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SO much to heat - SO much to learn!

Greetings everyone! I am humbly posting here as a very new, inexperienced owner of a 120 year old, 5200 sq ft, 3 story building, which once functioned (and will again!) as an Inn, here in coastal Nova Scotia Canada. My heating is a mix of forced air and cast iron radiators. My goal is to discontinue the forced air, and solely use the radiators, ideally powered with a mix of sources. I am open to wind, (which we have a good deal of here in coastal Nova Scotia), solar, geo-thermal and whatever else might work. My water boiler is a Viessmann Vitola 200 which deals with the water. My furnace is a Brock-QH-1AR, Model LO-1M which does the forced air. I am also exploring if anything like a Tesla Power Wall might fit into the mix?

The house has zero insulation at this point. I will be adding to all exterior walls, and between all floors, and in the attic as well. I'll be using fiberglass batts, not blown insulation.

IF I could get off oil I would be THRILLED, but I know this may be a pipe dream.

SO, any ideas, resources or thoughts would be appreciated. I'm keen to learn - and keener with every oil bill I receive! Thanks very much!

Comments

  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 980
    edited December 2020
    Welcome! I am certain you will receive great professional advice here!

    I will say this: a modern, properly sized furnace/boiler, and well tuned oil burner will be economical if oil is your most practical fuel source.

    We have geo thermal at work and it seems to be perfectly fine.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    I'll be back -- it's early in the morning -- but a few very general thoughts first.

    First, on getting off fossil fuels. It's a noble thought, and one which we may be forced to face. However, there is a significant problem: getting enough energy in some other way (I've written about this before). A gallon of fuel oil will provide around 140,000 BTU of heat (about 120,000 BTU actually usable from a good boiler or furnace). A gallon of LP is around 85,000 BTU actually usable. To equal a gallon of oil, you need about 33 KWh of electricity. Or to look at it with in terms of power, rather than energy, if your system burns 1 gallon of oil per hour, your electric supply would need to provide you around 30 kilowatts (I should note that heat pumps help, but -- perversely -- the colder it is outside, the less they help).

    These numbers can be useful in assessing the economic case for using fossil fuel vs. using mains or alternative electric energy -- and in a business even more than a residence, one does have to consider the economics.

    There are two problems which must be faced when contemplating alternative energy. First, one has to harvest enough of it. Second, one has to store it. In the case of photovoltaic power generation, a reasonable figure -- when the sun is shining -- is around 1 kilowatt output from 5 to 7 square meters of panel (depending mostly on the age of the panel -- 20 years is about all you can expect at the most), if the panel is tracking and oriented perpendicular to the direction to the sun. So, when the sun is shining you would need between 150 and 200 square meters of panel for every gallon per hour of oil usage. Unfortunately, the sun doesn't always shine. The figure for New England is around 3 hours of usable sunshine per day; the figure for Nova Scotia winter is less; I believe around 2. This increases the area of panel needed -- the way it works out is you would need around 2000 square meters of panel to power a system which required 1 gallon per hour of fuel oil. Then you have to store that energy -- we'll get back to that.

    Wind turbines are another option, but again for heating we are not looking at nice little roof top units. A very rough guide is that you need a swept area (the square of the radius times 3.14) of 4 square meters per kilowatt of output. To go back to our 1 gallon per hour oil burner, then, you would need a turbine with a diameter of around 12 meters, or perhaps 3 turbines with a 7 meter diameter. The storage requirement is less -- as you note, the wind does blow in coastal Nova Scotia -- but is still there.

    I'll come back to this discussion -- honest -- but I have other things at the moment.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    InnKeeperBen
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Thanks Slam! I've heard combi-heaters are an option as well. I understand that tightening up the house is going to be the first step to lowering my bills, but ideally (as fantastical as it may be) I'd love to explore getting off oil altogether. I'm in process of crunching numbers to see if a solar/wind/geo thermal approach could power an electric boiler and the rest of my house. Curious if anyone has tried to take that dramatic a step?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    " I'm in process of crunching numbers to see if a solar/wind/geo thermal approach could power an electric boiler and the rest of my house."

    Perhaps some of the numbers I gave in the post immediate previous to yours, @InnKeeperBen , might be of use. If not, disregard.

    I didn't have the time then to continue with wind. Storage is significantly less of a problem with wind. I don't have the average number of hours per day when the wind speed is great enough for generation (somewhere around 10 km/h) for your area; I expect that your weather service could provide that. You would need to increase your wind turbine capacity by that factor, of course.

    A combination of photovoltaic and wind reduces, but does not eliminate, the need for storage. It does not reduce the size of the generation facility, however. One cannot count on both wind and solar to be operating at rated output at the same time.

    I you are interested, I will be happy to comment on storage later.

    As @SlamDunk said, by far the best bang for your buck is going to be insulation and tightening things up as much as possible.

    In terms of economics, at this time your least expensive option is going to be oil for heating. However, if the price of oil is raised substantially, which seems possible, it may be that switching to mains power and electric heat -- either heat pumps, as @SlamDunk mentioned, or other -- may be less expensive to operate. It is unlikely -- though anything is possible -- that locally generated electricity and corresponding storage will be economically competitive.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    InnKeeperBen
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,460
    Does your utility have a net metering program that allows you to spin the meter backwards when you are overproducing? That is the easiest way to deal with the storage issue.

    Air to water or water to water heat pumps are great for increasing your electrical efficiency although they may underperform on the colder days. You might consider a hybrid system using your hot water radiators. You could run the heat pump 90% of the time, using the oil burner only on the coldest days.
    The attached spreadsheet is an easy way to compare fuel costs. Plug in you local rates and determine which fuel source is less expensive in your area.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    InnKeeperBen
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,369
    edited December 2020
    Realistically, installing a wood fired boiler to tie-in with the oil boiler is used often, when there is an adequate wood lot or supply. It helps when the boiler is used to make DHW in an indirect tank as wood boiler usually make more than enough BTU's. Many combined systems have a "dump zone" that shunts the heat to certain radiators if the wood boiler is overfiring, or the relief valve will pop off. These systems need to be designed and installed by pros with experience, as fire risk is real.
    InnKeeperBen
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Paul, thank you! Wood is definitely an option. I'm doing some research on local wind averages (believe it or not)... TBD.
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Wow, thanks guys, really valuable information which will help me look at reality vs fantasy. At the moment, I know the previous owners were happy to simply crank the heat and pay the bill. I'd like to be more thoughtful and miserly in my approach. I'm certainly open to experiment with some new things, and storage is definitely a component I believe I will need if solar, and wind are part of the mix. Is there a resident geo-thermal guru here? Has anyone ever heard of a mash-up of solar, wind, geo-thermal running radiant heaters & electric?
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    With the proper controls, one can mix pretty much any electricity source with any other -- and then run pretty much heat source from the result. One of the reasons electricity is useful...

    I believe there are several people here on the Wall who have geo-thermal heat pump experience; @SlamDunk is, I think, one of them.

    You mention the Tesla Powerwall. Version 2 of that has an advertised capacity of around 13 KWh, and is certainly an option. It also has the advantage of being itself essentially plug and play from the usual 120/240 single phase power supply. However, a review and some number crunching of some of the other figures I gave you will show that you would need a number of them in parallel to supply a heating load. One Powerwall is equivalent to roughly half a gallon of heating oil -- so if we go back to our 1 gallon per hour oil boiler, and suppose on some dark night that it runs for perhaps 4 of the hours between dusk and dawn -- and then the sun does peak out from behind the clouds! -- you would need 8 of them, just for that night.

    Another option not to be overlooked -- but nowhere near as flashy and modern, and somewhat (but not outrageously) more difficult to put together, is to simply go with old-fashioned lead- acid batteries. An 8D battery, such as is used all over your area for starting diesel trucks and fishing boats (I'd use the deep cycle type -- more expensive, but much better suited) -- has a capacity of around 55 KWh. You would still need a number of them to handle a couple of calm, foggy, cold days (does that ever happen?!) but one of them is more or less the same capacity as 4 Powerwall units. The downside of using 8Ds is that you would also need an inverter capable of handling your load (and their output -- they are capable of over 14 KW peak power output) ; that's built into the Powerwall. A major advantage of the 8D is that they are available at your local auto parts or marine supply store!

    I might point out, too, for what it's worth, that the 8D uses no difficult to source or dubiously produced rare metals -- unlike the Powerwall.

    And I would suggest -- very very strongly -- that if you go the battery or Powerwall route that you do the integration and control through 120/240 VAC single phase power, with appropriate inverters and battery chargers as needed, rather than trying to integrate the various voltage DC and AC sources yourself. Not that you can't, if you are into power electrical wizardry -- it's just much easier to use off the shelf components!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    InnKeeperBen
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 293
    120 year old, 5200 sq ft, 3 story building


    Heating a building like that is not a small undertaking. I am not sure how cold it gets there, but the wind must be brutal. You can forget about an electric only solution. Expanding the hot water radiation system to serve the entire building with an oil boiler as the main heating plant would be my choice.

    Tightening the envelope will help regardless of your fuel choice, but you want to make sure you do not end up with moisture issues in the walls. Be sure to consult with contractors that have experience weatherizing historic buildings.

    Does the Inn have any large open areas? If so, a few mini-splits would give you the benefit of cheap heat in the shoulder seasons and AC in the summer.
    InnKeeperBen
  • ChicagoCooperator
    ChicagoCooperator Member Posts: 286
    I assume your radiators are hot water rather than steam?

    What about ground source geothermal (on a heat pump) for them? Is that an option?
    InnKeeperBen
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    @Robert_25 's comment on electric only is, I would say, correct -- at the present time. However, without getting into the politics of the matter, I might point out that there are proposals in both Canada and the United States which may alter that -- namely a "carbon tax". I have seen various figures proposed, but it seems likely that it may be upwards of the equivalent of $1 to $2 per gallon, and possibly considerably more. This will, of course, affect the price of electricity as well, but will have a considerable impact on the economics (or even the feasibility) of all fuel burning applications, including heating. This is sometimes coupled with talk of a rebate of the tax to privateresidential customers, but not businesses -- and even for private residential customers it is not certain and in any event would likely not cover larger users.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Larry Weingarten
    Larry Weingarten Member Posts: 2,084
    Hello @InnKeeperBen , In your first post you say that you won't be using blown in insulation. It's a good approach at times, so why not use it? Before doing any insulation though, I'd find someone with a blower door so any air leaks can be found and sealed up before being covered by the insulation. Another insulation approach is to use rigid foam board outside and then re-clad the walls. This approach doesn't mess with the indoors and possibly can increase the thermal mas of the building, helping prevent rapid temperature changes.

    Once the shell of the building is snug, a ground source heat pump might be a good fit.

    Yours, Larry
    InnKeeperBen
  • SlamDunk
    SlamDunk Member Posts: 980
    I don't have much geothermal experience. My employer likes to build net zero buildings. We have a 15000 sqft facility on our campus with solar panels and geothermal. But- We're in the south and the building envelope was designed & built tight to be net zero. It is comfortable.

    Retrofitting a 120 year old building in Nova Scotia with geothermal seems like you might be disappointed after spending a small fortune.

    I say this based on the experience I do have. My neighbor and I both have 90 yr old homes. I kept steam and brought it up to snuff; my fuel bill is reasonable. But more importantly, we are very comfortable when the temps are down in the 20's-30's. My neighbor put in geothermal in his house and his fuel bills are non existent but they are not comfortable. Everything is fine as long as it is in the high forties but lower than that, they have to bundle up indoors.
    In the summer, they can maintain an easy 70 degrees but it feels clammy.

    I think it has everything to do with the building envelope.

    I know net zero buildings are possible but retrofitting one isnt economically feasible.
    InnKeeperBen
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Thanks! I have managed to get all the forced air off, and now solely working on radiant heat (cast iron, hot water rads). I'm surprised with the temperature and lack of insulation, just how comfortable the place is. Granted, 3rd floor ice off limits now, unheated and an ice box, the the few rooms we're using on the 2nd floor and the whole 1st are very decent. And you may be right - a lot of expense for actual little savings. A provincial energy consultant is going to visit. Unsure if they're loaded with cutting edge info, but "caulk and insulate" is likely going to be a real valid key in reducing my oil bill.
    Canucker
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    edited December 2020
    ChicagoCooperator, yes, the radiators are hot water. I've been playing with the unit all day and have had some good success. Namely, getting the forced air off, and all radiators on. (The owners did not leave any info on the heating of the place, so it's been trial and error.) Unfortunately, there are also 4 different types of thermostats operating, making any "smart" approach impossible at the moment. And yes, geothermal is possible, I'm just needing to talk with some locals as to their experiences, for the size of building I'm looking at.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    Make sure that provincial energy consultant really knows his or her stuff. They don't always, to put it mildly.

    As you say, caulk and insulate is going to do a lot for you, and I'm not a bit surprised that you are finding the place quite comfortable with the lovely cast iron hot water radiators. I think most of us would agree that the next thing after caulk and insulate is to make sure that system is really up to snuff.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Larry, thanks for the question and suggestion. I'm a builder, carpenter, who's going to be doing the bulk of the renos. I've worked with blown before and for a host of reasons, I really prefer working with fiberglass insulation. The blown fails if there's ever moisture, and it compacts over time. I do like your idea of coming at things from the exterior, however I would have more concern for preserving the integrity of the of the building that the inside walls.
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Thanks Jamie. Yes, I really want to have intimate knowledge of the system and how to have it running optimally. To not hear the furnace come on endlessly with the forced air is a joy. It was -17 with the wind yesterday. Wish I'd discovered all this then!

    I have been told that my system, a Viessmann Vitola 200 - is a very good one. Looks like they still use the Vitola 200 name, though it is clearly a different unit than mine.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,391
    Yes, that Viessmann is very good. It is about as economical to operate as they come.

    And -- as a person who values historic preservation and renovation -- I really appreciate your approach to the insulation.

    Might i ask where in Nova Scotia you are? I'm moderately familiar with the area from Margaree to Cheticamp, and I have distant relations in both Baddeck and Truro...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    InnKeeperBen
  • Canucker
    Canucker Member Posts: 670
    edited December 2020
    Larry, thanks for the question and suggestion. I'm a builder, carpenter, who's going to be doing the bulk of the renos. I've worked with blown before and for a host of reasons, I really prefer working with fiberglass insulation. The blown fails if there's ever moisture, and it compacts over time. I do like your idea of coming at things from the exterior, however I would have more concern for preserving the integrity of the of the building that the inside walls.
    Like any job, the operator makes or breaks it. Dense pack cellulose or fibreglass are fantastic options, especially if the walls are open. I prefer rockwool myself, if using batts. Not a fan of how difficult the fibreglass batts are to install correctly. Rockwool is superior in every way, imho
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Jamie, I'm in Lunenburg County, with family in both Truro and Baddeck. Small world!
  • InnKeeperBen
    InnKeeperBen Member Posts: 12
    Thanks for the heads-up on Rockwool. I've been building in the southern states for the last 20 years. Insulation was NOT high on the list of considerations.
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