Request for Review and Recommendation on new HVAC - Tigerdunes

noblegraceJanuary 14, 2014

My questions are for Tigerdunes, Ryanhughes and other HVAC professionals. I need input on some HVAC bids for a 1200 square foot main living area in a100 year old cottage in Annapolis, Maryland. The house is being renovated after a fire damaged about a third of it. The home has a basement, main living floor and unimproved attic, also 1200 sq ft. All the windows in the home have been replaced with high efficiency thermopane units. The only walls that will be insulated are those in the area that was fire damaged: sunroom, kitchen, separate pantry and stairwell to the basement and attic. The house was not air conditioned before, and the current heating system is a gas fired hotwater radiators, run on aboiler that was new in 1995 and rated 80% efficient. Some radiators in smaller rooms were removed in a prior renovation and never replaced, ie bathroom, pantry and 12x13 dining room. The 10x12 kitchen has a new toe kick radiator under the sink. The adjoining sunroom and pantry do not have radiators currently, could have two toe kick units placed under pantry base cabinets, one facing into the sunroom, the other into the pantry as they share a common wall. The small 5x7 bathroom will have a hydronic heated towel bar. The radiators have suited me well, but I know in a resale situation they may not be as popular.

Since I am adding an air conditioning system, it was suggested that I add a high efficiency gas furnace at the same time. The units would be placed in the basement on a 36hx24in wide raised ledge that runs along the exterior foundation wall. This will keep it from congesting the the floor space of the basement as the existing boiler and water heater already take up a considerable space. The original boiler appears to be unharmed by the fire and so I plan on keeping it as an option in heating rather than go to the expense of removing it. I find the heat of the radiators to be nicer than forced air systems, and less drying to the air. Their mass has always heated the draftier house with its original wood windows and no insulation. The square footage of windows and doors in the house are almost a half of the wall space. So the heat loss from prior state is considerably eased now.
Any input on the following bid, and any recommendations are greatly appreciated. Is it wise to proceed with a this new high efficiency gas furnace while having the ductwork and installation of the A/C? Is it worth adding toe kick radiators to the pantry and sunroom, and adding some kind of baseboard radiator in the dining room if I am adding a gas furnace? Would you delay the addition of a gas furnace at this time and merely use the hydronic system, and let some future homeowner deal with it. The house will either be sold or rented within the next 5 years. Am I right to think it will sell better with a gas forced air furnace as a heating option? Is this a reasonable system for this property, or would you recommend other components and.or brands. The company who has bid sells only Trane. I have had more expensive bids from other companies for similar grades of equipment. I have a Florida home as well, and I had a Trane 15ix (if I remember correctly) A/C unit installed in 2005 which included 15 Seer unit with scrolling compressor, dual stage blower and it has been superior and far less expensive to run and maintain than any other equipment I have had in this home and previous ones. But I hear the Trane of today may not be as remarkable.

We specified a gas furnace over a heat pump because in our climate the heat strips are a continual must. I am generally not a fan of heat pumps except in Florida, where I never use mine, preferring to put on a wool sweater and another blanket during a "cold snap" which never sees my house temperature go below 65 degrees. The sun on my tile roof and block walls is a great heat sink warmer! The cost of going to a gas furnace over a heat pump was supposedly not that much more. Any input on this issue.

I have a bid for 11,894.00 for the following. Adding the additional radiators will be about 3000.00. I believe the unit tonnage will be sized based on results of the manual J testing, but expected to be 3 tons or less.

My list of minimum specs for this system were based on Tigerdune's frequently repeated post on system recommendations over the years. My thanks to all posters who can guide this HVAC project with their professional insights, and improve on my project costs.












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I meant to add that given this equipment I would be eligible for 500.00 in Federal Tax credits, and 800.00 in rebates from my utilities provider. Thanks again for your time and input.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2014 at 5:38PM
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Just my initial reaction.

A very pricey system for a home that may become rental property in a few years.

I am a little unclear about your home's total living area.

Let's recap.

1.Total size living area of home.

2.The size living area that the new Trane system will serve.

3.The size living area that boiler/radiator system currently serves.

4. Any overlap of 2 and 3 ?

5. The unheated areas you mentioned.let's be specific. How will these be heated and cooled?

"Some radiators in smaller rooms were removed in a prior renovation and never replaced, ie bathroom, pantry and 12x13 dining room. The 10x12 kitchen has a new toe kick radiator under the sink. The adjoining sunroom and pantry do not have radiators currently, could have two toe kick units placed under pantry base cabinets, one facing into the sunroom, the other into the pantry as they share a common wall. The small 5x7 bathroom will have a hydronic heated towel bar. The radiators have suited me well, but I know in a resale situation they may not be as popular."

On the Trane quote, several comments. No third party evap coils. The fact that the Trane dealer quoted that is a red flag for me.don't like them, wouldn't have it. For comparison, get a price on the XL15i and XR15 AC condensers. R-8 minimum insulation for ductwork. What was proposed? Change thermostat selection to 803 or identical HW Mdl 8321. They are basically same. The HW will save you a few bux. Anything about a filter cabinet? You need one. Did dealer perform a load calculation? He should have and I would want to see it in writing. You are paying for a two stage var sp 95+% eff furnace yet I doubt you will ever use the high stage.

These older homes can be and usually are a nightmare as far as HVAC goes. I think the biggest challenge is not making a mess worse.

I am undecided whether the furnace is a good idea. Any idea of size of boiler and does it have the capacity to handle the living area that is currently unheated? If you don't know, I would find out.

Generally, I agree about heat pumps. But if the boiler was going to be primary heating system (you elected to drop the furnace idea), I would go with heat pump for use in the shoulder months.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 6:47AM
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Thank you for your response Tigerdunes.

I will definitely check with the bidder on the third party evaporator coil. I specified matched systems having read your prior posts to others extensively, but didn't catch that this evaporator coil wasn't a matching Trane. Thanks.

The boiler was sufficient in heating the entire 1200 square feet main floor living space with AND without all the radiators in place. I don't recall the size at the moment, but will check. The HVAC people were all pleased with its size when they looked at it. Because the house is without electric and water service as yet, we are not totally sure the boiler is still in working order. It was not fire damaged, but water from the fire fighters and heat from the fire might have caused some unknown problems, which was another reason to hedge the bet by adding a gas furnace.

The second reason for considering a gas furnace, not just A/C is that a realtor who knows the house and its value, - which is considerable for a small house, given its location and craftsman, cedar shingled cottage charm - suggests that some buyers don't like radiator systems, and feels the addition of an alternate heat system and the addition of A/C will be worth it, which is another reason I got the bid for it.

The third reason for considering a gas furnace is code compliance, and the cost to do so. The cost of adding hydronic units to the sunroom, pantry, dining room and bath areas to meet code are unnecessary if I install the gas furnace. Anyone wanting to use the radiator system only for heat would have to add these units, or live without them as I did, but code is met with the addition of a furnace. No furnace, and I have to add radiators in the areas mentioned above and detailed below.

I agree that a heat pump would be the way to go if we knew for sure that the radiator system was going to be the primary source of heat as it was when I lived in the house. New owners might opt for a forced air system. My question on this is, can a gas furnace be added into the system as cost effectively later as it can be added now with the A/C going in.

The new heating system, if installed, l would heat/coo the 1200 sq ft main floor with its 9 ft ceilings, with two registers in the open 950 sq ft unfinished basement. The basement stays cool in summer and warm in winter without additional heating and cooling.

The attic space, if developed later, will be heated and cooled with an in-wall, Mitsubishi type system. Trying to run ducts and vents is a problem, which is why we don't have the new proposed system sited in the attic. It would make the attic fairly unusable in a future development as a master suite and sitting room.

The ducting layout using the in the basement location has worked well, and the location of cold air returns well placed and spaced. So the attic will not be heated or cooled with this system. In the past, with the boiler, the heat loss from the main floor was enough to keep the attic above freezing, but does not warm it significantly.

The attic has 4 large double window sets, 3 large Velux skylights and a 4.0 french door set, and the roof is black, so it stays warm enough on sunny days, and is well ventilated in summer..

The attic floor will be re-insulated at this time, but not the walls or ceiling. The new insulation in the attic floor will be far better than the old, and as I said, the new windows throughout, from basement to attic are a vast improvement in energy efficiency over what the boiler used to have to handle.

The 950 sq ft basement is unheated at present, though I believe two registers will be added to this space with the new furnace The basement stays comfortable in winter when the boiler is in operation simply from the hot water pipes to the radiators and hot water heater and warmth of the up stairs. It is is open space, unfinished and only used for laundry and workshop space/tool storage.

The dining room radiator was removed from under a south facing bump out window. That window was removed and replaced by an exterior double french door when a new deck was added at the time of the new boiler. The heat loss to this room was noticeable but not enough to be a problem for me, though it would be for others, and it is for code. Each room has to have a heat source, so I either have to put in a register or add a radiator.

The bathroom is only 6x7 and is now warmed by the heat/fan which is not sufficient for code. I have a not yet installed hydronic towel bar that gives off 1500 BTU, enough to handle the bath and the small hall adjoining the dining room, bath, bedroom and parlor. If I do the gas furnace, this is unnecessary.

At same time the new boiler was installed, a kitchen was installed in a 11x12 ft space that only had a sink and refrigerator with a radiator. An adjoining but separate 6x8 pantry at the south end of the kitchen had a stove and a cabinet. The pantry is also an access corridor to the basement stairs.

So in installing a kitchen, I removed the radiator and replaced it with a toe kick radiator under the sink base the fully fitted kitchen. Base and upper cabinets were added to the pantry on the load bearing exterior wall that separated the pantry from the screen 8x8 screened back porch at the other half of the kitchen south wall. The fire that started at the electric service connection into the house was located on the east wall between the kitchen and screen porch, so this area and the attic above it were severely impacted by the fire.

In rebuilding this area, the screen porch got a solid foundation, was mostly opened to the kitchen, and serves as a sunroom breakfast area. It is,fully windowed from ceiling to 36 inches above the floor with a door that opens to the deck. The load bearing wall separating the sunroom from the pantry still exists, but the pantry is now open to the kitchen rather than walled off with a doorway. The kitchen toe kick puts out 5,600 BTU and has to handle the kitchen sunroom and pantry area now. If I do not add a furnace, code will require me to heat the sunroom and pantry areas, which I would do with toe kick units under the pantry base cabinets - one venting into the sunroom through the wall and one venting into the pantry. If I add a furnace, this will not be required, we will simply use those areas for the forced air registers. If I do not add a furnace I will have to provide hydronic heat sources for both areas.

So, to answer your question 4, the only addition to the heat load that the boiler has covered adequately (1200 sp ft) is the 8x8 fully weatherized and insulated sunroom. If I go with a gas furnace we will add the register(s) for the unfinished basement. I don't know if code requires the basement to be covered. I do know the non living space attic does not need to be covered.

Sorry for all the detail, but I find that sooner or later the information is needed, so I am trying to give it all upfront.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 10:11AM
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Tigerdunes, I forgot to mention that Manual J testing will be done before unit sizing is finalized. I think that info was in my long first post.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:00AM
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I would get the boiler checked out. Then decide whether to keep it or go with gas furnace.

If you elect the gas furnace, then I would decide what you are going to do with the old radiators. Some people like the charm even if non functioning. You might ask realtor about this as far as marketability when/if you sell. It would seem to me now would be time to remove/decommission the complete radiator system and make necessary repairs if you don't plan on using it. I personally don't like the idea of leaving a boiler system in place that will never be used. And the idea of redundancy of having both a working boiler system and forced air seems like overkill.

Most people who have had radiator heat prefer it over gas forced air.

I would make sure you insulate as much as possible/practical in your overall project.

Sorry, not much help. Things should fall into place though once you make decision on what to do about boiler.

One final thought. I will repeat myself about the need for the filter cabinet.i want to see load calculation for both heating and cooling. Big mistake if you don't insist on it.

"My question on this is, can a gas furnace be added into the system as cost effectively later as it can be added now with the A/C going in." The answer is no. The air handler for AC would have to be discarded and both furnace and evap coil would have to be added.

I will not discuss the attic as that zone will have to be left for another day and separate project.

I assume with the fire, your home will be completely rewired. Correct?


    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 11:07AM
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Thank you for your input Tigerdunes. I have emailed the HVAC bidders with your information and comments. I will make sure the manual J testing is stated in the contract, as well as the filter box added to the quote.

The bid that I presented above is from a very well known and reputable company. Since I don't understand the reason they spec'd a third party evaporative coil, I have asked them to explain. The other bids I got were considerably higher than the one I posted. All others spec'd a heat pump rather than a furnace, and only one other spec'd Trane equipment. The others were for Carrier.

I have asked the bidder to quote me the XL15i and XR15 equipment. It will repost when I have their response.

Yes, the house will be rewired.

FYI, my boiler is a Burnham low pressure boiler rated at 164,000 BTU an hour. The Model is a P206AWNI with a 206A boiler size. Installed in 1995.

For right now I do not want to go to the cost of removing the boiler and radiators at this point. Due to some problems with the original fire restoration contractor, my budget is has been cut back due to the legal expense of pursuing a claim for damages done to the property under his workers, including an attic A/C install that will not ever pass inspection and must be ripped out and repairs made.

The expense of adding the 4 radiators needed to pass code is going to be at least 3000.00, and the repair costs to the floors where they were installed another 2000.00 as I have rare heart pine floors with boards that are 10 -18 feet long and the grade very, very clear and tight grained. Small patches are very noticeable. Since I just had 500 feet of replacement floors installed at the cost of 20.00 for the lumber alone, I feel repair to the floors where the radiators are will bury my budget without even considering the cost of demolition. In a perfect world I would agree with you, and remove the system if I add a gas forced air system.

I, like you and others who have lived with radiator heat, prefer it. If I resume living there, I will use them, making it more likely that the gas furnace would see less use under my occupancy UNLESS the heating bill for the house was substantially lower using the forced air unit. What would you expect the monthly cost differential, if any, to be between the radiator system and a force hot air gas furnace?

If I decide to limit myself to radiators and A/C and simply add the 4 radiators at plumbing and materials cost the cost of about 4000.00 what should I expect to pay for a new boiler and installation if the old doesn't check out?

As for insulating, it will be nearly impossible to insulate the walls that were not damaged as they are plaster interiorly and shake cedar on the exterior and hard to access with so many windows and jogs in the architecture. The damaged portion of the exterior has already been reshingled. FYI, A third of the exterior and interior walls had to be taken down to the studs, and they will be insulated and dry walled.

I am told blown in insulation just isn't very workable on a house my age and configurations. Let me know if you have knowledge contrary to that.

Again, your responses have been very useful and informative, and they are much appreciated.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 5:33PM
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Just wanted to thank you again for all your guidance, Tigerdune. Everything is finalized on this end. Putting in the Trane A/C unit. The coil we thought was third party is actually one sold by Trane, made for the unit specified - fully warrantied and supported by them, made in their Mexico plant. Due to Trane's rebadging their product lines recently the unit I am putting in -the XL16 is actually the what was branded the Xl15 last year. Confusing, to say the least. The unit is the only one that will qualify for energy credits and rebates from the power company, and those pay for the upgrade.

A manual J test is required by code here to get permits, and why it wasn't in the contract. It will be done. I have that in writing.

The real estate agent says to go with the gas furnace, and let the next owners go to the considerable expense in removing the boiler. Meanwhile I will use the boiler, which seems only to have a seized pump at present.

The rebate and tax credit on the 98% efficiency unit make the upgrade cost only about 100.00. My contractor agrees won't probably be used at the higher levels, but is the only unit that qualifies for rebates and credits in my area. The real estate agent says "high efficiency" is a good selling feature, even if no one really understands the concept - like me - until it is explained by you pros!

The contractor did come down on his bid, and it beats all other bids for less products by 3,000, or more. Things in this area are crazy expensive to start with, but my contractor friends feel this bid is excellent for the scope of work and age of the house.

Again, all your input was most appreciated and very useful. Have a great 2014.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 6:45PM
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First, my apologies for missing this thread earlier.

After seeing this, I have to comment on the following:

"The coil we thought was third party is actually one sold by Trane, made for the unit specified - fully warrantied and supported by them, made in their Mexico plant."

The local Trane distributor may "sell" the ADP third-party coil (model number beginning with ACE or similar), and Trane may or may not include it in the 10-year parts warranty, but it is not manufactured by Trane. In my opinion (while ADP makes good coils) the All-Aluminum matching "Trane" coil, which has proven to be very reliable and virtually leak-free over the years compared to the copper coils of other manufacturers (which are susceptible to formicary corrosion and premature failure), is the better option. The industry is going toward all-aluminum coils for this very reason. ADP makes evaporator coils that can work with condensers manufactured by various manufacturers. You will want to get the model number of the evaporator coil prior to any work being performed. A Trane coil should start with 4TXC or 4TXF. I, along with Tiger, do not agree with the practice of using third-party evaporator coils in order to "achieve" higher efficiency ratings, which are simulated. There may be a matching Trane coil that would get you the tax credit(s) you are seeking.

Good luck! Trane makes great equipment, and you'll want a fully-matching system.

This post was edited by ryanhughes on Thu, Jan 30, 14 at 20:25

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 7:16PM
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Thanks Ryanhughes. I stand corrected. In reviewing my notes from my conversation with the Trane contractor, the evaporator is third party, sold by and backed by Trane, but not made by them. The Trane made in Mexico statement pertained to another question I asked him about Trane parts or assembly done in China. I got the two confused.

I will ask the contractor to price out an all aluminum coil by Trane and make sure the model starts with 4TX - C or F. Thank you for all the clarification. It is good to know the aluminum vs copper performance issues when it comes to leakage. I do believe the reason given for choosing the ADP coil model ACE30D44 had to do with efficiency and rebates, and probably cost. I will ask for a matched set as your and Tiger recommend.

If any HVAC contractors in the DC/Baltimore area read this and care to bid, let me know at

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 10:30PM
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