferably only included in a radiant heating zone distribution sub-module. The middle heating zone distribution sub-module 15 serves a baseboard heating zone and is shown with only a one-outlet supply connecting element 25 and a one-inlet return connecting element 25. The heating zone distribution sub-module 13 directly below the middle heating zone distribution sub-module 15 is a spare zone distribution sub-module that may be filled in the case of an additional heating assembly in the building to allow for an additional heating zone. The hot supply manifold outlet 29 and cold return manifold inlet 31 are capped for the spare zone distribution sub-module 15. The bottom heating zone distribution sub-module 11 serves to supply heat to an indirect water heater that makes domestic hot water. In this embodiment, the flexible tubes are the only attachments of the modular heat distribution unit to the building heating pipes and heating assemblies. Although a specific number and sequence of heating zone distribution sub-modules are shown in the embodiment of FIG. 1 and FIG. 2, any number and any sequence of heating zone distribution sub-modules may be used in a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention.

The hot water supply manifold 34 and the return water manifold 36 are positioned vertically in this embodiment, preferably on diagonal corners of the frame as shown. A manifold as used herein may be any multi-outlet pipe or tubing. The supply manifold outlets and return manifold inlets for the various heating zone distribution sub-modules are arranged in the modular heat distribution unit such that they supply the stacked heating zone distribution sub-modules. Although the hot water supply manifold 34 and the return water manifold 36 are preferably vertically arranged, they may alternatively be positioned at an angle to the vertical within the spirit of the present invention. Although the heating zone distribution sub-modules are preferably vertically aligned with similar components in, vertical alignment as shown, the heating zone distribution sub-modules or their components may alternatively be horizontally offset from vertical alignment while remaining stacked with respect to each other within the spirit of the present invention.

The zone outlets 24 and inlets 26 of the manifolds are constructed in a way that enables connection of all desired elements that are required for the type of each particular heating zone distribution sub-module. This design allows for factory assembly of a fully customized modular heat distribution unit out of a mass-produced frame, mass-produced sub-modules, and mass-produced connectors, so that a custom-made product is ready for a customer within hours. The main hot water inlet 38 from the hot water source and the main return water outlet 40 to the hot water source are preferably supplied with flanges that allow for easy connection to the hot water source via uni-flanges with integrated insulating valves.

The electronic sub-module 42 is preferably fully assembled except for a connection to a power source, a connection to the hot water source, and a connection to the low voltage thermostat wires. In one embodiment, the power source is a 120V power source. The electronic sub-module monitors the thermostat settings and readings for the heating zones and controls the zone controllers appropriately.

Finally, an air purger 44 is preferably located slightly outside the main body of the modular heat distribution unit so that custom air purgers may be used, and an appropriate piping towards a specific hot water source may be designed.

A second embodiment of the present invention with no radiant floor heating zones is shown in FIG. 3. In the case of hot water baseboard systems, there is no need for the modular heat distribution unit 50 to control the temperature of the hot water entering the heating pipes beyond the control provided by the hot water source itself. Therefore, the mixing valves may be eliminated, and the supply manifold 52 is preferably located closer to the zone controllers 54, thereby reducing the manufacturing cost and simplifying the structure of the modular heat distribution unit 50. The heating zone distribution sub-modules 51, 53, 55, 57, 59 in this embodiment are similar to the first embodiment, except that the top two radiant heating zone distribution sub-modules have been replaced with baseboard heating zone distribution sub-modules.

The modular heat distribution unit 50 of FIG. 3 is shown in a fully-assembled heating system in FIG. 4. In this embodiment, the hot water source is a boiler 56. The boiler 56 supplies hot water to the modular heat distribution unit 50, which regulates its circulation to the tubing 58 supplying the hot water to the baseboard panels. An optional indirect water heater 60 is also shown in this system.

A heating system incorporating a modular heat distribution unit of the present invention is shown schematically in FIG. 5. The hot water source 82 may be any kind of water heating source including, but not limited to, a boiler, a heat pump, or a hot water storage tank. The modular heat distribution unit 70 receives heated water from the hot water source 82 through a supply line 71 and returns water to the hot water source 82 through a return line 83. The modular heat distribution unit 70 has heating zone distribution sub-modules 72, 74, 76, 78, 80 for five heating zones. The heating zone distribution sub-modules 72, 74, 76, 78, 80 distribute water to the heating assemblies 84, 86, 88, 90, 92, respectively, through a supply line 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, respectively, and water returns to the modular heat distribution unit 70 by way of a return line 85, 87, 89, 91, 93, respectively.

Accordingly, it is to be understood that the embodiments of the invention herein described are merely illustrative of the application of the principles of the invention. Reference herein to details of the illustrated embodiments is not intended to limit the scope of the claims, which themselves recite those features regarded as essential to the invention.