August 10, 2010

Progress (or lack of) On Our HVAC System

It's been a long time since I've mentioned the house or our HVAC system, over four months!  Would you believe that we're still working on this?  Not that we haven't made at least some progress.  We did our homework, which I shared in this post.

One reason we've been slow is because summer is the time for outside projects. Also Dan has been working more.  Plus the garden and harvest are the top priority this time of year.  But also, as we've been talking to HVAC contractors, we've run into some problems.

Problem #1. Dan had to remove much of the ductwork when he worked on supporting the dining room floor.  Since not all of the ductwork was insulated, our idea was to put it back, and insulate whatever sections needed it. Every contractor we've talked to has been very negative about our plan and of course, wants to sell and install all new ductwork in addition to a new HVAC unit.  We suspect that if the ductwork was still in place, they probably wouldn't mention this, but for some reason no one seems to like the idea of us doing it ourselves.

Problem #2.  Sizing an HVAC unit is a complicated business. Obviously it takes into consideration the part of the country one lives in and the home's square footage, but also the number, size, and type of windows the home has; which direction they face, their square footage, exterior wall square footage, and how much of those are either shaded or exposed to sun. It needs to know how well the various parts of the home (attic, walls, and basement or crawlspace) are insulated. Even then, most folks end up with units that are too large "just in case" they need the extra BTUs.

The reason this is a problem, is because we are in the process of increasing our home's insulation. However, the HVAC sizing formula doesn't take future plans into account. Or at least those calculating the formula don't, which means the unit recommended for now, will be overkill in the future. If money were no object, we could do everything at once, i.e. insulating and adding a new unit.  But since we only have X amount of dollars, we have to pick and choose.

In the meantime, we're working away on the ductwork.  Some of it is already well insulated, but some either has no insulation, or the insulation had been home to critters and has to be replaced.  After some reaearch, we decided to use this...

Reflectix double reflective insulation. It was reasonably priced, easy to install, and available locally.  With proper installation (leaving a 3/4 inch air gap) an R-6 insulation value can be achieved.  Basically the stuff is jut a double layer of bubble wrap, with reflective foil on both sides of the roll.  It was easy to cut and easy to tape with the proper reflective tape.

Did I say it was easy to install?  Well, maybe I should qualify that.  I'm sure it would be easy in a basement or ample crawl space.  Our crawl space however, starts at about 3 feet at the back of the house, but is just inches at the front.

It is a tight squeeze and awkward work under the front of the house.

As he's been working on this, DH has figured out what has been something that was puzzling me, i.e. why the house seemed well insulated in summer, but poorly insulated in winter. What he discovered is that there are gaps at the base of the walls in the crawlspace, which allow air to flow up in between the interior and exterior walls. In addition, the foundation under the front of the house has holes.  This explains why last winter, I could hold my hand about 8 inches from our bedroom wall and feel the cold pressing in.  The frigid winter air would blow into the crawl space under the porch, and push it's way up the insides of the walls. Obviously we need to tend to this!

So here it is, August, and we're still working on getting the ductwork back in.  As you've probably gathered, this means we've had no AC, something I had hoped we wouldn't have to live without in our hot, humid summers!  But that's how it is.  I promised myself I wouldn't complain, though I freely admit the kitchen gets mighty uncomfortable when I'm canning.  Even so, AC is only a recent luxury for us.  We have and could continue to live without it.  But we'll put it in because it's standard on all homes around here, and if we have it, we'll use it. Of course, we do keep it set pretty high, and rely on fans if additional cooling is needed.  I have to say that I'm thankful for those electric fans right now.  But I'll be even more thankful once this project is done.

Progress (or lack of) On Our HVAC System © August 2010 by Leigh at


Mama Pea said...

Ha! Your crawl space looks just like ours! I'm so glad my dear husband isn't claustrophobic because he's spent his share of time in the same position as your husband pictured in your post.

Up here in NE Minnesota we rarely have need for AC but this summer has been a killer. Many nights we've had trouble sleeping because it's stayed so hot and humid. We're really hoping this year is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence and next summer we'll go back to our "natural" air conditioning!

Theresa said...

Yikes! Crawling under a house insulating and replacing duct work is certainly not my cup of tea in any weather. I'm surprised about the foundation. Didn't the home inspector pick any of this up?
I guess I can see the point of the contractors. Who wants to warranty a system if you haven't had your hands on it and not all handy work is the same, but still
seems unreasonable. As far as over installing a system, a little over your needs is not a bad thing. There are all sorts of what if's I can think of to justify a larger system. What if you decide to finish the attic or add a room, or just so the system need not work so hard in the summer. Of course Gene has just spent a few extra bucks and certainly sacrificed a tree or two we didn't need putting in the supports for a small back deck. 16" on center, 2x10's a tad over built for a 10x10 non supporting structure. What happened with the geo thermal estimate? Deep sixed due to cost? Have you two decided on a system though? I would imagine it's easier to do the duct work once you have a clear idea of the particular systems need. No a/c this year, no, I don't wish I was you. I complain all the time about the heat and while it's been a fairly cool summer it only takes one hot night for me to be crying for a/c set so cold frost forms on the inside of the windows!

Eat To Live said...

Thank goodness our air conditioner was already installed when we bought the house. My Hubs has NO patience.

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Leigh said...

Mama Pea, staying cool is all I think about now, but staying warm will be the object of interest this winter! We only had our wood heatstove last winter and we were c-c-cold! I understand why now, because of the lack of gaps at the base of the walls.

Theresa, good point. We thought about that too. Of course, it depends on the warranty, which we've learned can often cover very little. The other consideration is how many more thousands of dollars it would cost. Our old AC had a SEER of only 10, but even with our poorly insulated ductwork we were comfortable last summer.

Welcome Terry. The house came with an old oil burning furnace/electric AC packaged unit. We aren't keen on the oil burner, plus the unit itself needs some repair, so out it came. I'll be glad to return the blog visit.

Renee Nefe said...

I'm glad to see that you're still plugging away on the duct work. I'm sure once you get it all installed the hvac guys will stop bugging you about that part. I would also work on getting those walls better insulated for this winter...I'm wondering if hanging blankets on your bedroom walls would help as a temporary insulation solution.

Our AC unit is only a Seer 10. DH figured that the extra energy savings weren't worth the extra cost of a Seer 12. Course it helps that DH has taken a HVAC course for work.
We keep our thermostat up at 80 for the summer. I put black out curtains on our westward facing windows upstairs to help keep that cooler and it is working very well for us. Course I'm not canning here. Still fighting the bugs in my garden.


I don't envy your poor husband, I would just die if I had to be closed up under a house. I hear you on the AC issue I could not survive Florida summer's without one, very uncomfortable not to mention that any open window invites the massive amount of mosquitos to torture us inside the house. I hope you will be able to solve the cracks and insulate the walls before winter gets in this year.

Anonymous said...

have you looked into a mini split system? it is ductless and haets and cools from the same system. we use one here in las vegas nv and it is the best system we have ever had. it is also zoned for every room in the house. so you only heat/cool where you need to. google mini split. good luck.

Ken and Mary of Fancy Fibers Farm said...

I admire y'all's ability to tackle most any job, determination, and, yes, patience. Unfortunately, AC is not something I could live without here in Texas. Frankly, I don't know how they did it in the past. I mean we've hit or been close to 100 since I can't remember when and sometimes the heat index is at 107-110. I'll keep hoping y'all get everything the way you like it.

Anonymous said...

We once spent a long heatwave summer in urban New Jersey without AC and saw a lot of films that year - the cinema was a short bus-ride away and a lovely dark, cool retreat! I also discovered the point of salad for the first time in my life as I couldn't bear to use the cooker. Canning would have been beyond my endurance!

Leigh said...

Theresa, somehow I lost my answer to your question about the geo-thermal unit. Either too many distractions or too many kittens playing on the keyboard!

We had to postpone the appointment with the rep due to Dan's work schedule. Someone is supposed to come out this week though, assuming Dan doesn't get another load before then! We have two others who are to come out to give estimates too, for different types of systems.

Renee, we suspect that if the ductwork were all intact they even wouldn't mention it. And I suspect Theresa is right, it's all about the warranty.

Bety, at least we don't have mosquitoes! But we do get the same heat and humidity. I couldn't have survived with numerous electric fans and watermelons. They really do have a cooling effect!

Anon, thanks for the comment. I would love to know the brand you installed and were happy with. We did look into mini-split systems. Two things have caused us to hesitate: 1 - in our consumer review research, there were an overwhelming amount of negatives. These were mostly about Japanese companies whose products were subject to a lot of problems and who give terrible customer service (as in not response and no replacement parts). The other problem was after talking to a rep at a home show we attended. Basically, they are air source heat pumps so are fine with cooling, but don't heat well when the outdoor temps get around freezing. Since our winters can get really cold with quite a bit of freezing weather, we would have to have an alternate system anyway. Since the ductwork was already in place, we pretty much wrote these off.

Ken and Mary, having lived in Texas, I agree! It isn't quite so bad here, but it's still tough, especially in terms of humidity. I thought about running the dehumidifier, but it generates heat!

Cally, New Jersey would be a tough place to live without AC in the summer. The humidity is a killer. Of course, canning only adds tons of humidity, but I don't feel I have a choice. :( My outdoor kitchen is fine for cooking, but the hot plate regulates itself so I can't get a sustained boil. Hopefully next summer will be better!

Benita said...

When we built our house, we had the building add an extra level of concrete blocks to the crawl space to make it taller - and we have been so happy we did. Moving and working in a crawl space is hard enough, but at least I can comfortably sit up and work in ours when the need has risen.

No AC - in this weather? Yes, dear, I'm glad I'm not living with you. How do you manage to sleep at night? I swelter even with AC AND a fan blowing right on me.

meemsnyc said...

Oh my, no AC! Yikes. I want to install a HVAC at our house, but it's not going to happen any time soon. My sister in Chicago just had it done. We recently did foam insulation in the attic. It helps a lot with cooling and heating temps. the foam insulation was an expense...but there is a energy saving tax credit for it so it offsets the expense. What does "DH" stand for?

Leigh said...

Benita that was a very wise idea. Dan and I have talked about lifting the house and adding (in our case) a basement.) We would if we had a money tree in the back yard!

Meemsync, that insulation makes a big difference. It's the other thing we are doing to the house. DH is internet shorthand for "dear husband."

Anonymous said...

our unit is a celiera, made in italy. LV does have really cold winters, but our nights do drop into the 30's. we even get snow on the strip every so often. i would think with the wood stove as a booster this would work. i've seen these in tuscany and northern germany, gets pretty cold there too. another benifit is the unit is quiet, unlike a regular ac unit, so you can locate it anywhere. finding an installer was a bit of a trick though,i have to admit. i would check around more if i were you. good luck

Leigh said...

Anonymous, thank you so much for the response. A recommendation from someone who has used a product is far superior to sales literature. I'll have to do some research.

The wood stove does help. It will help a whole lot more once we get those insulation issues resolved however. Where it didn't help was the back of the house, in the kitchen and back bathroom. My hope is to get a wood cookstove, which will help back there. The pantry actually needs cooling in the summer and autumn (fall is pretty warm around here.)

Again, thank you.

seybernetx said...

Have you thought about buying a window unit or two for the interim? That way, you could at least keep things a bit more comfortable for sleeping and/or cooking.

Not free, but a whole lot less than the HVAC is going to be, and you would have some place to go for a respite from the worst heat.

Leigh said...

Seybernetx, you know, it's one of those things where we figure we'll get the whole thing figured out and done in no time, but it keeps dragging on, and on, and on. Sounds silly now, as I write it, but it seems logical at the time! Actually, we could especially use cooling at the back of the house, near food storage. I really don't want to lose all our potato harvest because of the heat.

seybernetx said...

Leigh - If you are planning on using a room of your house for food storage, you'll probably want some sort of chiller or refrigeration unit. Longer term food storage is usually around 40-60 F, and I doubt many AC units could manage that. You might need to insulate the storage room, as well, and likely other things.

Of course, an AC unit would at least help a little during summer time, though winter time would likely need another set of changes. (if nothing else, close off the room with a good door, and open a window to outside :-) )

Leigh said...

Seybernetx, I agree. Mostly my pantry is for canned and dried goods, and we're fortunate that most root crops can be stored in the ground all winter. I lament the timing of my potatoes. They should have been planted later for a fall crop, for longer storage potential. That's something I'll need to do differently next year.

The room we use for food storage worked very well last winter by closing it off and not heating it. It remained in the 50s until warm weather. I do have an extra fridge for produce that needs it. But it isn't big enough for all those potatoes!