Buying a house, need to replace electric baseboards

arbutus Posted By arbutus, Mar 28, 2013 at 5:49 PM

  1. arbutus

    Feeling the Heat

    Oct 16, 2007
    Michigan UP

    We're in the process of buying a house. There are several repairs needed and updates we want to do, one of which is replacing the current electric baseboard heat with a much more cost effective system.

    I live in Michigan's UP.
    Heating degree days are about 9500. Design temperature is -20F
    Using Gary's heat loss calculator on builditsolar I have an estimated design loss of just under 75k btu/hr.

    The house is two floors plus a full basement, built in 1991. Exterior dimensions are approximately 24'x32'. 2x6 walls, I'm assuming standard fiberglass insulation, and I'll be going up to R38 with blown fiberglass in the second story ceiling after we close. I'll also tighten up all the air infiltration points I can - lights, electrical outlets, holes through the siding for cable, basement rim joist penetrations, etc.
    Heat source:
    Natural gas is not available.
    I could but do not want to retrofit a forced air system as the primary heat source due to noise and LP costs.
    We are leaning against a wood stove because it wouldn't fit well on the main floor and I do not want to drag wood downstairs daily.
    That leaves a hydronic system, powered by a ground source heat pump, or a wood boiler. Decent hardwood (hard maple and oak) is available locally for me to cut, or cut, split, and delivered for under $150 a cord. We had a Pacific Energy wood stove in our previous house, and burned between about 6 cords a year, much of which I c/s/s myself.
    I'm leaning towards a gasifying wood boiler, placed in its own building detached from the house.

    Heat delivery:
    I can access the underside of the first floor from the basement easily for staple up . The first floor is approximately 2/3 oak finish floor and 1/3 tile. The second floor is currently but will be replaced with oak. I could install 1/2" pex or pex-al-pex with aluminum panels in a sleeper arrangement in the second floor before I put down the wood flooring. Or I could install panel radiators, both upstairs and down.

    I'm leaning towards panel radiators in the upstairs (3 bedrooms, 2 full baths) and staple up under the first floor and leaving the existing electric baseboards in place as back up.

    Other considerations:
    We have young kids. We do not go away during the winter often, but the house and any outdoor system components need to have some form of freeze protection or prevention if we went to visit family or to Florida for a week.
    If outdoors, twice a day loading, *maybe* three times a day during the coldest two months of the year, would be reasonable. The door at the top of the basement stairs is 32" wide, so any indoor storage would have to fit. 500 gallon LP tanks for storage are out, 125s or one of the bladder type are a possibility, probably a maximum of 500 gallons indoors. Outdoors in the wood burner building, 1000+ gallons would be possible.
    I'm not all that interested in summertime DHW production, but including the future ability
    The house is currently all electric, but I will be installing LP for a gas stove, which I was going to run off of large DOT tanks. LP backup of some sort for the times we are gone could be a possibility.
    I would be doing all or nearly all installation work myself.

    I'm reading and learning as much as I can from the links and threads here in this forum.

    I've seen a few install threads. Feel free to point me to others if you have done something similar.

    Can what I want be done for $10k (excluding the building for the boiler)?
    Is there ANY reason to consider a smoky outdoor wood boiler?
    I'm REALLY interested in and would appreciate any suggestions you may have on system suggestions.

  2. __dan

    Feeling the Heat

    Oct 5, 2011
    This was my first thought reading your thread, staple up radiant 1st fl., hydronic panel rads 2nd fl. Keep the electric for backup and low limit freeze protection.

    Anyone who is in your situation and gas (methane) is not available, I am recommending an (inside) pellet boiler. That is if you are not already in the cord wood routine. I would look at a Froling P4 (have an FHG L 20). Definitely, fire an indirect DHW tank with the pellet boiler, year round.

    No, but if you do it in pieces, you will not discover this until later in the project. I'm guessing material and tools will be over 10K, but the enterprise outlined above is well worth spending money on to do right.

  3. 711mhw

    Feeling the Heat

    Dec 7, 2010
    Western ME
    I have not been boiler shopping for a while but your $10k sounds a little tight. It looks like you're doing your homework. Will you be doing this in "phases", that is installing your heating side first, then a bldg, then boiler?
  4. I'd plan more like 10-15 for the boiler with storage and another 5k for the distribution system. Otherwise your plan sounds good.
  5. arbutus

    Feeling the Heat

    Oct 16, 2007
    Michigan UP
    Thank you Dan. I had not considered pellets for this application but will have to give it a second look.
    I do have an attached garage that I could store a week's worth of pellets in, and a detached former horse barn where I can keep a winter's worth of pellets dry.
    Firewood is available though and we used it as our primary heat source for the last ten years in our old house.

    711mhw - As soon as we close on the house I am going to start the cosmetic updates and repairs. You are correct in that I want to get the heating side in place right away, and work on the boiler installation afterwords. This place does have a detached barn about 100 feet away from the house that could be the boiler's home, with wood storage right there. I would just have to build a good insulated room in the barn for it and run the lines to the house.

    $10k is what I could throw at this install *right now*. I could swing more later. I saw the EKO/ECO? for under $6k.
    I want the brand and model to fit the system requirements and my desires, rather than settling for something that has poor function or longevity.
    I realize lots more number crunching is required, however the builditsolar estimate for electric heat based on 9500 degree days was $6500!
  6. You can always do the boiler install in stages. Storage can wait. The eko boilers are one of the best deals available right now.

    If you watch CL you might find a package deal on a lightly used system and save quite a bit. Check the classified ads of this website, I remember an almost new garn was being advertised out your way.

    /edit -- here it is
  7. arbutus

    Feeling the Heat

    Oct 16, 2007
    Michigan UP
  8. katman


    Jul 7, 2008
    annapolis md
    I'm running a pellet boiler in a remote building, about 100 feet underground thermapex to the house. Tied into hydronic with old oil boiler and heat pumps as back ups. The heat pumps are used basically for AC in summer and above 45 temps. Don't really use the oil boiler unless I take a trip to Florida. Love the pellet boiler. Got plenty of wood in back and I did more than my share of heating with split wood when I first built the place. Now I would rather load pellets in the bin once a day, enjoy steady 70 degree heat throughout the house and hump something other than my chain saw.
  9. Karl_northwind

    Feeling the Heat

    Feb 13, 2012
    Central Wi.
    I'd seriously look at the Windhager or effecta komplett pellet boilers. they will both work nicely for your application, and have real support in your neighborhood. (heaterman for Windhager or Brian for effecta)

    your $10k is on the light side for cost for any of the options you listed. I am just finishing up a job with panel radiators, and am really impressed with the ease of retrofit installation.
    I think your planned distribution system is a good one, and leaving the electric BB in place as a backup is good idea, plus you can just get a shot of heat if you need.

    just consider the time and energy and $$ required for your fuel source. I'm a fan of cordwood, but a fan of free time too : )

  10. maple1

    Minister of Fire

    Sep 15, 2011
    Nova Scotia
    I'd first shine up my crystal ball as best I could, try to predict the future a bit, and run some future numbers for your situation on pellets vs. cord wood - fully evaluate which you'd prefer (those are the two I'd narrow it down to), then go from there. A pellet boiler would simplify your situation (no storage required) at the likely cost of higher fuel costs - but pellets have a big convenience factor. If all that makes you lean towards pellets, or at least not rule them out, I would seriously consider a Windhager (or the like) in the basement.

    Once you get past that, you can get ducks in rows. BTW, 330 gallon propane tanks are 30" in diameter (x 9 ft. long) - they might fit your space. Storage is the biggest (cost) question mark in a boiler/storage system. If you're lucky & can find some tanks locally, it makes a big cost difference vs. being stuck with having to order purpose-built factory storage tanks. Also, some open storage tanks can be purchased that can be put in almost any space as they are basically a box you put together with a liner you put in.

    (Oh yeah - I would consider nothing but a hydronic system, it sounds like you are well onto the right track on that aspect).

    Good luck!

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