Heating options for my "now pipeless" 3-story shell property

In a thread that I started on 12/03/2012 (with the subject line "Main Water Supply Line freeze protection"), I wrote about an empty "shell" home that I own that recently had all of the copper pipes stolen by thieves. The property has a full basement (with high ceilings and a ground level walk-out in the back), and 3 floors above that. The entire house is completely empty and gutted throughout. All that is left is the exterior walls (which are masonry/stone), and the floors and stairs. All that is left of the interior walls and ceilings is the open framing. None of the interior walls are load-bearing, so all of the wall framing that is left can easily be removed without creating any problems. Nearly all of the wiring is gone (it was knob and tube anyway) except for a new main service panel in the basement and a couple of circuits for the heater, an outlet or two, and a temporary lighting circuit for the basement. All of the kitchen and bathroom fixtures and plumbing are already gone (all of that was already gone before the theft).
So, it is now essentially a blank slate -- meaning that I can design all of the rooms and future layout however I want it to be, but taking into account where the stairs are located and where the exterior doors and windows are located. The first floor and second floor have full-height ceilings throughout. The third floor is large, but it has some sloped ceilings due to the roof above. And, I should add that the plan includes that all of the exterior walls will be framed out on the inside of the building and insulated since the exterior walls are just masonry/stone right now. And, of course, all new frame-out windows will be put in since all of the interior window trim was already removed in anticipation of that.
The house has (or, should I say, "had") hot water cast iron radiator heat. All of the cast iron radiators are still in place, with any iron piping that goes to the radiators still there. The gas boiler for the cast iron heating system is only a few years old (I had it put in when I bought the place and converted from oil to gas heat). There is no central air conditioning.
My decision now is:
1) Do I design the whole new house layout based on using the existing gas boiler and keep the hot water cast iron heating system (which would mean running new copper lines to the radiators)?; or,
2) Should I just take out the existing gas boiler and start over with a gas-fired forced air central HVAC system?
I don't know the cost of installing a whole new central HVAC system including all of the duct work throughout the whole house. And, I am wondering if a central HVAC system will have any issues pumping enough air (especially the AC air) up to the third floor.
Of course, I can have a couple of heating/HVAC contractors look at the shell and give me their opinion and a rough idea of the comparative costs -- and I probably will be doing that anyway. However, since I don't even know what the room layout of the house is going to be yet, the most that I could expect from them right now is a very general idea of the pros and cons of each option.
I'm leaning toward going with a whole new gas-fired forced air central HVAC system and using the theft of the copper pipes as an "opportunity" to switch to a central HVAC system rather than to try to restore to old hot water cast iron heating system.
Any ideas, thoughts, or suggestions that others here may have about which way to go with this would be appreciated.
Thanks.
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The forced air option allows you to install humidifier for the winter,and central AC for summer. If the cold air doesn't get to the 3rd floor, you can use duct booster fans, or a couple window units on the back side.
If you redo the boiler, please consider using iron pipe, so that doesn't get stolen also.
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In a thread that I started on 12/03/2012 (with the subject line "Main Water Supply Line freeze protection"), I wrote about an empty "shell" home that I own that recently had all of the copper pipes stolen by thieves. The property has a full basement (with high ceilings and a ground level walk-out in the back), and 3 floors above that. The entire house is completely empty and gutted throughout. All that is left is the exterior walls (which are masonry/stone), and the floors and stairs. All that is left of the interior walls and ceilings is the open framing. None of the interior walls are load-bearing, so all of the wall framing that is left can easily be removed without creating any problems. Nearly all of the wiring is gone (it was knob and tube anyway) except for a new main service panel in the basement and a couple of circuits for the heater, an outlet or two, and a temporary lighting circuit for the basement. All of the kitchen and bathroom fixtures and plumbing are already gone (all of that was already gone before the theft).
So, it is now essentially a blank slate -- meaning that I can design all of the rooms and future layout however I want it to be, but taking into account where the stairs are located and where the exterior doors and windows are located. The first floor and second floor have full-height ceilings throughout. The third floor is large, but it has some sloped ceilings due to the roof above. And, I should add that the plan includes that all of the exterior walls will be framed out on the inside of the building and insulated since the exterior walls are just masonry/stone right now. And, of course, all new frame-out windows will be put in since all of the interior window trim was already removed in anticipation of that.
The house has (or, should I say, "had") hot water cast iron radiator heat. All of the cast iron radiators are still in place, with any iron piping that goes to the radiators still there. The gas boiler for the cast iron heating system is only a few years old (I had it put in when I bought the place and converted from oil to gas heat). There is no central air conditioning.
My decision now is:
1) Do I design the whole new house layout based on using the existing gas boiler and keep the hot water cast iron heating system (which would mean running new copper lines to the radiators)?; or,
2) Should I just take out the existing gas boiler and start over with a gas-fired forced air central HVAC system?
I don't know the cost of installing a whole new central HVAC system including all of the duct work throughout the whole house. And, I am wondering if a central HVAC system will have any issues pumping enough air (especially the AC air) up to the third floor.
Of course, I can have a couple of heating/HVAC contractors look at the shell and give me their opinion and a rough idea of the comparative costs -- and I probably will be doing that anyway. However, since I don't even know what the room layout of the house is going to be yet, the most that I could expect from them right now is a very general idea of the pros and cons of each option.
I'm leaning toward going with a whole new gas-fired forced air central HVAC system and using the theft of the copper pipes as an "opportunity" to switch to a central HVAC system rather than to try to restore to old hot water cast iron heating system.
Any ideas, thoughts, or suggestions that others here may have about which way to go with this would be appreciated.
Thanks.
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It was stated earlier that it's NJ, so you need AC. That alone would direct me to forced air. Since it's essentially gutted, that should be relatively easy. A factor not stated is the size. Larger homes today typically have two systems, one for the upstairs, one for downstairs. That could solve the issue of getting enough air to the third floor.
If you go with furnace in the basement, then I would be damned sure that they run large enough return ducts and large enough supply ducts to that third floor. Brand new million dollar homes have been built here in NJ, all over the place, that have totally flawed HVAC systems because of inadequate ducting. When you have the place gutted, it should be easy to do right. And if it's not, you're screwed. Yet, I bet if you call in 3 contractors, I wouldn't be surprised if they all would screw it up unless you specifically bring it up, spec it out and keep after them.
Also if you go with a single unit, I'd be looking at having it zoned, as Oren suggested. Again, not a lot of increased cost if it's done upfront and done right. Nothing worse than having a hot third floor due to a system that isn't done right.
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The size: It's a semi-detached twin home (meaning 2 homes side-by-side with a shared party wall between them; I own one side and my neighbor owns the other side). The unfinished basement, 1st floor, and 2nd floor are about 625 square feet each; and the 3rd floor is about 500 square feet.
And, with the new high efficiency HVAC systems being direct vent, I could probably place 2 units almost anywhere and vent each of them out through a wall.
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Between the two of them [*], my houses have a bit over 6000 sq.ft. of heated/air-conditioned space, with four HVAC systems. ;-)
[*] One should be on the market in a week or so. Finally!

I generally don't use the upstairs units much, though I'll probably have to in this house this next summer (I'm using the space now, sorta).
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You might consider a ground source heat pump depending on the relative costs of gas and electricity and any subsidies available..
Renew the piping in steel as less likely to be stolen.
A "wet system" will be more efficient than air, hence use less fuel if you stick with gas.
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Renew the piping for radiators? And then do what for AC? Hang those ugly mini-splits all over the place like you do in the UK?
Geothermal will cost ~$20,000 more, a tidy enough sum so that you'll never recover the cost over the life of the system. Particularly in NJ with some of the highest electricity costs in the country.

This from the village idiot who has demonstrated countless times that he doesn't have a clue about thermodynamics or energy efficiency. This specific issue has been driven into your head with spec sheets galore, yet you just won't learn. There are gas furnaces readily available here in the USA from many manufacturers that are inexpensive and 96% energy efficient. They are widely used and are the leading choice for new systems. There are also boilers for hydronic heating that are about the same efficiency. There are no differences in efficiency. There is a big difference though when it comes to AC, which the OP needs. With a gas furnace, the AC equipment mates with the furnace and for $2000 more, you have AC for the whole house. Ever try putting AC onto a boiler?
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I highly recommend seperate forced air furnaces for each unit with Air. this gives each unit its own thermostat, and teenant pays utilities the furnces dont have to be in the basement
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The property is currently a single family dwelling, so separate utilities etc. wouldn't make sense.
But, there is a remote possibility that I would go for township approval to convert it into a 2-family dwelling. There are other multi-family dwellings all around this property so that may be an option. And, of course, if I did convert it I would want all separate utilities (including gas, electric, heat, water, sewer etc) for each unit.
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Radiant Floor Heat multiple heating zones
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around here scrappers are removing everything metal from vacant homes.
recently looking at properties with a friend, i have seen homes stripped of ductwork, one to the point of collapsing parts of the home, no furnace, no AC, no hot water tank, one even had the wiring removed.....
I would go with multiple forced air furnaces with air, each on its own meter, and seperate utilities, at least the main ones. around here water sewer tended to be on one bill, since they werent expensive..... today sewer costs more than water and both are sky rocketing...
with a total gut you have a great opportunity to improve your property greatly
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