When we found out we were pregnant, I made two demands: by next winter, we would have dependable running water (aka replacing all the plumbing in the house) and heating for the main floor. We had working baseboard heating in the family room and half-bathroom and that was it. NOT a place to bring a baby home to, especially when none of the fireplaces are able to have fires! (That’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)
We did get all the plumbing replaced— and renovated a bathroom in the process while everything was exposed anyway– but up until recently, we hadn’t figured out how to heat the main floor. (Upstairs has functioning baseboard heaters. Plus we got A/C up and working again upstairs too.)
So in the past few weeks, we have finally gotten around to making some changes. A lot of pregnant women go through a nesting phase where they research/ buy/ clean a ton. My nesting phase was researching heating systems and getting estimates from various companies. Overall, we had five heating/ air conditioning companies come out and give us estimates. (Side note: One guy told us our house was too complicated and he’d have to check with his manager to see if their company was even interested in taking on a project as big as ours– they ended up not being interested and didn’t get us an estimate. So technically we actually only got four.) The issue with our house, as is the case with all older homes, is it wasn’t designed with air ducts in mind… meaning the crawlspace isn’t big enough for traditional air conditioning/ heating ducts, and there’s no room between the walls or floors like newer houses.
David took out the baseboard heaters throughout the first floor by himself (which was actually pretty crazy– he turned off the circuit breakers to the baseboard heaters, which I thought was overkill since they didn’t work anyway, and then he shocked himself twice because the circuit breaker was incorrectly marked). We then had a carpenter come and replace the baseboard moulding where the baseboard heaters had been. Here are two pictures that show the new baseboard moulding in our dining room– you can only tell it’s new because it’s a fresher white than the old stuff. Otherwise they match up pretty perfectly!
You may have noticed those little circles in the floorboards. They were installed for the old air conditioning system downstairs, a high velocity system that uses much smaller tube-like ducts than a conventional system.
This website describes the differences between a high velocity and a conventional system really well (better than I could at least, even after all of my nesting research!):
|Duct Sizing||Conventional systems have the highest impact when installed in an old home. They use large runs of metal ductwork (6″ in diameter is typical) that branches off of two main trunklines (perhaps 8″x18″) for the supply of cool air and return of the warm air. The size of ductwork typically requires giving up space–typically in soffits, knee walls or–in the case of multi-story homes–a closet.||High Velocity systems usesmaller 2″ insulated tubing for supply lines. This smaller tubing results in a lower impact on existing space, typically fitting within walls and between floor joists.|
|Flexibility||Because of the space required for metal ductwork, conventional systems have limits on where they can go. Some areas of an old home may be inaccessable without adding soffets or bump-outs in corners. Flex tubing is available but is much less sturdy and may not meet code requirements in some locations.||High Velocity systems can place supply vents to more locations. They fit more easily between floor joists and wall studs and can make unusual turns more easily than rigid ducts can.|
|Air Flow||Conventional systems move air more slowly. The advantage of this islittle noticable “breeze”when the air is on. The disadvantage is that poorly placed supply and return vents can create “dead spots” of warm air in a given room.||High Velocity systems intentionally create circulation throughout every room. Some may not like these air currents, but they do offer the benefit of amore consistent temperature throughout each room and the whole home.|
|Noise||Conventional systems have larger ducts and pass air more slowly. It stands to reason, therefore, that they are typically near-silent. (Real life experiences may vary though–more on that later.)||High Velocity systems use smaller air passages and move air at a higher velocity, so you’d expectmore “wind noise” from this type of system. Manuracturers have used additional sound deadening materials in supply tubes in recent years to mitigate this issue.|
|Asthetics||Conventional systems leave a bigger visual mark on a home because they require more and larger vents. Every room needs a supply and return, which are typically rectangular.||High Velocity systems use small supply vents with cover plates the size and shape of CD-ROMs (or smaller). In addition, because of the physics behind the approach, they also only require one return vent for the entire house, instead of one per room. The result is a less noticable visual impacton the existing decor and less space lost to installing returns.|
|Mechanical Systems||Conventional systems win out here for two major reasons. First, conventional systems are less demanding on your air handler giving it a longer useful lifespan. Second, metal ductwork is a simple material that lasts indefinitely.||High Velocity systems use a more engineered tubing that is more prone to deterioriation over the long term (although manufacturers have made improvements in recent years). In addition, the higher air velocity and smaller tubing meansmore stress on mechanical componentsof the system. Finally, because the smaller tubing creates greater drag you typically need a more powerful (i.e., $$) air handler to achieve the same output as a conventional system.|
We couldn’t get conventional ducts in our house anyway, so ultimately the decision was just to convert the old air conditioning system downstairs into a new heat AND air conditioning system– complete with new tube-ducts that run underneath in the crawlspace.
Behold, our new thermostat in the hallway (above the existing return)!
Isn’t that the coolest? The downside is it’s smack dab in the middle of the wall, but the air return was already there anyway so I don’t really care too much.
There was, however, a catch to heating and cooling the first floor: the kitchen. The kitchen was different from the rest of the first floor for two reasons: one, half of the kitchen subfloor was thick stone while the other half was wood (and cutting through thick stone for the air flow was impossible); two, the existing air conditioning circles in the floor were in really bad positions (in the middle of where you would walk, not in the corner of the room where they should be– meaning the high velocity air flow would blow your skirt up, or kick dog fur straight up into the room) and needed to be moved… except there was no good place to move them to due to the thick stone.
This presented quite a problem. The rest of the house could be converted using the high velocity system but the kitchen couldn’t. We toyed with a bunch of ideas until finally we decided on… drumroll please… a ductless system!
A ductless heating and air conditioning system is basically what each hotel room has. You can heat and cool the whole room independently from the rest of the house.
Ductless systems are extremely efficient– more so than high velocity or conventional– so we’re hopeful it will do a good job heating the kitchen! So far it’s doing a great job cooling but then again it hasn’t gotten tooooo hot yet (so grateful, don’t get me wrong! Best August to be pregnant EVER!). They’re also very affordable to run after the initial expense of installing one. Their one downside is they are very obvious and not concealed whatsoever. This was my main drawback to ductless, but ultimately, it’s actually not too noticeable above the wine rack in the kitchen. I wouldn’t have wanted one of these in every room of my house but for one room, especially one corner of that room, it’s not bad at all.
So with that in mind, we’ve crossed off everything I HAD to have done before baby comes! (Hear that, baby? We’re ready for you now!) At this point we’ll just be playing the waiting game!