Advice for hvac in 55+ community

cindywhitallMay 6, 2014

Parents are having a new home built in a 55+ community. It is a pretty big home for older folks, about 2250 sq ft. There are 2 bedrooms and a bath are the second floor with most of the space, including the master, on the first floor. It will have a full unfinished basement. Windows are single pane, low E.

I note the builder lists the ac as 13 Seer and I think I saw 92% for the heater. I thought I saw Energy Star info in the office, but the website is not as informative as it should be and doesn't list it. The mention "energy efficient features". The home is in Gloucester County, NJ and I believe they are using R-30 in the ceiling. I saw two attics and one had batts and the other had blown in. I don't know if either house was 100% complete, perhaps they put the blown in over top of the batts? Or maybe you get a choice? Which to choose if it's a choice?

I don't know what is required to be Energy Star certified as a new home and how a homebuyer would know if all the requirements were met. I'd like them to put something in their contract about insulation and maybe sealing around windows etc. Without going overboard (this is not a custom build--just a new home development typical here in NJ) they won't let you add all types of clauses to the contract, but may accept some.

I will call the office to check if they are certified energy star or not.

My parents are in their 70's and I'm sure their bills will still be lower than their older, larger, 15 year old hvac was. I just wanted to advise them if it would be worth it to upgrade the efficiency. I have a feeling the price would be ridiculous as most builders don't want to customize that.

What should I ask if I call for them?

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two more thoughts. For a house of 2250 sf with 90% of the living done on the first floor, is 2 stage heat still an excellent idea? What cost would be appropriate? I was thinking $1,000 or less (you know builders rip you off on upgrades). My dad likes to keep it warm. I think it's an age thing.....

I did find an example of an Energy Star certificate ( ) that listed this as part of it
"Thermal Enclosure System
A complete thermal enclosure system that
includes comprehensive air sealing, quality-
installed insulation and high-performing
windows to deliver improved comfort and
lower utility bills.
Air Infiltration Test:
4 ACH50"

If they have such a certificate what is a good to fair air infiltration number?

I still wish I knew how to enforce these "certifications". I expect they have one done for each "model" and not each completed home. (I just emailed the salesperson to ask some questions.) Parents are supposed to sign on Friday, but then they will have atty review etc, so I guess there will be some time...

The sample certificate was just an online example, not the actual builder being used....

Thanks for advice.

This post was edited by cindywhitall on Wed, May 7, 14 at 0:31

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 12:29AM
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The insulation could be either batts or blown in loose type. Both are fine if they are installed properly. Maybe there is a choice if you want to upgrade the installation. I personally like the batt insulation.

I would not get too hung up on the "Energy Star certification". Homes built in NJ have to meet a minimum insulation code. The R30 in the ceiling is good, R49 would be better. The walls are typically R13 for 2X4 construction. You would need 2X6 construction to achieve R19. Adding exterior rigid insulation on a 2x4 wall is another option.

You should ask the same questions about the HVAC as you did for your house. Get a list of the model numbers of all equipment and the AHRI directory number of the matching equipment. The sales person will probably not know what you talking about, but ask the questions. New home upgrades are usually over priced so it is probably not worthwhile, but you should know what are options are available and how much they cost. Builders lover it when you ask for upgrades. That is where they make the bulk of their profits.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 8:16AM
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This is the response I have gotten so far (sort of what Mike said about don't worry about energy star due to NJ code). I am going to ask the questions that Mike suggested, but I am not hopeful that I will get complete answers...

It sounds big to me, the house is about 2200 sq. ft (flor plan of the Eden here

BUT the foyer, living and dining are open to the second floor and one of the 2 "rooms: upstairs is called a loft and is also open. I think this make the space to condition bigger than the sq footage of the house suggests.

Do you think there would be a Manual J type of thing for each model they build?

"4 ton,13-SEER AC, and a 80,000 Btu/h input, AFUE-92% gas furnace.
We mastic seal all of our duct system to meet the air duct testing requirements. We aren't using the Energy Star program at this time; however, the energy code itself is just as stringent as any of the energy standards."

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 3:17PM
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There should be a Manual J calculation. It only has to be done once for each model and then adjusted for the orientation of the house. It is unlikely they are going to give you a copy, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

The sizes they are proposing are what I would expect for a new construction 2200 sq. foot house. The cathedral ceiling are nice but they present a problem to heat and cool. Pay attention of the placement of the return vents. It would be good to have one return vent near the top of the high ceiling.

I assume the furnace will be installed in the basement. I would want a 2-stage AC and variable speed furnace. Find out if the upgrade is offered and its price. It is probably very over priced.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 4:25PM
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The development is basement VERY optional. 10% or less have the basement and they charge a LOT for it. Dad can't live without one so they are getting a basement. The saleslady says the hvac still goes in the attic. I don't know why, or if it's that a bad thing.

The attic space it is in is above....lets say the family room, where there is no open ceiling. This "attic" space is right next to, and accessible from either the upstairs loft room. It is not ABOVE the second floor room. I saw big, soft looking black ductwork in that attic. She hasn't gotten back to me on the models or upgrades.

Thanks for advising me on this. I pretty much do know what is "best", I just won't know what is reasonable for upgrade cost. Parents are coming from 2 story, about 3000 sq feet with 2 zones (up and down)

I suppose an issue is cost, They are in their 70's, so anything beyond a 10 year payback might be pointless.....However, we do expect mom to get into her mid 80's so that's more than 10 years!

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 7:59PM
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Are you sure they are using single pane windows? I wouldn't think they would be very energy efficient.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:06PM
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Dek, you are right....single HUNG not pane....low E.

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 9:17PM
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I have visited the model of a 55+ community near my house. The models are similar to what your parents are purchasing. The HVAC room is a conditioned room on the second floor. The HVAC plans are set up so that the equipment is in the second floor whether you have a basement or not. It will mean the basement will be cold in the winter.

Upgrading the HVAC would be more for comfort than cost savings. As we get older we are more sensitive to temperature variations. Spending money to keep the house comfortable makes sense.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 8:15AM
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"I suppose an issue is cost, They are in their 70's, so anything beyond a 10 year payback might be pointless.....However, we do expect mom to get into her mid 80's so that's more than 10 years!"


"Upgrading the HVAC would be more for comfort than cost savings. As we get older we are more sensitive to temperature variations. Spending money to keep the house comfortable makes sense."

As a septuagenarian I find these statements agreeing with my personal experience...

The first statement I find disturbing.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 8:44AM
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Salti, I know it sounded cold, but you don't know my dad! He can be hard to reason with when it comes to some things and since he knows very little about the hvac considerations we are talking about, he will look at price and just think it isn't worth it. Yet, he will spend WAY to much for a basement. He wants what he wants and doesn't always take suggestions even when they are on point. But, it's his $ and he has enough so that's good. I will suggest they continue to look into this. Didn't mean to offend!

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:14AM
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The first house I bought was built on a slab. My current house has a basement and crawl space. I can tell you from experience that heating the same house built on a slab will cost more than the same house with a basement. Your dad will recover a small amount of money on heating by having the basement.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 9:41AM
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My experience with houses both with and without a basement agrees completely with your experience.

That basement with surrounding ground is a massive heat sink attached to the rest of the house with the connected air masses facilitating the transfer of heat..

This post was edited by saltidawg on Fri, May 9, 14 at 12:02

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:22AM
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Mike, I never thought about that, but it is true that my family room, on a slab, is the coolest room in the house.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2014 at 11:45AM
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nothing stood out to me as to making the place
energy efficient.
I'd need more details of what exactly makes it

so house will have basement, first floor &
second floor? lots of steps for older people.
what about handicap features?

best of luck.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 12:01PM
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Mom understood my points about upgrading the hvac, but Dad didn't care as i suspected he might not. It's just not what he wants to worry about I guess. They didn't get me any answers so i guess there won't be any changes made. I'm glad Mike explained that it is probably the right size.

Energy....I don't see what makes it energy efficient either. I suppose the 92% heat is better than what builders used to give, and the Low E windows and mastic sealed ductwork are all good steps.

As for the steps...they both can still do steps. Dad sometimes has a balance issue related to some un-diagnosable neurologic condition...but it only seems to have had issues on the stairs, in the dark. The bedroom upstairs will be a guest room and the loft room up there will be a secondary study/library area. They will utilize it as long as they are able, but there is plenty of room on first floor.

It is hard for them to downsize after always having large home son 1 acre lots with trees. I think this particular home mad him feel like he was still getting his space (basement!) He has a lot of "stuff". It's not junk, but it's not collectible either. It's "stuff" that men like to acquire. (tools, screws, building supplies etc)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 1:17PM
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Just an FYI - my friend lives in a 55+ community in Central NJ. Her furnace is in the attic. While she is still young and spry she has to hire someone to change her furnace filter because you have to crawl over ductwork to get to it. Guess how often her filter gets changed. I would assume most of these installs are similar. Can you check to see how feasible it is to change the filter on your parents house?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 1:30PM
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Good point about changing the filter. There should be no reason why it can't have easy access.

The HVAC equipment could be a little higher in efficiency ratings, but it is not going to be worth the extra money the builder will charge to make it a few percentage points more efficient. I would be impressed if mastic seal is applied to duct joints. I would invest in better windows if the standard one are of low quality.

These house are designed so that the owners live on the first floor. The second floor bedrooms are intended for guests. There is no need to go in the basement. This is a luxury most of these home do not have.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2014 at 3:39PM
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My dad wasn't worried about the efficiency or the comfort of 2-stage etc. His concern is that he wants the furnace in the basement and the builder doesn't want to do it. He says the basement will be too cold (which someone here said it will be colder). He is concerned with frozen pipes and I guess the coldness of the space in general. Frozen pipes might be a very small chance, but once he knows of a potential problem he doesn't take chances. He wouldn't buy the house they saw that had two sump pumps......

I explained to mom that the hvac contractor has probably engineered (or whatever it's called) the model with the unit in the attic and moving it would involve changing more than just the location of the unit.

I suggested that maybe they can run a duct down into the basement for a couple of vents or maybe look into a gas fireplace down there that they could run when there is a vicious cold snap or he is doing stuff down there. Maybe they make a wall heater of some type that would be effective and would be less $ than an actual gas fireplace as they don't plan to finish the space.

Not sure if a few vents or a separate heater, or getting them to actually move the furnace would be cheaper and/or most effective.

They are extending their attorney review period until they get this sorted out, so it's a big deal to dad.

If we can come up with a solution the builder will do that doesn't break the bank it would be great! Thanks for everyone's input.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 11:28AM
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If the first floor is kept at room temperature I am confident the basement will never freeze. Your dad should not worry about this, but I get the feeling he is set in his thinking.

Moving the furnace will cost a lot of money if the builder is even willing to do it.

The simplest solution is to put two electric space heaters in the basement. Set the thermostat to a temperature that will keep them off most of the time (60 degrees). When he goes down there he can turn up the temperature. You will be amazed how fast the basement will warm up. The type with an oscillating fan would be the best.

Your dad has the makings of a great wine cellar.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 2:46PM
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