Replacing 1970's Electric Baseboard Heaters

edeeveeJanuary 31, 2014

Warning: Talk to me s-lo-w-l-y and don't use any big words -- I am really that clueless when it comes to HVAC.

My husband and I want to buy a house on a lake. It was built in 1973 and is a 1600 sq ft ranch with original electric baseboard heat in all of the rooms except the main bath, which has an in wall heater and the half bath which, um, I don't know. The A/C is a single, wall mounted unit in the living room. We're in northern Indiana, where it gets c-c-cold in the winter and hot in the summer.

If we get this house we would want to update the heating/cooling system right away ... but with what? We would, of course, like to do this as economically as possible but we are also looking at long term economy. We want something efficient and comfortable. If possible, we would like the ability to minimally heat/cool a couple of the bedrooms that will rarely be used.

There is access to an attic space that spans the length of the house. The foundation is block with a crawl space.

We're open to just about anything.

Any suggestions?

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Is there natural gas at the street?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 9:14PM
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Ionized, No, it's on a kind of peninsula in the middle of a small, private lake. No gas available (at least as far as I know). It's a pity too because I'm a gas stove girl. I'm going to have to learn to cook all over again.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 6:33AM
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We're in Southwest Michigan. Is your electric company Indiana and Michigan Power?
That's the year our house was built and we went with electric baseboard heat because our local electric company (I & M) said "the more you use, the cheaper it is".
That lasted about a year.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 9:36AM
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jim, Yes, that's our power company too. Did you replace your system? What did you go with?

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 10:02AM
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We stayed with the electric heat.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 5:34PM
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Do you still have the original baseboard heaters?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 8:08AM
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We have eleven heaters and several are still the originals.
Some have been replaced over the years, either because they quit working, or other reasons. They are Berko heaters and thermostats.
I replaced the thermostat for the one in the bathroom, and I believe, also the heater, several years ago.
We have an original heater in one of the bedrooms that's not putting out much heat. It could be either the heater or the thermostat. I haven't checked it out yet.
We're heating about 1400 square feet. When the house was built, there was 8 inches of insulation in the attic. We added 6 inches about 15 years ago, but over the years it's settled. The crawl space is also insulated.
Other then the fact it's getting expensive, we're happy with it.
The only reason I'd want to go some other type of heat, is so that we could add AC. But the cost would be probably more than we could afford and the way the house was built could cause some problems installing duct work.
We have window ACs in the bedrooms during the summer. We're also using a Soleus 14,000 BTU portable AC for the rest of the house during the summer and it does a pretty good job.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 11:28AM
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With no natural gas, propane, resistance-electricity and fuel oil are all expensive by comparison. If it will work in your area, heat pumps may be your only good alternative. Air to air heat pump performance has been constantly improving. Ground-source heat pumps are the most efficient, but can be very costly to install, If lake water could be used to exchange heat, it might be considerably less expensive than digging or drilling wells. The permitting process for using a natural water source could be a huge hurdle.

Mini-split heat pumps (air to air) require no ducts and are on the forefront of efficiency improvements and low-temperautre performance. Putting ducts outside of the house (attic and crawl) is not an optimal way to go. There are also minimally-ducted mini splits that might have some electrical resistance heat added as supplemental in very cold weather.

Increasing your air sealing and insulation is always the best way to go first. For this and for changing the heating method, a talk with a local energy rater might be your best move.

Here is a link that might be useful: resnet

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 12:18PM
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jim, Thanks for adding your experience. One more question: You say: "Other than the fact it's getting expensive, we're happy with it." I assume it's getting expensive because the cost of electricity has gone up? Has the efficiency of the units you've replaced gone up too? I'm wondering if it would be worth it to stick with the same system but go ahead and replace all of the units and thermostats all at once? Although that does still leave the cooling problem. I truly hate the look of that old air conditioner sticking out of the house right next to the front door and I can't imagine it being effective at cooling 1600 ft of house.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 1:34PM
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Baseboard is baseboard and the efficiency is the same, 1950 or 2014. Window units can be plenty efficient, especially if they are running constantly. Looks and noise are another thing.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 2:27PM
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Two reasons it's more expensive, the cost has gone up, but we've also turned up the thermostats. They used to be set for 72 degrees, but my wife said she was cold all the time, so I turned them up a couple of degrees. And we're also running that Soleus Portable AC in the summer. So a lot of it is due to us using more electricity.
We're heating 1400 square feet and over the last 3 years usage has ranged between 717 KWH, to 3425, which was last month.
As far as I know, the baseboard heaters are still as efficient now as they were when new.
One thing we did do was install programmable thermostats in the family room, living room and kitchen/dining area. Those can be set to turn on, turn off, operate at a lower or higher temperature at any time of the day you want.
Lowe's and Home Depot have a good selection of heaters and thermostats if you ever need to change any.
I&M is testing what they call Smart Meters in the South Bend area which can give you lower raters at certain times of the day.

Here is a link that might be useful: Smart Meters

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 5:04PM
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ion, This lake water thing intrigues me. The lake we want to move to is private but we are not the only house on the water. I'm not sure if that would be a good thing or a bad thing with regards to permits. The property includes two lots but our Realtor said she doubts we could sell it for a building or build on it ourselves due to water usage controls. That doesn't sound so promising. In addition, we have tremendously hard water. Do you think those factors are enough to not investigate a water heat pump further?

I'd tried to look at mini-splits but, frankly, the terminology is over my head. The way I understand it, one properly sized indoor and outdoor unit can heat/cool a fair sized open space. But what about the bedrooms and baths? Do they each get their own unit but share a common outside one? Or is that where the minimally ducted systems fit in?

I agree that sir sealing and insulation should be our first step. The house already has new windows but I'm sure there are other steps we can take. Thanks for your link to Resnet. It looks like there is a professional within 50 miles of us. It also looks like our energy providers offer a free audit. In your opinion, would it be worth it to pay for an audit rather than just sign up for the free one?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 5:55PM
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If youâÂÂre already on well water, you might be able to use the existing well as a source for an open loop geothermal system.

Permits permitting, you may also use the type of closed loop system linked to below.



Here is a link that might be useful: 'Slim Jim' Geothermal Pond/Lake Loop

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 10:14AM
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edeevee, Are you having trouble with the manufacturers' web sites? Where have you tried, Mistubishi, Daikin, Panasonic, Fujitsi?

There are a couple of ways of comparing mini splits to more familiar equipment. Compared to a more conventional, whole house, ducted system, the indoor heat exchangers are much smaller and most are installed with no ducts. It might be easier to compare mini splits to window units. Cut your window unit in half and put the noisy, outdoor part on a pad on the ground. Take the smaller, quieter, indoor part and mount it high up on the wall or in the ceiling and connect them with refrigerant pipes. (In between, make it a lot more efficient and comfortable with variable-speed blowers and compressor. Make the controls more sophisticated to increase efficiency and comfort as well.

The ducted units can handle more than one room and are small so they might be hidden in the living space more easily, or boxed in in an attic to keep them within the living space. They cost more than the high-wall equipment as do the ceiling cassettes. There are also floor units, but I don't think they are used much.

Normally, you have one high-wall unit in each room. Bathrooms are often not served this way. Alternatives for bathrooms are to keep the electrical resistance heat there, You can also use jump ducts in the walls to transfer conditioned air from room to room.

As the number of (small) rooms increases in a house, the relative expense of installing mini-splits increases compared to a more conventional forced-air heat pump system. I have 7 indoor units. Due to my lifestyle and other reasons, I think it paid off for me to pay the extra money to get out of the ducted cooling mode.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 11:25AM
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Thanks! I understand all of this a lot better with your help.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 6:26AM
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I think your best bet, day one would be a Rinnai Energysaver in propane. You can then get a gas stove and not have to learn to cook all over again. They are a simple install, efficient, quiet and very durable. I have had them in my homes since '92. Once you have some good heat I would augment that with the mini-split. This is what I do in my home. No duct work, net to the space heating and cooling, excellent zoning and comfort.

In order to make propane economical buy the largest LP tank you can and bury it in the yard. Manage your buys to avoid mid-season purchases and it can be quite economical. Did I mention a gas stove?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2014 at 11:38AM
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