Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

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FranTastic444
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Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by FranTastic444 »

We sold our house and moved into a rental with the plan of signing a deal on a new house that would be ready in the next 12-15 months. Unfortunately the deal on the new place fell through because the builder was insisting that we take out a construction loan on the build (and he also upped the price as well, blaming material cost increases in light of Covid).

Where we now live there is a lack of new properties, but a glut of places 20+ years old. Most of them have base boards for heating and (presumably retrofitted) ducts for central air. I know that rusty / bashed baseboards can have new covers fitted or can be replaced, but we really don't like them.

Is it feasible / cost effective to do away with the baseboards and route both heating and cooling through the same ductwork? Presumably I'd need a new furnace that could handle both hot and cold air rather than being able to add cold air to an existing hot air system? Would ducting designed / built for cooling be suitable for heating without any modification or performance issues?

Note - I'm not talking here about fitting new ducting, but leveraging existing ducting that has only been used for cooling to date.
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by trainspotter48 »

First off, Fran, I'm on the other side of the 'pond', so UK practice may be different to US, and I'm a retired electrical engineer, not a H & V man.
On the face of it, what you are considering is technically possible, but a lot will depend on local conditions.
Basically, what you need to do is replace the (cooling only) air conditioning central unit with a 'heat pump'. This can in theory extract heat from outside and pass it through the unit to heat the interior in a reverse of conventional A/C. The difficulty will come with extracting enough heat from outside in your winter conditions, so you may well need a way of gathering additional heat from a conventional boiler or warm air heating plant to supplement the heat pump.
The other factor that will come into consideration concerns the thermal insulation in the walls and roof of your property - is there enough?

You will need the services of a heating and ventilating engineer to work out all the details, but this is the way we need to think if we are to reduce our consumption of carbon derived energy sources.

Best of luck!!
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by crfriend »

FranTastic444 wrote:
Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:06 pm
Is it feasible / cost effective to do away with the baseboards and route both heating and cooling through the same ductwork? Presumably I'd need a new furnace that could handle both hot and cold air rather than being able to add cold air to an existing hot air system? Would ducting designed / built for cooling be suitable for heating without any modification or performance issues?

Note - I'm not talking here about fitting new ducting, but leveraging existing ducting that has only been used for cooling to date.
I suspect that there is no technical reason why it couldn't be done as the temperatures involved are nowhere near the ignition point of anything usually found in home construction, but there could well be some inefficiencies involved, especially if the outlets for the forced-air system are on the ceiling (where they would logically be for cooling) or if there are long exposed runs of ductwork in the basement, those could be wrapped in insulation to keep heat loss down.

Other than that, all the ductwork does is move air, and air is air no matter how hot or cold it gets (within reason, mind, before some wiseguy makes a crack about liquefying air).

Some sort of heat-pump based heater/chiller would likely be a good starting-point to look at as those heat or cool using one unit.
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by Fred in Skirts »

Since I do not know what fuel is available to you. I can only suggest types of heating and air conditioning equipment you could use. I use propane gas and have what is called a gas pack. It is both heater and AC in one unit that sits outside the house and the heat/AC is delivered by duct work to the inside. It is very efficient as well.
There are refit units available as well to add heat or AC to your current unit. Check with your local HVAC dealer and/or installer to find out what is available to you.

Good Luck,
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by KiltedintheValley »

The home my wife and I currently own is heated with hot water baseboard heaters and cooled with conventional central A/C units. Hot water baseboard is an efficient way to heat, but it is costly to install. Our home was constructed in 1969 and was maintained well by the previous owners. Hot water baseboard also comes with risks (i.e. flooding if one of the pipes burst :shock: ).

Our previous home had a natural gas furnace with A/C. Basically, the A/C evaporator coil was placed just below the heat exchanger of the furnace. This is a very efficient way to heat a home. In the northern climates, a heat pump can consume a large amount of electricity (it uses supplemental electric heating elements when it is too cold outside for efficient heat transfer over the coils). However, that should be the lowest up front cost of any system available. Adding a furnace will require a fuel source (natural gas is best, if it is available) and exhaust. The up front cost will be higher, but the overall operating cost should be lower.

Good luck and stay warm!
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by moonshadow »

I will echo those who suggest a visit from a heating and air company/engineer. There are several variables we don't have answers for here, such as what fuel will be used? What kind of ducting is currently in place? Among other factors.

Generally, like Carl pointed out, pretty much any ducting should be able to handle forced air heat. In my old house in Pulaski VA, I ran a heat pump with a 15kw electric auxiliary, and let me tell you, when that auxiliary kicked in, the lights dimmed, and the floor registers would get too hot to touch. We had standard insulated ducting with flexible lines going to each register.

If your current duct work is uninsulated, you may want not want a heat pump. They pretty much require a pretty tight system. Old shoddy ductwork like I have in my home (straight galvanized ducting) will carry the heat, but would be woefully inefficient moving the "cooler" heat pump air in the winter...

When I install my [heat pump] system in the future everything in the photo below has to go... It's connected to a 140k BTU oil burner that once it gets going, leaks more hot air in the basement that the upstairs!
20201127_165513_resize_83_compress88.jpg

Short answers:
FranTastic444 wrote:
Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:06 pm
Would ducting designed / built for cooling be suitable for heating without any modification or performance issues?
Likely so, especially if the ducting is insulated.
FranTastic444 wrote:
Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:06 pm
Presumably I'd need a new furnace that could handle both hot and cold air rather than being able to add cold air to an existing hot air system?
If the furnace will accept an evaporator, you're golden! If not, you'll need to upgrade the furnace. Likely depends on the age.

Of course, if in doubt, bid it out! Most heating and air contractors will evaluate and size you up a system for free.. if you're modifying an existing system, they might charge a couple hundred bucks for an evaluation, but that would be money well spent to get a dependable answer.
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by Uncle Al »

My natural gas fueled HVAC unit is in the attic. All duct work is sealed and insulated.
Several years ago I added 6" of blown-in insulation to the attic. Works great :D

Moon, you might be able to increase the efficiency of your unit by insulating the duct work.
I would suggest adding duct work sealing tape to each joint of the duct work, before adding
the insulation to the duct work. Would cost less than a new unit. Most HVAC contractors
may say to save $$$$, use the existing duct work. Since the duct work in our previous 1800 Sq Ft.
house, was already insulated, we installed a new central HVAC unit to replace the very old unit.
The compressor, outside, was still in good shape so didn't replace it. The 'new' system($1600.00)
worked wonders in heating and cooling our house. The heating/cooling fuel bills went DOWN.

I may have to do the same on our existing 2385 Sq Ft house. Our current house was built around
1972. It's on it's 2nd HVAC unit and after 17 years in this house, it might need a 2nd replacement.
I figure around 20 years +/- use for a HVAC unit is an average life expectancy, YMMV.

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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by moonshadow »

Uncle Al wrote:
Fri Nov 27, 2020 10:53 pm
Moon, you might be able to increase the efficiency of your unit by insulating the duct work.
I would suggest adding duct work sealing tape to each joint of the duct work, before adding
the insulation to the duct work. Would cost less than a new unit.
Well, that old unit has to go. We don't even use it really. I'm afraid to put oil in the tank because I don't trust the tank (it's starting to show its age), and the furnace is pretty old and clunky.

Eventually we want to set a modern air handler in the crawl space section of the house and redo the ducting so we won't hit our head so much. Moving the beast out will yield quite a bit of precious floor space in the basement (only about 1/3 of the downstairs is basement, the rest is crawl space)

I'm also toying with the idea of a self contained heat pump (packaged system), the air handler and heat pump are in one box that sticks out the back of the house. You then cut a large hole to get the ducting and return line set, but 99% of the ducting is flex duct, and is very easy to install... not sure yet. We already have the required 200 amp service either way.

Currently we are still heating our whole house on a 30k BTU ventless propane heater in the living room. It does a fine job of it too, as our house is only around 900sqf. On the particularly cold nights I've got a small kerosene heater we also will run just to bust the chill (never unattended).

New windows will help greatly, currently our windows are the old 1950s double hung windows, more than a few are cracked and one is flat out broken and has a piece of plexiglass taped in its place...

We'll get there though... one paycheck at a time.

I plan to get the windows and doors replaced, then I'll start saving for a heat pump system....
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by Faldaguy »

by FranTastic444 » Fri Nov 27, 2020 10:06 am

We sold our house and....
Sounds like a lot of hot air getting blown up your skirt! I've read through the various suggestions with wry amusement -- homes here don't have heating and A/C -- mother nature treats us very kindly. :D

Happy house hunting. BTW-- there are some great bargains in tropical resorts right now if you want to avoid the HVAC man!
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by FranTastic444 »

Thanks all.

Based on the various replies it looks like it is possible in theory, but totally dependent on a case by case basis. Of course the easiest route would be to learn to love baseboards :-)

Our Realtor has sent us details of almost 100 older properties to work through and we will take a ride out later today to drive past any of the places that are of interest so that we can judge whether they are areas we can see ourselves living in. For those of you that know the local (Boston) area, we are currently less than 10 miles from the Gillette Stadium. I'm interested in looking at older houses as you typically get more land (for privacy purposes) and a lower price than a new build, but then miss out on things like new kitchens, bathrooms etc. And being made of wood, there can be all sorts of nasties hidden away in a house that is only 20 years old. All the houses round here run private sewers as well and that can lead to some big bills if things go wrong (but MA law states that a survey has to be carried out as a precursor to a sale).

The whole Covid situation is interesting. To date I've only been in the office a couple of times since it all kicked off way back when. Our company had a bunch of cases early on and so shut down pretty much every office. There are a lot of people who have got used to not coming into our offices in big cities (Manhattan, Boston, TO, London, Paris etc. etc.) and some of the US employees have headed out to places like Florida where there is a more agreeable climate. Trouble is, I have a feeling that once this is all over our bosses are going to want people back in the office on a regular basis - not 5-days per week necessarily but maybe ~15 per month. For this reason I don't want to move too far out from Boston and then find I have a commute that I cannot stand.

Our company has done better than our competitors during Covid - we are still delivering on existing contracts as well as picking up new deals. Despite this, there is (I'm led to believe) a concern that if we had all been in the office we would have performed even better. People are doing their hours at all sorts of hours so as to get around childcare issues. One of my UK colleagues does 2.00pm - 10.00pm whilst his wife does 6.00am - 2.00pm so that one of them is always available to spend time with the kids. Some of the management are getting jittery when people are working in this flexible way - but if the work gets done, who cares?

I wrote some time ago on here about looking at a career more. This is back on the cards but this time I'm looking at staying with my current employer and moving department / role. One role is international and, should I get it, I'll be flying all over the world on a fairly regular basis and so theoretically could be based anywhere in the US (though North East US seaboard would still make sense). We are also opening up a new office some place out West next year and there might be the option to move there. Scottsdale is just one option that has been floated. I think I like the idea, but the wife is dead set against it. I don't think we will purchase until we have my career move sorted and we need to keep a careful eye on Covid fallout - I'm mystified as to why the financial markets are in such rude health right now!
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by moonshadow »

FranTastic444 wrote:
Sat Nov 28, 2020 3:43 pm
Based on the various replies it looks like it is possible in theory, but totally dependent on a case by case basis. Of course the easiest route would be to learn to love baseboards
I doubt you want that. Baseboard heaters are difficult to deal with in regards to furniture arrangements, I get concerned about their safety, wondering if something flammable, like a long curtain were to lay on it and catch fire, and of course, they are crazy expensive to operate. I've spoken to a few locals over the years who live in houses with baseboard heat, and they've complained of $600 electric bills! :shock:

I suppose they are reliable, and easy to maintain/repair. If one plays out, they are easy to replace if need be, and the heaters themselves are pretty affordable, and I suppose it counts as "official heat" for mortgage purposes...

My propane heater probably doesn't qualify as an "official heat source" since it's technically a space heater I suppose. That's why I don't just rip out the oil burner downstairs, it [the oil burner] satisfies the bank in the event I need to refinance, or what have you.
FranTastic444 wrote:
Sat Nov 28, 2020 3:43 pm
All the houses round here run private sewers as well and that can lead to some big bills if things go wrong (but MA law states that a survey has to be carried out as a precursor to a sale).
In my Google searches regarding septic systems, Massachusetts kept coming up as one of the more stricter states. I think if I had to do my purchase over again, I'd opt for a place on public sewer. Septic systems are a pain in the ass, and with the ever tightening environmental laws, it's just getting worse.

If I ever purchase another home on septic (which would only be over Jenn's dead body), I'd carry an auger with me and pop some holes in the ground before I even made an offer.... if I hit rock or water within 3 feet.... scratch that property.

Septic is something I know a thing or two about, and my advice to someone thinking of buying a property on septic is.... DON'T.
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by crfriend »

moonshadow wrote:
Sun Nov 29, 2020 1:34 am
Baseboard heaters are difficult to deal with in regards to furniture arrangements, I get concerned about their safety, wondering if something flammable, like a long curtain were to lay on it and catch fire, and of course, they are crazy expensive to operate. I've spoken to a few locals over the years who live in houses with baseboard heat, and they've complained of $600 electric bills! :shock:
It depends on what technology one is using to drive them. Most common are forced-hot-water systems that use an oil or gas furnace to heat water to a fairly high temperature and then have pumps to circulate the water though the baseboards. These don't get hot enough to set anything alight as the maximum temperature they can reach is just a bit above the boiling point of water.

Pure electric heat, using resistance-elements, is to be avoided if at all possible because of the cost of it. Well designed systems should not be able to set anything alight.
In my Google searches regarding septic systems, Massachusetts kept coming up as one of the more stricter states. I think if I had to do my purchase over again, I'd opt for a place on public sewer. Septic systems are a pain in the ass, and with the ever tightening environmental laws, it's just getting worse.
Generally, if town sewers are an option, it's best to go that route (sometimes it's mandatory), but it's worth recall that the locality will extract its pound of flesh for the privilege, usually based on your water-meter usage. In some municipalities, it can actually cost more in sewer tax than the original water cost.
If I ever purchase another home on septic (which would only be over Jenn's dead body), I'd carry an auger with me and pop some holes in the ground before I even made an offer.... if I hit rock or water within 3 feet.... scratch that property.
A high water-table brings other joys with it other than septic-system problems -- like wet basements.
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by moonshadow »

crfriend wrote:
Sun Nov 29, 2020 2:37 pm
moonshadow wrote:In my Google searches regarding septic systems, Massachusetts kept coming up as one of the more stricter states. I think if I had to do my purchase over again, I'd opt for a place on public sewer. Septic systems are a pain in the ass, and with the ever tightening environmental laws, it's just getting worse.
Generally, if town sewers are an option, it's best to go that route (sometimes it's mandatory), but it's worth recall that the locality will extract its pound of flesh for the privilege, usually based on your water-meter usage. In some municipalities, it can actually cost more in sewer tax than the original water cost.
True, in every municipality I've lived in, the sewer rate is metered at the water rate (thus 3,000 gallons water usage would levy a charge for 3,000 gallons sewer usage) and yes, the sewer rate seemed to hover around 2X the water rate. In Pulaski, if the water bill portion was $20, the sewer portion was around $40, Marion had the lowest rates I've ever paid, with both water and sewer combined running around $40 per month on a 3,000 gallon average.

Washington County (my time in Damascus) was by far the most expensive, topping at around $110 per month for water and sewer combined (3,000 gal/month), but it was also in the county, and county water/sewer seems to always be about double what one pays in the city/town. I figure that being because town/city taxes subsidize the rates for residents, whereas county budgets generally don't bother with such utilities, rather they create an "authority" that administers and funds the utility projects by their own means.

Russell County water, is slightly more higher than town water I've paid for, but one thing I like about them is their billing structure. They charge a flat $30 per month which includes the first 2,000 gallons, then it is around $7 or $8 per 1,000 gallons. Most months we use less than 2,000 gallons, so the bill is typically only $30.

Everywhere else I lived, the charge a flat rate, then a metered rate for the whole amount. Personally I think Russell County is short changing themselves, and would be better to adopt a more aggressive pricing structure, but then again, this county [populous] is just so fiercely "anti-socialist" I'm frankly surprised they have any public water at all, and I imagine the county board walks a thin line, having to balance the requirements of the state, with regards to where and if a well can be drilled, against a public that, if they actually allow a "socialist" water system to come in, it damned well better the cheap!... oh and we can't call it "socialist" because that's a dirty word...

A part of me wants to petition the county to bring sewer into our subdivision, another part of me doesn't want to get boo'ed out of the room, having to dodge vegetables being thrown at me along the way. If I ever get that courageous, I'd probably wear pants for that one.

This subdivision should have never been planned in the 50s. The whole thing sits on just too much limestone, and the lots are too small. Old systems just wouldn't fly today. For example, my old terra-cotta system was a homemade tank, and two terra-cotta laterals that were buried literally right under the surface of the ground, only a mere 50 feet from a well-head that still exist today.

As this subdivision ages (the average home here is around 40 years old, my home was one of the originals, at around 70 years old) these systems are going to start to fail, and current regulations will not allow a conventional system, requiring what's called an AOSS (alternative on-site septic system), and I can guarantee, if the Russell County citizens of the poor farm subdivision hate the idea of a public, "socialist" sewer authority, they're really gonna a hate what the commonwealth requires them to do when the health department dictates they have to install an AOSS.

First of all, they are crazy expensive to install. Whereas a conventional septic can be installed by anyone with a backhoe for around $4k-$6k, AOSS's have to be installed by special installers licensed by the state for such work, and they can run into the tens of thousands (mine came in at around $15k, though some systems can run into $20k-$50k), and they generally don't even last as long.

Oh and by the way, there are only two installers in this part of the state.. so, VERY little competition.

Oh but it gets better, depending on the system installed, you have to have an "operator" come by and inspect the system at least annually (sometimes twice a year), and every five years they have to send a sample to a lab for a BOD⁵ test. Let me tell you, these state mandated regulations combined with being at the mercy of very few private (for profit) operators creates a lot of anxiety about the situation....

Oh yes... bring me the socialist sewer system... These people around here [in my subdivision], they don't even know. I've talked to them, they are still living in the 50s, they actually think they can just get their buddy to dig a hole in the back yard, throw some gravel in it, and call it a septic system.... they just don't know!

The lady and her two daughters that purchased the home almost across the street from me, I'd have never bought that home... it sits on about half an acre, two thirds of which is slopped pretty steep (too steep for workable sand mound), and she has two well heads on her property, both with active easements to different neighbors (so she can't cap and seal them). In my back of the napkin measurements, there is no possible area she can place a replacement leachfield outside of the required 100 foot distance to those well heads, even if her property wasn't situated on solid limestone (and I suspect it is)... in other words, she'd better BABY that system, because when it goes, I fear the only thing they can do is condemn the house.

That's going to happen one by one until they extend sewer up here, and the bad part is, we're less than a mile from sewer! In fact the east edge of the subdivision is probably just about a quarter mile from sewer, but it's just so expensive to lay (they tell me it would be in the millions) and the tax revenue is getting smaller and smaller as more and more people leave the area for various reasons.

Scott County VA, just received a multi million dollar grant from the state to expand their sewer service, I think Russell County needs to hire a grant hunter for the same....
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by 6ft3Aussie »

Moonshadow,

That certainly makes for an interesting situation in your area.
I have not seen any areas here that are within the boundaries of any town that are not connected to town water supply and sewer systems, that is mandatory here, unless you live on a farm or in the bush out of town, where you will have to install a standards approved system, which would need to be certified by building and council inspectors before you would be allowed to take up residence there.
The ongoing cost of operating is borne by the local council and charged to the land owners as part of the quarterly rates bill, which also covers the cost of maintaining parks, roads, storm water, pest control, waste disposal and water infrastructure, to name a few.
By and large, it's a good system that works as it's basically the local government.

As for costs, here, town water usage is charged at $3.91 per 1000L, and for the two of us, I just worked out yesterday that our average usage, including the use of the washing machine, is 222L or $0.87 per day, which means that comparing us to the average household, we're extremely low users.
Usually we pay a daily connection charge for water, a separate daily connection charge for sewer, plus the water usage cost, and the sewer volume is calculated as (I think 75% of water consumed), and a charge calculated from that. Sounds complicated, but it's not as bad as it might seem. The cost at our last house was around $180 to $190 per quarter for water, sewerage access and usage. Council rates are worked out on the value of your property, which in our capital cities, values (on statistical average) double every 10 to 12 years, depending on how far our you are from the CBD.

Electricity costs are not that cheap, your daily fixed charge is around $1 a day, plus about 25c/kWh usage (on average, some places more, some less), so for a house consuming 12kWh/day will cost approximately $365 per quarterly bill.
Fortunately we do not really need to worry about heating here, but cooling in the summer, most have that, and if you have a modern house with a ducted air conditioning system, I can see how you could use 20kWh per day. Not cheap.

When we were kids in New Zealand, my parents used to say "if you're cold, put on a jumper", we did have an enclosed wood burner, which heated the house, but there were mornings in winter when the condensation on the inside of the windows would freeze, and you couldn't have a shower in the morning because the water froze in the pipes (where the pipes were in the ceiling). We grew up without central heating systems maintaining the inside temperature.

Also, if you have a 15kW auxiliary, you must have one very serious mains supply, at least 150 Amp mains, that's a decent amount of copper, but then you're likely on a single phase 120V supply.
Standard supply for us is a 63 Amp mains, but we're mostly single phase 240V supply (some newer places now have 3 phase 415V 63A supply).
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Re: Very O/T - A Query About Home Heating

Post by FranTastic444 »

Interesting stuff.

We'd love nothing more than to have town sewer, town water and town gas. Unfortunately, if you want to live in this neck of the woods the former is out of the question. Most places round here have town water, but gas is luck of the draw. Our last place had propane and it was expensive. Oil is even more costly (round here at least) and you have the hassle of getting the tanks refilled periodically.

When doing our due diligence on the house we were originally looking to buy in this area we came across minutes from town meetings and other articles that seem to suggest that there are periodic attempts to install public sewers across the whole town, but it always meets with strong local opposition, for some reason.
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