Hi there. We have a 10 year old 2-story house that was originally designed with 2 Kerr oil-fired hot air furnaces and 2 Coleman A/C units. Each set serves one floor. When we had the furnaces serviced this year, the serviceguy found a hole burned through the heat exchanger on the first floor furnace, shut it off, and told us not to use it. He also said that the 2nd floor furnace is showing damage to the metal in the same spot and will probably also be burning through the heat exchanger shortly. The units are not covered under warranty because we are the 2nd owners of the house. We've also been told by two different companies that our A/C compressors are rusting out and not long for the world either.
So since Thanksgiving, we've been limping along using our 2nd floor furnace and a woodstove, but we're getting sick of being cold. I've been trying to figure out what to do as far as new HVAC goes, and the more I read and talk to people, the more confused I get. So I'm hoping that someone here can provide some unbiased (e.g. not trying to sell me something) feedback.
We live north of Philadelphia, about halfway between Philly and Allentown. Our house is about 3200 sq ft and for being a relatively new house, is surprisingly drafty - we're working on that now, but it's going to take a while to fix (we're ripping off all the trim and foaming around the windows, doors, baseboards, etc.) Our current system has 2 110K btu furnaces and 2 2.5 ton A/C units. One of the folks I have talked to says that's WAY oversized for our square footage and is probably the reason our furnaces failed so fast. None of the other folks I talked to indicated that the sizing of the furnace was a problem (but then again, no one did an actualy load calculation or any of the other stuff I read about on here).
We heat primarily with the woodstove, so unless it gets really cold out, the furnaces only come on for a few hours a day (in the middle of the night and early morning when the stove fire has died back). We also run the furnaces when we're going to be away and can't tend the stove and also when the temperature outside is too warm to light the fire (in the 50s, usually). So our decision on what to use for HVAC is complicated by the fact that we mostly run the woodstove anyhow. (And perhaps the fact that we run the furnaces mostly when the temps are warmish makes a good argument for a heat pump anyhow?)
We do not have natural gas here (we're out in the sticks) and I have no interest in upgrading to propane, so our choices are oil and/or electric. Our electric rates here are very high, and expected to go at least 25% higher once the state deregulates the power in January 2011. We had considered a heat pump, but between the fact that it's too cold here to make a pure electric heat pump economical and the fact that electric rates are probably going to skyrocket, we're not sure how smart that idea is. We currently have an 80-gallon electric hot water heater and I estimate that is costing us anywhere from $80-100 per month by itself. So I'd love to get rid of the electric hot water and convert entirely to oil.
I have been looking at getting a boiler and indirect-fired hot water system - that would solve the problem of my electric hot water heater being so costly and would also eliminate one of the furnaces - I hate having to pay for 2 furnace cleanings every year, especially when we run the furnaces so little. There have been years where we spent more to clean the furnaces than we spent on oil - that's just wrong, IMO. But the prices we are getting for the boiler are running $xx to xx. We can afford that (though it will be a stretch), but wonder if it will ever pay us back. For that price, we could buy two sets of oil furnaces and probably still have money left over. But then again, we've got the high electric cost for hot water and the extra service fee (~$xx) each year for the 2nd furnace. So I'm left totally confused.
The other thing we aren't sure about is zone dampers. Currently, we have two separate sets of systems, one for the first floor and one for the second. We are told by some folks that after having this setup, we won't ever be happy with a zone damper system, but other people say the zone dampers work great as long as the installer knows what he is doing. They are pushing it as a way for us to get away a little cheaper by installing just one furnace and a/c system - which I would love to do just to save the service charge every year. But then again, if the zone dampers break every couple years, we'll probably spend as much fixing them as we would on the 2nd cleaning every year. So again, without knowing for sure how reliable they are and how well they work, I can't make a decision.
Oh, and just to add a bit more confusion, we are hoping to eventually finish our basement and need to figure out what to do for heat down there. If we had the boiler, we could just run some baseboard heat off of it, so that's easy. But if we don't go the boiler route, what then? I can't really tap off the existing ductwork because the furnaces don't run much in the dead of winter due to the woodstove heating the upstairs, so the basement would be too cold. Is my only option then electric baseboard? Or if I do zone dampers, I guess I could make another zone down there. Again - total confusion.
So anyhow, I guess I'm just looking for some feedback as to what direction to go. Everyone I talk to seems to have some innate bias (one guy was really pushing heat pumps as the way to go, while another guy said he wouldn't consider anything but converting to propane). I'm guessing it will probably be the same here, but maybe there'll be some kind of consensus. So, if this were your house, and you knew you had one broken furnace, one almost-broken furnace, and two A/C units on their last legs (and a 10 year old water heater that could go at any time as well) would you:
a) install heat pumps (one with zone dampers or two separate)
b) install heat pumps with oil furnace backups
c) install a boiler and indirect fired hot water heater
d) install a warm air frunace (one with zone dampers or two separate) and regular a/c unit?
or some combination of the above???
I'm really tired of being cold and confused, so all help is appreciated!
No equipment, service, or install prices allowed in post.