Boiler/baseboard heat vs. Ducts/forced air

Hi again,
This spring/summer I need to install a central heating system in my house. My house is over 100 years old and currently has no central heating system. Since I live near the Canadian border, this is something of a nuisance.
In any event, I'm told I have two choices:
1. Pay a contractor $10,000+ to install a furnace and "build" a duct system in my house for forced-air heat. The only benefit to this seems to be that the same duct system can be used for central air conditioning. The drawbacks: have to pay someone to clean out duct system periodically, forced air is dry and, I believe more expensive than baseboard heat because it requires electricity to blow it around.
2. Pay a contractor around $6,000+ to install a boiler and baseboard heating throughout the 1800 sq foot house. The benefit to this seems to be: quiet operation, moist heat, cheaper than forced air. Here is the potential drawback. I don't think my house has any insulation. I'm wondering. . .can the pipes that run through the baseboard heating system actually FREEZE in the winter time? I mean, it gets pretty cold in my house and I'm worried that the baseboards on the outside walls of the house will get so cold that the pipes inside will freeze and burst.
I can't afford to do everything at once and I'm OK with that. But I would like to have a central heating system by NEXT winter. This winter has been challenging. It's a good thing I have a really sunny disposition, even in the face of a Buffalo winter! Your advice is appreciated!
Best,
Lesley
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Lesley wrote:

Spend a few $K on insulation first.
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I appreciate that advice, and believe it or not that idea has crossed my mind.
However, if anyone knows, I'd still like to know if there are any other benefits/drawbacks to the two different type of heating systems I've described (assuming natural gas fuel)? I'm leaning towards baseboard heating but it seems too good to be true. Moist heat, quiet, cheaper than forced air. The only real drawback seems to be that you can't run central air through it, and I don't plan on installing central air anyway.
My biggest concern: pipes freezing and bursting. Is this a common occurrence when temperatures are below zero Farenheit?
Lesley
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If the air is properly filtered, you will never have to clean the ducts. Hot iar does have some other advantages. You can install a humidifier to make the environment more comfortable, you can use electrostatic air cleaners and get rid of a lot of dust and allergens in the house. Done properly, forced hot air can truly condition the air year round to make it the best overall choice. Most are done cheaply though.

First off, where is it "moist" heat? The water is in the pipes, not spraying into the room; IMO, the moist heat thing is a myth. I have baseboard heat and still have to run a humidifier or the house is too dry in the winter.
Unless you insulate, you will be oversizeing the heating system and paying much more to operate it than needed. Insulate first, then figure the heating you need. Yes, if the baseboard is run inside the wall, the pipes can freeze. In secondary installations, most of the piping is run on the inside of exterior wall, not between the sheathing and plaster.

You can start by checking out the roof insulation NOW and possibly make the next couple of months more comfy. Talk to a couple of other heating contractors. There may be some other option that will be suited for your home. Go to a "home show" if there are any in your area and you will see the latest in innovative equipment. Mayber yor kitechen is best served with radiant heat?
When the winter is really fridgid cold, the best heat is steam boiler and big cast iron radiators.
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Thanks, Edwin! That is a lot more information than I had. I have been seriously considering doing the attic insulation myself NOW, especially since I learned of this new insulation material made out of recycled denim. My attic is huge, well-lighted, has wall-to-wall carpeting, etc. so it's an easy place to work in and I could probably do a lot of that myself.
I didn't think about the fact that if I don't insulate FIRST I will overestimate the size of the furnace or boiler that I need. So I guess I must insulate first.
You say that steam boiler and big cast iron radiators work well. Yeah, but do people actually put these in houses anymore? My house is pretty old so it would certainly look right, but is it possible to get a new steam boiler/cast iron radiator system installed?
Lesley
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In my mind, the best thing about forced hot air is that it warms a room up FAST, so I can leave the house and set the thermostat to 50d F, come back in the evening and set it back up, and be comfortable in 10 minutes. Try that with a normally sized hydronic system, and you'll still be wearing your coat an hour later.
The down side is that it's noisy and drafty. I don't care, but some people do.
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Newer units solve much of that also. Variable speeds, constant running etc.
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wrote:

IMHO, if you don't intend to install central air, hydronic baseboard heating is superior in every meaningful way- I would insulate first and then size the installation properly- I've done a lot of hydronic and steam heat work, steam is really not a viable alternative to hydronic, the off-cycle heat losses kill the efficiency, and it's pretty difficult to control-
Dan
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Dan wrote:

A new development. When I got home from work last night, house was filled with gas. Turns out the pilot light had gone out on the old (40+ year old) heater that this house came with and there was no safety shut-off. The first sound I heard when I opened the door was the loud hissing of gas pouring into the house. I removed the dogs and went next door, called the gas company, yadda yadda yadda. Today HVAC person came and said the heater is DEAD. Gotta get a new one. That's the bad news. The good news is that I have a home warranty that covers it so it'll only cost me $50.
I have to replace it with a b-vented gas stove (that's essentially what this heater is, although they didn't call them that when this thing was made) so now I'm going out to look for one. Meanwhile, I've arranged to have someone come and give me an estimate on insulation. With a new gas stove (40000 or more BTU will heat my 1800 square foot house, and a new one would be much more efficient and SAFE) and insulation, who knows---maybe I won't need to do central heating so soon as this summer. I know I have to do it eventually, but from what I'm hearing on this list, even though I originally preferred baseboard heat, sounds like I really should consider forced air.
I think I need to learn more about both, and find out how do-able each is in a house this age, and then go from there.
I so appreciate all of the input. You guys are really wonderful. I don't know how I would get this information. None of the guys I know have any knowledge of this stuff.
Best!
Lesley
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That 40,000 btu stove is MORE than you need to heat 1800sqft providing you insulate it well, distribution problems aside. Cellulose is the least expensive; ie: R12 is 15cents/sqft, fibreglass is 28 and rigid board are $1/sqft. Further, if you size a heating system based on PLANNED insulation or other energy upgrades it will NOT be oversized but will be undersized until upgrades are complete. Remember, the heat load calc is a mathematical model and most heating systems are oversized +90% of the time as they are designed for the coldest days.
What kind of insurance policy reimburses for heating system failure???
Here's a simple Heat load calc: http://hearth.com/calc/btucalc.html
And a more complex one: http://www.mrhvac.com/index.html?http://www.mrhvac.com/manualjshort.htm
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Martik wrote:

providing you

are
insulation
undersized
coldest
Thanks. I drove around yesterday afternoon visiting fireplace stores and it seems that I would be hard pressed to find anything exceeding 35000 BTUs anyway. And the stove that I liked the best--Jotul GF 300 Allagash--is only 26000 BTUs. But this is the one I like the best so I'm going to go to your link and try out the calculation to see if it will be sufficient. Plus, as you say, I'm having insultation put in so by next winter this 26000 BTU one should suffice.

failure???
It's called a home warranty. It's sold by a few companies. . . American Home Shield is one, Aon is another. There are others. Anyway, it covers certain things that can happen to your house. So far, it has covered my hot water heater (I got a new one for just a $50 deductible) because the one that came with the house died about a few weeks ago. And, according to my contract, it will cover the heating system up to $2,500. Plus, I already called and they confirmed that it was a covered event. It costs about $425 per year. I think you have to buy it when you first buy your house, but then you can keep renewing year after year. I'm not sure if you can buy one if you're not closing. Maybe you can buy one if you're refinancing. . .? Lesley
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AHS comes up here often. You are the first person that is satisfied with them. Most complaints are: Won't pay, slow pay, will only put in cheap replacements, they use contractors that are often second rate.
Sounds like you will be coming out way ahead, but take a hard look before you renew. In my case, if I had such a policy I would have already paid about $8000 in premiums and I've not yet has a "covered" event. That money would be far better saved on my own. Like all insurance companies, they are in business to make money. To do so, they must take in more money than they pay out. Your money, your choice.
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FYI, my home warranty is NOT with American Home Shield. But one of my siblings has a home warranty with them and she has had a number of covered events and has never been disappointed. She has been renewing for 7 years and still swears by them. I, however, have no first-hand experience with them. My home warranty is with Aon. So far, I am happy with them. They have already replaced my hot water heater. It would have cost me $550, but all I had to pay was $50 deductible. That hot water heater has already paid for the policy for this year. So with the new gas stove, I'll be coming out WAY ahead.
Don't get me wrong; it's not like I haven't called them for something and they said it probably wouldn't be covered. But NO insurance policy or warranty covers EVERYTHING. . .
Best!
Lesley
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Lesley wrote:

No small advantage, and will improve resale value.

False. The duct cleaning business runs on 95% scare tactics by those in the business. If you use and replace the standard or better filters, you don't need any cleaning over the life of the system. With good filters in place it may even reduce dust in your air, but don't expect too much.

Not true. Both systems heat the air. Working properly neither adds or subtracts moisture out of the air. Both result in equally dry air. The air is dry because it has been heated and given the same actual amount of water in a given amount of air, the humidity goes down as it is heated.
It is easier to add a humidifier to increase the moister in a forced air system. If you do, get a very good one, don't consider a low priced one. I suggest Aprilair as everyone seems to like it. It is also what I have and it works fine for me.
The cost of blowing it around is minimal and it can result in more even heat.
You can expect a certain amount of noise from forced air, while a properly designed and installed and functioning hot water will be almost totally silent. I like things quiet and I have never had a problem with forced air.
The operating cost of either will depend on the efficiency of the unit and how well planed and installed it will be. The same can be said for the comfort level.
As noted, don't overlook adding insulation. Your ability to do this and how much of a difference it will make will depend on your specific situation.

I would not worry about that. After all remember that when it is that cold they will be running full tilt and those pipes will be full of HOT water.

--
Joseph Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
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First insulate all you can , if attic is finished is ceiling finished. Spray foam and foamboard have the highest R value. Consider what is best over Blue Jeans. Foam and foamboard can be R 3.5" R 5.5 or 7.2per" , Research and get bids, look into fiberglass and Cellulose with glue binder also. Forced air is not dry heat , it is that you warm air the air expands but the moisture is constant thereby lowering humidity. Forced air with a humidifier is easy to humidify your house, it will be just as dry with a boiler but much more costly to humidify and will not be as comfortable. A boiler has a pump, a funace has a blower a 100 to a few hundred watts difference or a furnace with a VS DC motor can be comparable. Your instaler must do a load calculation, if you insulate after you may oversize it. And calculate further improvements such as better windows and doors in his figure if you are planning this soon. If you want AC plan now, ducts will stay clean if you use a good filter properly. If you will want AC now or in the future then you have one best choise Forced Air. Also consider efficiencies of units they range from apx 80- 94.5% in forced air.
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On 28-Jan-2005, snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (m Ransley) wrote:

Not exactly. The air in winter is cold, hence less able to hold humidity. The relative humidity can be high (i.e. the amount of water that can be absorbed by cold air is near max), but when you heat it, the relative humidity is then low - since warm air could absorb a lot more. The absolute humidity is the same. A humidifier can then be used to add more moisture to the warmed air. It isn't because the air expands, it's because of the capacity of the air to hold moisture.
Mike
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Mike maybe im wrong but I think Air expands more heated up than water vapor. The water remains constant in volume the air isnt it expands.
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Also you might want to consider high velocity furnaces. They are easier to install (retrofit existing house).
1) to clean out duct system periodically. Any hvac companies/contractors that suggesting to clean ducts peridically are CROOKS. Be a trump for day. Tell'em you are fired.
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I have had both systems although in a much warmer climate.
I find that force hot air does seem to dry the air out but that is easily fixed with an in line humidifier. The placement of the vents will have a huge impact on the comfort level. If at floor level, it can be more comfortable. If in the ceiling, it can get cold if you are sitting on the floor. Not a issue when sitting on furniture.
Baseboard heat does not add moisture. It is not moist heat. I find it more comfortable but will take longer to heat a room then force hot air. Quieter but could ping a little when first turned on. Hot water will not freeze if properly installed unless you lose power for an extended period or turn the heating system completely off (i.e. turning the power off to the boiler/furnace) in which case the system needs to be drain as will all your pipes. a slight disadvantage is that you cannot block the radiators. You don't want a tall wall unit in front of the radiators. Usually not a big issue.
I used to rent a place that was uninsulated and had steam heat. The cost of heating an uninsulated building is unreal and this is in New Jersey. It cost far more to heat that 2 bedroom (second floor) apartment then to heat my current 4 bedroom house (3X the size) that has insulation (although not as much as it should)! Don't even think about it. What it cost to insulate your attic will be recouped pretty fast.
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