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Buying new home, no heat on 2nd/3rd floor

Griff57 Member Posts: 4
Ok, so we have an accepted bid on a home in Buffalo, NY. It is a big Colonial built in 1920. Today we had the inspection, and realized that there are no vents giving any heat to the 2nd floor bedrooms. There is also no heat in the attic, which is partially re-done, and we plan on turning into a master suite.

The heat is all coming through one huge metal grate, in the floor of the foyer at the main entrance. Which we thought was just some kind of cold air return, when we seen it at the open house. It is all run off of a forced air gas furnace, which was just replaced last year.

The seller states that he has never had a problem with enough heat getting to the second floor, as the stairs are right behind the big metal grate. Yet, there is a fireplace in the hallway on the second floor. And all of the bedroom doors were, for some reason, off. (my guess would be so that heat could get into all of the bedrooms while people were seeing the house)

So a couple of questions. Has anyone come across this kind of heating setup? We have 4 kids, two of which are very young. We can tell the older boys to throw an extra blanket on, but the babies need to have heat, ha.

I get the feeling that the current setup, likely doesn't work as good as the seller says it does on the second floor. And we also want to get heat up to the 3rd floor anyway. Would putting a new furnace on the 3rd floor, and venting heat down into the bedrooms be the best way out? Not looking to put in space heaters or anything like that. Want it all to be done right, and whatever will be most efficient. Have to think that is better than running duct work all the way up from basement, and still having everything run off of one zone? Also, any idea of cost on a project like this?

We love the house otherwise, and still want it. But just trying to find out a bit more about what we are getting into. Or if there are any other ideas out there. Thank you for any info you can all give. And I can try to answer any questions you may have that would help.


  • unclejohn
    unclejohn Member Posts: 1,830
    It will take a big big big check. And you most likely not see your wife til the heat works through out the house.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    edited November 2018
    Gravity forced air.

    Always a difference between what someone else thinks is enough heat, and what you think.

    Certainly not a comfort system by design, and something that will haunt your purchase.

    What about the AC? Is there any? If so that won’t work very well upstairs with out duct work, or is there window shakers in the basement that go in every year?

    The doors being off could be for heating, and sometimes it’s done to make the rooms look bigger for open houses.
  • Gilmorrie
    Gilmorrie Member Posts: 180
    My advice: bale out.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    edited November 2018
    What is the home inspectors take? Just pointed it out?

    Unless this is a cash offer the next hurdle may be the underwriters for your mortgage company. Usually the home inspection passes, but the underwriters have their say, which usually trumps a home inspection.

    Which ends up being the home inspector makes his money no matter what happens.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,117
    A rather old-fashioned system. It worked well enough -- at the time -- and I have seen a number of houses with such an arrangement.

    However. Note the "at the time". And at the time, it was both customary and expected that the bedrooms -- which were upstairs -- would be colder than the living areas on the main floor. Sometimes quite a bit colder... if you are used to it, If, perhaps, you grew up with it. For the modern generation, which expects more or less uniform temperatures throughout the house, it just won't work.

    You best be would be, as you suggest, a separate forced air furnace in the third floor, feeding the second floor and third floor spaces. It would work quite well -- but as has been said, it might not be cheap.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Griff57
    Griff57 Member Posts: 4
    edited November 2018
    Home inspector is the one who mentioned the furnace on the 3rd floor. Also talked about adding a coil for central air to the unit, which we would likely do. Imagine it’ll get pretty hot up there in the summer.

    We are getting into the house for a decent price, and I know the seller wants to be out. It is a couple who are engaged, are selling both of their houses to buy one together, and are getting married in a couple weeks. And as mentioned before, we LOVE the house. Lots of great updates throughout, with the charm of old home in other areas. Just, nobody ever did anything about heating setup.

    We will likely be going back to them tomorrow and looking for a credit. Just trying to figure out how much right now.

    We are already underwritten, so credit/income etc is good to go. However, it is an FHA, and my broker mentioned that they may not even approve the sale without heat on 2nd floor. Said they could still approve the loan, if heat is put in there, or money is put into escrow to go toward the heating, before closing.

    Are we thinking $10-12K range?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,541
    Yes, that large floor grate was from the original coal gravity furnace. You fired that old furnace up in October and kept a fire in it (low fire on warmer days, high fire on cold days, all driven by the amount of coal you fed the furnace). It is not effective today with forced air that cycles on and off frequently. The room on the first floor can be ducted from the basement, fairly easily, with registers in the floor of each room. The second floor can be ducted from above and typically with registers in the ceiling of each room. The third floor can be ducted into the side walls from the same furnace that feeds the second floor. I assume the finished portion of the third floor has unfinished spaces around at least two sides and hopefully an area or two where ducts can be run overhead to drop to some rooms on the second floor and also to duct to both side walls of the third floor. It sounds rather complicated but it is doable without tearing out a lot of plaster. I had to do it in my house. Added central air at the same time. Takes one furnace in the basement and one furnace on the third floor.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    That’s what I mean.

    I’d get estimates before closing the deal on setting up that escrow. There are a few ways to go about it that an hvac installer would have to look at on site.

    We don’t discuss pricing here. However that sounds cheap.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,410
    edited November 2018
    There was a time when houses didn’t have hot water, earlier didn’t have plumbing, no electricity, no central heat.

    All those things worked well enough in their time, we aren’t living in that time anymore.

    Was this house priced and bid as if it needed a new heating system? I’m guessing not as you didn’t notice until home inspection time.

    For me that house should be priced as if it needs an entire heating system installed from the ground up. In an existing structure this is far from cheap.

    The sellers opinion on this topic should not hold any weight at all in any way shape or form. They want your money end of story.

    Change the offer significantly or run. I would think your contract is written based on results of home inspection, that could be your out. I doubt they will drop the price by the significant 5 figures it should be reduced by.

    Also they should reduce the price so you can replace all the doors.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    The underwriter is usually the one who won’t approve. Yes you have been approved for a loan, and underwritten, but there are still contingencies.

    My mothers house was a good example. 1914 home. Cracks in foundation that had been there since I was a kid, all deficiencies disclosed to the buyer. In the end the home inspection passed, but the underwriters had their say, and would not approve the sale until a structural analysis was done, and the chimney was pointed. All on the sellers dime.
    500 bucks for a structural engineers report to say everything was fine, and 2500 to point chimney....it’s a money circle.

  • Griff57
    Griff57 Member Posts: 4
    The price is fair, assuming the house is not heated the same way it was in 1920.

    They bought the house 2 years ago, put lots into it, and aren’t asking much more than what they paid themselves. But cannot imagine any family moving into this home without proper heating. You have all pretty much backed up my assumption that this setup, is clearly not what the seller says it is. Appreciate all your reply’s, and any more that come in!!
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    The big challenge will be ductwork in a finished space. There is other options such as mini splits for heat, and Ac. but they only heat down so cold.
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,919
    I would bail out. Run far and fast. Find a house that your family can be comfortable in. Unless you are willing to shell out big $ to try to retrofit an HVAC system to your new house. Why not find somewhere to live where your family can move in and be comfortable right away?
    Personally I'd try to find a house with a boiler. One of the best things about a house that age is usually nice big cast iron radiatiors. 😊
  • DZoro
    DZoro Member Posts: 1,048
    The house has been occupied for the last 98 years. May not be the best heating and cooling for everyone. As long as you know what is happening and the cost to make it better. If it was really horrible I'm sure the previous occupants would have done something by now. Get some quotes quickly so you have a idea for your budget.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 10,581
    Why are they selling it?
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    edited November 2018
    I’m quite sure it’s a lovely house. It’s not that things can’t be done it’s a question of cost to do them. That’s all I wish to bring to light. Get three estimates for exactly what you expect to have.

    If you need guidance come back here under same post. We will help you as best as we can.
  • KC_Jones
    KC_Jones Member Posts: 5,410
    > @Griff57 said:
    > The price is fair, assuming the house is not heated the same way it was in 1920.

    So the price is as if it has a moden heating system? This would be the original heating system the house had.

    Keep in mind the estimate for a new heating system isn’t the only cost. Most likely the ductwork will require bulkheads and vertical runs that need framed and finished, matching old trim to new work, could require custom milled trim etc. Also the high likelihood of losing closet space to ductwork. I’d bet money the HVAC estimate would be half maybe only 1/3 the full cost to do this job properly.

    I’d also speculate this is one reason they are selling and a reason the house isn’t priced too high. I’d speculate they already got estimates to do it properly, especially considering they did replace the furnace.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    I agree @Jamie Hall there are some older home characteristics that just are not reproduced today. Also other factors are location location.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,541
    edited November 2018
    I too believe this is not a "Bail" situation. If all else about the house is what you want and you understand the likelihood of two furnaces and there is raw space in the basement and attic, it's not as daunting as some might believe and you can have central air as part of the process. Two furnaces also gives you some added flexibility as far as zoning the first floor differently from the 2nd and 3rd. Nice if you are inclined to use temp set backs on floor you are not using during the day or night. I did not have to add any bulkheads or remove/replace any trim in my retrofit. Cost is always a factor but homeowners have to replace heating systems all the time. The incremental cost of the initial duct work isn't staggering, especially if you have the raw space that doesn't require opening and closing walls. Two units also eliminates the loss of any closet space. You need to show us what you're working with, in terms of room layout and raw space for any educated assessment.
  • Griff57
    Griff57 Member Posts: 4
    Glad to hear people saying not to bail. To give more background, we moved from Boston to the Buffalo area in June. My wife’s entire family is out here. I am an only child, my dad passed away last year, and my mom is coming out to live with us, as she is really my only family.

    This is the second house we have been under contract on. The first one fell through, because old broker made huge mistake on financing stuff. So we are still living in in laws house, sleeping on an air mattress. We never thought finding a place would take this long. My mom is living with sister in Boston area until we get a house. This house is in great location, with very good schools, and it has everything we need for a big family. 4 kids bedrooms. Master suite for my wife and I. And a first floor bedroom and extra living area for my mom. Totally updated kitchen and living room. Really, everything we are looking for. And believe me, we have looked at tons of houses. And there just aren’t a ton that work for our situation.

    The third floor has all new painted walls and ceilings, along with ceiling fans installed. However still a basic attic floor. Tons of strange nooks and crannies on the top floor, and actually a very ideal spot to put a furnace. Running duct work shouldn’t be too bad, as there is no floor to rip up. I wish I had taken pictures.

    My brother in law has a friend in HVAC, so I will speak to him in the morning. Hopefully arrange a time to get back in for an estimate. And I guess see what the appraiser says from there.

    Thanks again for all the input. It’s all a huge help!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,997
    I'd use hydronic for heat, and mini-duct or mini-split units for A/C. Forced-air "heat" is the worst.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Brewbeerdelta Tkcopp
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,075
    Good luck, @Griff57. Keep us posted on how it goes.

    And my condolences on the loss of your dad.
  • liveto99
    liveto99 Member Posts: 6
    A direct vent wall hung boiler, base board, should work out. I did it in my house that was built in the 1800’s. I ran 1/2” pex to each room with it’s own circulator with internal check valve. Circulator controller Works great! Everyone is comfortable.
    Muiltizone mini split for a/c but you can do that later not needed to close.
    You can just run one zone for 2nd and 3rd floor to get the required heat.
    It worked for 98 years I would try it out first.
  • propmanage
    propmanage Member Posts: 12
    I have seen them usually in rentals that never upgraded and they are not what you would want this day and age. If you like the house you could price a Pex tubing type baseboard system and see if you can get the price included in the sale.
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 382
    edited December 2018
    I would not necessarily bail, particularly if you really like the house. Personally, I would do two things:
    1. I would make the current owners re-install the bedroom doors so you could see just how cold it is with them closed. It is fairly cold now in Buffalo (I live about 100 miles from there) so you should get a good idea of what it will be like most of the winter. My grandparents had a home like this and if it was zero outside, you could see your breath in the bedrooms at night. All beds had electric blankets and heavy quilts. Multiple quilts.
    2. Get an HVAC estimate prior to closing on this deal. Keep in mind, as someone else mentioned, that the HVAC work may be less than half the total cost. If you need to make a chase to get ductwork or piping to upper floors, you will both incur great cost to make a period match in decor and you may have an ugly chase that costs some of the original charm of the architecture. And chases need special sealing to not be a fire hazard.

    Hydronic has the advantage here as it moves heat with much less volume of space required, but you can’t do AC with it very effectively. Forced air is nice from the AC perspective, but requires a large volume for ductwork which makes moving to upper floors difficult. I understand this as I live in a log home that has solid walls which made both wiring and HVAC a challenge. I ended up with three separate forced air systems: one large one in the basement to handle the basement (finished now) and first floor and two small units in each attic to handle the upper floor. The house has a cathedral ceiling that splits the two wings and thus the need for two units upstairs as getting ductwork over the catherdral ceiling was more costly than adding the second small furnace.

    Contrary to those who deride forced air heat, it actually is very comfortable heat when designed properly. The problem is that most people’s experience is with poorly designed systems that have too few registers and thus too high air velocity, too few returns (should have at least one per room), and no dampers for proper balancing. Forced air, in addition to facilitating AC, also allows for humidification and high efficiency filtration as well as efficient air exchange using ERV or HRVs (I have two in my house). A well designed forced air system is a thing of beauty, but it seems there are very few contractors who know how to do this. The downside is that the ductwork is expensive to install and takes up a lot of real estate. I hired a commercial building contractor when I built may house. They were expensive, but they knew what they were doing.
  • rbmcduffee
    rbmcduffee Member Posts: 2
    One or two mini-split systems for the upper floors would be economical to acquire, install and operate. Right now, the fact that you forego the expense and trauma of ductwork installation is huge. Later on, when the kids are grown and gone, the savings from using no fuel whatsoever on rooms you seldom use will be substantial.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 2,065
    I'd look into those ceiling height electric panels. With smart controls you can balance comfort versus too much heat where you don't need it.
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,456
    I agree on not bailing as long as you know what your getting to. I would seriously stay away from ductless splits for heating...especially in Buffalo.

    I like the hot water heat idea for the upper floors with a wall hung boiler if possible....less disruption than ductwork for the upper floors.

    As for air conditioning if you need it ductless splits would do the upper floors and the existing furnace with an ac coil could do the lower floors if the ductwork is adequate.

    A furnace with overhead ductwork for heating on the upper floors is a very poor choice ....especially in Buffalo. Good for cooling however.
  • unclejohn
    unclejohn Member Posts: 1,830
    Look at it this way they each have a home they are selling to buy another home. Meaning neither of them wish to live in that house.
  • In buffalo find Bernice cradle, she runs a company buffalove or somthing like that. I imagine she can find you the right people to best solve the issue. If that comes up
    short message me and I can pass along a different contact
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 474
    These days everyone seems to want a new house - but keep in mind there is no shortage of new homes with poorly designed heating systems...and in some areas it is tough to find a new home in a desirable location. If you like everything else about this house, I would try to buy it for price that allows for a heating system upgrade. Hot water baseboard and minisplits for AC would be my choice.
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    ^some people don’t realize what they are missing with older stock homes. They can’t get passed the new car look, and smell.

    Never realizing the materials, and mill work were old growth lumber, and far superior in strength, and rot resistance than new growth lumber.
  • 1Matthias
    1Matthias Member Posts: 148
    There are many houses in our neighborhood that by all rights should have rotted decades ago, and would have if they were newer, but are still standing and withstanding.....old wood is incredible stuff.
  • Jackmartin
    Jackmartin Member Posts: 196
    I am old enough to come from a house with a wood fired gravity furnance. When I was a kid you could always tell how cold it was by the hieght of the frost in the outside corner of my room. Granted I live in one of the coldest places on earth but I still remember how cold it was to put your cloths on in the winter. The house when you woke up was usually about 50 if you were lucky. You have to ask yourself why did the installer of the new furnance not tell the home owner about ducting. Gravity hot air did not use a fan, and it was fired with fuel that burned for a long time not on and off like gas or oil. The days of your original furnance were ,if you had not pissed your mom off ,she brought in a hot flatiron wrapped in towels and put it at your feet to warm up before you went to sleep. I would suggest you contact the most trustworthy sheetmetal forced air specialist in your area and ask if the new furnance can in fact accept the amount of duct work you need. I am absolutely sure the existing furnance does not have enough capacity to heat all three floors. Air conditioning ,if you want to make an enemy of your wife air condition the top floors and leave the kitchen hot I would not like to be you. From the sounds of it the owners made the old gravity furnance last until last year. Yes you would get heat to the whole house because the furnance never shutoff it slowly put heat into the house 24/7. I do not think you are up against a difficult heating problem engineering wise but get the heating and all the dirt and demolition done before you move in. You are asking for a world of hurt asking a women to move into a construction project plus given the age of your house the plaster contains ASBESTOS. Send a sample into be tested if the plaster has asbestos I hope you have a large overdraft at the bank .remediation and repair costs to your walls will cost at least twice what your new heating systems will. All the best for the holidays Jack. I live in Manitoba last week it was 41 below in Lynn lake so when it comes to the cold I have too much experience
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 5,654

    It will take quite a significant sum of money to install heating there too. I am not a professional, but it is usually not cheap.

    Good call , but the home is no longer a "New Home" for the person who made gthe original post in 2022. The original post was from November 2018. I think that @Griff57 has his answers by now.

    Just sayin'
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 683
    Griff57 said:

    There is also no heat in the attic, which is partially re-done, and we plan on turning into a master suite.

    In the City of Buffalo, NY.... Third floor occupancy ? Is there an existing fire escape ?!!??!!? I wonder how much that would cost ?

    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System