Massive uninsulated old house in need of heating system

Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
Hello everyone,
I just bought my first house in quebec, canada. It was built in 1850 so insulation is pretty much zero. It is 40' x 40' with a crawl space, two floors and an unfinished and uninsulated attic. Heating is with electric base boards right now. I am looking for the best way to heat it. I like the idea of using wood and i was woundering if anyone has experience heating a similar home with either indoor or outdoor gasification boiler or force air furnace. I would be willing to install ducking or radiators if needed. What would you recommend?
Thank you so much
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,969
South Puget Sound, WA
I strongly recommend insulating and sealing the place. That will start paying back immediately regardless of heat source.
 

Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
Would you have resources, links and or more information i could read on the subject of sealing and insulation? What are the costs? Can this be a DIY project?
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,969
South Puget Sound, WA
Would you have resources, links and or more information i could read on the subject of sealing and insulation? What are the costs? Can this be a DIY project?
It can be done by the homeowner, but first I would enquire about government programs. This looks like a place to start.

There are also tax credits for this work.

 

Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
Thank you so much!
Once i work on the insulation, then the question of the heating system still arises.
Would you go for wood furnace or wood boiler? Indoor or outdoor? Both the ducking or the plumbing would have to be installed...
 

bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,568
central pa
Thank you so much!
Once i work on the insulation, then the question of the heating system still arises.
Would you go for wood furnace or wood boiler? Indoor or outdoor? Both the ducking or the plumbing would have to be installed...
Personally I wouldn't want to go outside to load wood but many do and like it. What is the square footage and ceiling height?
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
17,309
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
40x40 with just two levels so 1600 sf? Get a woodstove and insulation/air seal.

I have a similar size (but better yet still substandard insulation) home with just electric wall heaters and heat 100% with a woodstove. Very comfortable even into single digit F temperatures.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,347
Northern NH
In door wood boiler with storage is the most efficient way to heat. You can move a lot more heat for less horsepower with water than air. Hydronic piping can be snaked around the structure a lot easier than duct work. Its fairly easy to zone a hydronic system.
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,484
Nova Scotia
40x40 with just two levels so 1600 sf? Get a woodstove and insulation/air seal.

I have a similar size (but better yet still substandard insulation) home with just electric wall heaters and heat 100% with a woodstove. Very comfortable even into single digit F temperatures.
Sounded like 3200 sq.ft. to me. Plus maybe more in a questionable attic. Not a place I would try to heat with a stove in Quebec.
 
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bholler

Chimney sweep
Staff member
Jan 14, 2014
21,568
central pa
Bah! Dang it, you’re right. My math skills are dying!
That happens with old age. Lol
Just kidding I honestly have no idea how old you are
 

Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
Hello all, thank you so much for all your inputs. Yes it s more like 3200sf, plus crawl space, plus uninsulated attic. I ll definitely need me than a stove.
So then assuming i'd go for an indoor wood boiler. Which one would you recommand, and which radiators would you go for?
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,347
Northern NH
You are going about this backwards. Ideally you super insulate the place, then do the heat loss calculations and size a system to meet the heating demand that impacts the equipmentyou select. Ideally you design for low temperature radiant heating. If the walls and ceilings are open you have more options including radiant floor and ceilings but if you dont then you are looking at low temperature radiant emitters. Ideally you want to be heating with low temperature water which ups system and storage efficiency. The trade off is low temp radiant emitters cost more up front. The boiler storage combo usually costs in the range or $15,000(US) plus the cost of radiant emitters. Avoid installing standard alumimum fin baseboard heaters, they are designed for hihg temperature water and do not put out enough heat at lower temps.

If you do not spend the money on insulation then you need more heaters, larger boiler and more dry wood every winter for as long as you own the house . Not sure with Canada but boilers sold in the US will only run right with dry wood, that is typically wood that has dried for two years after splitting and stacking (treelength doesnt count). So before you start heating you need possibly 10 to 16 cords sitting piled up and drying two years in advance unless you can find a wood supplier with firewood kiln.
 

E Yoder

Feeling the Heat
Jan 27, 2017
375
Floyd, VA
I would agree with doing insulating first. A wood boiler tied to panel rads with 3/8” or 1/2” pex home runs sounds like a good fit.
 
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maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,484
Nova Scotia
Hello all, thank you so much for all your inputs. Yes it s more like 3200sf, plus crawl space, plus uninsulated attic. I ll definitely need me than a stove.
So then assuming i'd go for an indoor wood boiler. Which one would you recommand, and which radiators would you go for?
Where would you put an indoor boiler? Crawl spaces aren't the place for those. Plus there would also be all kinds of wood to handle. How will you handle that? Do you have a wood supply? Your wood you would be burning this coming winter should already be cut & split & drying. Since last year, for anything that gasifies or does a secondary burn.

We really don't have enough info to fully assess anything. I think the only thing we know for sure is it would take a huge amount of BTUs to heat what you have described. So the first advice would be to insulate & air seal the bejeebers out of it.

That must have had a huge electric bill? Even with cheap electricity?
 

Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
I am just buying the place now. The electricity bill of previous owners is not representative of what it ll be for me. I estimate it will be 6000$ CAD a year or more. So i agree with all of you, i have to insulate first.
For the heating system, i m interested in wood because i can go get it for cheap myself in certain public forests legally. It ll take a 3 day weekend of hard work just to bring the wood in the back yard, then a few weekends of splitting it and stacking it but that could be a nice activity to do with my son. As for the access to the crawl space, which is 6 feet, it can go right from the back yeard, so that is convenient. Maybe a hybrid furnace or boiler could do the job. Now the thing that bugs me is if power is down ( and it happens) the wood furnace or boiler will not work (fan or pump). Is there a way to get those to function without power? I read somewhere that the gaz from wood burning could power a generator. Anyone has experience with that?
Any insight or comments are welcome, thank you all!
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,347
Northern NH
IMHO, I would add an addition to the back of the house with an indoor boiler and storage in it preferably with a fire rated door from the inside so you dont need to walk outdoors to feed the boiler. I would not recommend a standard Outdoor Wood Boiler as they are infamous for poor local air quality and high wood consumption. Plan on double the wood compared to well designed Indoor wood boiler with storage. Especially with kids around as it can be hard on their lungs. Without storage OWBs end up idling and throwing low level air pollutants with several hundred feet. They are banned or heavily regulated in many US states. Many are built cheap with nice looking exterior finishes and sold by local companies that buy them by the truck load and really do not understand what they are selling. With an Indoor wood boiler and properly sized thermal storage (big tanks filled with water), you run the boiler for a few hours every night or maybe every few nights to heat the storage tank and then the house gets heated off the storage. if you go with low temperature radiators the heat in the storage tank can last a long time. You even can integrate an electric coil in storage as a backup for when you leave the house in freezing conditions for multiple days.

The best way to deal with backup power is buy a generator and keep fuel on hand. If you have propane for other uses its ideal in the short term but in winter conditions getting that tank refilled after a couple of days can be difficult. If you can get ethanol free gas, gasoline generators are cheap and reliable. Yes there are complicated concepts hyped about units that generate their own power but it depends on new technology like a Sterling Engine and unfortunately every new and improved Sterling engine has been recalled or never even built. Someday it may change but nothing you can depend on. You could install solar panels with backup batteries. Its starting to get a lot easier than before but if the power is down for multiple days you still may need a generator.

Keep in mind that if you insulate the house to current standards, its going to take a lot longer to cool down after power hit.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,347
Northern NH
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brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
5,062
NE Ohio
That happens with old age. Lol
Just kidding I honestly have no idea how old you are
So old that the highbeams only go to medium now! ;) :p ;lol
 

brenndatomu

Minister of Fire
Aug 21, 2013
5,062
NE Ohio
Not sure that a indoor wood furnace wouldn't still be a good option here...even with paying to run ductwork the cost to install would still likely be a lot less than to jump into a hydronic system...especially if you have any plans of installing central air that would need ductwork anyways. For right now it would either have to be a Kuuma VF100, or wait until fall when SBI re-releases their new Heatpro/Max Caddy...or whatever they decide to call it now.
From the sounds of things the insulation would need to be addressed, at least somewhat, before either of those would keep up well, especially the slightly smaller VF100.
I can't argue that a properly setup boiler with storage is pretty slick though!
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,484
Nova Scotia
This will not be an easy or cheap decision, and there are factors that could be big ones that we can't see from here. Like, how hard or easy is it to retrofit hot water pipes vs. ducting, to all parts of the house? How much room is in the basement for everything and how is the layout exactly? Ductwork takes head room. An indoor boiler should also have storage, that takes footprint & volume. But a simple duct setup that just goes up & through 2 floors might turn out to be easy and might also convect heat pretty good when the power goes out. A decent available layout should also allow for heat convecting from storage when the power goes out too, if you go hot water. Both & all if done right.

Count on at least $15,000 for an indoor boiler & storage, and that's just those. And using quite a bit of DIY & good success with component sourcing. Doesn't factor in any of the piping or rads or distribution system side of things. Which could be that much again if the layout is hard for running pipes everywhere. A furnace should be half that - but again not counting anything for the distribution side.

Then that doesn't account for the chimney situation either, for either case.
 
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Polomago

New Member
Jun 20, 2020
8
Quebec, Canada
This will not be an easy or cheap decision, and there are factors that could be big ones that we can't see from here. Like, how hard or easy is it to retrofit hot water pipes vs. ducting, to all parts of the house? How much room is in the basement for everything and how is the layout exactly? Ductwork takes head room. An indoor boiler should also have storage, that takes footprint & volume. But a simple duct setup that just goes up & through 2 floors might turn out to be easy and might also convect heat pretty good when the power goes out. A decent available layout should also allow for heat convecting from storage when the power goes out too, if you go hot water. Both & all if done right.

Count on at least $15,000 for an indoor boiler & storage, and that's just those. And using quite a bit of DIY & good success with component sourcing. Doesn't factor in any of the piping or rads or distribution system side of things. Which could be that much again if the layout is hard for running pipes everywhere. A furnace should be half that - but again not counting anything for the distribution side.

Then that doesn't account for the chimney situation either, for either case.
Question though: it seems like there are EPA outdoor boilers that are 90% efficient, meaning they would burn the wood gas just like the indoor ones. In that case why would you recommend an indoor furnace apart from not having to go outside once a day?
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
17,309
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
there are EPA outdoor boilers that are 90% efficient,
The highest rated EPA cordwood boiler is a central boiler model at 84%. I would expect that this level of efficiency is conditional, like it only gets that when running flat out with no idle.

That's okay though because wood btus are cheap. Electric baseboard heaters are 100% efficient but those electric btus cost a lot.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,347
Northern NH
Question though: it seems like there are EPA outdoor boilers that are 90% efficient, meaning they would burn the wood gas just like the indoor ones. In that case why would you recommend an indoor furnace apart from not having to go outside once a day?
Yes running flat out the boiler may be that efficient so if you size the OWB for the coldest day of the year you may hit that level but any other time you dont need the heat, the boiler is going to idle at a far lower efficiency. You could install storage on an OWB but there is lot of mass in the system to heat up and cool down. Of course you could go with Garn but I think you are too small of a load. An indoor wood boiler is relatively small so it runs full out to heat u the storage and then cools down with far less mass.

The US states didnt ban OWBs for the heck of it, they were a long running problem designed as a loophole. There were plenty of lawsuits and studies. In most states. they finally put an outright ban or severe limits on them. States that offer incentives for energy efficiency do not pay them on OWBs. Feel free to go cheap but you are just going to learn it the hard way.