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how to heat a large conventional house  RSS feed

 
Gilbert Fritz
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Location: Denver, CO
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We have a fairly large, conventional brick and frame house, 1 story with a finished basement. It is heated by natural gas forced air furnace. There is an A/C unit but we don't use it since Denver tends to be comfortable.

Eventually, the furnace will give out since it is rather old. And we don't like forced air heat, and would like to have a more self sufficient heat source.

What can we do to heat the house that:

Runs off of wood or solar; can be a DIY project; won't cost a fortune; and won't require extensive modifications to the house?

I've been thinking about some type of hydronic heat, but they sound complicated and prone to leaks. A rocket stove wouldn't heat the whole house, and would be too heavy for the suspended floor. Hydronic heat with a rocket . . . boom squish.

Any ideas?
 
Roberto pokachinni
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A rocket stove wouldn't heat the whole house, and would be too heavy for the suspended floor.
Is there any way that you can reinforce/brace the floor under the mass, or is there no space at all to work beneath the house?  A RMH with multiple masses and a manifold diverter might work.  You could have several burns, each warming an individual mass. That would likely give you enough slow radiation sources to warm a larger space.

conventional brick and frame house
Building trombe walls against external bricks might be an option depending on how your home is angled to the sun, and how exposed the bricks are to it.
 
John Weiland
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Gilbert,

Don't know if these or some clone of them would fit the bill.  Except for the fact that our furnace (oil burner) is in the basement and it's flood prone, I'd be looking into one of these that can burn wood and whatever petro-source you may still want to use.  Still uses the forced-air ducting concept, but may be something to look into:  http://www.yukon-eagle.com/
 
Marla Kacey
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Location: Wyoming Zone 4
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Just a thought from an inexperienced RMH dreamer:  could the RMH be built in the basement with lots of mass, and the existing first floor vents be used to direct warmed air upstairs?  I'm thinking along those lines for a small house with basement.
 
Angelika Maier
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Before looking at the heating I would look at the insulation. Ceiling? Cellar ceiling? Windows? Does  the entrance door lead in a unheated space or does it lead directly into the lounge room?
Is the roof insulated? Are there drafts? Do you have thick lined curtains?
 
Mike Jay
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Sometimes home owner's insurance companies require you to have a source of heat that isn't dependent on having someone present.  IE if you're on vacation you don't want the house to freeze.  So if your furnace dies you may have to replace it anyway even if you don't use it much.

I'd second John W's suggestion of add-on wood furnaces.  The ones I've seen tie into your forced air system and burn wood.  Then if the thermostat calls for heat and the fire is out, it kicks on the gas.  They appear to be moderately DIY.  I believe (don't quote me) that they can even provide some heat if the power is out and the forced air fan isn't running.
 
Glenn Herbert
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If you are required to have a vacation backup heat source, electric baseboards should be cheap and easy enough to install, and then never use unless you have to.

A RMH in the basement is just not going to deliver enough of its heat upstairs to work well. You could, however, have one or two with batch boxes in the basement and bells extending up through framed openings in the floor to a bell on main floor level. Knowing your house's exact layout would be necessary to actually advise on a practical setup.

It is also possible to heat water safely with a RMH (unpressurized systems) and put in hydronic heating. That hydronic loop could also have a gas or electric backup source if required.
 
Travis Johnson
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Honestly, I think you may be falling under the spell of disillusionment that many homeowners fall victim too, and that is, in the drive for new, they forget that the cheapest is often the most humble and simple of ways. In other words, instead of spending money on a new expensive heating system that is new or novel, tighten up the house and make it super energy efficient. Not only will that save you a lot of money with a new system, making it smaller in size and work better, but also allowing your current system to live a much longer life since it does not have to work so hard. A heating appliance that is already paid for is the cheapest and has a zero return on investment!

How do you go about making a house super efficient?

Picture the house turned upside down and filled with water. Any place that might leak water is where you want to plug the gaps. Start with the biggest holes and work to the tiniest of holes and you will have a super efficient house. I recognize that it is a strange analogy, however it kind of works and is easy to picture.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Thanks for the advice everyone!

As far as tightening the house; we are working on it. However, too tight of a house leads to mold and sick building syndrome. Houses like that really do hold water; sometimes, even when there have been no plumbing or roof leaks, walls will contain standing water due to condensation. We are dealing with a huge mold problem. So we have to be careful.

On the other hand, the proper kind of insulation can actually inhibit mold growth. Just wanted to point out that it is complicated.

I'll look into the various methods recommended. And I've started a thread on simple, non-pressurized hydronic heating.
 
Eric Bee
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Not sure my experience is relevant, but what the heck.

We have a 2 story conventional house that's about 1800 sq ft. It's fairly recent construction and quite well insulated for the most part, but definitely has many obvious gaps which I make no attempt to fix because like you I want air. We heat exclusively with wood that I cut on our property. Most people around here go through 4-5 cords but we've never burned more than 2 a season, usually only 1.

First thing we did when we moved in was to replace the old woodstove with a Lopi. It was expensive but has paid for itself several times over now. A really good woodstove (cast iron instead of plate) will use a lot less wood and retain heat longer. The stove is situated behind a central stairwell and is backed with soap stone. The floor is slate on concrete. This gives us a lot of thermal mass to work with, such that things stay warm all night and we don't often keep a fire burning the whole night through, although we can in that stove quite easily.
Where the stove is doesn't necessarily make it easy for heat to get up the stairs but it's adequate -- honestly I prefer it this way since I like the bedroom colder at night.

The cool thing, and the reason I thought this might be of interest to you, is that we do have central heat and the intake for that is right above the wood stove. So when it's really cold we'll put the furnace on with just the fan. It really moves the heat around very well. We never actually turn the furnace itself on, just the fan.

Your climate is quite a bit colder, or at least for longer stretches. But we've had 15-20F for a week or two at a time and heating the house this way has always been great. Very low maintenance and since we have to deal with excess wood anyway, we're stacking functions.
 
Gilbert Fritz
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Hi Eric,

Thanks for the advice!

Actually, our climate is pretty warm. It is a rare day here in Denver that does not rise above freezing, snow tends not to stick around. We generally have a few scattered cold days, with maybe a week or two of solid cold in January. It can easily get down to 20F at night, but days tend to be in the 40s and 50s.
 
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