Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heating, part 1

We live in Connecticut, which is a pretty cold climate. Today it snowed and sleeted and it has been down in the teens at night a few nights. Folks in this part, and other parts of the country are cranking up the thermostats these days, and with it the levels of pollution. it just so happens that of the some 8 million homes heated with oil in the United States, 6 million of those are hear in the Northeast. If you are in a position of having to replace your home heating system, as Nicole and I were this year, there are several options for how to heat your house.

Chances are if you have duct work in the walls for a forced air system, you will probably stay with that kind of system, as you would if you already had hot water baseboard radiators throughout. There are different levels of expenses that people can look at practically. For example, We converted a garage into a dining room. That process allowed us to put in a zone of radiant heat, which is essentially a plastic tube that snakes back and forth in the concrete, and as the hot water flows through the tube, it heats up that mass of concrete and warms everything in the room, not just the air. We have found this room to be far more comfortable, even when set at a lower temperature than the rest of the house. It is possible to retrofit floors with electric radiant heat, where you basically attach something to the underside of the subfloor from the basement, and the heat radiates up through the floor.

When we bought our house, we had the old cast iron radiators and an oil boiler dating back to the 1970’s. While the iron radiators did put off a lot of heat, they were not very attractive and had years of gunk caked into them. We decided to send those to the scrap yard, where they no doubt were recycled, and replaced them with low profile Slantfin® radiators we bought at Home Depot.

The issue of replacing the boiler became a pretty big research project. We are fed up with oil and made the decision early on to get rid of that whole disgusting behemoth of a tank in the basement and the sickly old boiler. The last time we had it cleaned we were told the fire box was cracked, which I guess meant its days were numbered. Since we live in a colder climate, and are renovating and not building new, our solar and geothermal heating options were somewhat limited, not to mention we have budgeted other large scale projects that I will talk about in future posts. We had to stick with burning something to heat the water that goes through the radiators and radiant floor, and the other most common options besides oil are natural gas (preferred), propane (not as good as natural gas), and there are wood pellet stoves that can do this job as well.

After a lot of phone calls we determined that natural gas is not in our street, and because of that it was ruled out, unfortunately. It is the cleanest burning of the home heating fuels, and boilers these days can get up into the 95% efficiency range (which happens to qualify for a $150 federal tax credit right now). We settled for LP, or liquified propane, which is slightly worse than natural gas, but nowhere near as bad as oil. I will post some statistic in the days to come to corroborate these claims. We got a Buderus 142/30 propane boiler, which is actually a natural gas boiler that we had to change one small part on to make it burn propane. It came with that part. We just missed the federal tax credit because this model, which produced adequate BTUs to heat our house and then some is 94.7% efficient. This is a really slick unit that makes virtually no noise. I mean that too. If I am standing next to it while it is running, the only thing I hear is the circulator pump installed on the wall next to the boiler.

Wall-mount is a wonderful thing. Hey, so I have to run but will be back with much more on this topic and more soon.

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