March 9, 2010

2010 Goals: Evaluating Heating & Cooling

One of the items on our 2010 homestead goals list, was to make a decision about our HVAC system. The system that was in the house when we bought it was an outdoor packaged oil furnace with electric air conditioner. Evidently they had had problems with the furnace in the past, because there were oil stains and splatters on the foundation and in the crawl space. Though it passed inspection, we were told that it was near the end of its service life and that we should expect to replace it in the near future. DH didn't like it because the exhaust chimney was right under one of the dining room windows. I didn't like it because it burns oil. Neither one of us liked the residual smell.

DH pulled it out when he had to get under the house to stabilize the dining room floor. By that time we already had the soapstone woodstove in place and in use, plus being November, we no longer needed the air conditioner.

In discussing what to do, we have considered doing nothing. Perhaps if the winter had been mild and the house not so drafty, we would have just left it at that and considered whether or not we wanted air conditioning. But we had enough sustained below-freezing weather and enough draftiness, that we've had to supplement with radiator type plug in heaters for the kitchen and my studio. Then too, even if we took care of the insulation problems, the woodstove is located in the living room in the front of the house, and doesn't do a good job of providing heat to the back of the house (see floorplan), even with fans. One possibility here, is to buy that wood cookstove I've been wanting. That would provide the heat we need at the back of the house.

But then there's wood supply. As I mentioned, we have limited hardwoods on our property, which means eventually we'd be having to buy it and have it hauled in. This isn't necessarily good or bad, it's just a factor to consider.

Cooling is another topic of discussion. DH wanted to consider doing without air conditioning, and we did discuss that. If we installed a solar attic fan to draw heat out of the attic, and a whole house fan to suck heat out of the rest of the house at the end of the day, it's possible we could survive the summer, even with our usual stretch of days in the low 100sF. But cooling is only part of it . Dehumidifying is important as well. If you've ever lived in a damp, mildewy home, then you know what I mean.

On top of all that, we need to consider this -- that even though this is intended to be our forever home, something unforeseen could happen and we might need to sell it someday. We couldn't even put it on the market without an HVAC system.

Next step ... research the different types of HVAC systems.


Dorothy said...

Re. HVAC (not used over here in private homes) I'm wondering now how hot your summers get, is it really uncomfortable?

We have made BIG reductions in our fuel bills through insulation (including lining walls and underfloor, as well as in the loft) double glazing, and stopping drafts.

Benita said...

Now this is a subject I am going to be interested in because we have been discussing HVAC for the new studio we want to build. We, too, have hot, muggy summers and our winters are very cold and snowy. AC is the main consideration for us because heat will be propane. Also, how are you planning to add insulation and reduce draftiness?

Leigh said...

Dorothy last summer wasn't too bad, but typically we have days in the low 100s F / 40 C. We often have humidity to contend with, so that's another factor.

Insulation is definitely a major consideration. Our problem is limited funds. At this point it looks as though we can afford to either get the system, or do complete, whole house insulation, but not both.

Benita, the first thing will be to put in that new, energy star front door!.

The other big project this summer, will be to address the northwest facing wall of the house. This gets the heat of the setting summer sun, as well as the brunt of blowing winter winds. What to do is still in the discussion phase at this point. I'll share those ideas soon.

Theresa said...

Well, if it is an either or thing for this year, I think the best answer is do the insulation. A new HVAC system (or any system) won't be efficient without it. You may find for this year, the difference with insulation is enough with your woodstove heating and as to cooling, buy a few dehumidifiers and fans, or install the attic fan and get by until you can afford a new HVAC system.
We don't have a/c but I always wish we did for those few very hot nights. The attic fan works well and the new sleeping/weaving porch, BIG bonus for me. We don't have the humidity to deal with. Compromise this year might be a used room window a/c for the bedroom?
We did put in a new HVAC system in the house in Los Angeles, but it was a heat pump system which I am not sure would work for your colder wintertime temps as well as it does in SoCal.


Living in humid, mold inducing, hotter than hell summers here. I can't imagine not having an AC, but then you have the draft that would let go of the coolness any system would provide. One thing we did a few years ago was add waterproof caulking to the windows and doors it did save us some on the electric bill. Maybe that would help you out too?

Leigh said...

Theresa, yes it is an either/or thing. Part of the equation is that the money will be due to our first time homeowners tax credit, which we won't get again. This means that this is probably the largest lump sum we'll get anytime soon, which makes me think the larger ticket item may be the way to go for now. Much of the insulating we can do on a pay-as-we-go basis, unless we opt for someone to install foam. More things to consider.

Deep End, I lived in Florida for 6 months and there's no way I would have done without AC either! Caulking is one of the things on our to-do list. You'd have thought we would have gotten to it this year, and I can't believe so many other things pressed in on our time.

bspinner said...

We don't have and never wanted an air conditioning system. I do realize that it does add a lot of value to a home but at this point we don't feel its worth the investment.
We've replaced our coal burning furnaces with oil. Why in a coal mine region of the country would we do that? Our age for one thing and it increases the value of our home.

Dorothy said...

40 degrees C is uncomfortably hot! My relatives in Australia have summers like that. They have a veranda all the way around the house that helps create shade and keep the house cooler in summer.

It's going to be hot for chickens too - my Aussie used to keep chickens, they had to be in the henhouse for shade on hot days and they hosed down the outside of the henhouse to cool the air a bit. It was a lot of work, but they did have lots more chickens than you.

Susan said...

Sorry to be a dim bulb but I'm not entirely sure what HVAC stands for.

If you have forced air heating system in place, then you should be able to get a 'heat pump' system. This will heat your home and cool it nicely for a low annual cost. It taps into latent heat in the ground.

Our renovations in the last year have all been done with energy efficiency in mind. Windows, patio doors all have low E and argon gas. The new front and back doors are insulated. New dishwasher is energy star rated and if run once a day for a year, will only cost $18 a year. Low water use as well. We installed a new efficient hotwater tank and added insulation to the skylight attic.
We'll have the energy grant people back soon and then wait for rebate cheques to help offset the costs.


Sharon said...

I think an attic fan is a super smart idea for a hot summer climate. Our house in Redding had one and it made a measurable difference.

Leigh said...

Barb, gosh but I wish we lived farther north. That said, I do love our long growing season. I'm really not sure I want to try summer down here without AC. Actually I didn't use it a lot last summer, but it was used some.

Dot, fortunately those temps are just for a few days each summer. Still, the upper and lower end of our temperature range is something we have to keep in mind with all this planning. The other consideration for me is canning fruits and vegetables. The little heat plate in my summer kitchen doesn't get hot enough for canning, which puts a lot of heat and humidity in the kitchen. And as you can imagine, that makes the house a whole lot harder to cool.

I'll have to remember that about hosing down the hen house. Fortunately ours will be in shade and maybe we won't have an outrageously hot summer.

Susan, I didn't know either, until I started researching this whole mess! "Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning." I'm not always certain how they figure the ventilation fits in, unless they are referring to the ductwork.

The old system is central, so we have the ductwork. I'm busy researching possibilities, so hopefully we'll have information soon to help with this decision.

I wish we could get energy grants in the US! The tax rebates are good, but they really only help out folks who can afford to buy the items in the first place.

Sharon, I would love to have one of those fans. They really do wonders in the cool of the evening. Not sure if that's the direction we'll go, but it's on "The LIst."

Flower said...

I will learn something from you through this! You don't want mold to start. If you don't get the system in this year get some good fans. That's my 2 cents.

Susan said...

Thanks Leigh!
I sort of figured that the AC part referred to cooling but it was the V that had me stumped.

Check out 'heat pumps' on line. They will keep your house an even temperature all year round. A bit pricier to set up initially, but pay for themselves in short order. If our house has the ducting, we would have installed one here in a heart beat!

Another method for aiding to keep the house cool (AC or not) is awnings over southern exposure windows, and also tinted windows. Hub is manager at a store that sells energy star windows (Milgard brand from Tacoma WA) so we have that part nailed! :)

Great post!

Leigh said...

Flower, good fans definitely! For one thing we've found that we don't need to set the AC so cold if we use them. Last summer I only used it as needed, but did when it got too hot, not only for the heat, but to keep down the humidity. The only place fans aren't useful, is in closed up spaces like closets.

Susan, I'm busy researching! I definitely appreciate your input. Next week I'll post what I'm learning. I love my blog for organizing my thoughts and keeping track of information!

We hadn't thought of awnings, but are definitely going to plant some shade on that side of the house. Researching shrubs, bushes, and small trees is also on my to-do list!

Susan said...

I can understand your concerns with the potential for molds in a high humidity enviroment. My husband and I used to live aboard a boat ( she was 52' long and 14' wide) This was 1987 to approx 1993.
Small cupboards and tight quarters! We found that keeping air moving was crucial to preventing mold growth and so in places we had small computer type fans installed to keep air moving and they run silent. We also used a dehumidifyer. You can get these dehumidifyers so that they work in conjunction with your whole house heating system.

Shade plants are great but they can take time to grow in, require annual maintainence and can shield burglars from view. While an awning is simple, add value to the house and the newer UV resistant fabrics can last for many years.

It's all a balancing act between form and function! Oh, and cost...


Leigh said...

Susan, I'm so impressed that you lived on a boat. You know first hand about that humidity, so you can understand why this is a concern. I've lot whole closets full of clothes, boxes of books, and tons of shoes to mildew problems. The only dehumidifiers I've had experience with though, created heat while removing humidity. If we could get rid of the humidity without additional heat, that would be something.

With the plantings, I actually have two things in mind: shade in the summer and a wind block in winter. The northwest wall of our house gets both, and an evergreen hedge or vines are a consideration to deal with both problems.

As you say, it's a balancing act! The comments to this post are helpful because they give us more options to consider as we research possibilities.

Susan said...

I'm glad that I'm helping in some small way! It sounds extremely humid where you live. I live on Vancouver Island and within less than 3 kms of the water. We get high rainfall here and so humid conditions are normal It runs 50-65% for most of the year. Heat coming from a dehumidifyer is not something I can speak to, but it would seem to be a fair trade off. I have seen systems where its nestled in with the home heating system and you set the rate of humidity and it runs the furnace fan to keep to the set rate. Furnaces are normally in the basement or crawl space so the heat generated would not be an issue. Heat is also not something to be overly concerned with. We used to run a light bulb, permanently on, under our bed in the boat. The heat generated by the bulb kept bedding dry while the small mini fan also under the bed, kept the air moving. We now have a large roll-about dehumidifyer and I never detected any heat generated... but I wasn't looking for it then!

Many home owners make the mistake of not keeping a window slightly open to promote better draw by the furnace. You have to give the moisture some place to leave :)

As I mentioned previously my Hub sells windows and has seen homeowners with water running down windows and the house closed up tight. Its their own condensation from cooking, showers and exhalation. He tells them to simply crack a window to improve the situation. Yes, 'V' is for ventilation ...

I think you and I could chat on this subject for ages.. but I won't bore your other readers.

:) Susan

Life Looms Large said...

We had air-conditioning installed after the fact on the second floor of our house. The ducts run through the attic. The installers did a good job, so it wasn't a total nightmare, but it's pricy to run that system.

What we've been doing for the last few summers is using a small room air-conditioner that keeps our sunroom and kitchen cool for very little energy use. Then at night we use the upstairs AC to cool down the bedrooms enough to sleep. We don't have super high humidity most of the time here....and lots of people around here don't have AC.

My fairly useless 2 cents....