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Ideas for 1860's unheated farmhouse

ScrewLoose Member Posts: 20
Hey all, have a situation with some potential customers and a house that they planned on being a rental.

It's a 1860's-70's rural farmhouse that has NEVER had a working central heating system.

It is a MONSTER huge house, easily over 4000 sq.ft. with 11' ceilings. The attic alone is 700 sq.ft.

There are 5 chimneys, and up until the 1970's the house was heated via small cast iron propane heaters in each and every room.

The house also sits on the dirt. MAAAAAYBE 5" of clearance under the house from joist to the dirt.

The windows have all be replaced with vinyl double glazed

The house wrapped in vinyl siding and a new roof

Blown in fiberglass insulation... but it's a poor and inadequate job, like they gave up partway through.

Someone in the recent past TRIED to put in a downdraft air furnace to heat the 1st floor; it's the most botched up half-a**ed installation I've ever seen.

Most of the job is going to be taking away decades worth of idiotic "remuddling" projects that tortured the house.

So, we need heat for this building to be habitable.

For the budget, I'm thinking steel panel rads(Myson). 17 of them with. Plus towel warmer rads for the 3 bathrooms

Because the house is not quite post-n-beam and not quite stick framed I'm thinking PEX pipe.  Miles and miles of PEX.

I can get a boiler smack middle of the house 1st floor and chimney vent or PVC vent.

I am thinking a home-run on a manifold system.

Because of panel rads, pex pipe, manifold, and fuel uncertainty (currently propane, might? get a NG pipeline) I am thinking about a low-mass boiler with a buffer tank setup. 

I've not done any of the major maths yet for sizing a boiler, have a few room-btu/h calcs done.  So far most of the rooms are coming up to be in the 7000-to-10000 Btu/H range.

Fun, fun, fun.

So any ideas from more experienced minds? Am I way off base in my idea?

I need to kind of hurry, because they have a friend who-knows-a-guy that want to start cutting into walls and floors to put in 2 forced air heat systems. And I've seen it enough where these air-heat guys get in and DESTROY vital structure of these old houses.  So, no pressure. 

Thanks in advance.


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,276
    Sounds to me

    like you're going in the right direction there. They will be a lot more comfortable with the panel radiators, and it is likely that you can integrate them into the house with a minimum of disturbance to the house itself.

    PEX is the only way I'd go for the piping; anything else is too stiff and fractious to get around the various beams and braces and who knows what else you are going to run into in there.

    I would suggest that you plan on several zones, particularly if the house is somewhat exposed to the wind. It is almost impossible to get a house that age really tight, and if you have zoning so that the various exposures are controlled separately -- as well as conventional zoning such as bedrooms, living areas, etc. -- they will be happier, as the temperatures will be much more even when the wind blows.

    I can almost guarantee that forced air will never, ever give satisfactory results in such a setting! Impossible to get it balanced against all conditions. Never mind, as you say, the devastation which putting ductwork in would cause.

    Have fun!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Snowmelt
    Snowmelt Member Posts: 1,415
    Zones more zones

    More zones the better I would get a gas meter to the house. I would do each room with its own t stat.

    Or or also I would look into ductless hvac systems they work great in your situation.
  • ScrewLoose
    ScrewLoose Member Posts: 20
    mini-splits are utter trash

    Mini-splits are expensive trash, maybe good enough for typical small ranch houses or slummy trailer parks.

    NOT an option for a High Style 1870's American Italianate.

    Plus I had out an air-hvac guy that I know and the rough estimate for mini-splits was an obscene budget breaker.

    Even with mini-slpits the guy agreed there were large areas that mini-splits just couldn't get to.

    Furthermore the house is on 1920's wiring and the electricians *STILL* haven't pinned down a cost estimate for the total house rewire. Worrisome.

    As for the hydronic I think we've finally convinced the HO who is from Hawaii and doesn't understand heating systems.... :D

    Looking at either a Viessmann VitoDens, or tried and true VitoGas.

    3 main off-boiler zones.

    home run manifolds

    panel rads with TRVs
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,546
    edited March 2014

    Thought about addressing it??

    If room by room heat losses are coming in in the 7-10k range zone carefully. I would NOT zone each, and every room.

    Think about your loads and zone to prevent short cycling.

    I don't think I would bash mini splits to the degree you have they can be quite efficient, and solve many ducting hurdles. If the owner is from Hawaii should be use to the look of them.
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356

    I'd probably be looking at TRVs on those panel rads.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,546

    Most definitely