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What's best: Replace Radiator with Heat pump/HVAC or...

Walkabout Member Posts: 5
We are buying a house in Berkeley Springs WV.  This house has no A/C and a radiator heating system.  The house 99 years old but is overall in great shape.  The boiler is huge and looks really old and must be replaced - but the radiators and pipes look to be in very good condition.  It looks like whoever owned the house before Fannie Mae took over has set up a temporary improv wood burner radiator as they were restoring the house – and they got close to having many things restored.  I got a bid from a couple of companies in the area and they didn't seem to be interested in replacing the boiler, just removing it and replacing the fuel tank for a oil burning furnace or changing to an electrical furnace.  Installation of this (furnace) type of system the house would require the duct work.  The house has:

1) Basement where boiler is.

2) 1st floor with rooms 28X11, 15X11, 15X11

3) 2nd floor with rooms 18X11, 13X11, 12X11, 11X11

4) 3rd floor spacious attic with full stairway - could be made into another room - with enough space for and HVAC system.

The estimates we got are for a minimum 2 ton 13 SEER heat pump.  One for the downstairs (installed in the basement).  One for the upstairs (installed in the attic.) 15 SEER was recommended to better conserve energy.  We got estimates to go electric, or to go oil.

We hope to eventually make this place into a Bed & Breakfast.  We don't want to loose the aesthetics of the radiator system and feel it would really compliment the historic environment if the house had a working radiator heating system.  Now I have read that often, now a modern boiler with a working radiator system is better than electric furnaces and heat pumps.  Also, when I was there for the home inspection it was 86 degrees F.  The house was very comfortable.  It has that farm house setting of trees surrounding a portion of the house protecting it from direct sunshine.

Now our funds are also a little limited.  How does this sound:

1) Remove the old boiler and fuel tank.

2) Install a new boiler and fuel tank to heat the house.

3) Install an HVAC system in the attic for the bedrooms only.

4) If possible, we want to put individual controls in each of the bedrooms for the HVAC system so our guests can choose their own temperature in their rooms.

This would leave the downstairs LR, DR, and kitchen without any A/C except for what would fall down from the upstairs - but really the house was very comfortable at 86F.

We aren't getting much back from the companies we have so far contacted as to what they can do - and what is best to do here.  I did have plumber (who does radiator systems and is from Virginia) check it out and he said it looks like this is good solution - but he doesn't have WV license so I can't use him to do this job.  I had a heating system company that also does radiators take a look at it too - he also thought it might be a good solution.     

We would really appreciate some insight here on what would be best to do and if the new boiler upstairs HVAC sounds like a good idea - what would you recommend for a boiler for a home of this size?  And also, any other ideas???...

Thanks Several Tons in Advance!  Walkabout. 


  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,329
    Sounds good

    I think your approach is solid. Some smaller A/C units upstairs and restore the radiators to their former glory.

    What are your fuel choices? You mentioned oil and electricity. How about propane or natural gas? What is the local cost of the fuels you are considering?

    How are you heating your domestic water? Should this be part of the solution.

    Post some pics of that beautiful old boiler!
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Radiators - Steam or Hot Water?

    Hi- You say a 'radiator heating system" - are the radiators /boiler hot water or steam?  Do you have natural gas available?

    - Rod
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,868
    Ductless A/c

    Have you looked into using ductless mini-split A/C's like Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, etc.? These can be individually controlled from each room or zone and are much more efficient than ducted systems.

    Definitely keep the rads and the hot water. They can also be controlled at each rad with TRV's.

    I'm a little over two hours from you, near Staunton, VA.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Patrick_North
    Patrick_North Member Posts: 249

    ... if your system is indeed steam, do yourself a big favor and buy a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" from this website. As we've restored the neglected steam system (I'm just a homeowner myself) this book has saved my bacon many times over.

    Regardless, yours is a common situation- a sense that your radiant heating system could be restored economically and efficiently, but a lack of local professional know-how. Stick around and ask questions- you will find your answers!

    Berkely Springs is a lovely town- I drive through on the way to my brother's in VA.

    Good luck!

  • In case you need more convincing....

    read the summary at the beginning of this extensive study..


    Basically if you want an efficient home, do not use any ductwork in the home.  It very existance within the home adds about 10% to heat loss even when it is not in use.  It is an expecially bas idea to run the ductwork outside the building envelop...ie attics.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • Walkabout
    Walkabout Member Posts: 5
    Thanks For Your Replies...

    Appreciate your help!

    Z-Man : the wood stove picture is what (I think) the previous homeowner put in when the boiler failed and didn't have funds to replace it...
  • Walkabout
    Walkabout Member Posts: 5

    Appreciate your help!

    Z-Man :
  • Walkabout
    Walkabout Member Posts: 5
    My Thanks got truncated...

    Appreciate your help...

    Z-Man, No natural gas here, but the sellers/contractors are selling heating oil or electric.  Is there an advantage to propane they’re not telling me about?  By the price of gasoline, I would say the gas prices are slightly higher ($.03-.04 a gallon) in this area of WV compared to where I live just outside of Washington DC in Greenbelt MD.

    RodNo, No natural gas... And I'm a dummy here, I don't know if the radiator system is hot water or steam.  Can you tell from the pictures I attached this time?

    IronMan, I thought of those Mitsubishi ductless and checked on them.  Actually the first company that came out to give me an estimate I picked because there were.are a Mitsubishi "Authorized" dealer - but they didn't want to talk Mitsubishi products.  Which was OK because I later checked on the pricing and they are just more than I am able to spend?  Has probably helped lead me to the best solution though....

    Patrick_North,  Thanks for confirming this is a common situation when it comes to trying to keep what works best but "modern technology" has moved us "forward" - Good Point, I'll keep on looking for answers!

    Steam Whisperer, I checked out the study.  All the more reason what I'm going to do is probably the best choice (less ductwork than duel HVAC system)...

    So thanks many tons more for you help.  I attached some pictures this time.  Man that boiler is a bear!  Are boilers ever considered to be collector’s items like some radiators?  I'm paying several pretty pennies to have it removed...
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 6,868
    edited May 2012
    Hot Water Boiler

    That looks like a hot water boiler on an old gravity flow system. Is there a pump on the piping near the boiler? Can you post a couple more pics showing the near boiler piping?

    If I'm correct, then that's one of the best systems for a conversion to a modern boiler, but there are some things that will need to be addressed that most HVAC guys of today know little or nothing about.

    Please see the attached article: http://www.heatinghelp.com/article/332/Gravity-Hot-Water-Heating/72/Gravity-Hot-Water-Heating-FAQ

    Regarding Ductless Units: the cost of the equipment is substantially higher than ducted equipment, but when you consider that there's no duct work to be done, and no major surgery to the house's finish to be concealed, the total installed price is usually the same or lower than a ducted system. Plus, you'll have a system that's much more efficient, zoned, balanced and more comfortable. I've yet to have a customer that wasn't well satisfied with a ductless that we installed.

    We come across houses like yours quite often and the solution is almost always the same: modernize the hydronic system and install ductless mini-splits for A/C or ductless heat pumps to provide mild weather heating with the hydronic system as main heating source.

    I'd recommend that you consider a gas (propane) modulating/condensing boiler like the Dunkirk at the bottom of the page under "Product of the Month". A mod/con is the ideal match up for a converted gravity flow system.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,329
    That's it

    Ironman's post is right on. Everyone has there favorite boiler. I prefer firetube hx types like the dunkirk and triangle tube. If you have the cost of your fuel options it can be pretty easily compared. Generally, it goes nat gas, propane, heating oil, electric (that's low to high) It can vary by region.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,330
    Before you decide which fuel to use

    compare the actual costs per BTU in your area. Somewhere there is an online calculator you can just plug your prices into, but I can't seem to find the link- anyone out there who can post it?

    And if someone is telling you to tear out the radiator system, show him the door. Period.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Walkabout
    Walkabout Member Posts: 5
    More Pictures....

    Thanks again for you advice.  What you are recommending is what I originally thought would work best.  I wanted to restore the radiator system and do the ductless work for the bedrooms.  The prices for the ductless equipment intimidated me though, and then getting lead to go "modern" by getting an estimate from a local company, I have been left having a hard time to find someone who could replace the boiler, get the hydronic system working effectively and has experience with ductless work.  I was not totally satisfied with what the 1st HVAC company offered me - and after posting this and hearing back from all of you I'm not going back to their choice to use a heat pump/AC system to replace the radiator system.  But I am still a little unsure as to who I have found to do the work could think outside the box and set up the ductless system and get his fair share while keeping my costs on budget...  
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,329
    BTU calc

    Here is the like to that spreadsheet http://www.eia.gov/neic/experts/heatcalc.xls

    You may get a better handle on pricing by contacting someone in the "find a contractor" section. It sounds like Ironman is nearby. You can send a contact request to any user by clicking their name.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
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