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Old 01-24-2012, 01:30 AM   #1
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


I have a small 850 sq ft 1.5 story house that is currently heated with a forced air gas furnace. The furnace is about 20 years old and exhausts via a pvc pipe through the rim joist out the side of the house. It’s been a reliable machine since we moved here 3 years ago but it’s getting old. The gas hot water tank vents into the chimney. There is no liner. The tank is at least 10 years old.


Being from 1920, the house originally had a coal fired gravity furnace. At some point, I think in the 1950’s or 60’s, long before my time, some new ductwork was grafted into the system for a forced air setup. The original cold air returns in the floor were boarded over and new ones located on outside walls. The original giant heat registers remain on the inside walls, each one sharing a duct with another register blowing into an adjacent room. They originally blew right up into the stud bays until I put some blocking in above each vent and sealed it up.


There are two heat runs to the finished attic and no cold air return. There is a cold air return in the first floor hallway at the bottom of the stairs, which as I understand is the way they did it back in the old days.

I’m no pro but the ductwork seems undersized and poorly thought out. Installing cold air returns to the second floor would be a nightmare. To make the whole system “right”, I’m basically looking at ripping out ALL of the ductwork and having all new put in, with the registers under windows and returns on inside walls.


What do you all think of ripping EVERYTHING out and starting over? With the imminent demise of the hot water tank, the obsolete duct setup, and the difficulty of getting cold air returns to the 2nd floor, I thought perhaps now would be the time to get a gas fired boiler with baseboards AND an indirect hot water tank. I know it will be a big expensive project to have done but what do you all think? I despise forced air heat anyways due to allergies. I know modern systems have pretty good air filtration and variable speed fans but just the warm air getting blown around is enough to cause distress.


Not being able to have central air would not be an issue. One 10k btu window unit downstairs and one 5K unit upstairs cools everything in the summer just fine. It’s only hot here 2-3 months of the year anyways.


Sorry for the long post. Except for ripping out the old system and repairing the walls where the registers were, I would not be doing this DIY. In the end I may just go with a new high efficiency furnace using the old ductwork. Just looking to educate myself. Thanks for any info!


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Old 01-24-2012, 07:00 AM   #2
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


like putting air brakes on a turtle...! if the ducts need total rip out and redo might consider hot water baseboard,and definitly doing some insulating either way.if you have a basement hot water baseboard is easy to install same with a seperate HWH for domestic water use... baseboard is quiet more efficant and low profile hot water heating is more even heating the rip out of ducting is going to cost you might start it in the spring at least save it there.


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Old 01-24-2012, 08:32 AM   #3
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


Gas fired boiler is good but can get expensive with copper and must maintain boiler every year. That insure all air is out of the line every year and insure pumps are running to par. It will cost you more then new ductwork and force air. You may get away with heat pump with back up gas furnace. With that you have a/c in summer and unit can heat in winter. Plus a good selling point on the house if you have to sell
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Old 01-24-2012, 11:26 AM   #4
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


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Originally Posted by biggles View Post
like putting air brakes on a turtle... ! if the ducts need total rip out and redo might consider hot water baseboard, and definitely doing some insulating either way. if you have a basement hot water baseboard is easy to install same with a separate HWH for domestic water use... baseboard is quiet more efficient and low profile hot water heating is more even heating http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H6qVuz4JIM the rip out of ducting is going to cost you might start it in the spring at least save it there.


Yes, I have a basement. Another factor is I'm sure new, properly routed and sized ductwork would make an already short basement even worse. Be nice to not have any ductwork down there. But yeah, I'd definitely pull all the old crap out myself and also do the grunt work required to get the pipes where they need to go on the 2nd floor and let the pro install it.

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Originally Posted by Tator1076 View Post
Gas fired boiler is good but can get expensive with copper and must maintain boiler every year. That insure all air is out of the line every year and insure pumps are running to par. It will cost you more than new ductwork and force air. You may get away with heat pump with back up gas furnace. With that you have a/c in summer and unit can heat in winter. Plus a good selling point on the house if you have to sell


I like that idea but changing/adding ductwork to the 2nd floor would be a huge undertaking. With the cooling season being so short here, not really worried about central air.

Either way, I'll discuss options with some contractors if/when I get to the point of making things happen.
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:03 PM   #5
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


might want to connect with some local plumbers and get an estiment on the install with that "me rip out...theme going on" then in the summer they come in and bang out the baseboard.you might want to look around for a boiler and size one up get those prices just one item less to get priced up.imagine you clear the house of duct...slid a boiler in, buy all the baseboard,and just have somebody pipe it and to boot you have the copper/PX or even consider in floor radient zones..you would almost be a project manager with all that stuff waiting there...something to consider
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Old 01-24-2012, 12:49 PM   #6
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Forced air to baseboard conversion


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Originally Posted by Zedman53 View Post
What do you all think of ripping EVERYTHING out and starting over? With the imminent demise of the hot water tank, the obsolete duct setup, and the difficulty of getting cold air returns to the 2nd floor, I thought perhaps now would be the time to get a gas fired boiler with baseboards AND an indirect hot water tank. I know it will be a big expensive project to have done but what do you all think? I despise forced air heat anyways due to allergies. I know modern systems have pretty good air filtration and variable speed fans but just the warm air getting blown around is enough to cause distress.
I'm in the middle of rebuilding a '59 ranch and just made the same choice.

I say do it.

1. It's easy to find a small mod/con boiler.
2. Put an indirect on it and you'll have almost unlimited hot water.
3. Newer units are very small and can hang on a wall.
4. Make sure you use outdoor reset for better efficiency.
5. I didn't want to lose any height in the basement with the ductwork.

The run upstairs can easily go in the space vacated by the old ductwork.

Just be sure to have a proper heat loss calculation done. You might need a much smaller boiler than you think.

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