Friday, October 21, 2005

Natural Gas Blues, Part II: Boiler, Windows & Insulation

A commenter on the previous "Natural Gas Blues" post made some good suggestions. My reply got long, so I decided to make it a new post.

Although I'd love to replace the boiler and windows, I don't think we're ready to invest $20K+ in the house right now. Our boiler is old (1983), so I'm sure we could save gas with a new one. When I asked our HVAC contractor about replacing it last year, however, he told us that it's a good model in good condition. Maybe there's more money to be made keeping the old one going as opposed to selling me a new one? If the boiler fails, I will have to look into coupling it with an indirect-fired domestic water heater as the commenter suggested. For now, I will probably just add an insulating sleeve to the heater we have. I also installed aerators yesterday to decrease our hot water usage.

The previous owner had aluminum double-pane windows installed 10-12 years ago. I don't know what gas or coatings they might have, but at least they aren't ancient (house is 85 years old). To put in the latest and greatest, we would need to replace about 25 windows on the first and second floors, plus another 15 shorter ones in the basement, which is heated. Judging from what we spent to update ten windows that he inexplicably skipped (like I said before, I'd like to smack him), we could spend $15-25K on windows alone. Window treatments with insulating qualities would probably help a lot. We installed honeycomb shades (triple-cell) in two rooms a few years ago, and I'd like to buy more of those.

The only big investment I am looking at right now is insulation. I'm sure we are under-insulated, particularly in the attic. Unfortunately, we have a SpacePak air conditioning unit up there along with a silver tarantula of tubing. That may complicate matters; we'll have to hire professionals. Obviously we should have insulated before we got the SpacePak, but we didn't think of it. You would think our general contractor would have recommended it, but alas that project manager wasn't the brightest. At least I got him to add foam board insulation in the living room and sun room when they replaced the crumbling plaster with drywall.

To be continued...

5 comments:

Sean said...

We are looking at installing Spacepak in our old house for heating and air conditioning. Do you recommend it?

David Johnsen said...

I guess so. We haven't had any problems with it so far. Of course, I'm too cheap to use the A/C most of the time, so we've only used it maybe 60-70 days since it was installed five years ago.

It's fairly quiet, though not as quiet as floor vent central air. It's louder in some rooms than others. I'm not sure why, maybe the way the hoses are bent. As far as appearance, it's great -- guests hardly notice the white plastic discs in the ceiling (I think you can paint them, but we didn't). And of course, it's a much cleaner installation than air ducts, soffits, etc.

Our system cost about $10,000 in 2001 including the A/C unit outside, the SpacePak blower in the attic with an electronic air cleaner, 24 tubes for 12 rooms on two floors (1 per small room, 2 in most, 4 in living room), and installation. It was part of a larger project through a general contractor, so it may be cheaper directly through an HVAC contractor.

I've seen a similar product advertised in the National Trust's Preservation magazine, but I have no idea how it compares with SpacePak.

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