Home improvement project(s) need suggestions/advice (furnace pipes and wet wall)

Hi, all:
I just relocated to San Francisco and we bought a small house (whew! everything is so expensive in SF!).. This old house that we got has a downstairs in-law units which has VERY LOW ceiling mainly due to the huge furnace pipes and therefore we are only using the whole area for washer/dryer. I'm really thinking of converting this area into a computer room, but we have to do some remodeling or upgrades for the furnace (at least the huge pipes) I guess. I have shot some photos with my digital camera and the photos could be found at here:
http://www.picturetrail.com/hotister /
Could someone please post some advices about what I could/should do with this huge and old furnace system?? I know very little about this type of furnace system (not even sure whether it is gas, water, or electrical).. I think it is still working, but it seems that it only works for upstairs units but not the downstairs in-law units. Few more questions here:
(1) Generally speaking, is it possible to have two seperate switches for the heater for both upstairs unit and downstairs unit??
(2) For this kind of old furnace system, should I remodel/upgrade it right now? If not, how should I "maintain" this kind of old furnace system?
(3) Could anyone please estimate how much it might cost for remodel/upgrade this furnace/heater system??
Thannks!
by the way, I found that the downstairs unit is very humid even in winter, and one of the walls (newly painted 6 months ago) that is facing the garden, is starting to get some "wrinkles" on the surface, which looks really ugly and I believe that it was caused by either the humidity or the wet garden soil outside of the wall. Is there anything I could do about this?? Here is a photo of how the wall looks like (the last photo): http://www.picturetrail.com/hotister /
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Call a HVAC guy and get an estimate on converting the pipes to square vents, then you could get a carpenter to build bulk heads around them, dry wall them etc. They're not going to completely go away but maybe some can be tucking between the joists at least. Your furnace looks fairly new, short of spending more money on heating systems if you want one area cooler turn the vents down on the furnace or turn the vents down on the room. You could put in automatic vents but again that's big dough. Talk to the HVAC guy (or two, or three) and get a feel for what is doable on your budget. The dampness problem is your top priority. Get someone to look at it right now. You don't want to know what's growing behind that wall. It may be in the early stages or it might be an old problem. Find out asap.

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I see a fairly new Trane gas heater in the picture. The heater does not match those old signs. Your only problem is the size of the ducts, and there's not a lot you can do about that. You can maintain the system by calling a heating company for a yearly inspection. If you have wet garden soil outside the wall, remove it if necessary to keep the wall dry. What neighborhood do you live in? SF has several climates and none of them are especially dry. -B

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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (T.T.) wrote in

<SNIP>
The other guys have made excellant suggestions and I have little to add except that perhaps you have a drainage problems outside. Maybe the soil nearest the outside of the house is pitched towards the house. It should pitch the other way. Moisture can "wick" upwards from the outside soil. The damage you see is from this. Also, what sort of exterior siding do you have? If it's brick, it should have ventilation joints to allow trapped moisture to get out of the wall. If it's wood siding, it could be too close to the ground and not protecting the inner walls. Too many variables here to consider. You could benefit from a thorough house inspection by a reliabel person to evaluate the situations described in your letter. Be awarem that if this moisture problem has been on going, you could see some severe damage inside the walls on the studs. To repair this damage (and it looks like it's into the sheetrock at this point) you'd need to replace the bad wall board. One more thing to consider is if the attic is ventilated well enough. Too many people place insulation over the upper plates of exterior walls and the moisture collected in the wall has no way to evaporate. It then condenses on the lower parts of the wall. Good Luck
Doug
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