Nick> Let's replace windows with outdoor cameras and computerNick> projectors or flat screen TVs, with fluorescent lights andNick> doors or push-out panels for fire escapes.
So you see how untenable this position is.
I was thinking a little more about the OP's issues heating his house.
It sounds like he's on a south-facing slope. Some of the slopes in
that area are steep enough that his lower floor may be off the ground
on piers which are illuminated by the sun. Alternatively, there is
2000 ft^2 of upper floor not over lower floor, which may also be on
In either case, he might be able to build one of your solar closets
down among his sunlit piers, then use air blown through that to heat
the house at night. It would make the house much more usable, increase
resale value, and aesthetic issues with DIY-built stuff would be less
important since it's out of (his) sight. Also, in that neighborhood a
homebuilt solar closet may not generate adverse comments from the
If he can pick up 600 BTU/ft^2/day in February, store it through much
of the night, fix the worst of his air leaks, and add some attic
insulation, he might get half his heating done with 400 ft^2 of solar
aperture and 500 gallons swinging between 90 F and 140 F. That'll save
a bundle on the replacement furnace and the bills from same. Depending
on the house configuration, there may be 40 lateral feet of sunlit
piers down there, so there is some chance of fitting significant solar
aperture. On steep hillsides, angling the solar closet glazing
slightly (15 degrees) face-up from simply vertical can greatly increase
the vertical extent of the glazing without chewing up a lot of real
estate. He might implement a 10 or even 20 foot tall face for the
If I were going to do any such thing:
- I'd get a contractor to build the footing and concrete pad
under the house for the heat store. Someone used to
doing foundation work, who won't screw up the existing
footings. Have them drill a pier to bedrock if necessary.
- I'd go big on the heat store. 1000 gallons if you can manage it.
- Use 55-gallon (or 40-gallon if you can get them) used plastic
barrels to store the water.
- Build the glazing as tall as possibly practical. It doesn't weigh
very much and often people don't use steep real estate below
- Heat the water directly rather than use an air heater to transfer
heat to the water. The EPDM mats seem like a nice solution,
but you'll not like the $5/ft^2 price.
A few things others noted, the BBB is a joke for you to put any faith
into. Your prices quoted are sounding very high for what you are being
offered. I don`t know your total heating bill for a year but you say 550
for a month of feb. Figure how much your actual yearly heating bill was.
There are high efficiency condensing furnaces which are the norm here
and do save alot more than an 80% unit. Different manufacturers have
different efficiency ratings , they go from apx 93% to a new unit that
has 97%. The savings difference is figured on the differential of the 2
units. A 97% will save you 21% over an 80%, not 17% as many think . I
personaly would not consider an 80% unit unless yearly heating was only
a few hundred. You say Feb was 550 so im guessing 400 was heat so you
qualify for high efficiency condensing unit, and that was at last years
Ng prices, not todays or in 5 years, my prices are up 70% this year.
You state no ducts can be run to 2 rooms, I find that real hard to
believe that something can`t be done as I have just upgraded a 110 yr
home without heat in 3 rooms. Flex duct for "Spacepack AC" is run
everyday to retrofit old homes and can be enginered to do heat, Ive done
it for a hard to plumb room. With a house of that size you are
forgetting VS DC zoneable systems that will save 25-50% in running the
blower. They are available on the best condensing units and can remove
50% more humidity in summer and give more even winter heat through
slower fan operation.
For 2900 Im getting a Carrier infinity 94% with VSDC and special
thermostat instaled, your price of 6300 for 80% units sounds extremely
You had a few unqualified bids that did no load calculation as I see it
ranging from 100k Btu to 200k Btu. 100k btu 80% efficient gives out 80k
Btu heat. 200k outputs 160k Btu. At 96% efficiency 100k outputs 96k Btu
and 200k outputs 192k btu. A 20% increase meaning a 20% smaller unit is
needed. A great difference in output you should consider in sizing is
output and their efficiency.
For probably under 4000$ you could get a 97% VSDC out putting 120000
btu that is equivilant to a 80% 144000 input unit and save winter and
summer through its VS DC motor. With some insulation even this unit
would be oversized for your area.
You need to learn about what you need and what is offered and run some
real numbers on utility, equipment, costs and paybacks. Run the numbers
with todays higher Ng costs and double it for 10 years, then you will
realy see that an 80%er is dumb.
You only need the unit sized to keep you warm on the coldest days
running 24hrs a day, If you are going to keep the place future
insulating will make the difference. Caulking everything will reduce
wind iniltration. Insulating curtains and Cellular shades can take the R
1 windows you have to R 5- 6+ likely that would reduce your Btu needed
by a very great amount. If you can do it figure the load calc several
ways for true sizing needed. I sized and had my AC instaled before I
knew this or insulated, so I regret im oversized and humid. There are
many sites on heating, windows, insulation you need to learn as your
"heating pros" are not helping you they are just instalers. Im no pro
but in zone 5 1800 sq I paid 465 last year for Ng down from 2000 by
doing my own research and following my ideas, not any salesmans.
I certainly understand your situation... It took everything I had to buy my
house. So been there, done that!
It sounds to me like heating your house is going keep you "broke" from now
So I would look at this long term - what is best in the long range of
I think energy rates are going to keep going up, up, up. So I think the
thing to do would be to eventually install double pane "Energy Star" argon
filled windows in your house. This will *drastically* reduce your heating
and air conditioning costs. And also you should eventually insulate the heck
out of your house.
But this will cost a lot of money, and if you are constantly paying high
heating and air conditioning bills, you may never have the money to make the
So what I would do for now is to get the largest heating unit you can get,
and zone the house out. Instead of heating the *entire* house, figure out
which rooms or which portion of the house can be heated while leaving the
rest of the house unheated. (Close doors.) Perhaps you can move your office
elsewhere for the time being?
Then just heat certain rooms or a certain section of the house. This will
save you money on energy bills for the time being. Then maybe you could have
one window replaced a year with an "Energy Star" window - this will be
expensive. Eventually when all windows are replaced and the home is well
insulated, your heating requirements will be much less.
Then you should be able to heat your entire home for a more reasonable cost.
And at that time, you will not need such a large monster furnace!
Here is the Energy Star web site...
Installing "the largest heating unit you can get" and then closing off
registers to keep some rooms unheated is a good way to decrease the
lifespan and efficiency of the furnace, making your wallet much lighter
in the long run.
The furnace must be sized for the particulars of the zone(s) it feeds.
If it is desired to have part of the house colder than another, they
should be on separate zones by design.
I have a 3600SQ feet house + finished basement in Toronto, were it is much
colder than N. California.
Last year I replaced 120,000BTU gas forced air furnace with 100,000BUT High
Efficiency furnace and it is more than enough to keep my house worm.
Is you attic insulated?
9 months ago, I put my entire life savings into the down payment for a
home (built in 1955) in the Oakland Hills (northern california)
My fianc้ and I recently found out that our monstrous 50 year old 255K
BTU furnace (70% efficiency in its day) has cracks in 4 out of 6 of
the heat exchangers and was emitting carbon monoxide (yikes!). They
no longer make residential furnaces of that size, so deciding how to
replace it has been an exercise in frustration and confusion. We have
gotten 5 separate estimates, all providing vastly different opinions as
to what should be done to replace our furnace and adequately and most
efficiently heat our home. How is one to know who to trust and
believe? My head is spinning from all of the different advice we've
been given (which I'll detail further down in this post)
To complicate things further, our home was custom built by the previous
owner, and has a very unique open floor plan on the upstairs level,
which constitutes about 2600 sq feet of the home. There are 11
registers and 2 large returns on the upstairs level (although both my
office and our dining room have NO registers and we've been told they
can't be added). The downstairs level accounts for approximately 600
square feet and contains our family room (which has a single register
in it)and a guest bedroom with no registers in it.
The entire length of the house, on both levels, has floor to ceiling
windows facing south that provide a breathtaking panoramic view of the
bay. However, they are older windows, with metal frames, and are very
inefficient -- the house loses a lot of heat when it is cold through
those windows, yet when the sun is out the vast southern exposure beams
through the house, heating it sometimes to the point where I literally
feel like a dog locked in a car on a hot summer day. We are in the
hills, and it can get windy, meaning it can get super cold at night.
Yet when the sun is shining, it actually heats up to the point that by
mid-afternoon I'm opening windows because it's too warm -- even in
November (although once the rainy season starts it will be cold all the
time -- I know this from our first month in the house, last February,
wherein we got a $550 PG&E bill that almost gave me a heart attack...
-- after that I had tried not running the heat, but even with wool
sweaters my fingers were still too cold to type and you can't operate a
touchpad with gloves on..)
We have a home warranty, which should cover the cost of replacing the
furnace, although it turns out that the list of uncovered items is much
larger than what is covered.. The home warranty sent out Company A to
provide an estimate for the furnace replacement. They came back with
the suggestion of replacing our 70% efficient 255K BTU furnace with an
80% 100K BTU furnace to the tune of $6300, $2100 of which we would have
to pay out of pocket. As we were shocked both by the price, and by the
size of the unit they were suggesting (how could this adequately heat
our home?), I did a little researching on the Better Business Bureau
website and found Company A had several unresolved complaints filed
against them. Not good.
I decided to get some estimates of my own, and had 3 separate
companies come out to the house. Companies B & C each suggested
getting a single 80% efficiency 155K BTU unit. However, we were
concerned whether even this would provide adequate heating AND we were
informed both by the home warranty company and by Company E (who
provided estimate number 5 as a 2nd opinion on behalf of the home
warranty company) that it is illegal to install a furnace larger than
125K BTU in a residential home in California. Is this true? If so,
I'm even more bewildered as to who to trust, as Company C is Sears - a
brand I thought was highly reputable.
Then there was Company D, which is a member of the BBB, has no
complaints filed against them, and is also an authorized installer for
Home Depot. This company provided the most thorough examination of our
home and took into account the materials it was made of, the layout,
and all of the windows, in addition to the square footage, in making
their recommedation. They suggested getting two seperate 80% efficient
100K BTU furnaces and using a "twinning kit" to make the units operate
as one, providing a total of 200K BTU to heat the home. In addition to
seem the most knowledgable of the contractors thus far, they also had
worked with our home warranty company in the past (and is only no
longer on the list of approved contractors b/c they didn't send their
latest proof of insurance over, which they are now doing so that we
might be able to have the home warranty company authorize their doing
When we called the home warranty company and told them of Company D's
recommendations, the home warranty rep who answered told us that
twinning is not a proper furnace installation, and could actually cause
our home to blow up! The home warranty company said they wanted to
send another company out of their choice for a 2nd opinion (the
abovementioned Company E).
When Company E showed up, they told us they would recommend putting in
two 80% efficient 90K BTU units -- that were twinned! We told them
what the home warranty company said about twinning, and they said that
was inaccurate and that they did twinning systems all the time and it
was the only way to heat a home of our size, and that the same home
warranty company had previously authorized such repairs in the past.
Yet when we next spoke with the home warranty company, we found out
that Company E had actually sent in a completely different job estimate
to them, with recommendations of a zoned system with a single 125K 80%
efficient BTU unit for the upstairs, and a 75K 80% eff. unit for the
downstairs. As such, there would be extensive ductwork modification
that would need to be done to zone the system, leaving us with almost
$2900 in uncovered costs.
(thanks for your patience if you're still reading this far!)
By this point I felt like my head was spinning, and could not
understand why the contractor who came to our home would tell us they
would be installing 2 twinned 90K BTU units, only to then send an
estimate to the home warranty company for an entirely different job.
The home warranty rep suggested I call Copmany E and ask why there was
a discrepancy between what they'd told us and what they told the home
warranty company, and to explain why they'd want to do a zoned system
over a twinned system.
I'm already beyond 'house poor', so if I'm going to be spending this
much money I want to know that the job will be done right, that the
house won't "blow up", and that we will actually have enough heat for
our home (particularly the upstairs level)
So I called Company E, and was told that the estimater said he thought
it would be more efficient to do the zoned system. When I expressed my
concern as to whether the single 125k BTU unit could really heat the
2600 sq foot open floor plan windows everywhere upstairs of the house,
which had 11 registers, not to mention the fact that the downstairs
level only has a single register and no returns I was told they'd have
to call the guy who did the estimate and then get back to me. They
later called me back and said "Yeah, he said you could do it as
twinned". I then asked why did he submit it as being a zoned system to
the home warranty company, to which I didn't really get an adequate
response. I also could not get an adequate answer over which would
actually be the better choice for my home, but that if I went with the
twinning it would only save me $235 for the install of a second
thermostat (how can that be? wouldn't all the extra ductwork
modification needed for zoning drop the price down if the system were
I am looking to cut costs b/c I'm pretty broke right now, but not at
the expense of safety, comfort level, or decreasing the value of the
house by not getting the right furnace installed. Meanwhile we have no
heat, and I've no idea which (if any) of these contractors I can trust.
This is my first home, and I've been told by numerous friends who have
been homeowners for far longer that it is *very* difficult to find a
good HVAC contractor - and of course, no one had any they could
recommend. I feel like I just don't have enough information to
possibly make a decision as to whether to go with a twinned system, or
a zoned system, which contractor to choose, etc.
I literally am desperate for some advice from those who are more
knowledgable regarding heating issues. TIA for the help, and also for
having gotten this far in my huge rambling anxious post!!!
He's probably right. Your situation sounds like a good fit for zoning.
You probably lack qualification to determine whether 11 registers has
anything to do with 125kBTU, but they should be able to give you an
answer if you ask the right questions. They proposed to rework the
ductwork anyway, right? That means they're already seriously thinking
about the air balance and heating needs of the two zones.
The answer doesn't match the question. Are you sure your question
didn't mention twinning or whether it could be done cheaper with a
The communications between you and the estimator are "filtered" by the
guy on the phone. Chances are good that's where your problem is in
getting adequate response. He might be asking the estimator the
question he thinks you're trying to ask, and giving you the answer he
thinks you want to hear. Ask to speak directly with the estimator if
Here's what I think happened. The estimator told you his initial
impressions upon seeing the system you already had and ballpark
guestimating by the total square footage of your building. After closer
inspection and further consideration of your unique building, he
determined that you'd be better off with zoning and with certain
deficiencies corrected. So they provided their recommendation to the
warranty company for what you should really get done.
I'm going to guess that your questions give the impression that you're
looking to save costs, so they're offering you a cheaper but less
You have only one register and no return on the first floor? Offhand,
it does not sound like your ductwork is appropriate, but I can't see it
from here. It could be that most of the ductwork modification is to
provide some to the first floor, which you may need in either case.
If you have two stories, generally the better choice for comfort and
energy efficiency is zoned. When you bring costs of installation and
upkeep into the picture, comfort and energy are traded for dollars. For
some, a single zone is "comfortable enough" and "efficient enough" not
to justify the added expense of zoning.
I think contractor E sounds more "with it" except for the communication
problems, which let's face it might be at least partially on your end
of the phone. It's tough to be an educated consumer untill you've
already consumed a bit ;-)
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