Replace electric baseboards?

yeonandjamieJuly 21, 2011

I just bought a 2080 square foot colonial style house with electric baseboards and no A/C. The house has a full attic with pull down stairs and a full unfinished basement that I'd like to finish sometime in the future.

I started out looking to install central A/C and all the HVAC people I've talked to said to do a heat pump as the electric baseboards will be very expensive to run in the winter. There's no gas on my street and I don't want to mess with propane tanks so my only source of heat would be electricity.

What should I look for as far as a heat pump system is concerned and what questions should I be asking when getting bids? So far my I'm looking to do two units so as not to worry too much about losing closet space and building soffits around ductwork. And prices have ranged from $14k to $30k for a dual system.

Btw, I'm in the Philadelphia area if location is a factor (certainly seems like it from what i've been reading so far).


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Start with a professionally performed load calculation.

for your location, I would not purchase a new system that does not have
electronic demand defrost.

there are three equally important components-quality HVAC, the install by dealer, and probably the most overlooked and disregarded is the ductwork system.

these are my minimum specs for a new HP system. both outside and
inside units should be replaced to have a properly matched system.

15 SEER, 12.5+ EER, 9 HSPF
best matching VS air handler
full BTUs in both cooling and heating for your rated size
R-410a refrigerant(same as Puron)
scroll compressor preferred
electronic demand defrost preferred
thermostat with "dehumidify on demand" feature
staged backup heat strips
new and correctly sized refrigerant lineset
10 yr warranty compressor and parts

you want a thorough inspection of your ductwork system. size, overall condition, supply and return lines, insulation qualities, leak test, etc.
any hot/cold spot issues in your home should be addressed.

I would only use authorized dealers for the various brands that provide quotes. see mfg websites.

I would look at Trane/AmStd,Rheem/Rudd,Carrier/Bryant.

I would not purchase a new HP system that did not have electronic demand defrost.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 6:42AM
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Thanks so much for the great info. Tigerdunes.

There's no ductwork in the house I'm starting from scratch there too.

So far I've gotten estimates from 5 HVAC people/companies and all of the estimates are very vague as far as the units are concerned.

Here's what I've gotten so far:

1). Carrier 13 SEER 18,000 btu fan coil and heat pump with honeywell thermostat on first floor. Carrier 13 SEER 30,000 btu fan coil and heat pump on second floor with honeywell digital thermostat. Ducts properly sized and installed. Central return on second 10 year parts 5 year labor warranty. $21,304

2). York 2 ton electric heat pump, 13 SEER, r410a refrigerant with 7.5 kW electri backup (2 units, one in the basement for first floor, one in the attic for second floor). Individual returns for each bedroom on second floor. Heat pump set on preformed pad on side of house. Workmanship guaranteed for one year. York warranty 10 years for air handler, heat pump and parts. $23,775

3). 2 Trane xr15 heat pumps, 16 SEER and 2 Trane VS air handlers. Honeywell IAQ t-stats and 2 10 kW electric heat packages. R8 wrapped galvanized trunklines and all feeds to be dampered. Central return on second floor. 5 year parts warranty on Trane equipment, 10 year warranty on compressor. $29,658

4).Carrier Performance Series Heat Pump Model #25HPA6
Carrier Performance Series Variable Speed Air Handler Model #FV4
Carrier Performance Series Thermostat Model #TC-PHP. There would be 2 of each for each floor, each a 16 SEER 2 ton unit. Central return. $18,250

5). 2 15 SEER Payne units with a return in each bedroom (4 bedrooms). $14,000.

Not sure if any are authorized dealers. I'll gave to look into it. The last quote is from an HVAC guy that does full-time commercial work and will be doing the work as a side job.

Do the ducts need to be insulated?

Should i leave the baseboards as an auxiliary heating source b/c the heat pump might not feel warm enough (we were going to rip them out)?

Do I need returns in each bedroom instead of a central return?

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 8:51AM
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What size is each living floor zone?

I would not have a new HP system for your area/climate that did not have demand defrost.

I would not put a Payne in a dog's house.

Pay attention to the specs I listed.

As long as accessibility is available, new ductwork installations are relatively inexpensive. Materials are not too expensive.You want the
highest insulation rating available-R8 or better. labor and profit are the driving factors.I prefer trunk lines both supply and return to be metal-flex lines for runs are OK. You might check with local Govt building authority to see what code is for your area.

More return equals better airflow and comfort. I would want min two on each floor-central is OK as long as strategically located and there is enough clearance on bedroom doors for airflow to move and not be blocked.

Dealers should provide complete mdl numbers of both outside condenser, inside air handler, and thermostat. Anything less is unacceptable.


    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 9:26AM
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Each floor is about 1040 square feet.

More great info. I'll make sure to request the demand defrost in whatever I decide to get.

Interesting note on the Payne. They're made by Carrier but that much lower in quality?

I will begin by going back to request model numbers on all the units quoted.

Also, as to the insulation on ductwork, do they insulate from the inside, outside or both? One HVAC guy said the cheaper outfits might insulate only on the inside. I never even thought about it...

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 9:41AM
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If the ducts are going in unconditioned space duct board is better than metal.
The higher thermal mass of the metal puts more loading on the system than the lighter weight duct board.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 10:21AM
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If it is practical, all ducts should go into conditioned space. Ducts leak. When they leak, they cause pressure differentials that blow conditioned air outside and suck unconditioned air inside. It is like putting a fan in your window, but worse because you can not control where the air is going in or out.

Consider mini splits for either the whole thing or for parts that might be difficult to reach with ducts inside the conditioned space. They don't cause pressure differntials.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 10:47AM
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Yes, insulate the ducts, especially in the attic.

Remove the old baseboard units. The heat pump system has it's own auxilliary heat electric units.

Get the highest SEER/HSPF you can afford. Though, the sweet spot for cost vs performance is around 15-16 SEER.

The Variable Speed blower will do wonders for humidity removal.

The Demand Defrost saves you money during the winter when the HP needs to clear ice off itself by only doing it when needed and not based on a timer.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 12:41PM
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The ducts will be run through unconditioned spaces, the attic and the unfinished basement. So I should be looking to get duct board? Do I need to insulate that like metal ducts?

Ionized, although mini splits might be more efficient, I don't much care for the look of them and we'd need at least 8 (4 bedrooms, living, dining and family rooms and a kitchen. This doesn't take into account bathrooms which is a must for my husband for cooling. So unfortunately mini splits are out.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 1:44PM
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What I'm beginning to find is that we have a lot of different options to consider and I'm getting a headache with all the choices. Which way would you go with the below options and why?

1). 2 zones, 2 systems - one in the attic and one in the basement. There should be little to no carpentry work needed with this option.

2). 1 zone, 1 system - placed in the attic and supply feeds will drop down from 2nd floor. Will need to go through 2nd floor closets and need drywall work to build out soffits to cover the ducts.

3). 1 zone, 1 system - placed in the basement and supply feeds will run up along the walls of 1st floor rooms. Again, like #2, we'll lose some closet space and will need to widen some walls to accompdate the ducts.

4). 2 zones, 1 system - placed in the basement. One HVAC guy said we could probably run the supply and return ducts down along the basement beam and bring them up through the 1st floor coat closet, up into a 2nd floor bedrrom closet and run the ducts across the attic and drop the supply feeds down along the ceiling on the 2nd floor.

And not to open up a whole new can of worms but we've also started looking into geothermal heat pumps as another option.

What I'm finding is that the geothermal companies say we should do one system - the cost of putting in two systems isn't justified, even if we're losing some closets and paying for carpentry work. The conventional HVAC companies say to do 2 systems as the luxury of 2 zones and the lack of need for carpentry work is more than worth the cost of 2 systems (even if it is almost double the price of a single system).

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 2:10PM
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I am not an expert, only a homeowner with three systems, one for first floor/bsmnt, one for 2nd floor, one for attic. The clear disadvantage of one system is that when it fails, as it inevitably will (and when the weather is at it's hottest or coldest), you are without heat or A/C in the whole house. With two, you at least have some livable space.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 5:11PM
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When thinking about mini-splits, keep in mind that there are a lot of options these days. It used to be that you got a unit hanging on your wall and for each of those, a unit outside. Now there are multiple indoor units with single outdoor units. Some indoor units can be hidden and some can serve more than one room. Some will even cool one room while heating another or heating your water.

    Bookmark   July 22, 2011 at 6:04PM
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I suggest you show the Trane quote to your York dealer and ask him what his price would be for similar equipment (higher seer, bit higher KW on electric, and VS blower)

Geo is interesting for you. After tax credit would likely be about the same cost to you. Not knowing much about your region, I would recommend finding out more about this and make sure that the geo installer is very experienced. Check references. Make sure to ask if they are comfortable all winter and how the backup heat was handled.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2011 at 5:40PM
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Thanks for the great replies! Will take it all into account.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2011 at 11:27PM
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Think about it a bit before removing the electric baseboard units. Unless they occupy space need for something else, why remove them? For many years, the hope of low cost photovoltaics has been before us. In gradually remodeling an old house about 35 years ago, I installed baseboard electric intended to be powered by photovoltaics. The baseboard units will "digest" whatever is fed to them so long as the voltage rating is not exceeded. AC,DC, low voltage- the heaters are not harmed. But the low cost photovoltaics have not yet materialized and may not in my lifetime. But I believe that it will happen.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2011 at 7:49AM
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