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Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

We are in the process of purchasing a 1920s colonial foreclosure.

Long story short, we found that a bunch of the radiators leak, and more recently, a main boiler pipe burst in the basement (house is vacant and water is turned off-must not have been winterized correctly).

The bank has offered to replace the existing hydronic system with forced air at no cost to me. Would you suggest it? I like forced air for the flexibility of adding central air, but everything I read about radiant heat seems better. Plus, I am concerned how ductwork will be run through plaster walls with no current ducting.

The home has two livable levels, plus a finished attic. The full basement is how I am guessing they will heat the main level.

Thoughts? How do they heat the upper level without running visible ducts everywhere? There are no bedroom on the main level, so therefore there are no closets to run it through.

Thanks- wondering if i should push for repair to the current system instead. :confused:

Re: Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

If you are in a location that needs heat a good part of the year then I would push for the boiler repair. HW radiant heat is much, much better than scorched air.

If the bank balks at that, negotiate a cash settlement and put that toward fixing the boiler & replacing the rad's.

The AC duct issue can be solved with two units, one in the basement to cool the first floor and one in the attic to cool the second floor.

Re: Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

I tend to agree with bp21901 that hydronic (hot water) heating systems are far superior to forced hot air, as noted, especially if you live in a cold climate with long winters; homes with HW heat can install ductless mini-split ACs for summer cooling that are excellent & make no noise in the living quarters---the compressor is placed outside; there is also a forced hot air Unico system: http://www.unicosystem.com that uses 4" flexible duct/tubing they thread thru the wall cavities and also includes AC as part of the package--you should get a price installation quote on all these options, and how much the bank will pick up before you make a decision.

Given that there was a burst pipe in the basement, & some of the radiators now leak, this is a classic symptom of a hot water heating system that has been subjected to a hard freeze due to neglect---the frozen water expanded into ice & burst the lower pipe and the rads, so the rads may well be unusable.

Another big issue is how old is the boiler and adjacent pipes and valves, pumps, & other near-boiler components----this is something that can't really be answered over the internet---you'll have to get the opinion of a heating technician experienced in hydronic systems to go in there & make a decision as to whether everything needs to be replaced, or is the present system repairable---consult the Yellow Pages under "Heating Technicians" & make sure the one you select has done extensive work on hydronic systems---perhaps the bank will pay for the heating system evaluation (the bank may already have had an expert over to look at the system before you came into the picture and they found it unrepairable).

A new hydronic system could cost $5k to $8K, especially if the old distribution piping is large pipe steel/cast iron, instead of copper or plastic hi temp PEX---the boiler could be well over 20 yrs old, (maybe even more than 5o) which would necessitate a new boiler; modern hot water cast iron boilers are way more fuel efficient than older models in either gas or oil and will last for decades.

Re: Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

Thanks for all the help. You have reinforced my initial opinion.

The piping coming from the boiler is cast iron. That is what burst. They had someone in the house to look at the radiators, and it appears most of them leak (most likely due to incorrect winterization as suggested). From what I pulled off of the model sticker, it looks like it could have been installed in 1991. It is natural gas.

I requested a copy of the proposal from the bank, so we will see what the plan is.

The only benefit i see to the forced air, is the ease of adding central air.

BTW, the home is in Wisconsin, so the cold season is about 5 months long.

Re: Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

Just to echo the consensus, hydronic heat is preferable. If natural gas is available, use it. That would be my idea of a perfect system, but, alas, I have to use $$$ Oil.
You can replace the bulky cast iron rads with the slimline European ones, or even baseboard convectors.
I have replaced one cast rad with a tin one (in a bathroom) and another with a fan-forced toe-kick heater (kitchen) and both function as well or better than the cast boat anchors.
Manufacturer of European Rads:

Re: Good to Change from Boiler to Forced Air?

The bank has put me on smack down! They don't want to fix the hydronic. After further investigation, there are burst pipes and cracked rads everywhere.

They are going with a dual furnace system, one in the 3rd floor (so heat can be brought to the 2nd), and one in the basement to heat the main level. They are also adding the ac coils, so adding ac will be relatively easy for a contractor.

Anything I need to watch out for?

I am happy overall with the setup, even thought I am losing the preferred boiler system.

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