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Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:40 PM

Question about home heating

Back in August I bought my first house, an older one (built in 1910) with hot water heating. The boiler is relatively new (probably mid 1980s) and I've been working on sealing up and insulating the house to keep the heat bills reasonable.

I'm just wondering if anyone has some advice on how to regulate the temperature. I've got a programmable thermostat and this home automation system that I can use to schedule the heat or set it to turn up and down at different times. I've found that changing the temperature takes a very long time (like going from 65-70 degrees might take 2 and a half hours), so I'm trying to decide if I should just set the heat at a certain temperature and maintain it, or if letting the temp fall when the house is empty and at night would be more cost effective.

Could anyone with more experience help me out? I'm just trying to figure out how to run it in the most efficient way possible until I can afford to get a newer, higher efficiency boiler.

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Arrow 30 replies Author Time Post
Reply Question about home heating (Original post)
rbixby Dec 2012 OP
evlbstrd Dec 2012 #1
Gregorian Dec 2012 #2
rbixby Dec 2012 #8
Historic NY Dec 2012 #3
rbixby Dec 2012 #9
Historic NY Dec 2012 #21
Rosa Luxemburg Dec 2012 #4
NYC_SKP Dec 2012 #5
Purveyor Dec 2012 #6
Jim Warren Dec 2012 #7
rbixby Dec 2012 #12
SheilaT Dec 2012 #10
freethought Dec 2012 #11
rbixby Dec 2012 #14
freethought Dec 2012 #17
madinmaryland Dec 2012 #13
rbixby Dec 2012 #15
madinmaryland Dec 2012 #16
rbixby Dec 2012 #22
beevul Dec 2012 #18
rbixby Dec 2012 #23
beevul Dec 2012 #26
rbixby Dec 2012 #27
nobodyspecial Dec 2012 #19
Paulie Dec 2012 #20
TheBlackAdder Dec 2012 #24
Lugnut Dec 2012 #25
Hotler Dec 2012 #28
Hotler Dec 2012 #29
sendero Dec 2012 #30

Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:44 PM

1. Sounds like my old house.

With hot water heat, keep it at a stable temperature. If you set it to fall, only vary it by a few degrees. And insulate all of the pipes!

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:44 PM

2. By "hot water heating" do you have a hydronic system. It's sometimes called radiant.

If so, there may be zones that can be turned off, or adjusted. By the time involved in heating, I imagine it is hydronic.

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Response to Gregorian (Reply #2)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:07 PM

8. hydronic, yes, I was trying to think of the term

I turn off the heat to the rooms I don't use and keep the doors shut (guest room, etc)

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:53 PM

3. Cast iron radiators???

If so you made need to bleed them to get air out of the lines. Its that funny little valve that takes a key.

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Response to Historic NY (Reply #3)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:07 PM

9. I did that as soon as I moved in

I was quite surprised that most of the radiators on the second floor had basically no water in them.

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Response to rbixby (Reply #9)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:48 PM

21. Sometimes you have to do it a few times.....

especially if the system was bleed down. I check my circulator pump & zones valves to make sure the water is flowing incorrectly one valve can keep the water flowing slowly.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 10:54 PM

4. We keep our house temp low

Keeping it at 65F and wearing more clothes inside helps the heating bills.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:00 PM

5. Energy expert here, sort of... A. Call your utility company.

More likely than not they'll have good advice.

B. Maintenance. Purge your valves, clean your filters, whatever is recommended depending upon your system (boiler, forced air, central, gravity, fuel oil, electric radiant).

C. Live sustainably: don't expect to heat your entire home if you don't need to- maybe skip the central and use space heaters and/or dress differently.

D. If you own your own home and have an inefficient system, even a 1980 boiler may not be that great, you might benefit from a new SEER system. Shop around. An efficiency upgrade might have incentive rebates available and might pay for itself in just a few years of use.

DISCLAIMER: I have no idea where you live, your state's codes, your utility companies incentives, your ages or incomes, so YMMV!

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:03 PM

6. First I pray you are not using heating oil and are on natural gas. That said, hot water systems

need a special breed of thermostats. Make sure you are not using one for 'forced air'...

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:05 PM

7. Sorry to inform

but a 25+ year old boiler would not be 'relatively new' and is probably terribly inefficient. In the meantime though, there is an exponential increase in energy use for every degree you raise the temp over 60 during cold weather. Just a rough guess, without seeing the situation first hand on the property, would be to pick a temp you can live with and leave it at that setting.

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Response to Jim Warren (Reply #7)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:17 PM

12. Its not terribly efficient, you're right

But its better than a lot of the very old boilers I saw in houses when I was on the hunt, like some of the first natural gas fired ones ever made. Its definitely something I'm going to upgrade when I can afford to, but the first priorities I had when I moved in were to replace the windows (all original 1910 single panes) and doors (mostly original and in bad shape), and insulate the attic. Its definitely made a big difference, but the boiler is definitely the biggest utility cost I've got.

I'm thinking that keeping the temp steady is probably the way to go as well, I was just checking to make sure I wasn't being crazy about it. I do definitely turn it down when I'm going to be gone for an extended period of time.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:07 PM

10. The boiler is new only in comparison to the

age of the house. It's still around thirty years old. You might want research boilers as a starter.

Someone else has asked if you have radiant heat. If you do, you need to jiggle the thermostat at completely different times than you'd expect, because it can take many hours for the temp to go up or down. When I first moved here to Santa Fe I had an apartment with radiant heat, which I loved, but I had to turn the thermostat down in the morning, and back up at night, so I'd be warm in the daytime and cool off at night.

The best part was that there were warm spots on the floor which the cats just adored.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:11 PM

11. I have often read

that to be as green and as efficient as possible when it comes to heating/cooling a home, that it is often best to get the home to a tempreture slightly lower than what you would think as ideal and leave it there. If one leaves the home, set the thermostat down only two or so degrees.

If you leave the house lower the thermostat to, for arguments sake, 65 degrees, and then return home and you proceed to turn the thermostat up to, say, 70 degrees. It can take, as you said, hours for the house to warm up, in which time your burning up fuel. The practice of setting the thermostat at a constant tempreture and leaving it will cause the heating system to burn up fuel initially, but when the house is at your preferred tempreture the boiler will come on for only short periods at a time as the thermostat causes the boiler to come on and off to stay at a set tempreture. Over the longer run this is cheaper and more efficient than setting the thermostat low when the family is at work or school, then cranking it up for hours at a time every day after everyone comes home. Short bursts of heating over the course of the whole day vs. hours of constant heating during part of the day.

I have read the same applies to cooling a home as well. I live in North Carolina where the summers get oppressively hot and humid. Winters here a relatively mild. I used to live in Maine where winters can be brutal. My roommates and I read this approach online and tried it out and it did work when it came to using our air conditioning in our apartment. The trick seems to be when we were in the house setting a tempreture slightly higher than what we would ideally like. We may like 70 degrees but we went with 72 degrees when we were in the apartment. When we left the apartment we would set the thermostat for 74 or 75 degrees. When we came home it would not take long for the the place to cool down to 72 degrees. From there on the central air conditioning unit would only run intermittently for 5 to 10 minutes at a stretch and not for hours at a time.

You didn't mention it but I would ask if the house has been properly insulated? That can be key in the ease of keeping the interior of a home at a chosen tempreture.

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Response to freethought (Reply #11)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:22 PM

14. The windows, the doors, and the attic are well insulated

As far as I can tell there is little to none in the walls, which I'll remedy when I can afford to. Thanks for the advice about the heating, I was pretty sure that was the way to go, but I just wanted to see what other people's experiences are with them.

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Response to rbixby (Reply #14)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:35 PM

17. The apartment I shared

was built in late 80s or early 90s. So key walls and ceilings were insulated. It seems somehow counterintuitive, but it worked for us. I will side with a number of other posters that a furnace/boiler that was put into place during the 80s is likely due for replacement. I know it's an expensive undertaking but that's my two cents.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:20 PM

13. I owned a house built in the early 1920's and several things to thing about...

We had an oil furnace/forced hot air heat (in Connecticut). The house had new windows (double pained) and we assumed they had been installed properly, but there is really no way of telling. The house was 90 years old, so we assumed the insulation in the walls was minimal, but there was new insulation in the attic. No insulation in the basement.

As some others have said, a furnace from the 80's is way outdated by today's standards, and who knows how much it has been kept serviced. I would find a moderate temp and try to keep it there more constantly (i.e. 67-68) rather than go from 62 to 72 and then back down.

Simple things like letting the sun in during the day and having thick curtains closed at nights will help. Sweaters work to!

Stay warm, my friend!

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Response to madinmaryland (Reply #13)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:24 PM

15. I had the boiler serviced as soon as I moved in

There is a service record on it that shows about once a year or so since it was installed it was serviced. It works great, its just slow to heat.

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Response to rbixby (Reply #15)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:33 PM

16. As has been pointed out, you have a boiler that is 25 or more years old. You have probably done

as much as you can do by having it serviced. It is possible the pipe system is undersized or there may be some cloggage.

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Response to madinmaryland (Reply #16)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:48 PM

22. There doesn't seem to be a problem with circulation

I just think its a matter of it taking a long time to heat the water and heat all the heavy cast iron radiators, there's 10 in the house, that's a lot of water to heat.


But yeah, the next step is going to be replacement, the heat bills have been reasonable, but it would be nice to reduce them and lower my carbon footprint. The radiators are definitely one of the selling points of the house, so those aren't going anywhere.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:37 PM

18. I am in a similar house. No boiler though.

In general, you need a multi pronged attack:

First, make the most heat you can, the most efficiently you can. I don't know the ins and outs of a boiler system, so i'm not sure how well or how much that can apply.

Applying that as best you can to your situation,can help.

Second, and equally important, maybe more so...

Make things so that you can keep as much of the heat you make, as you can.

The home I live in was very similar in vintage to the one you describe, yours.

Check your walls. Ours weren't insulated AT ALL. We took the first room apart, and the only thing inside the walls were mouse nests, an old violin fiddle, and some old corsets. That and about 6 inches of pitch black silt from the dirty 30s.

If your walls aren't insulated, I'd suggest renting a machine, getting the correct hole saw, and the right foam plugs, and blowing insulation in yourself if you can.

The same for your attick if there is one.

Check for drafts in and around windows and doors, cold areas on plaster walls if you have them, etc.

Do everything you can to keep whatever heat you make. I mention this, because by the sound of it, its possible that your're fighting against inefficiency and thats why it takes so long for your temps to go up. Walking up the downward moving escalator just a little faster than its going down, so to speak.


I know thats not necessarily what you were asking, but its a big part of it, and attention to detail in this area really pays for itself in the long run.




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Response to beevul (Reply #18)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:52 PM

23. Great advice, thanks!

I'm debating on whether to blow in insulation right away or wait until I can replace my siding (old asbestos fiber cement from the 50s) and do a proper insulation job. That's definitely a good thing to think about though, the insulating.

Its not so much a fight against inefficiency as it is about the system just having a lot of thermal mass to heat up, to change the temperature, its got to warm up probably 200 gallons of water and pump them through hundreds of pounds of cast iron to heat up, so it takes awhile. Once they get hot though, they keep the house warm for hours and hours.

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Response to rbixby (Reply #23)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 01:04 AM

26. Just my opinion...

"I'm debating on whether to blow in insulation right away or wait until I can replace my siding (old asbestos fiber cement from the 50s) and do a proper insulation job."

If it were me, I'd be blowing in insulation as soon as I could.

Think of how that could be helpful in terms of keeping heat, in the event of an ice storm or other environmental event which would leave you without power for a length of time. Also consider how much more effective countermeasures to such an event, such as small electric heaters used in conjunction with a generator might be.

I actually fit this exact scenario, have lost power for many days at a time, and while we use a heatpump for heating/cooling, our 7850 watt generator wont run it, other than the fan. With a couple small electric heaters plugged in, and the fan running, it keeps the refrigerator freezer and the heat going enough, that it doesnt get terribly cold in the house even when its below zero, and if it were REALLY cold, could cause some real problems with the water pipes, even potentially disastrous, like burst pipes.


I will also say this though:

Asbestos is something that should not under any circumstances be taken lightly, and I would definitely be wearing safe breathing apparatus and 100 percent isolation type eye protecting while I was drilling holes through it with a holesaw.

Very bad stuff, that asbestos.

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Response to beevul (Reply #26)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 09:20 AM

27. I think if I'm going to blow in insulation, its going to be from the inside.

I don't want to mess with the asbestos if I don't have to. Since its fiber cement though, its pretty safe unless its broken into inhalable pieces.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:41 PM

19. I keep my house fairly cold

and use space heaters for the rooms people are in. I have an electric blanket and really dial it down at night. It has saved me mega bucks. This may be the solution if temperature regulation is such an issue.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Thu Dec 27, 2012, 11:46 PM

20. You could supplement in the room you spend the most time in with an electric convection panel

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 12:58 AM

24. Radiant heat is nice, if it is a floor system. Baseboard heat just travels up the sides of walls.

If you have a whole floor radiant heat system it's nice because the whole room heats gradually and you feel the heat no matter where you are. Baseboards are a warmer feeling heat as it doesn't dry the air as much as a forced air system, many needing a humidifier. With baseboard systems, the heat generally travels upward near the walls and if you are in a few feet, you won't really feel the effects unless there is either air movement or the air sufficiently heats.

The other problem regards how many zones you have and whether you really need to heat rooms you won't be in.

You would probably be best keeping a base heat of 65-68 degrees and then using supplemental room heaters to condition where you will be mainly at.

===

If you have an older system, and you have at least .25 acre, plan on and begin the investment into a geothermal heating and cooling system. You can start investing in the wells and outside tubing, then the duct work, then, you can pull the heater out and swing over to the geothermal system. Depending on where you are, and how inefficient you house is, you'll save anywhere from 50-70% of your heating and cooling expenses while having a very low carbon footprint. With a hot water preheater, you'll also be able to generate hot water at virtually no cost 3 of the 4 seasons. Geo installers have to meet certain guidelines and most heating & cooling guys are not able to install one, so they will try and talk you out of it... Go to www.geoexchange.org for more info.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 01:04 AM

25. My brother-in-law is a plumber.

He told us to set the thermostat where we want it and let it alone. When the thermostat is turned down the walls, floors and room contents get cold too. All that stuff has to warm up when you turn the thermostat up so there are no real saving going on.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 09:35 AM

28. I have hydronic heat also. Set your thermostat where you want in then leave it alone.

Like someone below said, when the insides of the house cools down you have to bring everything back up to temp. Keep couches and chairs and long curtains up or out of the way of the radiators. Make sure the boiler temp and pressure are at correct levels and that your air vent on the back of the boiler is working and that the system has no leaks. If you get air in the system it is hard for the water to circulate.

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Response to Hotler (Reply #28)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 09:37 AM

29. Also do not let the system freeze. The copper pipes will break and when...

it thaws out you will have water evrywhere.

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Response to rbixby (Original post)

Fri Dec 28, 2012, 09:40 AM

30. This is a common question ..

.... and the answer is "depends".

It depends on how "tight" your house it, that is, how well insulated and free of air infiltration.

Basically, if your house is "tight", you are probably better off setting it and forgetting it.

If your house is not well insulated, letting it drop at night will save you money.

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