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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The House Chronicles:
When It Comes to Heat, We May Be Out in the Cold

I've been looking into putting central heat into the downstairs unit of our 1926 duplex. Currently, we have two old floor furnaces in the bedrooms, but no heat anywhere else in that unit. (The upstairs apartment does have central heat, from a gas furnace located in the attic...so that's not an issue.)

I had a contractor come out today to give me an estimate for installing a furnace, and much to my dismay learned that it may be next to impossible to put a standard funace into this building. Because we have only a short crawlspace beneath the house (approximately 18"), and they need an opening at of approximately 36" x 36" to insert the furnace into the crawlspace, they'd have to excavate down through the foundation, create an opening of that size and tunnel a trench or pit for the furnace under the house. (And all that tunneling and trenching could cause water drainage issues which could be both damaging to the house and hard to solve.)

An alternative would be to tear out a closet floor, put a large hatch in the closet, and then excavate a pit for the furnace under the closet (all the dirt would have to be carted out through the house).

A third option would be to put the furnace in an enclosure outside the house...but the house butts up to the neighbor's property line on the one side, there's no room on the backyard side (due to deck stairs, doors, etc.), and it would be very ugly to add an enclosure on either of the other two sides, since we're on a corner lot and those both face the street.

Finally, we could get a hot water furnace, instead of a gas unit, and put it in what is now a closet...but then we'd permanently lose a closet (and there are too few of those as it is), and we'd have to get a larger hot water heater than we have now to service it...which would require tearing out and rebuilding the current water heater enclosures because they can't accomodate heaters larger than the one we currently have.

None of these sounds like a fun option to me, so I've been asking around to see if I can find any other brilliant suggestions that I - or the heating contractor with 23 years' experience - haven't thought of.

One interesting solution that someone on the Old Homes discussion list did come up with was a geothermal heat pump, with a horizontal flow air-handler. This is intriguing, but I haven't yet found anyone in the LA area that actually sells or installs them. (I'll keep looking, though...)

Finally, however, I did come up with an idea that I think might work: on-demand water heaters.

No, I'm not crazy.

We recently looked at replacing our standard tank-style water heaters with small, wall-mounted on-demand units. We discarded the idea because they were about three or four times as expensive as the standard heaters, but...

Currently, our big tank-style water heaters are housed in a large enclosure at the back of the house. And the enclosure is just about the size of the enclosure we'd need if we put a downstairs furnace back there. So perhaps we could get rid of the tank-style water heaters, put an enclosed furnace where they are now, and then mount a couple of on-demand water heaters in a slightly different spot nearby on the back wall of the house.

This would be expensive (though probably no more so than all the excavating that would be required to put a furnace under the house), and would require some good coordination between the heating contractor, plumbing contractor and electrician...but I think it could be done. And it might be less painful than anything else we could do.

We're mulling it...

posted by Elizabeth 5:58 PM

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