Gas-powered gravity hot air heating

Hi-
Again it's me with the 102-year-old house that I'm closing on soon.
I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on this subject for me. I don't have a furnace or boiler in my house. Instead, I have a huge black thingy in the middle of the first floor (house has 4 floors including full basement and full attic) that looks somewhat like a wood stove but is hooked up to a gas line. So I guess that instead of gas coming into the house and fueling the furnace, gas comes into the house and fuels this thing, and I don't even know what to call it. The realtors called it "gravity heat" but that describes the type of heating system moreso than the piece of equipment.
There are also a couple of vents in the ceiling and if you look up there you can see right through to the second floor. Apparently, the hot air is supposed to rise and that's how the second floor is heated.
I'm a little nervous about calling in a home heating company to explain this thing to me--how it works, what to do, what not to do--but I guess I'll have no choice. Seems like a conflict of interest, when what they will really want to do is sell me a new furnace-based heating system, ductwork and all.
Any words of wisdom out there about this type of heating system? Does anyone know what the contraption is called so I can at least refer to it by it's correct name when I call the heating company?
Thanks again in anticipation of your advice!
Best,
Lesley
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Lesley wrote:

Don't worry about a conflict of interest. It is in your best interest to replace that thing. It has worked find for many many years, but now there are newer designs that will pay for themselves in fuel savings in a short time. I would expect you heating bills to decrease by 50% or more. You will be more comfortable, but you will be able to hear the fan with the new system and you will loose the joy of coming in after shoveling snow and standing over a register to soak up the heat.
You will also likely find the home will stay cleaner with the new system. Not only will you have a filter, but those old systems tended to have other problems.
This is a no brainer. You need to replace it. It is also likely to be a health hazard. It is old enough that it's safety should be questioned. At the very least, have someone check it to assure that you have no cracks in the heat exchangers. Don't consider operating it if you have a crack.
--
Joseph E. Meehan

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Let me guess, you had no home inspection, and are learning as you stumble. So get the place checked out and get a bid on a politicaly correct heating system before you close, yourself in. You may save more than 60% on your bill and live to tell about that old Co leaker. And dont forget, house inspectors will save you from getting caught in a money pit.
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Presumeably, the previous occupant didn't die of monoxide poisoning.
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default wrote:

True, but it has been a very long time since any of those units have been made and they are all now past their design life. They are accidents waiting to happen.
--
Joseph E. Meehan

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No, she most certainly did not! She lived in the house for 35 years, raised her kids there, entertained family, grandchildren, friends, etc. there. I should have asked more questions about the gas stove during the inspection, but I was busy dealing with some other contractors who were giving me quotes on some other stuff I want to have done after the close.
Lesley
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snipped-for-privacy@webtv.net (m Ransley) wrote in message

Actually, I did have a home inspection and the inspection report was positive. Certainly, this house should not be a "money pit" if the inspection report is to be believed. I understood that the house had a "different" heating system from the get go. I was just wondering if anyone could shed light on this type of heating system for me--you know, good points, bad points, things to keep in mind, etc. So far I have heard that there's nothing wrong with this type of heating system, but I should find out how old the gas stove is and, if it's old and/or faulty, I should replace it. However, the home inspection did not find anything wrong with it.
Thanks,
Lesley
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Lesley wrote:

It is old, they have not made them for many years. I would guess somewhere about 30+ years.

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Joseph E. Meehan

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The unit we just replaced was less than 20 years old, so I know they were still being made in the 1980s.
Downsides to these systems:
* Uneven heat -- central heating blows the air around enough that the rooms are about the same temperature. Convection heat doesn't, there were 15-degree differences between different rooms in cool weather.
* Big, ugly, in the middle of the room.
* No filtration.
* Less energy efficient.
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A lot has to do with the layout of the house. My old house was built in the late 1940's. The heat was within a degree or two (had to adjust the dampers, but that was only once)
It was small, sat on the side of the basement.
My gas bill was lower than most of my friends with other types of heater.
It only ever needed one repair.
Extremely quiet!
That type of system would not work well in my present house, but if it could, I'd put it in. Only reason I'd have changed in in my old house would be to add central AC.
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Joshua Putnam wrote:

Amazing. I never dreamed they were still making them in the 80's. The last ones I have seen were put in in the 50's.
Even at 20 years I would be starting to worry about it (they were generally good to about 25-30 years. Most of all I would want to change it out to get the improved efficency.
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Joseph E. Meehan

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Well... "nothing wrong" is overstating things a bit. It's manifestly livable, since people lived with it. On the other hand, it's also a heat distribution system developed before the fall of the Roman Empire. . .
Your house will be drafty, and the temperatures uneven. Fire, noise, and noxious gasses will travel around the building more easily.
Those things are "wrong", they're just not worrisome.
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I do some heating and AC work. The last time (well, the time before) when we took out a "gravity" heating plant, it was costing about $600 a month in gas bill.
Have it ripped out, and put in a 90+ percent effiency furnace and central AC. Will pay for itself after awhile.
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Christopher A. Young
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The last one I saw was in my grandfather's old four-square. It looked like an octopus the size of a Volkswagon. He had converted it from coal to natural gas before I can remember (at least 40 years ago.) When you would open the door on the side (where he used to shovel on coal) it was the funniest sight: inside this HUGE monster was a little gas burner about like a large burner on a gas stove. Kept the house warm. (You know how grandmothers like the heat turned up.) Of course, n-gas was pretty cheap way back then.
Bill

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We just replaced one of those units ourselves.
It was less than 20 years old and still working fine, with no leaks or maintenance problems for the heater itself, but it was vented up an unlined brick chimney that we had to remove for other reasons anyway. The chimney chase was large enough for ducts, so it was a no-brainer to replace the old beast with modern central heating and A/C.
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snipped-for-privacy@phred.org is Joshua Putnam
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I can't afford to replace it right now with a central heating system, but I will do that as soon as I can. For now, I can only afford to buy a new gas stove, and I think I found one at http://www.bigcountrytradingpost.com/stoves/LennoxHearth/gas_stoves/l30dvf2.html
I might not get this exact model, but something that can handle 1850 square feet will do nicely for my house.
Whaddya think?
Lesley
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snipped-for-privacy@buffalo.edu (Lesley) wrote in message

Have you tried Johnson & Starley ? they are the best warm air systems
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I think they're only in the UK. I'm in Upstate/Western New York. . .
Lesley
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