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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Posts
    4

    Confused

    Hello!
    I have a hot water heating system (with radiators) in my one-story, 1000 sq ft 1920s bungalow. The 20-yr-old Sears boiler that came with the house needs to be replaced. If I convert to forced air heat, with central air, a high efficiency system (with ductwork) will cost about 3x the cost of replacing the boiler.
    Here is some more info that may be relevant: my house is old, and certainly NOT air-tight. I have new windows and doors, and insulation in the attic, but there is no insulation in the walls. We keep the thermostat around 60 degrees during the day (while at work) and while sleeping. We turn it up to 64-66 for a few hours in the morning and evening. We are not the type of people who keep the house toasty warm all the time, and prefer to warm it up only when needed (ie when we are there, and awake).
    My impression is that the investment in a forced air heat plus C/A would increase the value of the house by about the same amount. Such systems are the standard in my area (South Jersey). However, before spending the money, I want to be sure that forced air heat plus C/A is a superior system to my hot water radiator heating. I would hate to rip out the old system, only to realize later that it was the better one.
    I have been trying to research this topic, but am still in the dark as to which system (forced air vs hot water) is the more efficient, cheaper to run, and more comfortable.
    If anyone could provide opinions or advice, I would be so grateful. I am a new homeowner, and would like to be able to make an informed decision on this matter. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    654
    A properly installed warm air system will provide years of reliable service and comfort. Small houses, <1500 sq ft, do well with a warm air furnace, especially the oil burner models that I am fully accustomed with. Adding C/A on a warm air system is easy too, not alot of money if you find the right contractor. If it were me, I'd put the warm air system in because of the C/A option. The old boiler you got now is probably a pig on fuel and not reliable, so updating the boiler AND adding C/A to the home will be cost prohibitive (compared to a new warm air with C/A).

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    MA
    Posts
    150
    I do not pretend to know which system is best for you, and if C/A is desired (or desirable for resale) - then go with the scorched air and C/A. You are correct that replacing the boiler and adding C/A would be very expensive - but have you ever lived with hot air heating? It is my opinion that hydronic heating has no peer in regard to comfort and will not contribute to humidity or dust issues. Many people I know who have lived their whole lives with hydronic heating and bought homes with hot air and C/A would give up the C/A if they could go back to hot water heat. JMHO.

    How are you heating your domestic hot water? If you have an electric or gas/oil fired water heater, you could go with a boiler and a tankless coil or indirect. This issue should be examined as well. Perhaps a new, high efficiency boiler with some window A/C units?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Maine
    Posts
    483
    I just converted our own house to hot water baseboard from hot air. Our hot water heater died so I saw it as a good oportunity to convert to a oil fired HWBB with a tankless coil. Our home is about 1200 sq ft two story. I have one zone for each floor. It's much more comfortable than the forced hot air was. The heat is more even with no drafts. Much easier to zone HWBB than to zone hot air, at least for me anyways. By having two zones we only heat the floor that is occupied, bedrooms are heated upstairs at night while the first floor temp gets set back. During the day the temps are reversed to keep the first floor warm and the second floor cool. We save energy by only keeping the areas of the house that are being occupied warm.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Posts
    4
    Thank you all so much for your replies!

    casturbo, your thoughts are along the same lines as our plumber--that it would be functional and reliable, and worth doing the conversion in order to get the C/A.

    ps, personally, I could live without C/A, but yes, it is desirable for resale in this area (we have a through-the-wall AC unit now). Our bungalow was a fixer-upper, so we've updated most of it (modern bath and kitchen, new wiring, etc). The only thing remaining that would be considered "old-fashioned" are the radiators, and lack of C/A. However, I don't want to choose forced air and C/A based on resale, and then be miserable living with it for the next 5 years or so.

    We have a gas fired water heater for hot water, which will also have to be replaced in the near future. Please excuse my naivete, but are you suggesting that a new boiler could ALSO heat our hot water? Or are you referring to a separate tankless hot water heater? I would really appreciate it if you would elaborate on this subject...

    jdenyer, that's very interesting that you converted to hot water FROM hot air. Do you also have an old (not particularly air-tight) house? Did you make your decision for efficiency and economic reasons, as well as comfort? I guess we could replace our big cast-iron radiators with baseboard heaters--although I wonder if the entire perimeter of our rooms would need to be covered with them, in order to get the same effect as the behemoths we have now!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    MA
    Posts
    150
    I don't know how to help you decide the manner in which you heat. Comfort, cost, functionality, resale value, aesthetics - all play a part in your decision. Being from MA - cooling isn't a big issue, although I have suffered in unconditioned bungalows on the Cape and understand the benefits of that C/A.

    One issue that has not been brought up is the cost of electricity and fuel (oil, gas). Your hot air and C/A will use a lot of electricity, while a boiler will use gas/oil. Price per therm can make the choice easy.

    Regarding your heating and domestic hot water - there are a multitude of configurations that you could consider. I have run out of time today but will try to post more info tomorrow.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    654
    Here's my 2 cents....

    My last house (1000 sq ft) was all electric heat before I bought it, I converted to oil warm air heat. I used a cream-of-the-crop Williamson Energy Saver furnace, so my results were probably better than some low rent furnace would give. But nonetheless, comfort was actually quite good, I had C/A which from the new owner said was the what made him buy the house. I'm on the shore of Connecticut, you wouldn't think A/C is important, but when the humidity prevents you from sleeping at nite, it's well worth it. The biggest complaint with forced warm air heat is it's drafty and either too hot or too cold. That's because the system was designed poorly, wasn't tuned, or cheap equipment was used. For example, fan speeds on nearly EVERY warm air furnace is too high, especially a small homes. I ran my fan on low, it was most comfortable. For A/C, the fan automatically went one speed higher, again most comfortable. I had to tune the fan speed this way, but no one mentions this. I turned down the limit settings, why would anyone want 200 air coming out of the registers?? Lowering the limit setting (160) made cycling a whole lot less too, alot less noise, and whole lot more comfort. I put a feed and return in nearly every room....most contractors to save $$, put just one central return instead, that makes noise. Those same contractors put barely enough feeds too, because again, that costs money, not so much to buy the parts, but the labor to install the runs. Warm air heat is easy to cheat on, because comfort is all that's sacrificed, yet it still can heat the home.

    So baseboard hot water heat has a better reputation. The main reason is it's nearly foolproof. The contractor is forced to put in the right amount of heat, and it requires basically ZERO tuning. The contractor basically can't cheat the job because it won't work at all. Properly setup, both heating systems offer similar comfort, one just requires tuning, the other not. A comfortable warm air system requires a skilled and honest contractor, something I really hate to admit, is getting really hard to come by.

  8. #8
    I owuld say that there is cons and pros to each, I personally prefer radiant heat but,I also need my A\C. I would probably make th investment you can expect the cost of this project to be 4-8% of the homes value or more if the home is under 150k

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    manitowoc wisconsin
    Posts
    4,932
    I would install a new boiler & spend the extra cash to better insulate the home.Another option would be to just add forced air system for a/c to the second floor.
    Take your time & do it right!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Maine
    Posts
    483
    Originally posted by lm20032
    Thank you all so much for your replies!

    casturbo, your thoughts are along the same lines as our plumber--that it would be functional and reliable, and worth doing the conversion in order to get the C/A.

    ps, personally, I could live without C/A, but yes, it is desirable for resale in this area (we have a through-the-wall AC unit now). Our bungalow was a fixer-upper, so we've updated most of it (modern bath and kitchen, new wiring, etc). The only thing remaining that would be considered "old-fashioned" are the radiators, and lack of C/A. However, I don't want to choose forced air and C/A based on resale, and then be miserable living with it for the next 5 years or so.

    We have a gas fired water heater for hot water, which will also have to be replaced in the near future. Please excuse my naivete, but are you suggesting that a new boiler could ALSO heat our hot water? Or are you referring to a separate tankless hot water heater? I would really appreciate it if you would elaborate on this subject...

    jdenyer, that's very interesting that you converted to hot water FROM hot air. Do you also have an old (not particularly air-tight) house? Did you make your decision for efficiency and economic reasons, as well as comfort? I guess we could replace our big cast-iron radiators with baseboard heaters--although I wonder if the entire perimeter of our rooms would need to be covered with them, in order to get the same effect as the behemoths we have now!
    Yes our house is older, built in 1940 and while the insulation has been upgraded in the past it is certainly not airtight. Our decision was made based on comfort first, and fuel savings second. Our forced hot air furnace was way oversize, 140,000 btu's/h input We did a careful load calc and got the right size boiler, and then radiated each room based on its heatloss. You have some flexibility on where to put the baseboards, as long as each room receives the btu's it requires. You can get a boiler that has a tankless coil built in to supply your hot water, you may need a storage tank if you have a tub or hot tub to fill. The storage tank acts as a resevoir for high flow large volume hot water needs. Here is a good website for you to check out, http://www.hydronicnetwork.net/hydronic/des/start.htm it kinda explains how modern hydronic systems work. One thought on the C/A, is the floor plan relatively open? If so have you considered a minisplit system? A minisplit is basically an A/C that has an outside condensing unit like regular C/A but the evaporator and fan is mounted on the inside wall in a stylish case. Minisplits can be the ideal solution for small homes that have open floor plans. A load calc still needs to be done for both heating and cooling to get the best possible comfort and efficiency. Hope this helps.

  11. #11
    Not a lot,



    You have some flexibility on where to put the baseboards, as long as each room receives the btu's it requires




  12. #12
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Location
    MA
    Posts
    150
    lm - the website noted in a previous post is excellent and presents hot water heating options much better than I ever could. Do as much research as you possibly can if you are considering staying with hydronic.

    Another alternative to the radiators and BB are radiant panels. These are an excellent emitter option and will fit in nicely with your updated interior. I personally like the cast iron rads over baseboard(they add a little charm, especially if cleaned up nice or with decorative covers)- but they do occupy more floor space and limit your interior decorating options. Changing your emitters will be costly, too.

    Not to dispute any of casturbo's thoughts on the air side, but IMHO hydronic heat is always more comfortable. And it is hardly foolproof - even in a seemingly easy application as you require. Any system is only as good as the application and installation. I have no doubt that an air system can be comfortable - it is really a personal choice.

    Depending on your domestic water needs - I generally prefer a boiler with an indirect-fired hot water heater over a tankless coil and reservoir. Generally speaking, if properly sized, you should not run out of hot water and will be more efficient. Initial cost will be about the same as the tankless with reservoir.

    BTW - A breakdown of electricity, gas/oil prices will help people here provide more direction. There is a lot of info out there on all these systems (too much to learn), so your possible energy source costs will help narrow the options

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Location
    Maine
    Posts
    483
    Originally posted by ps
    lm - the website noted in a previous post is excellent and presents hot water heating options much better than I ever could. Do as much research as you possibly can if you are considering staying with hydronic.

    Another alternative to the radiators and BB are radiant panels. These are an excellent emitter option and will fit in nicely with your updated interior. I personally like the cast iron rads over baseboard(they add a little charm, especially if cleaned up nice or with decorative covers)- but they do occupy more floor space and limit your interior decorating options. Changing your emitters will be costly, too.

    Not to dispute any of casturbo's thoughts on the air side, but IMHO hydronic heat is always more comfortable. And it is hardly foolproof - even in a seemingly easy application as you require. Any system is only as good as the application and installation. I have no doubt that an air system can be comfortable - it is really a personal choice.

    Depending on your domestic water needs - I generally prefer a boiler with an indirect-fired hot water heater over a tankless coil and reservoir. Generally speaking, if properly sized, you should not run out of hot water and will be more efficient. Initial cost will be about the same as the tankless with reservoir.

    BTW - A breakdown of electricity, gas/oil prices will help people here provide more direction. There is a lot of info out there on all these systems (too much to learn), so your possible energy source costs will help narrow the options
    ps, you are correct about the indirect fired water heater, it will generally have a faster recovery rate as well due to the fact that it's making hot water with water that is above 160*F from a zone right off the bioler. In our installation we just use the tankless coil with a tempering valve as we don't exceed the flow rate of the coil, ie no tubs just showers and sinks. Fat eddy, are you trying to say that you have no options as to where to place the baseboards? You certainly do, in our home we were able to locate them on the oustide walls to eliminate drafts from the windows.

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