Older house - duct issues - heating suggestions.

tswiiiSeptember 18, 2012

I live in Henderson Nevada (Las Vegas) and purchased a home build in 1953. My elderly parents are living in it now. The home looks like it has been added on to at least 3 times. The cooling system is two swamp coolers on the top of the house that apparently have different duct work for different parts of the house. The heating, however, is a single gas wall heater somewhat in the center of the house and needless to say it doesn't heat up the house enough in the winter. I had an HVAC guy come to the house today to see what my options were. After going into the attics, etc. They told me that the swamp coolers should be removed, new heating/cooling unit(s) placed on the top of the house and new duct work run through the house as the old duct work was old, inefficient, leaking, etc. They also said that in some cases holes may need to be punched through the walls so duct work could be run through out, etc.

They also said that they didn't have the staff to do that kind of work and recommended another company. I called that other company and they said they didn't do that kind of work either. I have used the first company mentioned before so I know they wouldn't try to mess with me but now I have a couple of questions:

1) does anyone know who I would need to call to get this duct work stuff done? (like a construction company?)

2) really, I just don't want my parents to be cold this winter, are there other options that I just haven't explored? (They have used the fireplace and electrical heaters but that is lots of work and the electrical furnaces only heat up a small area)

3)(this one is a long shot) - does anyone know of anyone in the Las Vegas, Nevada area that does this kind of work?

Thanks in advance for your helpful ideas.

Tommie Sue

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what about mini split units?
condensing unit outside multiple air handler units
in rooms. no ductwork.

might be your cheaper option.
I'd look into heatpump minisplits
with a company with experience in these

best of luck.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 7:57PM
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Awesome!! Thank you for the direction. I have been researching them after your post and I really think this is something that would work for us. I had no idea about mini splits. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I think this will work perfectly and apparently less expensive than a full HVAC rework. Thanks again!
Tommie Sue

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 11:09AM
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welcome welcome welcome.
and welcome again.

just a direction for you to to in..you
still have to find out what sizes you'll need,
what brand the contractor is familiar with
installing and do your homework there.

Ionized has minisplits, he may can share some
of his information he used to make his choices.

if you abandon the swamp coolers, and ducts
you want to make sure any openings into
the house are properly sealed and insulated.
same with duct openings into rooms. seal air
tight, insulate.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 1:19PM
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For starters, it probably won't be less expensive than your typical AC install unless the ducts are very hard to place. That said, I think that retrofits are where mini splits can shine. Look at the manufacturers' web sites for more info, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, and Sanyo for starters. Ask here if you have questions.

Keep in mind that having ducting outside the house envelope, in the attic or in a crawlspace included, is not the best which would favor mini splits. The reason that having ducts outside is bad is that ducts leak. That means that you are then using your HVAC blower to make relatively uncontrolled air exchange with the outside.

If this were my house, I would be considering keeping the swamp coolers. Keep in mind that my knowledge of evaporative cooling is 20 years stale. I had one in my house in Tucson. At that point it was an inexpensive way to cool and that is all that a lot of people had. When the relative humidity got over 30% for a several weeks in "monsoon season", it was uncomfortable. If you have hot, humid periods in LV, this might be an issue.

I am not sure what I would do about the heat if you keep the evaporative cooling. Heat pump mini splits might still be a good idea even if you use them only for heat, but given gas prices right now, it might be expensive to run them. Have you considered adding some newer, direct-vent gas wall heaters?

A local energy rater might be a good way to find out what works best in your particular climate.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Thanks much for all the suggestions. I have been researching the mini splits. I don't know how expensive they are considering power usage but that definitely will be something I'll need to look at.
I contacted someone who is going to come out and look at the possibility of mini splits. Then a guy called me this afternoon and said he would come out and look at the duct work to see if that could be reworked/patched so we'll see what happens.
So ionized - I too had a house in Tucson and found that the swamp cooler was just the ticket (except on hot, muggy, monsoon days) :o)
I'm not sure how to achieve the heating if I leave in the swamp coolers and I have thought about new gas wall heaters but didn't know if that is an option nowadays. I'll have to check that out too.
Tommie Sue

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 7:09PM
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If the swamp cooler ducts leak some, so what? The question is, does it cool well enough? If the ducts leak a lot, look into fixing them. It is a cheap way to cool. You know the drawbacks and advantages. My system in Tucson (a rental) had swamp cooler and a gas furnace. The duct system was used for both. There was a central return. Sheet metal stops were slid in to alternately block air from the roof cooler or the furnace in a closet.

There are three types of gas "wall heaters"
1) unvented: These are no good in a home.
2) vented with a chimney and room air. These suck a lot of indoor air out the chimney. They must be supplied with make-up air and are not very efficient. Chimney installation will likely be difficult.
3) Direct vent, sealed to the indoors flame. This is the best. You just need to poke a hole through the wall. Combustion air and products just go out with concentric pipes. They are most efficient.

Let us know what the contractor tells you. I will be curious about what the current state of the art is in your hot, arid climate.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2012 at 7:27PM
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