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Retrofit Blues

Patrick North
Patrick North Member Posts: 84
Oh- I didn't mean converting the steam radiators to h/w, just that, as I understand it, geothermal wouldn't produce the heat necessary for steam. I've heard that in rare cases, this could be done (the steam to hw switcheroo using the same radiators) but didn't think it would be an option. The Victorian we just bought is in Bellefonte, PA. I have the name of recommended steam specialist (somewhere) but am always open to referrals, if you know of anyone.
I'm sure many, many things would factor in to make geothermal worthwhile, and we'll certainly be doing what we can to stop heat loss and optimize the current steam system's performance before doing anything, but I'd like to have my ducks in a row when the time comes.
Thanks,
Patrick

Comments

  • Patrick North
    Patrick North Member Posts: 84
    Retrofit Blues

    My wife and I just bought a terrific old Victorian in central PA (starting to sound familiar already?) and while we've already resigned ourselves to drafts, high heating bills and sweltering summers, we're no martyrs. The home currently utilizes steam heat, but with a 30+ year old boiler that has obviously not been serviced as regularly as it should have been, we're looking at the possibility of having to upgrade in the near future. The utility bills we saw when we bought the house were pretty high, so no matter what we'd expect some modest savings just by going with newer equipment, but because we plan on being in the house for quite a while, we want to see how efficient we can be. So...

    What are our geothermal options? As I understand it, at the very least we'd need to convert from steam to hot water radiators. And hey, if we went geothermal we might as well try to get cooling out of the deal. Any opinions here? Hot water radiators for heat and a mini-vent system for cooling? 100% central? Should we try and wait a few years for more bugs to be worked out of the system? Any special considerations for a geothermal retrofit that you're aware of? Oh, and I know price isn't discussed here, but I'd rather not have to sell the house to pay for the system.

    The geothermal folks I talked to were a little too optimistic for my tastes (and some were less interested in talking than digging), so I wanted to see what you all thought. Any thoughts or advice are appreciated. I know there are a lot of "what ifs" and "it depends" involved, so feel free to assume that ductwork can be installed with no aestheic impact, radiators are easily converted, all windows have been caulked, etc. I'm sure I'll be back for more guidance.

    Thanks in advance,
    Patrick
  • CC.Rob
    CC.Rob Member Posts: 128


    You are in the right place. My two cents as a homeowner:

    1) don't resign yourself to drafts. I have been helping my buddy with his 1830 farmhouse. Over the past year we have insulated, sealed, replaced windows, etc. and cut his building heat loss approximately in half (and with it, his heating bill). All under the watchful eye of the local historical commission. They're not giving up any of the reasons they love their house. Just halving the heating bill. Tighten your building envelope first. Reducing the heat loss also typically leads to a reduction in the size of the heating plant.

    2) Find an excellent installer who understands your home, its heating system, and the options for modernizing it. Some of the best of the best are listed in the "Find a Professional" service on this site. Chances are there are a couple in your area.

    Good luck.
  • Brad White_9
    Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
    Not much one can add to that

    especially item number one!
  • Patrick North
    Patrick North Member Posts: 84


    You bet- I should have added that our first big project will be addressing heat loss. We don't have the stomach to replace a few large bowed glass windows, thus the potential for drafts. But beyond insulation, weatherstripping, and a few hundred tubes of caulk, I'm hoping for some savings with modern heating systems.
  • Tony_23
    Tony_23 Member Posts: 1,033
    BTU's

    It's more important to keep them in than how you make them.

    Striking resemblance to money :)

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  • Brad White_9
    Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
    Bowed Glass Windows

    Well, maybe you cannot put flat storms on them. The house I grew up in had them too, in a "turret" feature. Interior storms and good drapes were the ticket.

    Key to leaks is not so much storm windows as how good your prime windows are. If you have sash weight pockets, those are the biggest leakers. Unless you go to spring balances or friction balances or relegate them to being fixed/inoperable, they must remain. You are then left with a caulking solution.

    If you can deem them inoperable, I would fill the sash weight cavity with low-expansion foam and finish with caulking, neatly wiped.

    Given that you are on track to keeping your heat in, see if keeping steam works for you. I love hot water and it is my medium of choice, but a good steam system running at it's best is a wonderful thing.

    Stick around for more opinions and details.

    Brad
  • Mike T., Swampeast MO
    Mike T., Swampeast MO Member Posts: 6,928


    It's a pain, but you can carefully fit ½" - 1" of rigid insulation against the outside casing inside the weight pockets. With double-hung windows I'm partial to spring bronze on the jambs and pile weatherstrip on the stop moulding.

    Curved storms are definitely available, but I suspect they're rather expensive.

    NEVER caulk underneath windowsills or under clapboards! Water will always get in and it must be able to get out. Trap the water and even good old wood will rot in fairly short order.

    Victorians with their often highly irregular footprint, abundant glass and sometimes limited opportunities for insulation can be "difficult" to heat. Hydronic geo systems generally have a fairly low upper temperature limit. Combined with the fact that steam rads were sized smaller than hot water rads, there might not be enough iron to heat the place with a straight geo system in colder weather. A boost/backup can definitely be added--with greater complexity and cost of course.

    The steam guys here generally recommend against converting to water, instead opting to get the steam system in top-notch shape. Homeowners in a similar situation to yours who report back say that such can drastically reduce fuel consumption.

    The small inventment you make in Dan's (owner of this website) steam books can pay back multi-fold. There is much that a reasonably handy homeowner can do to get and keep their steams systems running efficiently, quietly and comfortably.

    Depending on your climate and the proportionate size of your heating/cooling loads it can be difficult to heat solely via high-velocity systems--particularly if you're wanting to use the generally low temps of geo units. You might want to consider an air-to-air heat pump for the hi-velocity systems and use them in moderate weather when they're quite efficient. Then use the steam for cold weather when it will work at its most efficient.
  • Brad White_9
    Brad White_9 Member Posts: 2,440
    Amen.

    I second Mike's take on all of his points.

    To Mike's rigid foil solution might I add that aluminum foil tape is a wonderful material for finishing that off.

    Also, I priced curved storm windows once and even replacements (South Carolina was the only place that could make them at the time.) Price could best be described as painful and other options were sought.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Pat, I don't recommend

    trying to convert steam systems to hot water. Unless you actually like living dangerously that is......

    What type of steam system do you have? Are the steam mains insulated? Do the steam mains have proper air vents on them?

    And where in central PA are you located?

    "Steamhead"

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  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    OK, you're

    a couple hours or so northwest of Harrisburg. Beautiful area.

    Is this a one-pipe or two-pipe system?

    If you strike out in that area, you might try Dave Yates- he's in York. And I've been known to leave the Baltimore area to see steam systems.....

    "Steamhead"

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  • Mike T., Swampeast MO
    Mike T., Swampeast MO Member Posts: 6,928
    Curved Storm Source

    Invisible Storms

    I've seen their ads in good magazines for many years. Have no idea of cost.
  • hr
    hr Member Posts: 6,106
    The best way to screw up an old

    home like that is to insulate and add air conditioning. According to Dr. Joe Lstiburek of Building Science Corp.

    I attended one of his seminars last week and learned a lot about how a building performs. He had some wild pictures of mold groth behind wall covering and sheetrock on improperly installed vapor barrier system. Some fairly new homes and hotels also.

    Check out his website at www.buildingscience.com for some excellent advise on insulation, vapor barrier, window sealing, etc details for new and remodel construction projects.

    hot rod

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  • Patrick North
    Patrick North Member Posts: 84


    You mean the worst thing you can do is have these things done poorly, right? I've an idea of how you can do more harm than good with insulation, but how does AC negatively affect older homes, in particular (assuming you can screw up installation in new construction, too)?
  • joel_19
    joel_19 Member Posts: 931
    Drafts

    before you consider doing anything at all with the heating system you must fix the drafts .hire a contractor from Comfort Instsitute to do a blower door test on your house.

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