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Updating heating system 200 yr old house

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sg18951
sg18951 Member Posts: 3
We live in a 200+ yr old stone house 2800sq ft in Upper Bucks County Pa. The house has an evolved heating system, the main floor is heated by oil (furnace in basement) and electric and a propane fireplace , the 2 nd  floor is heated by a propane furnace located in the attic. During the heating season my heating cost run about $1k/mo. House has its original wide plank floors with flush registers but no ducting. 
Need some professional ideas/help to reduce cost and improve efficiency. Thanks Steve G.

Comments

  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,919
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    If your electric rate is ~$.13/kwh (looks like PECO rates), swapping the furnaces with a ducted heat pump will provide large savings. Propane and Oil are very expensive heating sources, as is electric resistance. Try to lean on heat pumps wherever you can in the house. Getting the heat loss right is the most important step - how many gallons of propane and how many gallons of oil did you use last winter? Share the dates of the fill-ups if you have them.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,667
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    The very first question is what is your approach to restoration vs. "upgrading". The answer to that question makes a huge difference as to what you should think about doing.

    Now that said, the most effective approach to improving efficiency and reducing heating costs-- in any structure -- is to reduce infiltration and draughts to the maximum extent possible, and then to improve the insulating quality of the envelope.

    This, however, is exactly where the approaches -- and possibilities and compromises, sometimes -- arise when considering restoration come in.

    Interestingly, though, if one is considering restoration one can do a great deal to reduce infiltration and druahgts without violating the first principle: if at all possible, do nothing which is not reversible, and if you have to repair or replace, repair using materials and processes as close to the original as possible.

    Start with windows. Except in rather rare circumstances, existing windows are sound. Where they are not, they can be repaired. In any event, they should be worked on as necessary by a real craftsman so that they operate again as was originally intended. Then, having done that, use either interior (preferred) removable storm panels or exterior storm windows to bring their thermal performance up to modern standards. Unless the existing structure is really in though shape -- necessitating some new framing timbers, for instance -- this will not cost more (and may cost a good deal less) than installing modern store bought replacement windows, never mind custom made replacement windows. It will give you thermal performance equal to all but the very most expensive new windows.

    Do the same thing for exterior doors.

    Now take a look at where the structure (I'm assuming timber framing of some kind here) joins the foundation, which will usually be stone or possibly brick. One thing the old-timers didn't have was an effective way to seal that gap between the sills and the foundation. You do, and should. There are a number of expanding foam products, available in sizes ranging from a handy can to two component mixes for sealing several hundred lineal feet. They are easy to use (well, once you get the hang of it...) and very effective.

    Now... draught sealing, vapour sealing. This can get to be a balancing act. If you are taking off the outside finish and sheathing materials, you can install a draught barrier, such as a Tybek housewrap, in the conventional way. If you are taking off the interior finish and sheathing, you can install a vapour barrier in the conventional way. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to do, and the question becomes one of whether it is worth the effort and cost to do that and restore the original (particularly the interior, if it is plaster). It has been my experience that it is not. Unless the interior finish or exterior covering and sheathing are very badly damaged, in almost all cases they are remarkably tight even if they are two or three centuries old.

    However, this does interact with insulation. Although old envelopes are tight, they do not have modern insulating capabilities. A typical 200 year old exterior wall -- clapboards, sheathing, air space, lathe, plaster -- has an R value of around 5. Do you want to insulate that? Maybe. The problem has to do with moisture: the old construction was allowed the breathe, with the result that moisture vapour didn't condense within the wall. Adding insulation to such a wall, unless a vapour barrier can be created, may cause moisture to condense within the thickness of the wall, with possible rot problems. Again, is it worth it? Likely not, and I don't recommend it. If you insist on doing it, however, try to use something like dense pack cellulose blown in. If the interior is plaster, do not use expanding foams -- they can destroy the plaster unless extraordinary care is taken.

    However, the attic or roof is a different matter. This area is usually more or less accessible, and a vapour barrier and insulation can and should be put in (but remember to allow the roof to breathe!), and the more the merrier.

    Now about heating... thought I'd never get there? What approaches you might use depend a lot on accessibility. If the basement is not particularly used or useful, a great deal could be said for using the existing floor registers and connecting them, via ductwork, to an air to air heat pump. Be sure to choose one which can operate down to your area's design temperature. Similarly you may be able to replace the attic furnace with a heat pump, although proper ducting may be slightly problematic.

    Another approach to the ground floor, if the underside of the flooring is easily accessible, would be to install hydronic radiant heat powered by a mod/con boiler. Personally if the existing registers are adequate, or if additional ones could be installed with little disruption, and the ductwork would not be a problem, I'd go for the heat pump -- with the added side benefit of air conditioning and humidity control.

    In any case, these units should be sized to handle the entire heating load. Electric resistance heat is terribly inefficient (not the heaters, but generating the electricity in the first place) and it is a very rare fireplace which actually provides all that much heat, unless it is the closed combustion forced air variety.

    Ask me more questions or make comments and I'll add more!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • sg18951
    sg18951 Member Posts: 3
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    For sake of clarity… I used the period12/19-3/20, I used 1235 gals OIL at an average price of $2.14/ gal and 612 gal PROPANE at an 3.10 gal. I don’t know how to break out the electric part of the  which include some baseboard heaters and the cost of running the heating system… I would guess at least $100-150 per month.
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 887
    Options
    Jaime Hall said:

    A lot of great information, like insulate, install heat pumps and install some duct work.

    My view on situations like yours is to try to improve old stuff at an economical cost until one can figure out how much money to spend in a 200 year old house.

    The proper insulation of this house can require tens of thousands of dollars as well as installing a modern heating system.


    Sounds like have gravity air circulation.

    It seems that you have registers in the floor only. Usually in homes that heat with gravity there are return registers. Find them and unplug or reopen them if they were installed.

    The return register aids in air circulation.

    There is no cheap fix. recommendations.

    Check your damper setting and adjust if possible.

    Fire places suck the warm air out of the house as they need oxygen to support the fire.

    If you do not have a heatalator door with vents and circulation fan motor you can install that in your fire places.

    Go on Yahoo and find what you may need.

    This is the most economical way to improve your heating and lower the fuel bill.


    If these solutions are not helpful you will need to install a heating system in your home.

    At this juncture if it was me I would look to install radiant heating on the first floor and base board heating on the second floor. The base board heating does not need floors to be ripped open.

    Jake

    The very first question is what is your approach to restoration vs. "upgrading". The answer to that question makes a huge difference as to what you should think about doing.

    Now that said, the most effective approach to improving efficiency and reducing heating costs-- in any structure -- is to reduce infiltration and draughts to the maximum extent possible, and then to improve the insulating quality of the envelope.

    This, however, is exactly where the approaches -- and possibilities and compromises, sometimes -- arise when considering restoration come in.

    Interestingly, though, if one is considering restoration one can do a great deal to reduce infiltration and druahgts without violating the first principle: if at all possible, do nothing which is not reversible, and if you have to repair or replace, repair using materials and processes as close to the original as possible.

    Start with windows. Except in rather rare circumstances, existing windows are sound. Where they are not, they can be repaired. In any event, they should be worked on as necessary by a real craftsman so that they operate again as was originally intended. Then, having done that, use either interior (preferred) removable storm panels or exterior storm windows to bring their thermal performance up to modern standards. Unless the existing structure is really in though shape -- necessitating some new framing timbers, for instance -- this will not cost more (and may cost a good deal less) than installing modern store bought replacement windows, never mind custom made replacement windows. It will give you thermal performance equal to all but the very most expensive new windows.

    Do the same thing for exterior doors.

    Now take a look at where the structure (I'm assuming timber framing of some kind here) joins the foundation, which will usually be stone or possibly brick. One thing the old-timers didn't have was an effective way to seal that gap between the sills and the foundation. You do, and should. There are a number of expanding foam products, available in sizes ranging from a handy can to two component mixes for sealing several hundred lineal feet. They are easy to use (well, once you get the hang of it...) and very effective.

    Now... draught sealing, vapour sealing. This can get to be a balancing act. If you are taking off the outside finish and sheathing materials, you can install a draught barrier, such as a Tybek housewrap, in the conventional way. If you are taking off the interior finish and sheathing, you can install a vapour barrier in the conventional way. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to do, and the question becomes one of whether it is worth the effort and cost to do that and restore the original (particularly the interior, if it is plaster). It has been my experience that it is not. Unless the interior finish or exterior covering and sheathing are very badly damaged, in almost all cases they are remarkably tight even if they are two or three centuries old.

    However, this does interact with insulation. Although old envelopes are tight, they do not have modern insulating capabilities. A typical 200 year old exterior wall -- clapboards, sheathing, air space, lathe, plaster -- has an R value of around 5. Do you want to insulate that? Maybe. The problem has to do with moisture: the old construction was allowed the breathe, with the result that moisture vapour didn't condense within the wall. Adding insulation to such a wall, unless a vapour barrier can be created, may cause moisture to condense within the thickness of the wall, with possible rot problems. Again, is it worth it? Likely not, and I don't recommend it. If you insist on doing it, however, try to use something like dense pack cellulose blown in. If the interior is plaster, do not use expanding foams -- they can destroy the plaster unless extraordinary care is taken.

    However, the attic or roof is a different matter. This area is usually more or less accessible, and a vapour barrier and insulation can and should be put in (but remember to allow the roof to breathe!), and the more the merrier.

    Now about heating... thought I'd never get there? What approaches you might use depend a lot on accessibility. If the basement is not particularly used or useful, a great deal could be said for using the existing floor registers and connecting them, via ductwork, to an air to air heat pump. Be sure to choose one which can operate down to your area's design temperature. Similarly you may be able to replace the attic furnace with a heat pump, although proper ducting may be slightly problematic.

    Another approach to the ground floor, if the underside of the flooring is easily accessible, would be to install hydronic radiant heat powered by a mod/con boiler. Personally if the existing registers are adequate, or if additional ones could be installed with little disruption, and the ductwork would not be a problem, I'd go for the heat pump -- with the added side benefit of air conditioning and humidity control.

    In any case, these units should be sized to handle the entire heating load. Electric resistance heat is terribly inefficient (not the heaters, but generating the electricity in the first place) and it is a very rare fireplace which actually provides all that much heat, unless it is the closed combustion forced air variety.

    Ask me more questions or make comments and I'll add more!

    The very first question is what is your approach to restoration vs. "upgrading". The answer to that question makes a huge difference as to what you should think about doing.

    Now that said, the most effective approach to improving efficiency and reducing heating costs-- in any structure -- is to reduce infiltration and draughts to the maximum extent possible, and then to improve the insulating quality of the envelope.

    This, however, is exactly where the approaches -- and possibilities and compromises, sometimes -- arise when considering restoration come in.

    Interestingly, though, if one is considering restoration one can do a great deal to reduce infiltration and druahgts without violating the first principle: if at all possible, do nothing which is not reversible, and if you have to repair or replace, repair using materials and processes as close to the original as possible.

    Start with windows. Except in rather rare circumstances, existing windows are sound. Where they are not, they can be repaired. In any event, they should be worked on as necessary by a real craftsman so that they operate again as was originally intended. Then, having done that, use either interior (preferred) removable storm panels or exterior storm windows to bring their thermal performance up to modern standards. Unless the existing structure is really in though shape -- necessitating some new framing timbers, for instance -- this will not cost more (and may cost a good deal less) than installing modern store bought replacement windows, never mind custom made replacement windows. It will give you thermal performance equal to all but the very most expensive new windows.

    Do the same thing for exterior doors.

    Now take a look at where the structure (I'm assuming timber framing of some kind here) joins the foundation, which will usually be stone or possibly brick. One thing the old-timers didn't have was an effective way to seal that gap between the sills and the foundation. You do, and should. There are a number of expanding foam products, available in sizes ranging from a handy can to two component mixes for sealing several hundred lineal feet. They are easy to use (well, once you get the hang of it...) and very effective.

    Now... draught sealing, vapour sealing. This can get to be a balancing act. If you are taking off the outside finish and sheathing materials, you can install a draught barrier, such as a Tybek housewrap, in the conventional way. If you are taking off the interior finish and sheathing, you can install a vapour barrier in the conventional way. Otherwise, it is almost impossible to do, and the question becomes one of whether it is worth the effort and cost to do that and restore the original (particularly the interior, if it is plaster). It has been my experience that it is not. Unless the interior finish or exterior covering and sheathing are very badly damaged, in almost all cases they are remarkably tight even if they are two or three centuries old.

    However, this does interact with insulation. Although old envelopes are tight, they do not have modern insulating capabilities. A typical 200 year old exterior wall -- clapboards, sheathing, air space, lathe, plaster -- has an R value of around 5. Do you want to insulate that? Maybe. The problem has to do with moisture: the old construction was allowed the breathe, with the result that moisture vapour didn't condense within the wall. Adding insulation to such a wall, unless a vapour barrier can be created, may cause moisture to condense within the thickness of the wall, with possible rot problems. Again, is it worth it? Likely not, and I don't recommend it. If you insist on doing it, however, try to use something like dense pack cellulose blown in. If the interior is plaster, do not use expanding foams -- they can destroy the plaster unless extraordinary care is taken.

    However, the attic or roof is a different matter. This area is usually more or less accessible, and a vapour barrier and insulation can and should be put in (but remember to allow the roof to breathe!), and the more the merrier.

    Now about heating... thought I'd never get there? What approaches you might use depend a lot on accessibility. If the basement is not particularly used or useful, a great deal could be said for using the existing floor registers and connecting them, via ductwork, to an air to air heat pump. Be sure to choose one which can operate down to your area's design temperature. Similarly you may be able to replace the attic furnace with a heat pump, although proper ducting may be slightly problematic.

    Another approach to the ground floor, if the underside of the flooring is easily accessible, would be to install hydronic radiant heat powered by a mod/con boiler. Personally if the existing registers are adequate, or if additional ones could be installed with little disruption, and the ductwork would not be a problem, I'd go for the heat pump -- with the added side benefit of air conditioning and humidity control.

    In any case, these units should be sized to handle the entire heating load. Electric resistance heat is terribly inefficient (not the heaters, but generating the electricity in the first place) and it is a very rare fireplace which actually provides all that much heat, unless it is the closed combustion forced air variety.

    Ask me more questions or make comments and I'll add more!

  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,919
    edited August 2021
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    I used 1235 gals OIL at an average price of $2.14/ gal and 612 gal PROPANE at an 3.10 gal


    Ouch!!! At those propane prices, you're almost 4x as expensive/ Btu vs. a heat pump. Even resistance electric heat at $.13/kwh beats propane. Oil's better than propane, but not by much.

    Jamie's right, that's a huge heat loss and hopefully it's cheap to lower that.

    I wouldn't bother with anything radiant at this point, it'll be expensive to retrofit and your fuel costs won't change.
  • sg18951
    sg18951 Member Posts: 3
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    I’ve considered many of the approaches mentioned here…remember this is a stone house with walls that are 24  to 32 inches thick. Every window/ door have a storm door or window. Additional insulation in other than the attic is impractical and or expensive. The one avenue available but not mentioned is solar. If I went the heat pump route and installed solar for power… would that be a practical solution?
    This is the house.

  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,919
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    If I went the heat pump route and installed solar for power… would that be a practical solution?


    Definitely - very common approach. Usually solar systems get cheaper per watt the bigger they get, so if you use a heat pump you can go as big as you have room for basically. You can either own or lease the solar so you can put as much/little money into it as you want.
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 322
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    Look at high velocity air (UNICO, SPACEPAC). air handlers in basement and attic, oil boiler.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,845
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    I would insulate the hell out of the attic.

    But, some types of wiring cannot be buried in insulation so have an electrician check that out. It's probably only ceiling lights and maybe smoke detectors on the second floor.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,667
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    Solar PV may be an option -- for part of the load. However, if you are contemplating the possibility of using it exclusively -- not depending on a grid connection -- for heating, you need to remember that the sun doesn't always shine. In your area, a good rule of thumb is that you can get about 3 hours of usable sunshine per day, on average, and that you may go 5 to 7 days without any usable sunshine at all.

    Therefore... you need to figure out the solar array size required to supply the total load for a complete day (figure your coldest day load in kilowatts, and multiply by 8 to get the required solar array output (say you used 400 kilowatts on the coldest day (back of the envelope figuring here, and using your heating load and a heat pump) you would need an array with a capacity of at least 150 kilowatts. Furthermore, you would need storage batteries to carry that load for at least 5 to 7 days and an inverter to power the system. This is not going to be cheap... Don't design based on those figures! That's off the top of my head...!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,667
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    I forgot to add -- that's a lovely looking house. Take care of it!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    STEVEusaPAHot_water_fan
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,893
    Options
    Beautiful house. 
    Heat pumps could be a good idea depending on the  heating design day for your area.
    How large (or small) is the cellar?
    Room enough for a high efficiency oil boiler with an indirect water heater? Then get rid of the furnaces and install air handlers with hydro coils and A/C. You'll have to get a set of heat pipes and control wiring from the cellar to the attic though. 
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 17,011
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    If that were my house, I'd do steam. ISTR it was Ed Bratton who would say "Old houses should have steam heat"- right, @DanHolohan ?

    But insulate the place and seal drafts as much as you can before you do anything. This will reduce the cost of the equipment (can be smaller) as well as the operating costs.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 3,390
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    Hi, Erin had an interesting piece in the newsletter this week about exterior insulation: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/entire-buildings-can-be-wrapped-in-jackets-to-save-energy/. I'd certainly air seal first, using a blower door to measure leakage and find the leaks, and then insulate where you can. If you could do exterior insulation, it would put all that thermal mass inside the envelope and once brought to temp, nothing could change it very fast or very far!

    Yours, Larry
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,667
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    Yes, you could wrap that house in external insulation. You could save some energy. Now having said that, kindly scroll up a bit and picture that magnificent solid stone house nicely wrapped up in some modern kitsch.

    Really? If this is the future and the Brave New World, I for one want no part of it. The sort of destruction in the name of "progress" -- whether of the built environment, like this example, or history or literature or music -- is, in my not at all humble opinion, tragic, wrong, and unnecessary.

    Soap box back to the corner.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 887
    Options
    Insulating the house.

    If I owned the house and was ready to upgrade the insulation I would:

    Install the T wrap on all outer walls inside the house.
    Install 1"fiberglass board insulation with aluminum foil R factor 4.3 @ 75 degrees on all outside walls
    caulk all spaces where drafts occur
    re-do all windows with double glazed glass or replace all window
    Repair or replace all exterior doors
    Install R-24 insulation in attic
    Make sure the house is vented to prevent high humidity and or dew forming inside the house

    Jake

    This as said before is very expensive and most probably never pay for itself in your life time

  • colinbarry
    colinbarry Member Posts: 12
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    I used to live in an old solid brick house...  Walls were always cold in the winter! It had baseboard heat but I think radiators would have been better as far as comfort goes.
  • psb75
    psb75 Member Posts: 863
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    Your house is like a castle. Large woolen tapestries hanging on the walls would be good.