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Old House With Several Challenges - Suggestions?

OldTimer Member Posts: 1

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 Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,415
    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 (https://www.slantfin.com/slantfin-heat-loss-calculator/), 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: https://www.garrettwade.com/copper-pipe-soldering-tool-gp.html 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 https://stormwindows.com/, 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...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,992
    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.
  • Alan Muller
    Alan Muller Member Posts: 31
    I agree with not concealing the new work (but I know old-house people who would strongly disagree.) Many old houses originally build without central heat have exposed pipes to upstairs rads and it seems "normal." Also agree with the need for quality work with good appearance.
  • liveto99
    liveto99 Member Posts: 6
    I don’t like scorched hot air but...
    If you put old cast iron floor grates in the back corners you could use that space under the floor for a air plenum return. It will also warm the floor a bit. Also grate in floor of second floor in back will allow heat from the wood stove up stairs. “But holes in the floor.”
    Big project? Dig out enough under the back enough to tack up tubing and some insulation and have radiant heat, the front will be easy to do. Two rows in each bay, or 6 rows of tubing between squared off tree trunks if it is a really old house. “No holes in the floor”
    You could pay someone to do the digging.
  • mikeg2015
    mikeg2015 Member Posts: 1,194
    Threaded black pipe takes paint well... as does copper if cleaned and prepped. So exposes pipes are not that big of a deal.

    Most steam systems built before 1920 has exposed pipe. I rarely notice it. I think it adds character.
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,723
    I’m removing a runout in my wall and replacing it with one run in the living space right now.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,113
    Chose wisely because you will be living w your choice for a long time . Here s my take ,no one wants the old wooden floor and trim ruined and replaced by baseboard it looks like crap and really stands out I know been there done it and no one was happy mostly me ,I would suggest install at good properly sized oil boiler 3 pass design get rid of the furnace and use a hot water coil in its ducts work u can reuse the blower and then install buderus panel rads mounted to the wall and there’s no cutting your trim out . They will blend into just about any decor I promise . It advised to do a heat lose room by room and size the radiators to the lose ,I would also suggest doing a home run system back to either remotely mounted manifolds and or mounted in boiler room I personally do remotes if there s long distances saves on having pex runs all over the place . This is not a home owner type job unless you are very well versed in the piping And hydronic areas and make dam sure that who ever does the job uses by pass valves on the radiators and trv on them as well . Also make sure who ever you hire is versed And has installed panel rads and done home run systems u do not want to be someone first ever learning experience no? These types of job are costly but I have found that using panel rads are much nicer looking better temp control room to room then baseboard and they are not collectors of dust bunnies like baseboard . Do some research . I have them in my own home and love them I ve set my system up for low temp using a wall mounted condensing boiler and heat my home at design w 135 supply water temp . This did cost a lot more then a hi temp but wanted to get the most outta of my condensing boiler which I do until below about 5 when it’s up to about 140 but still condensing . Take the time and do the research and choise wisely . One large advantage to this type of set up is small 1/2 pex is used to attach to each radiator and every radiator will see the same supply temps when using a home runs system to manifolds preferable not cheap ones one w good flow indicators and made of brass I use uponor you get what you pay for so buy good and do once .the main advantage I have found in some cases it’s easier to do home runs then a loop w baseboard running from room to room and also removing trim to mount a real mess . Remember that in most older homes the older base trim was installed right after the wooden slats for plastering so there should always a issue in removing trim and mounting baseboard to the trim is garbage at least it looks like crap when your all done w plaster and wall repair you will still be looking at baseboard and not the great trim that once sat there . As for money put it in perspective most will spend 3 x the amount of money of a kitchen and not even cook . Good designed heating system go un noticed the provide comfort on cold days and do there job un noticed unlike not properly installed or designed systems which seem to be issue after issue. Again chose wisely and cost is only equal to the quality of the install not the cost of parts alone . Find some one who is versed not some one who is learning cause when there learning your paying peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,245
    I think panel radiators may fit the look of the home better? There are hundreds of styles available.

    When you travel Europe most of the old buildings,even castles are Most often retrofit with panel rads
    You might snake insulated Pex to most areas and have room by room zone control with thermostatic radiator valves

    Air conditioning needed?
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,113
    Hot rod is correct even though s it’s been over 20 years since I ve been to Germany while there all you see is panel rads and I would say heads above shoulders over my son it was mostly buderus or dianorm panel rads ,I would say 20 to 1 ratio being buderus style panel over myson . I saw my sons in more retail commercial while 99 percent of every apartment ,hotel and farm guest house had panel rads .i tried for years to sell and install and maybe have done 3 or 4 hard sale no one gets the picture ,there s a reason they use them there cost and efficiency and the hi costs of both fuel and electric is factored in with the ability to be sized for low temp but even so it s a hard sale in the us and forget about new work it will never be a cheaper install then baseboard but compare to every room being zoned that extra panel rad cost disappears .plus baseboard saves the builder money on that cheap trim they install lol the US is in a race to the bottom of the heating industry in comparison to Europe and even the canucks .just wait till our energy cost catch up w the rest of the world then it will be like the first oil embargo hurry hurry rush rush Like I said chose wisely oh grasshopper peace and good luck clammy For those who are familiar this is my same rant for 20 years lol
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • DanInNaperville
    DanInNaperville Member Posts: 42
    We have a mix of baseboard and heated floors and baseboard has some advantages over radiators. It spreads the heat along the wall instead of concentrating it in one spot. Properly laid out and installed, it replaces heat under windows where more heat is lost.
    Baseboard can reduce or eliminates cool spots and drafts.
    But best of all is radiant floors. A 68 degree room with radiant floors feels cozy when a 72 degree room using any other kind of heat feels chilly.
    I've lived in houses with radiators, forced air heat, baseboard, and radiant floors. For me, radiant floors are best (by a lot), baseboard second, radiators third, and forced air (whether from a furnace or a hydronic coil) is least comfortable and least desirable, also by a lot.
    Personal preference, to each his own.
    Panelized baseboard is another option, but panel radiators and baseboards are usually made of cast iron or steel and can corrode over time. Byproducts of that corrosion can shorten the life of mod/con boilers. Copper fin tube doesn't have that problem: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.supplyhouse.com/manuals/1303934042598/54624_PROD_FILE.pdf
  • retiredguy
    retiredguy Member Posts: 913
    edited January 2020
    If it is an old home why not consider cast iron rads. I am not going to suggest anything else since a lot of the guys that live here are much better at this than I am.
  • Jellis
    Jellis Member Posts: 228
    I agree the hot water boiler is the way to go here. I like the idea of using the panel radiators or cast iron radiators, i think they look much nicer in old homes than baseboard (just my opinion)
    check out "towel heaters" they have many styles that can really class up a bathroom.

    With a hot water system you can use the following to apply heat to the rooms.

    Panel radiators
    Classic radiators
    Kick space heaters
    Recessed unit heaters

  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 317
    I think you need to consider how you make your hot water.

    I heat my house with a furnace for half the building and a high velocity air system for the other half. Can you put an air handler on the second floor with ducts to the first floor ceiling and maybe through the attic for the second floor. I use a oil fired HW heater for this and to meet my domestic hot water needs.. It is an open system. Works fine. I also burn wood but do not have to.