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New heating/cooling decision & recommendations

We recently purchase a central Ohio home built in approximately 1870. The home has a fuel oil boiler with hot water baseboards; therefore, no duct work is present in the house. We have been having significant problems heating the downstairs and have to sleep open the window in the upstairs because it is so hot. We recently had it serviced and we were told that there is no way to reduce or shut off the hot water flow to the upstairs only use rising heat from the downstairs to heat the upper story. We were also told, based on the fact that our system is over 20 years old and not efficient at all, that it would probably be beneficial to replace the system prior to next winter.

I have been doing a lot of research on the internet and have yet to come to a conclusion of what is the best system for my house. My end state is efficient and consistent heating and cooling throughout the year with the least amount of utility increase (NOTE: I am seriously considering the instillation of a solar or solar/wind renewable energy system, but that could be several years from now).

The options as I see it are (not in any specific order):

Option 1: Multi-zone Natural Gas or Electric Heat Pump -

1. Upgrade to high efficiency system (80% AFUE)
2. Consistent heating/cooling

Natural Gas
1. Upgrade to high efficiency system (80% AFUE)
2. Consistent heating/cooling
3. Less expensive utilities than electric


1. Not as efficient as radiant heat
2. More expensive utilities than natural gas
3. Loss of square footage within the house due to running duct work

Natural Gas
1. Not as efficient as radiant heat
2. Cost of gas line installation is high
3. Loss of square footage within the house due to running duct work

Cost Estimate:
Electric Natural Gas
1. New gas line installed ≈$ N/A ≈$ 2,000.00
2. New gas heat pump ≈$ N/A ≈$ 3,500.00
3. New electric heat pump ≈$ 2,800.00 ≈$ N/A
4. New multi zone controller ≈$ 250.00 ≈$ 250.00
5. Installation cost (w/duct work) ≈$ UNKNOWN ≈$ UNKNOWN
Total ≈$ 3,050.00 + ≈$ 5,750.00 +

Option 2: Multi-zone Natural Gas Boiler/Water baseboard radiant heat with window or ductless A/C – (i.e., Bosch Greenstar Combi 151)

1. Radiant heat is more efficient and consistent than forced air
2. Switch to natural gas, which is more efficient and cheaper than electric or oil
3. Upgrade to high efficiency system (hoping 95%+ AFUE)
4. Combine house heating and DHW system to increase efficiency
5. Combine house heating and DHW system reduces electric cost
6. Combine house heating and DHW system reduces space requirements
7. Combine house heating and DHW system allows hot water on demand

1. Cost of gas line installation is high
2. Reusing window A/C units results in high electric utility costs
3. Reusing window A/C units results in inefficient and inconsistent cooling
4. Window A/C units are loud

Cost Estimate:
1. New gas line installed ≈$ 2,000.00
2. New boiler combi system ≈$ 3,500.00
3. New multi zone valves ≈$ 400.00
4. New multi zone valve controller ≈$ 300.00
5. New multi zone switch ≈$ 300.00
6. Installation cost ≈$ UNKNOWN
7. Reused window A/C units ≈$ 0.00 (already own window units)
Total ≈$ 6,500.00 +

Option 3: Ductless Heat Pump – (i.e., LG Mini Split 8 Room System)

1. Upgrade to high efficiency system
2. Individual room temperature adjustment
3. Upgrade to high efficiency system
4. No indoor reconstruction required
5. Indoor units can be blended with Artwork

1. Limited to 8 rooms
2. Drill 8 holes through exterior walls
3. Louder (26 dB) than radiant or heat pump systems
4. Not as efficient as radiant heat
5. More expensive utilities than natural gas

Cost Estimate:
1. New Outdoor Inverter ≈$ 5,000.00
2. 8 New Indoor room units ≈$ 8,000.00
3. Installation cost ≈$ UNKNOWN
Total ≈$ 13,000.00 +

Based on a decision matrix, it would appear that Option 2 and Option 3 are tied (the matrix was NOT weighted, the highest number of advantages received the highest score, the lowest number of disadvantages received the highest score, and the lowest cost estimate recieved the highest score)

1. What are additional avdantages and/or disadvantages for each system?
2. What recommendations would you make in order to add weight to specific advantages/disadvantages?
3. Do you agree/disagree with my assessment? Why?
4. Are there other considerations that need to be accounted for?
5. What are your individual personal/professional recommendations?

Thank you in advance for your response(s).


Re: New heating/cooling decision & recommendations

I didn't read your entire article/thesis, but if you have access to natural gas and it's just the question of piping, it's a no brainer - go with gas.

Re: New heating/cooling decision & recommendations


We will have to have a little more info about the specifics of your system, but I ask you not to jump the gun and start buying heating equipment when the system you have now, although 20 years old, can be rather easily made to work for you; I've been doing hot water (hydronic) heating for many decades and still believe it is the best system by far to heat a home.

First, it sounds like you either got the wrong heating tech to come over the house, or you are not indicating the full details of what the man said; I would definitely recommend you assume the frame of mind for the next 3 months that you can do a lot with some minor adjustments to the present system, and get at least 2 other heating techs over there to give you an evaluation as to how the excessive heat on the 2nd floor and the inadequate heat on the 1st floor can be remedied with only a few minor adjustments to your present system; when you consult the Yellow Pages under "Heating Contractors", check their display ads to see if they mention that they work on hydronic (hot water) heating--it's a very important 1st step to get someone in there who understands hydronic heating & can recommend a few modest changes for a few hundred $$$ to get you back in business----hot water heating systems happen to be VERY FLEXIBLE in the way they can be modified to improve heating comfort & fuel economy, but you have to get the right guy in there.

Can you first indicate if there are any shutoff knobs/valves on either of the baseboard ends behind the steel covers---this would apply specifically to the 2nd floor, where simply shutting off (clockwise) sections of baseboard would reduce the 2nd floor heat; likewise check the 1st floor & open any valves (counterclockwise); if you have valves on the baseboards/radiators this would indicate the type of heating pipe distribution arrangement you have---if there are NO valves, it would indicate that the 1st & 2nd floor pipes are connected together (see High Performance site below/one-pipe series), and would probably have to be separated if you want to stay with hot water heat, which I hope you do; at the HP site the BLUE BOX is the boiler; the red line is the hot water being piped/pumped thru the baseboards; the orange line is the cooled water being returned to the boiler to be heated again; as you can see in the series loop piping (which you may well have), there is no way to shut off the individual baseboards, because the hot water flow would be shut down---this is a mistake a lot of heating pipe installers make when installing heating systems, because all the baseboards have to remain open in a one-pipe series arrangement, emitting heat in areas that it is not needed & making the rooms uncomfortably hot, while other rooms are uncomfortably cold; in the other examples, each one of the baseboards can be shut off & still allow the hot pumped water to flow thru the system to provide heat only where it is needed.

At 20 years old, the boiler is getting long in the tooth, but many boilers that age will still work perfectly well for another decade, so I would recommend concentrating on the PIPING DISTRIBUTION issue,. & for a moment ignore the rest of the system---go down to the cellar & see if you can see how the HOT WATER SUPPLY PIPE comes vertically out of the (usually) top of the boiler and pumps HW to perhaps the pipes/baseboard on the 2nd floor, then goes to the pipes/baseboard on the 1st floor---make a note as to if the main HW supply pipe branches off in a "V" and try to follow where the pipes go as best you can---it sounds like the hot water from the boiler is being piped directly up to the 2nd floor, dissipating all its heat out of the 2nd floor baseboards, and then pumping the cooled, lukewarm water down to the 1st floor piping/baseboards & leaving the 1st floor mostly unheated.

Are the pipes made of steel, galvanized steel, copper, or plastic???? Are there any shut-off valves on the baseboards???

When the new heating tech comes over, specifically ask him/her if the distribution piping in your heating system can be SEPARATED INTO ZONES (retrofit)--one zone for the 1st floor & one zone for the 2nd floor; retrofits along these lines are now done with hi temp low-cost flexible plastic PEX that can be threaded thru wall cavities---thus, the 1st floor is separated into its own zone with its own T-stat and zone valve, and the 2nd floor is separated into its own zone with its own T-stat and zone valve, & you have complete individual control over both floors for a reasonably-costing retrofit.

This would be similar to any one of the other 3 piping arrangements described in the high performance site below.

The crux of the job therefore, is to get the heat distribution piping for both floors separated; you can decide later on during the summer if you want to go with a gas-fired boiler (which is probably a good idea)---but even at that point you would only have to change out the boiler, the rest of the system remains the same; further down the line in time, I would recommend you check out the mini-split AC units by Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Sanyo, Fujitsu, Friedrich; one for each floor would cost approx $4k each--they are quiet & effective; the noisy compressor is outside so you don't hear it; but they are expensive; a thru-the-wall AC on the back wall for each floor will have a little noise, but they cost approx $300-$400 plus installation---I think they're great.


Re: New heating/cooling decision & recommendations

Everything dodsworth said, but, If you are considering any insulation, window/door, weatherstripping upgrades, do them before buying a new boiler. Start with zoning your system, then do the upgrades. After you complete the upgrades, you may be able to get by with a much smaller boiler and that will shorten the payback on the insulation upgrades.

Have you looked into a ground loop geothermal heat pump system?

Re: New heating/cooling decision & recommendations

dodsworth - unfortunately, I can not physically inspect my system at the present moment (deployed military) so I have to go with what my with is telling me, including what she tells me about the conversation with the HVAC guy. I did inspect the baseboard prior to deploying and do NOT remember seeing any shutoff valves; my wife and son have confirmed that they looked and were unable to find any on either floor. I believe all the pipes are copper but will confirm this with my wife. Thank you very much for your input!

keith3267 - I started doing some research on the ground loop geothermal heat pump system; however, there seems to be a SIGNIFICANT cost increase for these types of units. I understand they are efficient and renewable, I'm just not sure that I can afford the initial cost investment at this time. Is there a ground loop geothermal heat pump system that you specifically recommend?



Re: New heating/cooling decision & recommendations

I do not have any recommendations but I would stick with a mainstream manufacturer now that they are in the game. A few years ago, these systems were primarily made by "mom and pop" shops and reliability was all over the place.

I do realize that they are a $15 to 25k investment but they do dramatically cut down on energy costs. I don't know why people refer to them as renewable energy sources because they are not that. They can be run by a renewable energy source, as can any electric heating system, but they are not a renewable source in themselves any more than an air to air heat pump would be. BTW, no matter what you do, you are looking at $5-7k so a geothermal system is really only adding $10-20k, (like thats nothing on military pay).

I was just throwing that out there for consideration.

I spent 20 years in the Navy so I understand the deployment situation. Your wife is in a tough spot because she has to handle these things herself and hope that you approve her choice when you get back. It is also tough for you as there isn't much you can do about it and when you get back, you will have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight.

I think the best advice is for her to get at least three opinions from different HVAC contractors, particularly ones the hydronic experience and know how to zone a system. Just because there aren't any control valves in the system right now does not mean that some can't be added.

How long before you get back? If you are expected to be back this sprig or summer (and we know how those expectations go don't we), it should be easy for her to explain to the HVAC guys that she is just gathering proposals and that you will review them and make the final selection. That should take the pressure off from them trying to get her to sign something. Make sure she checks the contractors through the BBB before consulting with them.

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