I'm looking for advice on heating my 100+ year old 3-flat (no tenants,
just me and my sister).
It is currently heated by cast iron gas space heaters, 1 or 2 units per
floor, approximately 35000 BTU per heater. The brick building, for the
most part, has no insulation. It has an unheated glorified crawl
space, 3-5 feet in height. New windows and doors, so leaking air is
not a problem.
I'm remodeling the place and my contractor has suggested lowering the
10 foot ceilings to install central heat. I don't want to do that, but
I'm at a loss for alternatives. I'd like to install radiant floor heat
on the first floor, and gas fireplaces or heaters on the other floors.
I really like my old space heaters, but my sister doesn't, and we
should probably replace them anyway. I have a newer space heater that
doesn't work as well, plus it's downright ugly. Direct vent gas
firelplaces are being considered, but that requires punching a hole in
the wall, which I'm not too keen on.
Vent-free gas heaters are out of the question, as the aggrevate my
respiratory problems. Likewise for any heating system with a fan.
I'm afraid to convert to electrical heat completely, as I have no idea
what it would cost. Ideally, I would love to have a dual fuel system
(gas/electric), to be able to take advantage of whichever fuel is
cheaper. I live in Chicago, and electric rates are due to rise around
What are my options? (I plan to stay in this building for another 8-10
In your neck of the woods, I would imagine gas is cheaper to operate in
the long run due to your cold winters in Chicago. The space heaters you
have now, are they the ones mounted in the wall and vents outside?
Radiant heat is labor intensive, but well worth the money. If you've
done your homework, you know that radiant floor heat only rises about 5
feet before really disapating, and it keeps the floors, such as floor
tiles in the bathroom very warm. It can be installed under the floor
joists or if you're remodeling the area between sub floors (putting
slats at 12" centers and looping the lines around them). Make sure the
installer uses the correct mixing valve, not the type that would be
used off a tankless water heater. The reason being is that the temp.
would still be to high. Radiant heat through the lines should only be
around 120 degrees, depending on the flooring you're going to have.
Your boilers typically run a water temp. of 180 degrees.
Just to throw in another option, how expensive is oil in your area?
One more thing, have one room isolated (during construction) that you
can get away from things (like the mess you're not going to want to
deal with after a day at work.
On Nov 24, 6:17 am, email@example.com wrote:
Agreed, at least in ultimate operating expense.
Heck, keep the space heaters, clean 'em up and they will actually appeal to
MANY prospective tenants. Is there a separate gas meter for each flat? I'm
unsure of the average layout of a "3-flat". We call them apartments or town
homes if multi-floored.
The advantages of electric radiant heat CANCEL the increased cost of
operation. That is, relative ease-of-installation, metering of use, many
individual heating zones, etc. The installation of this type of heating could
be less disruptive to the building than other forms of upgrade.
With no insulation, air leaking is much less of a problem, but not
eliminated by the new windows and doors.
In the US, a new buyer will want central heat so the resale in 10 years wold
be greatly affected. If yo were in Europe, space heaters would be better
Electric is the cheapest to install, but usually the most costly to operate.
Gas and oil are usually fairly close but will vary depending on location.
Adding a water heated system will entail running pipes up the wall. This
can often be done buy running them inside of closets or in a corner of a
room and building a cover over them. Then you have to run the tubing room
to room so there will be a baseboard enclosure along the entire perimeter.
If you have respiratory problems, a water heated system maybe one of the
best options. If you have gas running to each floor now, you can put a gaze
fired heater on each floor, but then you need ducts and blowers. With a
HEPA filtration system, your respiratory problems may improve and it wallows
you to add air conditioning and to separate utilities if the property goes
back to rentals again.
Have a friend who installed radiant floor heat cost megabucks to
his observation the air in the rooms stagnate, he is now looking at
reinstalling some air ducts for air circulation.........
smells and such linger forever....
Gas heat will be the cheapest to operate. electric always costs far
more per BTU of heat.
I suggest if your remodeling you INSUATE WELL!! all walls cielings etc.
sales feature at resale time, and saves big bucks while you live there.
with such a large home you might consider making it 2 units or 2 unit
capable during remodel/
subdivinding with the right tenant can help pay the long term bills and
permit a nicer reovation too.
example do attic apartment first, live in attic apartment while
remainder of work is being done
While combustion heaters ( gas/oil/kerosene) usually cost less in
fuel for each BTU generated, it must be remembered that the combustion
products MUST be vented from the house. In "ventless" heaters, the
safety feature is an "oxygen depletion sensor" that cuts off the fuel
the air becomes dangerous. Therefore, the house must be "leaky" enough
to get rid of the hot gasses on it's own.... Many houses are.
Vented heaters send the hot gasses up a chimney to the outside....
But, in either case, the hot gasses leaving the house must be replaced
by air coming INTO the house from the outside. So, if you are runnin
100 degree gasses up the chimney, and replacing it with 25 degree air
in thru the cracks, the efficiency isn't very high. For instance, a
roaring fire in a chimney may heat the immediate vicinity, but the
rooms where the draft air comes in at will be COLDER....
Electric heat does not require any re-circulation. And it is
100% efficient as every watt-hour you pay for is converted into about 3
BTUs of heat, without combustion products..... However, Electric
heat costs more per BTU generated that fuel heaters..., generally.
So, it depends on how well insulated, and draft free your house is.
The tighter your house, the less "cold" can come in from the
outside. In fact, some houses have been built so "tight" that
combustion heaters must have a special "intake air" pipe to
provide the "draft air" for the gas flow......
Personally, I like electric heat. I can heat the bedroom at night
without wasting power on the kitchen. And vice versa in the
daytime..... In the summer I use fluorescent lights ( the edison base
screw-in kind) in my fixtures, since they produce less heat for the
same light and saves on air conditioning. In the winter, I put in
100 watt bulbs in all the fixtures, since all 100 watts for each bulb
ends up as heat in the room, the same as dedicated electric
But the choice of electric is not shared by my wife. She wants the
entire house warm or cool ALL THE TIME. and doesn't want to bother
with efficiency or lower bills..... You may have this preference also.
But the ability to "zone" the heat can halve your bill if you get into
the habit of it....
Just some observations that I haven't seen posted here yet.
Andy in Eureka Texas (licensed PE)
The gas space heaters that she'd be likely to use, if she goes that
route, would be direct vented.
Thus they'd bring in the combustion air through a chambered vent pipe.
The outer chamber or channel generally brings in the combustion air.
The inner channel houses the exhaust and also preheats the incoming
air. Thus losses from cold incoming air are minimized.
I see that you live in Texas. That's probably why you like electric
heat. Your winters are not as severe.
A flat that might cost $300/month to heat by gas in Chicago could
easily cost $1000/month to heat via electricity. It just isn't
feasible to use electric heat in the northern tier of the USA or
Canada except for spot heating, small spaces or emergencies.
I really don't like electric heat (unless it's forced air) because
there's no air circulation ... rooms get smelly, too humid, you name
it, without some sort of really good air exchange system ... which does
not sound reasonable for you ... or, you might as well put in central
heat/cooling. I do like easy zone control ... I have 2 forced air gas
furnaces ... one for each side of the house ... it's an older home with
a "granny flat" built on. We live in the "granny flat", I have boarders
in the other part of the house. And what would be ideal would be to
further zone that other part of the house into upstairs/downstairs
zones ... the upstairs gets hot in the summer so needs ac, the
downstairs does not, so does not need ac.
The (zone) arrangement you have sounds ideal to me ... just needs some
refurbishing. Sure, direct vent gas fireplaces require a hole in the
wall, but imo it would be well worth it ... especially since you've
already got the gas lines installed.
If it was me, I'd stick with the gas ...
Here in Canada, with current codes, and high efficiency furnaces or
electric, houses are so well sealed that in winter, and with all the
windows closed, there is very little air exchange (and so air
exchangers are a health necessity). We've got plants, and aquariums,
and pets, and people breathing ... anon anon anon. Or, it can get humid
to the point that the condensation on windows begets black mold/mildew.
Now, in an older leaky home, like my last one, this doesn't happen. And
so by too humid, I mean considerable condensation gets dumped on e.g.
windows causing in turn mold/mildew.
There is such a thing as "too humid" during the heating season.
HVAC south of Canada tends to leave out the V part.
Homes recently built in Canada are indeed so tight that controlled
ventilation is needed, almost required, for health of people and pets.
A thoughtful home buyer south of Canada with the funds to make it happen
can get her/himself a home built that has the same issues with
ventilation that our neighbors to the north have. That is, we must PLAN
for the introduction of fresh air to replace the air we exhaust when we
1. Turn on a Bathroom light/exhaust
2. Turn on a gas/oil furnace
3. Turn on a gas water heater
4. Operate a clothes dryer
5. Operate a range hood
And we want to maintain a positive pressure inside so that when we open
a door, outside air is pushed away from the opening, at least briefly,
so that pollen/dust/mold spores stay outside.
If your house is that well sealed I hate to think about your indoor
air quality (out gassing of the carpet, furniture, etc.) I likely
live North of you (North of most Canucks, anyway) and my house gets
incredibly dry in the Winter.
NEVER is a long time. There are situations I'd go for electric
heat (in moderate temperatures and low electric rates heat pumps
look pretty good - even with the occasional resistive heat needs).
In NE, never!
Electric stoves, always (long story).
HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.