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Residential HVAC Recommendation for Northern PA Climate Please – 120 Year Victorian

I would greatly appreciate recommendations from the experts as to what systems would be best matched for our 120 year old Victorian.

Short of it, we moved into this home 4 years ago. It’s a 4,000 square foot Victorian, 120 years old. 10+ years ago the former owners installed a Carrier Infiniti 15-17 SEER 2 stage, 5 ton heat pump system, and a 92-96% efficient 2 stage gas furnace to heat and cool the first & second floor. The unit is 120,000 BTU’s. The second and third floor run off a separate Payne 30,000 BTU Electric Fan Coil system and 10-11 SEER AC unit w/flexible duct line.

This winter the electric bill hit the fan! Our last electric bill was over $1,000 and we keep the heat on 58 when sleeping and maybe as high as 66 during the day! We are freezing and even when the systems on it struggles to keep up since the heat pump is entirely inefficient under 40 degrees!

Thus far we have had 3 contractors visit the home and they all say basically the same thing, eliminate the heat pump.
Problem is, they don’t have a solution for the second & third floor system since the fan coil resides in the attic. Each tech said that ideally, we would have a gas line run to that floor so we could install a traditional gas furnace, AC setup. Problem is, none of them are able to visualize how to:

1. Run the gas line
2. Exhaust the gas system through the slate roof above
3. Remove the condensate
4. Keep the condensate line from freezing in the winter since the attic is not insulated and does not receive heat

Since none of the HVAC Tech’s thus far have found a solution, I reached out to my local roofing contact. He said $400 to exhaust the gas system through the slate roof. Venting problem solved.

Running the gas line may be a problem though? I have a meeting with a plumber tomorrow, and over the phone he said that a line could be run outside. However, all 3 HVAC Techs said this may not be possible? We’ll see what the Master Plumber says, but I’d be curious to see if anyone here on the forum has attempted this before with success.

As for challenge 3 & 4, I am open to any suggestions here on the forum. We have a bathroom on the 3rd Floor already, its just a matter of logistics IMHO as to how to best tie into the plumbing system there. One HVAC Tech said that his concern with water was that it could leak onto the floor and ruin the ceiling below if/when the pump or line is defective. Open to ideas???

With gas prices about ¼ the cost of electric where we live in Western PA it would appear to make fianicial sense to pursue this avenue versus installing a heat pump on the 2nd & 3rd floor not only for the electric inefficiency and cost, but also for the lack of heat in the winter months when the temp drops below 40 degrees outside, rendering a heat pump nearly useless.


1. Assuming we can sort this out, and go with a split system, why would any Tech not recommend going with a high efficiency modulating furnace and rotary AC?

Of the three contractors we met with, all three of their opinions varied. One recommended a single stage, another a two stage, and the last a modular unit, lol??? I wonder what the reality of the situation is and what's best for our home - long term? I’m no expert, but I really like the idea of modulating above all else to help manage the temps throughout the home. Yes, the home is old. Yes, the home’s duct system is older and leakly. Yes, we understand those constraints, but how would a single stage be anymore beneficial that a modular furnace? Outwardly a modular would be able to work at the same capacity as the single stage, but in the instances where its not needed to run on high, it would scale back, correct? Maybe I am missing something here, but we are getting conflicting advice from all HVAC contractors to date and are starting to become more confused with each visit.

Also more confusing is this. One contractor is selling us on the idea of zoning the system using electronic dampers. Another said those are impossible to install on our system, lol? Which is it, and how would it be impossible to install them, lol? This sounds like a great idea (i.e. close the dampers on the 3rd floor when sleeping on the 2nd floor to reduce strain on the system, correct?)

I also get that sizing and airflow are important. Our home, like almost all folks here owning old homes, is not anywhere near new construction tolerances, and we recognize that, but air loss is air loss and why a single stage would somehow not loose air, verses a modulating furnace is beyond me. Regardless, we still want the best and most efficient system on the market due to the ever increasing cost of utilities, but one that's the correct application for our home (if that's even a possibility). This is a HUGE investment for our family, so I greatly appreciate the advice. I am in no way partial to a product either.

A heartfelt thanks in advance for the much needed feedback.


Re: Residential HVAC Recommendation for Northern PA Climate Please – 120 Year Victori

Hi, I would insulate because this will do more to keep you warm and lower your heat bill than any HVAC can. The insulation will pay for itself. Thanks

Re: Residential HVAC Recommendation for Northern PA Climate Please – 120 Year Victori

First I concur with insulation. Second, did this house originally have radiators and if so, is any of the plumbing still there. It may be possible to put a gas fired boiler in your basement and heat the house with hot water. You could keep the heat pump for those very mild days when the temps are 45F or higher and for AC in the summer.

As for insulation, start with the ceiling joists in the attic (attic floor). Then look at weather stripping all the doors and windows and/or replacing all the windows with new energy efficient windows. I would do the walls last as you have to insure that the insulation won't start a fire if exposed to old knob and tube electrical wiring. The wall insulation will be the most expensive with the least ROI, but the ROI is usually cost effective though.

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