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Retrofit hydronic heating in a 5 year old house

mannyfreezy Member Posts: 1
edited January 2022 in Radiant Heating
Hi All,

I'm in Chicago and having a hard time finding someone to help out with this. I had a few questions and looking for some suggestions on the best path forward.

Here are some pieces of info about the place / what we are looking for:
1. Brand new build, 5 years old (not gut/rehab)
2. Two high efficiency natural gas furnaces in the basement, and there is room for a boiler in there
3. Three floors - basement, main, upper; all floors are finished. Wood floors on main/upper & carpet in basement. Each floor is ~1400 sqft and the basement / main floor are a pretty open floor plans.
4. Not looking to replace the nat gas heating, but rather get the floors to 80-90F for comfort, which would then be supplemented by the forced air as needed.
5. Based on what I have read here and other places, it seems like going in from the ceilings in the basement/mainfloor for the mainfloor/upper is the best / most cost effective option. Placing pex piping in the ceiling and then insulting? Maybe using a mental conductor?
6. I know there is a way to properly calculate heat loss which I need to research more. I was doing some rough math saying ~3000 sq/ft (for the upper floors), 1 linear foot of piping per sq/ft + runs to basement would be 4000 ft of piping? I figured we didn't need a huge amount of heat because this isn't the primary source of heating.

1. Are there any other real alternatives to going in through the ceiling and going below the joists?
2. I was thinking we should do 3 manifolds / 3 pumps, 1 per floor. It would be nice to have a thermostat in each room, but I don't think its needed with the extra cost / complexity.
3. Is there any value to having the manifold for the upper floor on the main/upper floor or better to keep it all in the basement?
4. How much will return air / ducting / plumbing get in the way on a 5 year old house? Is it possible to work around the stuff or is there a possibility of cold spots where we can't run pipe?
5. How far off is this back of the napkin math to better understand costs? (I hope rough math is not against the rules to better understand what I'm working with)
- Boiler $$$$
- 3 x manifolds $$$$
- 3 x pumps $$$
- 1 x three zone controller $$$$
- 3 x thermostats $$$ (one for each zone)
- Expansion tank, misc piping / plumbing in the utility closet $$$$
- 4000ft piping $1,000 (1/2 in. x 1000 ft. PEX Tubing Oxygen Barrier Radiant Heating Pipe in Red)
- Protect floors / some furniture (maybe all moved to one area), demo ceilings in basement/main floor, misc walls where needed, replace ceilings & paint - $$$$$
- Attach piping to ceiling one week, 2 people? $100hr for both x 50 hours? - $$$$ Is this reasonable, too high/low?
- Labor only to Install boiler / manifolds / pumps / controllers/ pressure test / balance - $$$$

What else am I missing here? This totals to $ + lets say $ contingency?

6. Does anyone know someone in Chicago who I could talk to about this / get a quote for the whole thing, or am I better trying to find three diff contractors to build the utility closet, doing the drywall demo/rebuild, and lay piping in joists?


  • Derheatmeister
    Derheatmeister Member Posts: 1,472
    One of the rules for this site is that there is No Pricing..
    Please remove Price points.
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,234

    One of the rules for this site is that there is No Pricing..
    Please remove Price points.

    This. @Erin Holohan Haskell ?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,122
    Pricing removed. Please follow site rules here: https://heatinghelp.com/forum-user-manual
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,427
    edited January 2022
    I mean this very sincerely, why not move to a different house? How ungodly oversized are these furnaces? The floors will NOT reach 90 degrees. More like 75. I suspect you could get appropriately sized furnaces/hybrids with heat pumps and solve the issues.
  • TAG
    TAG Member Posts: 751
    Sounds like you will have a gut rehab by the time it's finished !

    I think you may be underestimating the disruption and work required to do what you wish ... Maybe try to fix the ducted system if it not able to provide the comfort.

    I'm an old house guy with quite a few projects under my belt and retrofitting radiant is expensive -- even with open walls. My solution in basements has typically been panel radiators.

    Anything can be done .... I would not go through all of that w/o using plates and that's another added cost. My last project used 3/8 PEX and it was so much easier than 1/2". My guess is your tube amount is low
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 8,381
    It seems maybe modualting furnaces that can be set up to run almost constantly and gettign somoen to fix the ductwork would be the most cost effective solution.

    If the basement is unfinished or has a removable tile ceiling getting radiant tubing and plates in from underneath is probably doable for the main floor.

    For the basement tubing and a thin layer of grout over the existing slab is an option, or floor track but you'd have to be careful about moisture and wood.

    For the 2nd floor, floor track over the existing subfloor and new finish floor might be the way to go, still would be a lot of carpentry to raise doors and remove and reset cabinets and such.

    There isn't going to be an inexpensive way to do all of it. Another option would be electric radiant in a few strategic places like bathrooms and bedrooms.
  • flat_twin
    flat_twin Member Posts: 340
    If the core issue is cold tile bathroom floors, the electric radiant solution Matt mentioned is a good option.
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,427
    It seems maybe modualting furnaces that can be set up to run almost constantly and gettign somoen to fix the ductwork would be the most cost effective solution.

    @mattmia2 Exactly - I fear there's 120kBtus being force fed into a home with a heat loss less than half that.
  • Rich_49
    Rich_49 Member Posts: 2,738
    edited January 2022
    SERIOUS QUESTION here . What is it that you are trying to achieve ? Is there comfort issues that you are trying to eliminate / address ?

    The reason I ask is that the idea you have is going to be a control and comfort nightmare , you may not believe that but I assure you , it will be . Most forced air stuff is poorly designed and installed along with being oversized . You need to sit down with a specialized individual who will ask what your pains and issues are , assess them , blower door test your house and make recommendations .

    HVAC 2.0 is a new process that has been developed to fix buildings nationwide which have been done badly , it started to combat terrible work done by dummies whose only goals were to sell jobs based on
    rebates and incentives , people love FREE STUFF . Nothing is free .

    Ask for Adam . A-Team Heating and Air 630-793-5233

    American Temperature Control . Ask for Doug Krahl

    These guys are in your general area . You can also look up HVAC 2.0 to learn about it .

    You didn't get what you didn't pay for and it will never be what you thought it would .
    Langans Plumbing & Heating LLC
    Serving most of New Jersey, Eastern Pa .
    Consultation, Design & Installation anywhere
    Rich McGrath 732-581-3833