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beengone 09-10-2012 02:55 PM

New heating system in old house - needs lots of help
 
Hi all, first post. I'm very handy and recently bought a house built around 1875. I've been doing lots of work on it and have countless projects in the works, but am in need of some advice and help when it comes to my heating system. I'll provide details I hope helpful here as well as questions. The short is that I need help sizing and choosing a furnace or boiler and then need advice on running ducts or registers.

The house is about 1850 sq ft with two stories over part. The basement is sort of in three parts starting with what could be a finished area and is in the process of becoming an office, transitioning to a utility area with most of the floor poured, and ending with a sloped crawlspace with dirt flour. The ceiling in the basement is around 8' in the non-crawlspace areas.

The first floor is 1190 ft sq with ceilings over 9', but with drop ceilings installed due to crumbling plaster. The drop ceiling is between 8' and 8'4" depending on the room. I may one day either raise the ceiling or remove it and drywall, but that won't happen for at least a year and likely won't at all.

The second story covers about half the house and totals 650 sq ft. All the bedrooms are up there as well as a large landing area and half bath. This is a 'normal' ceiling and is just shy of 8'. There is an attic over this section.

We're in the middle of Michigan, so it can become rather cold. Our average lows for Dec, Jan, Feb are 18, 11, 12 degrees, respectively. Record lows in the same order are -18, -30, -36. I'm not concerned with AC at this point and may never need it. Our south side is shaded by a couple nice maples and stays comfortable all but about 4-5 days/year.

All but 6 windows were replaced recently with modern vinyl windows. I hoped to replace the others before winter, but that looks very unlikely. I will add some plastic and probably some thermal curtains and/or storm windows.

I don't think much of the house is insulated and what is well, read on. It has hardboard siding over the original clapboard. The inside is nearly all lath and plaster. We had concerns of some sort of wood boring insect upstairs due to lots of sawdust around my daughter's window. Removed the window to find that part of the house was insulated with sawdust, but I have no idea which parts. I had to remove some paneling in the breezeway that connects the garage and cut away some clapboards to complete some wiring and found nothing in that wall. That breezeway was added much later when the garage was built (80s?), so the wall I opened was exterior until then. I cannot afford to insulate at this time, but it looks like I do have to replace the furnace. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on insulation and if anyone wants to go down that road, I'll add useful information.

As for ducts, we have few and only one is in a correct location. In almost all cases they are on interior walls. The upstairs only has one and it's in the landing area. With doors closed, the bedrooms will get no heat as it sets.

Being that I have to redo ducts and furnace, I'm considering hot water heat. My ideal goal was to put in a under floor radiant system on the ground floor - likely PEX-based - and run baseboard heat in the second floor. I've been talked out of the radiant by a local contractor who said the old, thick hardwood floors don't conduct the heat well enough for that. He said I'd be far happier with baseboard radiant or forced air.

I have natural gas as my fuel source to both my furnace and water heater.

The people before us in this house stubbed out gas to a few rooms at each end of the house and were running ventless space heaters, I assume do to the furnace being very old and inefficient. We bought in April and it was a foreclosure, so I don't have access to any specifics. We used the furnace in April and a bit in May, but neither were especially cold. It did heat fairly well. I fear getting into January and finding out it can't heat the house, costs a fortune, or gives out.

Questions
- If I do all the work myself, can I get the cost of a water system down to close to what it would cost me for a forced air system keeping in mind that I have to run all new ducts if I stick with that? I know it can be run over PEX instead of copper everywhere.
- Could someone help me size the furnace? Is the $40 software worth my while? Alpine's online estimator has me at 60,000BTU output. That sounds small, but everyone here tends to oversize.
- If its' going to cost me the same amount to blow in insulation as it would be to heat the house without through the winter, I may have to bite the bullet and eat Ramen for a while. Thoughts?
- If I do forced air, I'd like to zone it to be efficient. I've looked into http://www.homeclimatecontrol.com/ and am intrigued to say the least. If I go with forced air, I'm curious to see what thoughts here are on that project/system.
- I'm interested in any sustainable products or methods as well.

Thanks everyone.

Missouri Bound 09-10-2012 03:41 PM

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Missouri Bound 09-10-2012 03:43 PM

In a perfect world, what would you want? Baseboard heat is very nice and now with pex installations it's much easier to do. Also high velocity units work quite well in old retrofits since they use 3" ducting. I"d spend the $40 to determine how to size your equipment. Sized properly, you may just get that back in one season....or a few months. Personally I would install baseboard heat with zone valves and individual thermosats. If cooling was your major concern I wold use the Space Pak units for high velocity....they can include hot water coils as well. Baseboard heat has come a long way with nice looking thin radiators which can blend in....but high velocity systems are almost invisible after insatalled and can do both the heat and cool.

beengone 09-10-2012 04:08 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Missouri Bound (Post 1007062)
In a perfect world, what would you want? Baseboard heat is very nice and now with pex installations it's much esier to do. Alo high velocity units work quite well in old retrofits since they use 3" ducting. I"d spend the $40 to determine how to size your equipment. Sized properly, you may just get that back in one season....or a few months. Personally I would install baseboard heat with zone valves and individual thermosats. If cooling was your major concern I wold use the Space Pak units for high velocity.

In a perfect world, I think I'd want underfloor radiant, but that seems to be out due to the wood floors. Next would be baseboard, but it really depends on cost up front as well as long-term. I had a company come look at it and for them to do it, well, both are out of reach. The cost for the boiler would be much higher than the furnace to begin with and I likely would not recoup that cost for more than 12-15 years.

Here's the other side of it. I have ducts in, just all wrong. I could put in a new furnace and use what's there, moving them as I go and as I find cold spots, getting me through this winter. That may allow me to blow in some insulation on at least a couple walls. I always want to keep the long-term in mind and that includes multiple zones and efficiency. I don't want to invest in anything that will just be a one-year patch job and a loss in a year. No matter what, if I reduct correctly or do baseboard I'll have to fill holes in the middle of my very old oak floors where current ducts are.

Money is a huge concern right now, but having a house heated this winter is rather important. I can do all the work myself, but have a lot to learn.

I think you're right in that I need to just pony up and buy that software.

So, what's your gut on this? Can anyone guess how much I'd save by putting in insulation instead of ducts? If I do all the work myself, about how much more will a boiler/PEX-based water heat system cost compared to a furnace and ducts? Might it be worth my while to hire in a contractor to design a system and I do the install? Or, is this something I can figure out myself with the help here?

Missouri Bound 09-10-2012 04:23 PM

Regardless of what you decide to heat with you need to insulate everything you can and caulk the rest. Insulation is the single most important thing you can do. It's likely you will need less of a heating plant if you insulate everything properly. When your home was built heat was cheap and nobody insulated anything. Things are now 180 degrees on that issue. If you do the work yourself, the insulation will pay for itself in a huge reduction in heating bills in a relatively short period of time.

beengone 09-10-2012 05:55 PM

So, I'll have to work on that as well. But, I have to get a heat source. As for insulation, I have plaster inside and hardboard siding over clapboard. Eventually I have to do something with the inside walls and I have to side. The hardboard is falling apart. My thought was to spray foam or rolled insulation when I tore off one side or the other, but I don't know when I'd do either and haven't decided whether to tear either side down to studs.

Inside I'd have to remove all the plaster ad that's a mess I don't know it I want to start. Removing the old trim and getting it to go back up correctly is unlikely, so I'm considering removing the current paneling and doing it right. Otherwise, we may have to just remove the current wallpaper, fix the paneling there and wallpaper.

Outside is a similar mess. If I just remove the hardboard, I could side over the clapboard. Or, I could remove it all and go to town.

So, I can't blow in insulation if I'm going to remove either side or it will just fall out when I do.

Thoughts? What's best?

beengone 09-10-2012 06:00 PM

And I nearly forgot, i don't know how much is insulated with sawdust. I'd have to vacuum that all out first. Is my best bet to just pull some outlets and see if I find sawdust?

Missouri Bound 09-10-2012 06:58 PM

You could re-install a few space heaters while you work on the house....preferably vented types....and sell them when you are ready for the HVAC system. I'm not sure how much you want to do at once. There is one plus to using a hydronic system in that you can turn off each room as you work on it or inversely add the room to the system when it's finished. Either way you need to start with a plan that won't have you tearing out what you just installed. I"d work on the exterior walls first, insulate then re-build. If the floors are coming out that's the time to do that as well. Again you could do it one room at a time, then add the heat as you go.

beengone 09-10-2012 08:56 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Missouri Bound
You could re-install a few space heaters while you work on the house....preferably vented types....and sell them when you are ready for the HVAC system. I'm not sure how much you want to do at once. There is one plus to using a hydronic system in that you can turn off each room as you work on it or inversely add the room to the system when it's finished. Either way you need to start with a plan that won't have you tearing out what you just installed. I"d work on the exterior walls first, insulate then re-build. If the floors are coming out that's the time to do that as well. Again you could do it one room at a time, then add the heat as you go.

We can't do anything with walls now as far as surfaces goes. I totally agree that we need a good long-term plan and that's what I'm fishing for. Sort of hoping someone thinks of something I haven't. I have to do a heat source of some kind and have to get that heat around my house. I'd like to get this insulated, but have to price that out and figure out how to tackle that.

Let's talk insulation. My only option for insulating if I can't take apart walls is blown insulation, right? If so and I blow it in, I'm committing to either leaving the clapboards or reinstating after, correct? Is there any way for me to find out how many of my walls have the sawdust insulation without making holes? If I blow in insulation, am I best off poking holes above my drop ceiling from the inside or through the hardboard an clapboard on the outside, since the hardboard will be replaced anyway.

I am not necessarily looking for what to do so much as pros and cons so I can weigh my options. In a perfect world I'd have the money to do more of this at once.

As for floors, we will someday redo the kitchen and bathroom floors and that is it. Those are candidates for underfloor water if I go with a water system. The main part of the house still has the original amazing oak floors. Many of the doorways are the old wide oak casings, so I'm trying to leave that stuff alone. Walls? They're fair game.

Missouri Bound 09-10-2012 08:57 PM

Are you going to be living in this house as you remodel?

oh'mike 09-11-2012 06:42 AM

Even in old places like yours ,there is usually some sort of sheeting under the clap boards---have you checked under the siding?

beengone 09-11-2012 08:19 AM

We are and will be living here the entire time. I can send my family to stay with other family for short periods if I need to though.

As for sheathing, I know for certain there is none under the clapboards at the east end. I cannot be certain on the other faces, but can see if I can pull some trim and see.

oh'mike 09-11-2012 09:12 AM

Well-you would be safe with a foam injection--rather expensive--If new sheeting and siding are in the near future--I'd wait till the framing is open from the outside and use batts of fiberglass---

beengone 09-11-2012 09:51 AM

Just spoke with my dad. He has a line on a 98% efficient 2-year old furnace 80,000BTU for around $500. If I can get that, I think I'll jump on it, install for now, and see how we do, adding ducts as needed. If I decide to do water heat, I can just sell that furnace again next year.

As for insulating, I'm not sure I want to take down clapboards when I side someday. My dad thinks I could get away with taking down the hardboard, tyvek over the wood siding, maybe run some fan-fold, vinyl side and call it good. I'm not convinced I don't need a much higher R-value. His argument is always that air is still the best insulation and having the tyvek outside and empty walls is about as good of insulation as you can get. Is he correct that standing air is one of the best insulations I can get or not?

Here's where I stand. It was very clear we needed to move back where we grew up to help family, etc. I left a good job where I had put some money in savings, but have now been without a job for a few months and our savings is to where we only have a few months of living expenses remaining. I'm starting a subcontracting job next week which is a trial period to fill their full-time opening. So, I can't spend all I have in savings in case this doesn't work out. On the other hand, I'll know a lot more in about 1-2 weeks, including whether the job will work out and what it will pay. But, I don't want to get stuck with $700/month heating bills if I can spend $2000 now to get them down to $300/month, saving me that money plus some over one winter. If I had the money to buy siding, I'd probably jump on insulating and siding and put in that furnace for now (assuming I can get it for $500).

I agree that my focus this winter needs to be insuation and just make heating work, even if just using some small space heaters and venting them as needed. But, I need to decide on what type of insulation and how to get it in, while thinking about the future.

On that topic, my attic is not insulated. Is it worth my while to insulate that? If it matters, I have a new, maybe 5-7 years old, shingle roof. The attic is about 5' tall in the middle and has no gable. Instead it has four faces. It's vented by about 7' of ridge vent and I put in some soffit vents this summer (those made a HUGE difference and the upstairs temperature dropped about 10 degrees, phew).

I really appreciate all the help and hope I can figure this all out and get moving on the best ways to save money and maybe even be comfortable.

THANKS!

Missouri Bound 09-11-2012 06:26 PM

It's one of those situations that only you can decide upon which way to go. All the ideas here so far have been solid. If you intend to keep that house after the improvements then you have the sole responsibility of doing it right. And if you do decide to sell it the buyers will appreciate your efforts...most likely with a higher resale value. I think I would do a minimalist approach, and your $500 furnace fits that. Then you can heat the house as you work on it. I also would take one room at a time for the remodel rather than tearing out everything. And as long as you have a working plan and a good idea what you want to end up with then you will have no problem.
Personally I would love to see and remodel a house that is 130+ years old. The character, the style...etc. I wish you the best of luck.:thumbsup:


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