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This cold house

Post in 'The Green Room' started by pcampbell, Jan 27, 2008.

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  1. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    Our house is a 1.5 story, 750 sq. ft. first floor not including closets and stairwells, with the garage underneath the living room (NOT INSULATED, but working on it) and the basement underneath the rest of the house also not insulated at all, but unfortunately it's finished so there is no easy way to put up insulation. I think part of our problem is the floors throughout the house are VERY COLD. It's 45F in the basement.

    We have a central hot air furnace in the attic which was not heating the house very well. I think it is because the vents are in the ceiling and hot air doesn't sink very well. The furnace does a great job of heating the attic though, which is of course frustrating because the attic would be warmer than the first floor, and the attic/first floor are insulated between each other. What I'm saying is I don't believe the heat is rising through the ceiling of the first floor. (Case in point, with only the Rinnai on, the attic is freezing.)

    I did a lot of research and decided to buy a Rinnai 556WTA gas heater. People seem to love these things and they are pretty efficient (84% AFUE, but I do not believe you can truly compare 84% AFUE to 80% AFUE on a central furnace when the central furnace is heating the entire attic just from heat loss on the appliance itself, possibly ductwork). I put it in the office at the opposite end of the doorway so it's blowing out of the door. It's 22k BTU and does a great job of heating up the office (it's 80F in here right now) but it does not get too far beyond the hallway, maybe our bedroom. In retrospect I probably would have been off with two of the 11k units for units (for practically the same price) and put one in the living room and one here.

    Right now we have just the Rinnai running but I am going to have to hook the furnace back up because it's so cold in the living room (60F). We originally wanted to put it in there and while it sure would have made the room warm, the unit is not very attractive. I guess I am trying to figure out what else we can do with a very limited budget. How limited? I guess it depends on the effect. Putting another small Rinnai heater in the living room will be about $1000 but again, not very attractive. (I really want a wood burning stove but that is being veto'ed).

    We will be insulating the floor of the living room (ceiling of garage) but not sure how much that will help.

    A gas cast iron stove would be almost as efficient as the Rinnai and attractive, but sounds like probably at least $2000 there.

    Thank you in advance for suggestions :)

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  2. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    The attic seems like a really strange place to put a forced air furnace. I take it you don't have a basement.

    You will need a decent chimney if you get a wood stove. That's not the case with a pellet stove, however. If I were you, I'd be looking pretty hard at pellets, though they usually cost a lot more than firewood. In both cases, storage is an issue. It doesn't look like you've got much room for that.
  3. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    We do have a basement. I think the previous owners put it up there for a few reasons.

    The basement is finished which make putting duct work impossible without ripping everything up. Also it shares the duct work with the A/C. Of course since cold air sinks, in the summer, the A/C works very well with vents in the ceiling.

    To top it off there are steam radiators, and all the pipes are still in tact, just no boiler. But it sure would be nice to get rid of all of these low hanging boxed in pipes in the basement and holes. But maybe it would have been smarter or still is smarter to think about hooking those back up with a direct vented gas boiler.

    I have done the math and gas is cheaper than pellets here, so hard to justify pellets. Wife has said no to wood... she is concerned about air quality both inside and out and time involved in upkeep.

    It is hard to figure out to do right now because we will probably either be in the house for 7 years, or 15-20. If we are going to be here a long time I'd rip apart the basement, insulate it and put the Rinnai gas heater down there. The attic duct work is a total mess and would have to be completely re-routed if we want to finish the attic and put a few more bedrooms there.
  4. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    If you have a salvageable hot water or steam heating system in place, sans boiler, I'd seriously think about installing an efficient boiler in the basement rather than trying to heat your house from the attic. With a boiler you can heat your hot water, too, which will save money and space.
  5. Jersey Bill

    Jersey Bill Member

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    Your house is cold, but your attic is hot because that is where the furnace is?
    Here are a few things to check-
    1. look at the burner when its firing, make sure it looks ok, blue flame, all tubes lit, etc.
    2. check the filter
    3. look at the fan belt, and/or drive make sure its turning ok. if you can, measure the fan amps
    and compair it to the motor rating.

    I believe that you have major air leaks, probably supply and return ductwork.
    I assume that there is some fiberglass insulation on the ductwork. This is probably
    hiding the disconnected joints in the ductwork.
    The right thing to do is to remove the existing insulation, seal all the holes and joints
    with mastic, then reinsulate.

    You also might want to check the capacity of the unit and make sure that the ductwork is sized correctly.

    Good luck
  6. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    The direct vented hot water heater / boiler combo would let us rip out the chimney also which would let us use the attic better and gain closet space back on the first floor. But another option is all living area space heat. A gas stove with blower in the living room would probably heat the living room and kitchen while the Rinnai in the office handles the bedroom/bath/office/hallway. I don't know what is more efficient. The radiators are probably more "charming".
  7. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'm with Eric. It's work, but salvaging the radiator system or putting in a new hot water system would be a good first step toward fuel saving. I have a friend that did this and they are really pleased with the results.

    The current forced air system sounds like it is set up for AC (high vents, low return) and not for heating. That makes it easy and cheaper to install, but far from good at heating. The suggestion to do a close inspection for leaks in the attic ducting is a good one. How well insulated are the ducts?

    By all means get the floor over the garage insulated right away. Then, how about insulating the basement walls? How much insulation is currently in the attic?
  8. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I just noticed the knock on exterior chimneys in your sig, BeGreen. Around here some people prefer them because when you get a really good chimney fire going, the fire dept. comes by and pulls it down for you.

    That's the pragmatic, rural approach, aka, "stage one."
  9. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Hmm, so they prefer to make a system more prone to creosote accumulation so that it's easier to remove? My take on it is that if they were burning cleanly in a safe interior stack, the chimney fire won't have happened in the first place.
  10. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Nobody said it was rational.
  11. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    :lol: That's the first time I've heard of sacrificial chimneys.
  12. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    I would also inspect the ductwork going to and from the furnace. If its hot up there and its cold outside, then you have one of 2 things. First more than likely you have disconnected ducting, or big leaks. Also how much insulation is on the floor of the attic? You need to have that well insulated.
  13. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    I think the insulation on the floor of the attic is OK. Not perfect, but it doesn't seem like THE major flaw of the configuration. I am not sure what R level or thickness it is but: when I shut off the attic furnace for 2 days and it got pretty chilly in the attic. With the Rinnai (22k BTU) gas spacer heater running on the first floor, for a day straight, the attic was still cold, even in the space of the attic directly above where the Rinnai is situated.

    I wonder if with active steam pipes running throughout the basement if you would even need to heat that space?

    I will check out the duct work thoroughly. It is entirely this soft flexible duct stuff just strewn all over the floor of the attic. Complete mess and will have to be re-done entirely if we want to turn the attic into bedrooms (regular walk up staircase).

    I wish I could rip up the finished basement to heavily insulate and then heat the basement but we probably will not get to that for quite some time. Eventually if we stay here I think we will do the basement and attic at the same time. THANKS!
  14. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    Not sure if this is totally nuts... but was pondering hooking up a duct fan to the register right above the Rinnai (these are already vents/registers in every room) and routing it directly to the living room using a new insulated flex duct (bypassing the central furnace entirely). Total cost about $50.00. Right now I have to be budget minded but would love to figure out how to make use of this great efficient heater I got.... Our living room is really what we'd love to see be WARM.
  15. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    45 degrees in a basement means some thing is wrong.

    My sister's basement was cold and she had a boiler in the basement.

    I found whoever built didn't do the outside wall correct.
    If you stuck your head up in between the joists at the foundation sill, I could actually see out side through a one inch gap.
    The basement (raised split level ranch) was mostly finished so i had to remove sheet rock.
    I cut 2 inch foam panel to fit the joist pockets and held it in place/filled the gaps with expanding foam.
    Took a couple nights, but I did every joist pocket whether it had a gap or not and the basement is 65 degrees regardless the temp outside. The earth(drier earht works best) is a halfway decent insulator.

    Your garage door may not be helping, but that room should be sealed and insulated from the rest of the cellar and house.


    Your attic may be warm during the day from shingle heat, but it should be cold at night. There are vents to remove heat and humid air ?
  16. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    This time of year, the attic is cool if I don't turn on the attic furnace, day or night. If the Trane XR80 is on, it gets warm pretty quickly. There is a big attic fan that allows heat to escape I think, but I think it's broken. Have never seen or heard it turn on.

    Pretty sure nothing in the basement is insulated whatsoever. Not sure about the outside walls. I hate to say it, but I would probably prefer to rip apart the basement entirely and do it right. We do not use the basement at all right now but we will need it in the future. But even though we do not use it right now I am sure my wife will approve of me me ripping it apart. Reason being I guess, if we don't end up staying, we won't do the work. Although I don't know how much it would cost to re-do, I feel like it would probably pay for itself in the time we are here, which will be 7 years at least.

    But I can focus on the garage, because the garage has a large contact area with the living room above it, and the basement, both to the rear of the garage and to the right of the garage.

    [​IMG]

    They had put up sheet rock or drywall on the garage ceiling and I ripped it down entirely to see what is going on and to put up batts (still working on this... trying to figure out what to put, I guess R-19 FS-25 (flame resistant) with vapor barrier, because the living room is above the garage. If I stick my head over the concrete wall on the right side of the garage and look down, I see the basement, only behind a built in TV cabinet.

    We'll be able to shove batts or blankets all the way across that. On the rear of the garage there's maybe a 2" crack running all the way across , so the only thing separating that and the basement is some drywall. Will try to use expanding foam on that. The first kind I tried just fell and got gooey junk all over the place. Next I will try "Dow" brand "Big Gap Filler".

    Ahhhhh the joys of home ownership! Just kidding.. I enjoy trying to figure out what is going on with the old house and making it more efficient.
  17. billb3

    billb3 Minister of Fire

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    I found the leaks in my sister's house by going down there on a very windy night with one of her cigarettes to watch the smoke and then noticed the wind would move the dusty cobwebs around, too. Luckily the ceiling and wall in the boiler room wasn't sheet-rocked over at the joists over the foundation wall. Lots of mouse nests and piles of acorns. Those holes were major thoroughfares for mice and maybe even chipmunks.

    I also got one of those attic stair door foam covers because her son complained his room was cold and was always bumping the thermostat up. Major HUge difference in that room. Heat must travel through those fold down attic stairs like smoke up a chimney.
  18. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Recessed can lights can have the same effect.

    It's funny how a little things add up. But think of it, a 1/16 gap around an 84" x 36" door is the equivalent to having an 3" x 5" in hole in the wall!
  19. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    Well, I have been hard at work with the insulation. What a pain in the butt.

    I put R19 batts with vapor barrier and Flame spread 25 index up on the ceiling of the garage(living room floor). I should have gotten rolls because I ended up having to cut every single piece but this is what Lowes had. About $127 worth of insulation. I'm almost done and installed some nice flouro bars in the garage to replace some very low hanging bare bulb fixtures from the 1950s.

    I filled in a 1/2" to 1"+ gap between the concrete wall and joist going to the basement with expanding foam nonsense.

    Because our hot water heater is in the basement where it never more than 60 degrees in the winter, I think I am going to put a blanket around that. I wonder if I could just take some of my extra R19 and wrap it around???? I'll have to check out the fire specs of the blankets they sell specifically for water heaters and compare.

    Finally I am going to try ducting some of the hot air from my office (where my 22k BTU direct vent heater is) to the living room with an inline duct fan, cutting out the furnace entirely and see what happens. I got the most powerful 6" duct fan I could find which will push 103 CFM @ 2" I really have no clue what that means in reality....... I just want to make sure the air gets pushed. Hard to imagine a 33 watt fan would be powerful enough (this is 150 watts and energy * rated.).

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  20. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    The insulation is doing an OK job. Our central furnace has been off for a week now (was very mild last week though) because we found huge gaps holes in all (12) of the points between the furnace air handler deal and the elbows that I am trying to get at to seal up with

    The ducting heat from hot room to cold room idea did not work at all. I used a very powerful fan and tried both from hot to cold and cold to hot and it really didn't do anything. The heat at the source is just not hot enough. By the time it gets to the living room it's basically cold air. Going the other way (sucking cold air out of the cold room and pushing it into the hot room) didn't seem to do anything.

    What I am wondering now is if I trade the 21500 BTU heater here in the office, with a 38000 BTU, if it will be powerful enough to heat up the entire house by itself. Today, 6 F, 21500 BTU is getting office to 80 but not easily. Further point away from heater in living room is 56 F. It sounds crazy, but I am nearly certain that a single heater located on the living floor will heat up the house more efficiently than the central energy waster. But need to have enough heat to permeate.
  21. annette

    annette Member

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    How unattractive are these gas heaters? Could you build a little surround for one, using the decorative metal mesh used to make covers for old radiators? Can you install it on the opposite side of the living room from your focal point (tv, picture window, etc.) so you hardly notice it? I think most people would be more comfortable having 2 heaters on the first floor, heating it more evenly. If your office is 80 degrees right now, but the living room is still too cool, how hot will it have to be in the office to get the living room comfy?? Won't you be pretty much making the office unusable?
  22. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    They probably could be put under a radiator cover but I am not sure I would recommend it. It says they are not meant to be built in and need 10" on the top, 2" on sides and 40" in the front. That is from combustibles though, not metal.

    They look like this, minus the thermostat probe which is hidden and come in all different widths depending on power (This is 26" wide for 21,500 BTU, 36" for 38,000 and ~16" for the smaller units).

    http://xj.cdevco.net/heat/rinnai.jpg

    Definitely meant for either an open floor plan OR multiple smaller units. We had planned on putting this unit in the living room where it would have made a lot more sense. For this room it is over sized and yes basically makes it unusable at full throttle. Also if you sit in this room then you go to the rest of the house it feels much colder than it really is because you've been basking in 80 degrees.

    What I'd really like to do is put a stove, either gas or wood in the living room. Otherwise it might make sense to take the 21.5k put it in the living room and put a 10k in the office here.

    We will be getting the first heating bill using the Rinnai I'd say 75% of the time (vs the central system, or some combination of both of them) and will be very curious to see what the outcome is.
  23. granpajohn

    granpajohn Minister of Fire

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    A fine looking little heater, IMHO. (Although I don't know your decor' style.) You could build a little side table top to go over it in summer/non-heating season.
  24. pcampbell

    pcampbell Member

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    Thanks! I like it fine and to me well worth the efficiency, but not sure you could convince my wife it's not ugly though :) I would buy 1-2 more units and shut down the central heat and never use it again.
  25. Gooserider

    Gooserider Mod Emeritus

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    Looks like a good start on the garage insulation, but I'm pretty sure, as I understand code, that you are currently quite illegal, and probably somewhat unsafe... Also at least one of your shots of the garage insulation looked like you had some gaps - one of the problems with fiberglass as insulation (and why IMHO the spray in foams are arguably a better choice for most installs) is that it must be installed with zero gaps in order to be effective, and then must have a very effective air seal on it. Fiberglass is only a good insulator if it is in a dead air space as cold air will go right through it if given the chance to circulate.

    The second point, and where I think the code / safety issues apply, is that you are supposed to have a TIGHTLY SEALED, FIRE RESISTANT barrier between the garage and any living spaces - This is to prevent any fumes or exhaust gasses from vehicles in the garage from penetrating into the home, and also to ensure that you have adequate escape time in case of a fire in the garage (considered a greater risk due to the likely presence of gas cans and other flammables...)

    I believe you are supposed to use fire-rated gypsum sheetrock or other such material to give you at least a 1-hour fire rated resistive wall, and seal all openings to make it difficult / impossible to have fumes entering the rest of the house...

    In terms of the other issues, I would say that it sounds to me like you should look at redoing the basement with insulation, and then either try to put in the suggested boiler and restore the existing hydronic system, or get a second gas heater and put it in the living room - those units are intended as space heaters, not whole house heaters, and as such you will be far better off to put multiple smaller units in the different spaces you want to heat, as opposed to putting in one big unit and trying to move the heat to where you want it. However I would say the boiler approach is FAR superior, as it has the potential to be expanded to cover the entire house as you elect to finish the attic, or make the basement space into an area that you use. I suspect it would also add much more to the value of the home than multiple space heaters.

    You are also coming up on the best time to make such changes and improvements now that the bulk of the heating season is over - it should be possible to do everything you need over the course of the summer and be in great shape for next years heating.

    Gooserider
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