heating for tiny house not always occupied.

jeannecorvanOctober 18, 2011

Hi everyone, I have a complicated house heating question.

I have a forced air electic 1964 furnace in a very old, small renovated barn. The top room is around 300 sq. feet. The bottom (partly underground) is about 250 or less sq feet (the boiler is in a tiny room downstairs and totally underground on 3 sides. The house is insulated but not perfectly: leaks, door not insulated, etc. It is in southern New England and surprise, surprise, the winters seem to be getting warmer but there are still below zero nights (1 or 2) and days of 20 F or less.

I am at the house in the winter (Oct thru March) about 60 or so days and not during the coldest times. When not around I just need the pipes kept warm. I need to be reassured that the system I have will work without anyone around which is why the current system is a good one except inefficient and old. I have a device that calls me if the heat is too high or too low. I sort of wanted to keep this electric as I haved no gas and it makes me nervous.

I cannot use baseboard because the place is so small that everything is agains the wall. Plus I have cats with a lot of hair that ignites! There is no attic only a sloping ceiling at about 40 degree angle. Not insulated probably. the height of the wall is about 6.6 feet.

Friends have suggested the following:

1. just heat the pipes when I am gone and have some local heat otherwise. Seems like a good idea, but what kind of heating of the pipes and what other safe thermostat heat when I am here. 2. get an electric heat pump that uses the exisitng ducts if there is one small enough. (don't need aircontioning unless it is not much extra 3. radiant electric -- but I can't find anything that is just electric not a radiator and not a baseboard that would not need tremendous rebuilding. 4. electric heat fans on the wall -- huge wiring costs someone said. I do have 220 and plenty or extra places for addtional wiring out of the box. 5. gas heat pump. Someone said they are small and mentioned propane heat. I would have all kinds of concerns on this since I am gone much of the time. 6. turn off the water. This seems like a very complicated thing for someone who is not really handy and the pipes also are very old. Who knows what this would do. I have a well also so don't know how that would be affected by this.

The house is not worth much as you can imagine -- just the view out the window. I have a tight budget too. Are their any ideas out there for my problem?

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Why not get another electric furnace? I did a quick Google search. I see there are small electric furnaces made for mobile homes which are not very expensive. It would seem to be the easiest and cost effective solution.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 8:10PM
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I read somewhere that mobile home furnaces cannot be used for regular homes, though that does not make sense. But they may not work with the ducts I have. Since this is a 2 story place. don't you think?

But if it is ok, do I hire a contractor to do this or do I go thru the company that makes these.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2011 at 10:00PM
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Look for a contractor who installs electric furnaces. These type of furnaces are not common in the Northeast due to the high cost of electricity, so you may need to search for an experienced contractor. Go to the manufacturer's web site and see if they list contractors in your area.

The other option may be a ductless mini split system. These are essentially heat pumps so you would get the added benefit of air conditioning. You probably need a unit for each floor, so this would be a more expensive option and likely be overkill for your needs. However the operating cost would be lower than the electric furnace.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 8:25AM
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Some of the older thermostats had 50 or 55 degrees as the lowest setting. Use one that permits lower settings for the times of vacancy.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 4:06PM
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"I read somewhere that mobile home furnaces cannot be used for regular homes,"

They are often so poorly built they cannot pass the standards fr fixed structures.

Mobile homes are built to be cheap.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 6:30PM
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While I cannot say for certain, mobile home furnaces probably are built for installing with tighter clearances to combustible surfaces than those not so rated. So in that respect, they would be better than the others. I suspect that you will find that they are usable in other structures. The UL listing would be the control, not the HUD code.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2011 at 6:38PM
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"hile I cannot say for certain, mobile home furnaces probably are built for installing with tighter clearances to combustible surfaces than those not so rated."

That is only a small part of the design of a furnace.

Mobile home components are built with one goal in mind.


The HUD standards are a pathetic joke.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 12:48PM
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Ok. Thanks all. To answer what I know. I talked to someone about a heat pump and he said he would look for a small one but never called back -- and I called him back too. I have called another local company and I have a Sears person coming by (I just want to hear what they say. I said if they start talking to me like I live in a 4500 sq ft house, they can leave)
I put my old furnace on 50 thermostat when I leave and I have a device I purchased with a thermometer whereby if the temp goes above X or below Y, it calls with a recorded message.

I lean away from the mobile home. I read that the duct work is different and I want to use my existing ducts and might not be able to. I will look into it though but it is not my first thought.

As I said, the electric furnace now works. I have an electrician come every year just to make sure all is ok (but how can they ever know for sure on a 1964 furnace. ). They say that there are relays (?) or preventive measures against fires since I wondered what would happen if the blower failed and the heat units did not fail. Unfortunately, there are few people today who would or could refurbush this furnace. The parts are probably different from today and who would put them in?

I cannot believe there is no alternative small furnace or other method that does not require huge rewiring costs and is safe.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2011 at 3:15PM
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Just an update. Sears has a small head pump furnace and with all the new wiring, construction, etc. I think it comes to $10,000. Forget it.

Meanwhile, I tracked down the company that bought out the maker of my furnace blower. I could probably get a replacement and with some retrofit could probably have a new blower in the existing furnace if this one dies.

Now I have to find if I can replace heat coils on an old furnace. does anyone have any ideas?

Here is the plan: work on seeing if the furnace can have new parts (since it is electric what else but a blower and heat coils?). Then run a 220 wire upstairs (which is possible with my wiring schema) to heat the pipes with electric strip (whatever that is). I am not here most of the winter and am 2 hours away if there is a problem.

All the pipes come up directly from a small boiler room downstars (5 by 15 feet) which is 3/4 in the ground. So Heat those pipes, the pipe from the well to boiler, and the pipes directly above the boiler in the kitchen and bathroom which are next to each other above the boiler room.

Then begin the process of putting in any of the following: baseboard heaters where they are able to be placed (one downstairs is all that is necessary there); wall fans that are embedded in the wall, and maybe some radiant heat. Since I sit at a computer all day, all I need to heat other than the pipes upstairs is myself.

It means lots of thermostats for each of these and I am told they are not as fine tuned as for a furnace.

The furnace will be used minimally and I can turn it on remotely.

Do people have any opinions on this plan?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 3:18PM
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I am a homeowner and not in the industry, but I'd like to ask a question of the OP.

Is the sole reason for keeping the house at ~50 degrees to protect water pipes from freezing? (And, I assume, water in drain traps and toilets, etc?)

If so, might you consider ways to keep the water inside the pipes warmer than freezing rather than keeping the air around the pipes warm?

My hot water heater, a heat pump by the way, has a vacation setting that keeps the water at 50 degrees while I am gone. There are simple low volume pumps that you can install between the hot water line and the cold water line at sinks at the remote end of your potable water supply legs.

In other words, you'd be continuously pumping a very small amount from the hot water line to the cold water line at 50 degrees and not be using any water from the well. You would need to "winterize" your traps and toilets also, of course.

Just thinking out loud and likely there is something I'm missing.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2011 at 3:59PM
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