HVAC Retrofit for 1918 Colonial Revival in CT
My husband and I own a 1918 Colonial Revival in CT… where summers are hot and humid and winters are cold. We bought the house 4 years ago. But we’re not spring chickens… we’re in our 50s so we won’t see as much return on investments as say… a younger couple might. (We have no children but my husband’s elderly uncle might stay with us in Feb. 2016 so we need efficient heat for him.) We also don’t have a big budget – plus our house is in a neighborhood where the houses are losing value, so we don’t want to spend a tremendous amount on renovations. But we do love the house and can’t afford to live elsewhere so we do want to renovate – so long as the expense makes sense. With that being said… I despise our radiators! And I want them gone. We have a gas boiler in our basement – 6 years old… but we will need a new water heater soon… was thinking of tankless. We only have one thermostat and it’s in our dining room. I’ve made an office out of our sun porch. It has lots of windows. It’s freezing cold in there in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. I use a space heater and still I’m cold. We heat the entire house all day, every day during the cold months due to the one heating zone – while I only work in one small office/sun porch and my husband is at work all day. By the time we go to bed at night, the upstairs is so hot that we need to open windows and sleep with a fan. But I use a blanket while we watch TV downstairs.
I’m trying to figure out how to change all of this… I want efficient heat that can be zoned – per room if possible and if affordable – if not, then at least zoned per floor. (2 floors for now, maybe a finished basement someday.) I’d also like efficient air conditioning of some kind. And – yeah – I’m asking for the impossible – I would love to have smart thermostats so that we can control the heat and a/c online. I *love* the Honeywell Lyric because it can work with Apple HomeKit and I can control it with my voice via Siri with my Apple TV or my iPhone or – someday – my watch! But I don’t think it’s compatible with at least one of the options I’m looking into… any of the ductless mini splits.
I’ve researched lots… looked at Ray Magic out of Italy and California… radiant heat and A/C… supposedly easy enough for a DIY but I’ve been told it’s better for dryer climates than CT’s humid summers… plus it’s expensive to ship. I looked at Warmboard but I somehow thought that it would run both radiant hot water for heat and radiant cool water for A/C – I learned today that I was wrong. It is only radiant heat. I called several HVAC guys in the fall of 2011 for their suggestions… they suggested forced hot air but their prices for our 2,000 sq ft home were $28,000 to $34,000… probably higher now and I don’t think that forced hot air is efficient – plus I have to give up closet and attic storage to make room for ducts. I like the idea of ductless mini splits but only if I can have ceiling units. Can’t have those ugly things on my walls. But I want to get rid of our radiators entirely and – if we go with a ductless mini split system, I *think* that we have to have a heat fallback in case it gets really cold… I think Mitsubishi can allow for -13F temps but I think that’s only with the ugly wall units not the ceiling units. Plus if we remove the radiators, what would we do about alternative heat in -13F weather? I was thinking that we could install a gas insert in our downstairs fireplace with a blower and add a vented gas fireplace with blower to our master bedroom in our upstairs for days that get really cold… and we’d have to leave doors open for those days. Would that work? Last option… Energy Saving Products makes a small duct hi velocity system similar to Unico and Spacepak, but supposedly better. I read some comments by Martin Holladay about Unico that made me question the hi velocity idea. But I saw others argue about the good points of small duct hi velocity systems. I wish I knew who to believe… especially because sdhv systems supposedly purify, ventilate and dehumidify as well. But I have no idea what they cost. Even if it was $28,000 to $32,000, we might consider that if they really do work and if they also purify, ventilate and dehumidify. I just have no idea where we’d get that kind of $$.
I should add that we have no insulation at all in this house but we plan to insulate the attic and around the perimeter of the basement with some type of insulation… and – if recommended – in the walls with cellulose. We also have double pane windows. It costs us about $2,000 for gas to heat this house each winter, not including electric for my space heater.
We have a big living room, a small dining room and a kitchen (with no exhaust fan) plus office/sun porch, bathroom (also with no exhaust fan) and a foyer on the first floor. Our staircase is against the exterior wall and then we have a very large master bedroom with a walk-in closet, a large guest room and a small guest room plus a bathroom (with no exhaust fan) on the 2nd floor. We have a stairwell off of our walk-in closet that leads to an unfinished and very hot or very cold attic. We have two window vents in the attic that we open and close as needed. We know that we need proper ventilation and insulation in the attic because we get ice damns in the front of our house every winter.
So… my questions are… what would be a good HVAC retrofit? Do we need another source of heat if we install a ductless mini split system? Would gas fireplaces be an option for an alternative heat source? I hear that DMS is not expensive, then I hear that it’s very expensive to install. I have no idea who to believe. Can anyone give me a rough idea of installation costs. Should we insulate our exterior walls? If we insulate really well, could we forgo a/c or is CT too humid for us to not have any a/c? Is there anything that we can DIY in order to afford any of these heating/cooling ideas?
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