My neighborly engineer whipped up something special for me after he read about my 30 year old furnace and how next summer I’m likely going to replace it along with my air conditioning unit that sounds like a small turbo engine tucked alongside our home. It’s the first part of a 2 or 3 part series that’ll cover the ins and outs of retrofitting an older home with a new HVAC system. He’ll be grouping his recommendations into three categories: 1) Money no concern, 2) middle of the road, and 3) penny pincher. I’m sure everyone knows what group they’re in so I don’t need to elaborate any further. Just check out what he has to say.
Considering a Heating Ventilation Air Condition (HVAC) retrofit of your older home? There are a million solutions but here are my recommendations for my neighbor’s 1926 Dutch Colonial.
First, a little background on my neighbor’s house. Built in 1926, it likely started with an “octopus” gravity style coal or fuel oil fired furnace, similar to this natural gas fired furnace below. Ain’t she a beauty?
Notice the giant supply ducts coming from the top and the even larger return air ducts at the bottom. The ducts are so large because these furnaces don’t use fans to circulate the air. The heated air simply rises and the cooler air falls. These systems were simple, they always worked, and they used a lot of fuel. And, there is no way to add cooling to this type of system. When the home owner got tired of the high heating bills the furnace would be retrofitted with a natural gas fired 80% AFUE unit, and perhaps that is what is still heating the home today [craftsman note: I think the AFUE is much lower, maybe around 65 or 70%].
Another key bit of history: most homes of this era have been added onto and then added onto again. My neighbor’s house is no exception. What was once the attached garage became the family room, and years later, a second floor master bed and bath were added above that family room. You can bet that HVAC considerations were not primary in the design process. And as a result these rooms, even though well insulated as compared to the remainder of the house, do not heat or cool very well [craftsman note: That’s right. The whole house heats and cools very unevenly].
If Money Is No Object:
I’d recommend eliminating the furnace all together. Yep, rip it out of the basement and reclaim that space for a recreation room or an additional play room for your bratty kids. What do you heat your house with you ask? Radiant under floor heating installed in all areas of the first floor that have a basement underneath. And for those areas that radiant heat is not feasible, I would choose a high velocity, mini duct, multi-zone system fed by an air handler to be located in the attic [craftsman note: What the hell did he just say?]. This duct systemwould feed all rooms in the house, even those with the radiant heating system; that way the same ducts can be used for cooling. Each zone would be individually controlled with its own thermostat [craftsman note: This mini duct system sounds pretty cool. Just to clarify, it delivers a high velocity stream of air quietly and seamlessly into whatever room you choose through little outlets or holes in the ceiling.]
The duct system would also distribute ventilation air to each room. To provide the ventilation, the air handler would be fitted with an energy recovery ventilator. The energy recovery ventilator would bring in outside ventilation air and exhaust air at the same time [craftsman note: In other words the energy recovery ventilator brings fresh air in and take stale air out]. This would reduce energy costs, because you would not have to pay to heat the cold winter air as much. This is because the warm air being exhausted would be used to pre-heat the incoming cold air.
The duct system can be installed within the wall cavities of interior walls without the need to cut into the wall. Recall how large the ducts in my neighbor’s house are, this provides for the alternative: install the mini ducts inside the home’s existing ductwork. Why not just use the existing ducts? The existing ducts are not sealed air tight and are not sized by today’s standards, which will make climate control difficult.
Some older homes are not built “tight”, so ventilation is not an issue. However, this also means that they tend to be drafty and inefficient to heat and cool. This being the case, and because money is no object, I would recommend pouring a low expansion foam insulation (check out this spray foam data sheet) into the wall cavities that both insulates and seals out drafts. Spray foam is a superior product when compared to regular fiberglass batting. Spray foam has an insulation value that is approximately double that of fiberglass and it functions as an air and moisture barrier as well (read more about spray foam insulation) With the spray foam in place, the home will mimic today’s “tight” construction, which will be much less drafty and more efficient. But, it will now require mechanical ventilation.
With this recommendation there is one more add-on that is worth considering based on the climate my neighbor lives in. Michigan has cold, dry winters, and to combat the low winter humidity a whole house humidifier coupled with the air handler is a good idea. Another thought: I would skip the whole house air filter/purifier. With the energy recovery ventilator in place, I just don’t think it is necessary unless you suffer from allergies, asthma, or other respiratory issues.
That’s all for my “money is no object” recommendation. Although there are more expensive systems available, this one is tailored to your Dutch Colonial.
Well, I don’t know about all that jive engineer talk, but man, I’ve got a HVAC consultant working for me pro bono. How sweet it is. Now I just gotta find me a money tree.
Coming soon – part 2 of the HVAC retrofit series, for those “middle of the road” kind of folks.
Love this blog. Love that the homeowner did all the work. And I love the detailed photos and descriptions of their kitchen renovation. Although my tastes aren’t 100% identical, I truly like a lot of their design decisions. Cabinets and backsplash are particularly impressive. And I also like the island and cabinet with hutch. The green color is different, but nice.
Their kitchen renovation is pretty much complete but it’s still worth visiting to read about the project from start to finish.
Truthfully, I don’t know if I’d have the nerve to gut my kitchen and start from scratch. As long as it would take me, my family and I would become obese from all the eating out we’d have to do. Obese I tell you. And I simply can’t allow that to happen.
Get rid of the gray siding, swap the columns, brackets, and other exterior trim for raw stained wood…THEN you would have a house with some craftsman class. Otherwise the stylish wooden garage door looks awkward against the dull gray blah of the house.
The inside of this 2,200 sq. ft. home places the bedrooms upstairs and all living spaces downstairs. My personal preference in two-story homes is to have the master suite downstairs and the kid’s rooms upstairs. This floorplan in particular places the master bedroom next to one of the kid’s rooms…no good, man. No good.
The kitchen and great room are perfectly sized and the built-ins flanking the fireplace help create a definite craftsman flair. This house has a lot of potential on the interior given that there is a bonus room on the second floor and a den on the first floor. Lots of space indeed. Maybe a room to house your collection of Aquaman paraphernalia or a place to showcase your Lionel Ritchie albums. The possibilities are endless.
I think now is as good a time as any to fill you in our kitchen remodel. Let’s go back to February of 2004 when my wife and I decided to take the plunge and purchase our first house, a 1926 Dutch Colonial with 2300 sq. ft. of living space. Though over half of that space came from a two story addition that included the master suite upstairs and the great room and half-bath downstairs. The sacrifice for having this kind of space? No garage. Seems the single car, detached garage was torn down in the mid-seventies and was replaced by the additional ground floor level. Some years later the upper level master suite was added. Thus we have a home with pieces built by three separate builders – one of them a major imbecile. With the addition, the kitchen now looked over the 400 sq. ft. great room, which is one of the features we truly fell in love with.
As you can see from the before photos, this was a country kitchen complete with light blue Formica countertops, matching light blue vinyl flooring, scum ridden cabinet hardware, and pale blue wallpaper covered with sweet, little birdhouses. Fortunately this place came with beautiful cabinetry, because everything else was a total disaster. As most of you who have moved into old homes in need of renovation and updating know, without a sense of vision it can be difficult to see that diamond in the rough. But every home has its character and the most exhilarating part of home renovation is discovering and building that character so that your home becomes an extension of you. That’s why I continue to work on this house even though at times I want nothing to do with it. Even though I often think how great it would be to live in a new home that doesn’t require constant renovation. Even though it has caused me to drop more f-bombs than I’d care to admit.
I take pride in myself and I take pride in this place I call home. I’ve invested far more than just money into this place – time, sweat, a little blood here and there. These things only scratch the surface. The rest are far too deep to be explained in a single blog entry. In fact, I’m not so sure they can be explained at all. But for those of you who have walked in my shoes, you need no explanation. It’s something we’ll share without ever having spoken a word.
You wouldn’t think home renovation could be this deep, but it can be. And for me it is.
Look, I can appreciate culture as much as the next guy, but this whole Utilikilts thing is borderline hysterical. Not sure what guy would wear this or what guy would want to wear this but apparently there’s a market for this kind of garb – a quick peek at all the customer submitted photos clearly validates this. Dudes splitting wood, carrying heavy objects, playing golf…manly men doing manly things. Far too many looking far too proud wearing what looks like a pleated skirt.
God help us. William Wallace must be rolling around in his grave.