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What to do with new/old house

BJDetroit
BJDetroit Member Posts: 3
I just purchased a 1920's Colonial with steam heat and an a/c unit for the upstairs bedrooms. I am replacing all of the major mechanicals as it is and am trying to specifically figure out what to do about heating/cooling. Both the boiler and the a/c unit are past their useful lives and need to be replaced. Do I purchase a new boiler and rehab the existing system (some rads not working) or just go with forced air and a/c for the whole house? Since this is a total rehab, opening walls for ducts is an option, though, one I am not entirely crazy about. Could always just replace the boiler and a/c unit or consider a high velocity system for a/c. The options are plenty since I am not currently living there and could go a number of directions. Just trying to figure out what makes sense to most of you out there. I am not made of money but am prepared to put a significant amount into this project.

Thanks.

Comments

  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,190
    edited June 2016
    I know someone who tore out her steam system and replaced it with a high velocity system a number of years ago. The cooling was great the heat was never as comfortable as the steam heat was.

    You said some radiators don't work, is it because of piping changes? Steam pipes have to be run with the correct pitch or they don't work, are there signs of remodeling? The piping around the boiler has to be examined to be sure it's configured for efficient steam distribution, many systems have been modified over the years and the results can be less than desirable.

    You need a good steam man to look at that system to see what is causing it not to work right (besides the boiler).

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,520
    I think most of us here would say if you have steam, keep it. It is the most comfortable heat you can have and, when properly installed, you will love it. As BobC said, get a steam expert (see if there is one on this site, in your area) and have him assess what needs to be done. Radiators that don't work could be caused by a simple bad radiator vent (if one pipe system) or bad trap (if two pipe) or could be piping that is not properly pitched or no/inadequate main venting, all of which are relatively straight forward fixes. Any Near boiler piping issues can be corrected when a new boiler is installed.
    Timothy77
  • Brewbeer
    Brewbeer Member Posts: 616
    edited June 2016
    Stick with separate heating and cooling systems.
    Hydronics inspired homeowner with self-designed high efficiency low temperature baseboard system and professionally installed mod-con boiler with indirect DHW. My system design thread: http://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/154385
    System Photo: https://us.v-cdn.net/5021738/uploads/FileUpload/79/451e1f19a1e5b345e0951fbe1ff6ca.jpg
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,464
    Keep the steam.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,721
    My vote would be to keep the steam as long as it is in good shape. If you are "gutting" it this is your best chance to air seal up the envelope... That is your best bang for the buck.
    If you do this right you "may" be able to reduce a radiator or two....
    SWEI
  • BJDetroit
    BJDetroit Member Posts: 3
    Thanks for your thoughts. I have been leaning towards keeping the steam. Just wondering if a/c only to the upstairs is sufficient to keep things comfortable throughout. That's why I was thinking of the high velocity system to cool the entire house better.

    kcopp, can you explain "air seal up the envelope"?
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 2,147
    Hello: I'm not kcopp, but taking care of air leaks in homes has proven to be the very lowest hanging fruit, working better than just insulation to keep a home comfortable. There is a tool called a "blower door" that is used to help find and measure leaks and leakage. Here are a few links: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/blower-door-basics and http://energyconservatory.com/sites/default/files/documents/Blower_Door_Basics.pdf
    Hope that helps! B)

    Yours, Larry
  • BobC
    BobC Member Posts: 5,190
    edited June 2016
    I like the link the article gave on building your own blower to gauge air changes. It's not going to work for the pro's but for someone doing their own sleuthing it makes a lot of sense.

    http://www.nlcpr.com/Pressuretesting.php

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,520
    BJDetroit said:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I have been leaning towards keeping the steam. Just wondering if a/c only to the upstairs is sufficient to keep things comfortable throughout. That's why I was thinking of the high velocity system to cool the entire house better.

    kcopp, can you explain "air seal up the envelope"?

    You are kinda in the same place I was when I bought my current home 25 years ago. I decided then to keep the steam heat (still using the same boiler) replaced radiator vents, added main venting to get steam to all the rooms and balance the system, got the system pressure down, added a low pressure (0-3PSI) gauge and a Vaporstat, in addition to the Pressuretrol. Absolutely no regrets keeping the steam!
    At that time, I installed a central air system for the second and third floors (also installed a forced air furnace with that system to act as a backup to the steam). While I was skeptical, my contractor felt that that central air system would be adequate to keep the first floor comfortable without any duct work, on that floor. Because of the steam pipes in the basement, they simply did not feel like they had many good options for getting registers in on the first floor. I have to say the cooling was adequate and the first floor "OK" until the outside temps got into the 90's. Then I wasn't happy with the comfort level on the first floor. I ultimately mapped out a way to get ducts and registers to every room, on the first floor and installed a separate AC System, again with a forced air furnace to act as backup to the steam for the first floor. The incremental cost of a furnace compared to an air handler is minimal, especially when the furnace is only for back up and an 80% efficiency furnace is fine for the few hours/days it might be put in service. I've been here 25 years now and I've had to use the forced air heating a total of two days in those 25 years. Knowing it's there if ever needed is very comforting.
    As I said earlier, from a comfort perspective, keep the steam, add the cooling as a separate system. Be aware that not installing duct work to the first floor has a limit if you want to be comfortable on the warmest days during the summer.
  • BJDetroit
    BJDetroit Member Posts: 3
    I am keeping the steam for the reasons you all cite. Keeping the a/c on the second floor and zoning another a/c unit for the main floor. As for sealing things up, the windows are all the old single pane. Many not operable. I have seen arguments against the cost benefit of new double panes but I think the ease of use and increased efficiency make the argument for them. Especially since I plan on being there for a long time. We are definitely having a blower door test done.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,844
    Sounds good to me, @BJDetroit . Carry on! The windows are very much a judgement call. From the '20s? They probably have no intrinsic historical value -- such as old glass. Double hungs can always be made to operate and also seal well -- but sometimes it can be remarkably hard to find a craftsman who can do it right, If they were old glass I'd say to try and find someone, and use storms -- Innerglass or somesuch -- but from the '20s? Probably not, much as I hate to say so! But go quality on the new ones. You get what you pay for...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,520
    I think you are making the right call here. You won't regret it! As for the replacement windows, if you get good ones, there is some value in reducing your on-going maintenance, if they are double hung, one over one windows, the effect on the appearance of the house will be negligible and you will be happy. They will help about as much as adding storm windows and look a lot better with a lot less work over the long haul, especially with glazing and painting.
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