Looking for advice on new build: confused by the options!

olivesmomNovember 19, 2012

We are planning our new build and I am feeling very overwhelmed by the different options. The house will be built on a rural, wooded lot, southeast of Seattle. We will not have access to natural gas. We do not need AC, just heat.

Originally we were looking at an open floor plan and I was very interested in a masonry heater. However, we are now looking at a much more traditional colonial floor plan and I'm not sure how well a masonry heater will work with closed off rooms. Additionally, I learned that most lenders will require another source of heat and since I don't want forced air that means another expensive heating system on top of the expensive masonry heater- I just don't think it will make sense.

I like the idea of radiant, but I am leaning towards hardwood (ideally site finsihed, wide plank) on the first floor and mostly carpet on the second. Not sure how well radiant works with those flooring types.

Building a tight shell plus taking advantage if passive solar sounds good. But will passive solar work well in our overcast climate? Plus, I want wood, not tile flooring. And then we still need an actual heat source.

We would consider geothermal and/or solar electic, and are okay with the larger upfront costs assuming either system makes sense. Since I don't want forced air (I find it lound, inefficient- it always seems too cold or too hot, and drying) that leaves just radiant, right?

We consume a lot of energy. We currently have two kids and will likely have one or two more. I am at home during the day, so various things are on. We have plasma televisions, we take long, hot showers, i like having the fireplace(s) on, we will have two dishwashers and maybe more than one set of washers/dryers, we might get a hot tub. I'm even considering an Aga cooker for the kitchen which is always on, one of the upsides though is that it will help heat our kitchen to some extent.

If solar electricity or geothermal can help keep our operating costs low I would be interested. I am just confused as to how either would tie into the heating system and hot water. Propane is an option, but I'd like to limit its use to a small additional, seldom used range in the kitchen and possibly fireplaces- if propane fireplaces even exist.

We are in our early thirties and this new house will be our forever home. We are not concerned about resale. Again, arger upfront costs are okay assuming they make sense in the long run.

Here's the floorplan we are looking at. It will be roughly 3500 sq ft, two stories, on a crawl space. We plan to make some changes to it. Most notably extending the master suite out to the side and bringing its rear wall back to the level of the living room to avoid that dark patio as currently drawn.

Please let me know what you would recommend for this house. I am feeling overwhelmed by the options and also limited at the same time since we do not have access to natural gas. Thanks in advance for your advice!

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Do you have a large lot that would be suitable for drilling geothermal "wells"? Or a large pond to contain a water loop for a geothermal? If no and no, then most likely geothermal will not be the best solution.

Under floor radiant heat could be an excellent solution for you home. You would have a boiler and with it also the capacity for a hot water heater. Your heating and cooling contractor can find out about propane boilers and costs for your area.

If these don't work out, then the most common solution would be electric furnaces--forced air.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 6:43PM
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"I don't want forced air (I find it loud, inefficient- it always seems too cold or too hot, and drying)"

Today's forced hot air systems are quiet and efficient. The high end systems have multiple stages and speeds. They are very comfortable. You should investigate this option before you rule it out.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 6:46PM
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We are looking at lots around 5-6 acres, but I'm not sure about suitability for geothermal drilling. We are in the foothills of the cascade mountains and I imagine the soil is pretty rocky and there will be lots of tree stumps and roots to contend with.

You mention propane boilers for radiant, do electric boilers exist? Sorry if that is a stupid question.


I will look into forced air some more. Our current home is only six years old and it's lousy forced air heating is what I'm basing my opinion on.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 7:13PM
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Radiant throughout a 3500 sq. ft. house will be very expensive. It will also require a boiler which will mean you will need to fuel it with propane. An electric boiler is an alternative but not very practical in my opinion. Another option would be to install baseboard heating. Not as expensive as radiant, but more expensive than for hot air. This would also require a boiler.

I am surprised that you are not planning to add air conditioning. I assume the summers are mild, but how is the humidity level? Would you be interested in a system which would keep the relative humidity in the 40's during the summer? You can get that with a forced hot air system with a heat pump. I think you have attractive electric rates. A properly designed forced air system would be both economical and comfortable in all seasons.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 9:39AM
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If you're willing to pay the up front costs of geothermal and radiant then it may be the best option and you will see a payback. In-floor radiant under different surfaces requiring different water temperatures is easily accomplished. Drilling is almost always possible.

See the link below for one of the best GSHP options that can also lower your domestic hot water costs as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Carrier High Temperature Geothermal Hydronic

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 10:54AM
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It never really feels that humid here, even in the summer. Some people, many whom have homes facing west or on a lake or something, do have AC. But generally it not really needed. I doubt we would need it on our woodelouts, but if we end up doing forced air we may just put AC since it will be pretty easy to add it on.

I guess it will just come down to know much geothermal radiant will cost compared to a good, multi-zoned forced air system. The geothermal hot water is also of interest.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 1:35PM
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Financially, you are usually better off building a tight shell and passive solar vs putting money into geothermal.

You should post your floorplan on the building forum and they will tell you how much noise will transmit in that 2 story family room (I've had one and can't imagine one with a family).

Are your motivations regarding energy use purely about dollars?

What kind of fireplaces do you anticipate having?

Geothermal may be a good choice with the amount of land you have, your high energy needs and your lack of sun. You could so solar PV and run a heat pump for the hot water but it is unclear if you have a good location for a hot water heat pump. They are loud and need to be in unconditioned space since you aren't in a hot climate.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 4:17PM
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What are the energy costs in your area?

(I still like the idea of a masonry heater.)


    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 10:24AM
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