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Old House With Several Challenges - Suggestions?

OldTimerOldTimer Posts: 1Member

I've bought a century home that is in amazing and well kept condition. That being said it's old and I'd like to tackle the heating challenge I'll describe here, but WHERE TO START? Suggestions welcome.

About the home: The original house sits on a solid granite block foundation over a shallow crawlspace. By shallow I mean I can't crawl around under it, they didn't need ducting or pipes 125 years ago. In the 1950's the owner commisioned a massive addition to the house that is about as big as the original house was. This two storey addition essentially extended the house frontwards and doubled the house's footprint.

The new addition sits above a full basement and stone(granite block) foundation. So basically the front half of the house has easy access underneath the main floor but the rear does not, at all.

Heating Sources(and challenge).
- Front is heated with an oil furnace through vents, but the vents are ONLY in the front of the house.
- Rear of the house is heated with a wood stove on the main floor, the floor above is on the cold side in winter.
- A rear mudroom required an electric baseboard heater as it was not heated otherwise.

SO - It currently has THREE sources of heat and needs them all in winter to heat each section. It's a challenge to keep the house balanced, especially when out to work for 8 hours and not home to stoke the wood stove. This causes the oil furnace to work harder than it should and it's not doing the job of keeping the back warm(wasn't designed to, no vents, can't put any in on the main floor, no room).

I'm trying to step back and just ask what I would do if this house had no heat at all. It has two beautiful chimneys, the rear works for wood burning and the front is lined for oil furnace, that I'd like to keep.

What would be the most efficient way to get whole house heating into a home like this? Rewiring for electric presents issues in the read, the solid 100+ year old wood floors are not replaceable. No access below....

What would you suggest?


  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 10,852Member
    That sort of thing can really be a challenge! As is almost always the case with something like this, the first step is to find out -- room by room -- how much heat your really do need. There are several on-line calculators to help you with this -- I happen to like Slant/Fins version (, but there are others.

    Then... the next question is how to get the heat from where you can create it to where you want it. I think personally -- and keep in mind here that I do restoration, not renovation, on historically significant structures -- that I would probably be inclined to use hot water heat with baseboards. But, I hear you say, how do I run the pipes to the original house? If the structure is at all significant -- you mention not wanting to damage the floors, and I applaud that! -- this is one of those occasions where honesty is by far the best policy. Run the pipes exposed, near floor level. Where you have to go upstairs, you may be able to run concealed somewhere, but if not, run those pipes exposed, too. I'd do the piping layout in zones, if you need them, and reverse return (yes it does mean two pipes, but you'll get better -- and more balanceable -- heat that way). But won't they be ugly? They don't have to be, if they are installed with real attention to craftsmanship and detail. If you use copper -- which I would suggest -- that means everything is well supported and straight and parallel with the floors or walls. Joints are carefully soldered by someone who actually knows what they are doing (be careful here -- torches are a problem; there is an excellent tool for soldering copper pipe: which isn't cheap, but makes it easier to do a really clean job -- without the flame hazard from a torch).

    The Slant/Fin calculator will also helpfully suggest how much baseboard of what kind you need. Yes, that part of it is advertising -- but that's not so bad.

    Don't try to hide the pipes. Unless you can hide them completely, it is generally better in restoration work to be right up front and honest: this is new work.

    Then you can power the whole thing with an appropriate boiler in the front part of the house in the basement. Oil, since you have it already is probably easiest.

    While you are doing all this, pay some attention to tightening up the envelope, although that may be much more easily said than done. Windows -- there are some excellent, non-intrusive storm windows available (try, for example) (don't do modern retrofit windows -- they aren't any better than old windows with storms!). Draught sealing may be an option. Attic -- or roof -- insulation probably is feasible; blown in wall insulation may be (dense pack cellulose) but can be problematic in older houses, since the wall framing may be odd.

    That's my take on it. Others may have other ideas...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Intplm.Intplm. Posts: 845Member
    What @Jamie Hall said. ^^^^^^^^ Is right on the mark.
    Get a heat loss calculation done to give you a idea of what you will need.
    If you do decide on doing baseboard heat, ( in your situation that is what I would do. ) you can cover the exposed pipes with the same covering as the type of baseboard heat elements that you use.
    Doing this type of heating system in your house will give you a well balanced and comfortably heated home.
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