not-yet-necessary expenses

laylibirdOctober 21, 2007

Greetings, My DH and I are about to become new homeowners (provided all goes to plan). I've posted this on the HVAC forum, and I am hoping to get other perspectives here.

The home we are purchasing is a 1400 sq ft single level home in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. We have seasonal weather, with brief (2-3 wks) periods of extreme temperatures (below 30F/above 90F). This home has a 20 yo Cadet wall furnace system + a wood burning stove. It has no vents, nor any form of a/c. (Although the sellers have installed very nice ceiling fans throughout.)

We just had a full home inspection. The HI was impressed with the quality of construction of the home, checked the heating system and said it hadn't been recalled and was working well.

Most homeowners in our area expect a forced air, ventilated system, and we negotiated the asking price down due to this issue. We are collecting estimates to convert to a forced air system with electric heat pump, the current range is 9.5K-12K.

We have funds to do the conversion now, and we will convert the system at some point. We expect to stay in this home for at least 5 years or more.

My question:

Is there an overwhelming benefit to converting now? Before we move in?

Or do we wait and convert later(in a year or so)?

Many thanks for any advice!

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If you have the funds to do the conversion before you move in, I'd do it now.

I don't know how much tear up and mess there is, but it's easier to do almost anything in an empty house and have it all cleaned up before move in.

congratulations on your new home!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2007 at 7:01PM
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Greetings laylibird,

May I add my congratulations on your acquisition of your new home?

I'd smile at the reduction in price that I'd managed to negotiate from the former owners.

What does your Cadet system burn? Furnace oil, natural gas or propane? I assume that it isn't wood. How are price levels of such fuels in your area?

As we sometimes experience temperatures in this area that go down to 8 or 10 degrees below zero for short periods, we are used to much deeper levels of cold than you have to contend with in your area: we'd call your area a banana belt.

My immediate response, even in this area where much greater levels of heat are required, is that I might want to consider using the sytem that you have for an ongoing period, even a fairly substantial one.

You didn't mention opinions expressed by the HI regarding the wood-burning stove system. Did they find that it was not only adequately installed, but a high quality installation? Is it a modern, high-efficiency unit?

Are you interested in maintaining the wood-fired heating system? How much of the house does it heat? Have you had experience operating a wood-fired system before? Do you feel comfortable using such, or would you consider it an imposition? Is firewood easily available, and at a reasonable price? Plus short of vermin? Any insurance complications?

Do you have adequate storage for the wood - I assume so, as the former owner used it ... unless it was stored in the basement, a shed, etc. and you have other intended uses for the space .. which goes for the stove, as well.

When you refer to electric heat pump, do you mean an electric furnace? Around here, the persons who installed such a few years ago found that the costs of electricity just about knocked their socks off: almost all of them didn't keep them long! And from some of the prices that I've heard for electricity in the U.S., I think that in many areas it's more expensive than here (about 5 - 7 cents per kW).

If you refer to a ground-source heat pump, i.e. using heat- (or cold-)collecting piping installed in the ground, I've heard a number of people say that there is major expense involved in the installation, with the savings achieved gradually in reduction in power consumption over a long period, coupled with the lack of need to purchase a source of fuel. If the installation is to use a water well, a substantial reservoir is needed, but installation is much less complex, thus less expensive, as well.

I don't think that I'd want to go that route unless I planned to use the home for at least ten years (and that figure is off of the top of my head, not a semi-educated guess given through knowledge of how such systems work). I doubt that the enhanced value of the home would offset the original cost of installation through the early years of its use.

My old uncle had a fairly old oil furnace in this house, and we had to replace the tank this summer, in order to pass inspection and he'd installed a wood-fired stove in a room added later that wasn't served by the oil furnce, plus a kerosene-fired stove (that I think hadn't been used in a while), plus a couple of electric heaters to plug into a wall outlet, one of them with fan, which I think that he used infrequently. He had a 3-speed reversing ceiling fan (without light) in the living room.

I hope that you are happy with whatever plan you choose to follow.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   October 21, 2007 at 10:30PM
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You might talk with your realtor to see if the conversion will pay you back with a higher selling price. Do you know what a similar home would sell for today if it already had the HVAC you want to install?

Your own comfort is worth something, too. If you want this, do get it installed before you move in. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems in home renovation!

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 11:23AM
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Thank you for your prompt replies.

I think Mr. Joyful's question were a bit on the rhetorical side, but it might be worth the exercise to reply.

Everything is electric - including the wall furnaces.

The heat pump would provide both heating and cooling as I understand, but it is not geo-thermal. That is *much* more expensive.

Electricty costs 8.5 cents per KW here. We're used to that kind of price (paid more in Houston, TX where I lived previously).

The HI said the stove could use a cleaning out, but it was fine. The sellers currently use the stove to heat the home for the most part. They were thinking of replacing it with a pellet stove, which is also on our list of things to consider.

I am a "city mouse" and have little experience with a wood-fire anything. I do have respiratory issues with smoke, and am a little concerned as to how I might react (but don't know). The sellers purchased these little paper-wrapped logs from the local store. We would have a near-by shed and a covered patio in back for storage.

Sue from Chicago(That's my original home town!): When negotiating the price - we found an extremely close comp that had the forced air system and sold a touch lower than the sellers' asking price. Hence, we negotiated down $10K. The RE market here is lagging behind the rest of the country, so it is just now slowing down. The home's location couldn't get much better - so, yes we'd get some return on the investment. Don't know how immediate it would be though, given the slow down.

Alas - I think it is about shelling out a chunk of money before we know if anything *else* might crop up in the necessary-now expense category. It would eat a bit into our contingency fund money as well.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 6:30PM
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I wasn't greatly cvoncerned about your answering my questions to me, just that you think them through for yourself.

I'm not sure just what major advantages there are in using pellets over blocks of wood, except they're some cleaner. The take a lot more processing.

Is corn, wheat or rye available in yor neighbourhood?

I sold corn-fired heating stoves upwards of 20 years ago.

A friend of mine built a unit of his own, which has been in service for almost that long, during which he and his son, who took over the business after his death, have built thousands of units.

Some of us have been claiming for years that they could provide about the cheapest heat available, except wood that you'd obtained at low cost and cut, hauled and stored yourself.

Bye - library closing.

ole joyful

    Bookmark   October 22, 2007 at 8:29PM
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We are your 'neighbors'- also in the Willamette Valley. :)

I think what you are talking about installing is a heat pump with an Electric Furnace as a backup? Heat pumps with either an Electric or Gas Furnace backup are pretty common here. Our neighbor has used a heat pump with an Electric Furnace backup for almost 30 years and he loves it and said if he ever built a home the only thing he would change is Gas vs Electric. With our climate his furnace 'kicks on' only rarely and his home is very comfortable.
We bought a house that had electric baseboard heat and converted the system to Forced air-Gas. It was not that much of a disruption as most of the work went on in the crawlspace. It did increase the value of our home and make it more appealing on resale.
We also have quite a bit of experience with wood stoves. We have used a wood stove as our sole source of heat in 2 homes over about 16 years. I love the warm toasty heat and for us it is 'free' as we have access to all the wood we need. The is work and it is dirty. You have to cut & split your wood, you need to make sure the wood is seasoned (dry), clean and maintain the stove and pipes and it will bring mess into your house. You also have to start and maintain the fire. Wood stoves also put alot of dust and particles into your air so the room with the wood stove will be dustier and that along with the decreased humidity in your home may aggravate your asthma. I have told my husband that if we ever heat with wood again we will have to have a way to clean, circulate and add humidity to the air. If you just add a wood stove to a home without planning how to circulate the air, the room where the woodstove is located is always warmer than the rest of the house, sometimes uncomfortably so to get enough heat for the whole house. We lived with fans blowing air around even in winter and humidfiers as well. An open floorplan would obviously be best.
Hope that helps,
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 11:35AM
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After over two years of remodeling, I would suggest that anything you can do in an empty house will cost less and be easier than waiting until you are in and the cold weather kicks in during a furnace problem.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2007 at 12:26PM
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I just want to add that heat pumps produce "cold heat", and if the temps drop down below 32, the backup heat kicks in. In your area, I would never get a heat pump without a backup heat source, because a heat pump itself will only change the temperature in your house 20 degrees one way or the other. If it's 20 outside, and you aren't comfortable at 40, you'd need that backup heat. I had a heat pump in SC, and I routinely had high electric bills in the winter, and only kept my heat on 65-68. My highest bill there (11 years ago) for a 3 br/2 ba was over $200. Only two of us lived there. We finally started using the fireplace more, and blanketed off the LR/DR so we could just live in there most of the time. Our heat and electric bill went down to about $100 a month. That included the cost of wood delivered once a month to the house.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 10:37PM
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