Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Troubled heating

Winter brings out the worst in buildings. Many existing and old buildings have air sealing and insulation deficiencies that can make rooms cold and heating systems overworked, or worse, not able to keep a house or area warm enough. Many years ago heating systems over compensated for massive heat loss by being bigger and hotter than many efficient systems installed today.

Sometimes putting a new heating system tied to old radiators doesn’t work as well. OldeP9284187r forced hot water boilers heated water to over 200 degrees, while most modern boilers work at about 180 degrees. While 20 degrees does not sound like a lot, it does make a difference.

But there are several ways to overcome a taxed heating system and a cold house. One way is to install more heating elements or vents, like removing old radiators and adding a lot of baseboard or changing to forced hot air system, or add additional heat sources like a wood stove or minisplit unit, but all of that can get pricey and may not even out a cold house. The other way is to correctly air seal and insulate a building, effectively reducing heat loss and allowing a smaller, more efficient heating system to be used. So what is the right way?

Energy Audits are the best method to determine a building’s deficiencies. National Grid offers limited free audits with rebated retrofits. Yet some buildings require more comprehensive analysis, such as a blower door test or other retrofit methods not offered by National Grid. Many old buildings have unique building construction characteristics, where moisture, water, and mixed materials prevent a one-size fits all approach. Also, many auditors may not look at existing windows and doors any other way besides replacement. But current industry research has confirmed that using storm doors and windows in addition to main doors and windows can meet or exceed the efficiency of any new unit, and they are cheaper than replacement units.

Whichever approach you use, be sure that all subcontractors and methods are sound. You can check references before you hire an auditor to see if they understand your building, or hire a seSANYO DIGITAL CAMERAparate auditor from the retrofit contractor.

I have experienced many heating methods that try to “fix” a cold house, but many times they are just throwing away money and heat. There was one house that put in 5 zones, or individual thermostat controls, to reduce heating costs. They ignored the holes in the foundation, the missing bulkhead interior door, the missing basement storm windows, ineffective roof insulation, and the lack of storm doors or door weather seals. By just fixing the basement windows, installing a bulkhead door, and spray foaming the attic reduced air-flow and heating costs by over 30%.

I would first start with trying to get the house in a better place. You can get an Energy Audit that is designed to find deficiencies rather than trying to add things to your house. I have seen many problems with simple fixes such as: heating systems with closed vents; windows and storm windows that are not properly closed; open mail slots; or plumbing penetrations bigger than the pipe going through it. These smaller issues can be the difference of cold to comfortable.

If you made the building as tight and insulated as possible or feasible, adding supplemental heat sources can work. Auxiliary systems like mini split ductless, wood and pellet stoves, electric baseboards, heated floors, and other single room systems can work well. The finalSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA selection depends on the effort you want to give towards creating heat (like moving wood), cost, aesthetics, sound, performance, and how long you plan on being in the building.

Changing the delivery system, like baseboard to forced hot air, can also work. Sometimes the heating source is in the wrong spot, or the heat cannot make it over to a colder spot. A new delivery system can help, although it must be properly sized and installed, or you are throwing good money out the window.

Either way, it is a balance of cost versus efficiency. Many retrofits can save you money, like air sealing, but others may not, like changing out windows. So do your homework, and have the science give you the answer.