Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Visitor and a Major Decision

We've had a couple of developments with the house lately, which made me realize, "Hey, I used to have a house blog! I wonder whatever happened with that." It was a little like waking up in college and realizing you have a final in a class you'd forgotten you were taking. I haven't updated this blog since April. For five months there hasn't been anything interesting enough to post to this blog. Hopefully that will change, but as always, I will play the triplet card for now.

The Visitor

A woman who grew up in our house stopped by today. Judy, our neighbor from across the street, stopped by this morning to tell us that this woman was in town for her high school reunion and she might want to take a look at the main floor of our house.

Honestly, at first we were a little creeped out by this. I mean, I can imagine driving by the house I grew up in to see what it looks like now, but I would never knock on the door and ask to take a look inside. I would never do that with any of the houses I've lived in, and neither would Maranda.

But then we realized that it wasn't creepy; it was actually pretty cool. This woman's family lived here from 1957 to 1985. Judy lived across the street during that time too, so they were able to talk about the old neighbors and the ones who were still around. College Hill has more of a sense of community than many neighborhoods; certainly more than you find in most suburbs.

It's also about the house. It's cliche, but old houses have character. I really think you feel more of a connection with an old house than with a newer one. At least, we certainly do. We lived in our house on Robin Circle for five years, yet we really didn't feel any sense of loss when we left it. After living in our College Hill house for not even two years, we would already feel tremendous loss if we had to leave. This woman wanted to come inside because it wasn't enough simply to drive by and see the outside of the house. She still felt like this was home. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

We also found out that this woman's family bought our house from the Warrens, who were the original owners. In 1985, her family sold it to the Muths, and then in 2007 we bought it from the Muths. That means we are the fourth owners of this 93-year-old house. Pretty cool. Our house on Robin had had at least four owners, and it was built in 1992!

The Major Decision

After two winters, lots of work to make our house more efficient, and concerns about a 25-year-old air conditioner, we are considering a major HVAC makeover.

Last winter we insulated the basement pipes, installed storm windows, weatherstripped the doors, and lowered the thermostat. All of that had a measurable effect on our gas usage when compared to periods of the same temperature the year before, but it just wasn't enough. We still paid several hundred dollars more per month than we should have during the coldest months.

So we started having companies come out to give us estimates. At this point we've decided that we're willing to part with our beloved steam heat if it means we can have manageable gas bills, so we're even open to replacing the boiler with a furnace.

Fortunately, I've read Dan Holohan's book We Got Steam Heat, and that helped make a couple of decisions easier. The first two guys who came out to give us estimates for a new steam boiler completely ignored the radiators. They went downstairs, took some numbers off The Beast (the original steam boiler that still heats our house), and basically said that was all they needed.

Guess what? It wasn't. Due to many reasons outlined in Holohan's book, these old steam boilers were sometimes extremely oversized. Although some of Holohan's information may be apocryphal, the fact is that the only way to accurately determine the size of boiler a house needs is to measure every single radiator in the house.

Our third guy restored my faith. He immediately acknowledged that the size of the current boiler was irrelevant, and started measuring the radiators. He is also able to work with furnaces, steam boilers, and hot water units. We discussed the pros and cons of each, and he is going to give us estimates for each: for replacing the whole system with a furnace (or furnaces), replacing the steam boiler with a modern steam boiler, and replacing the steam boiler with a hot water unit if that is possible.

Our preference, if it's possible, is to convert the steam system to hot water. There are several advantages with this approach: we would keep that radiant heating that we love so much, for one. And we wouldn't have to worry so much about one of the girls grabbing a pipe and burning her hand. Plus, with hot water you can use cheap, easy-to-use plastic pipe and simple baseboards. So we could pretty easily run heating to the back room and the main floor bathroom, which currently aren't heated. This all depends on whether our pipes and radiators will work with the conversion, though.

We should start getting estimates back this week. I'll keep you posted on what direction we take.

1 comment:

RovingWeaver said...

I didn't have time to read this far down the other night, but I have to say, I hadn't been reading this blog because I didn't think you were updating it. I'm glad you are now! I love the idea of radiant heat. I want that in my Sportsmobile, even, but not water-based - they have an electric mat (solar powered) that you can have under a floating bamboo floor, and I want that. :-) Not positive it will be practical in a van, but it would actually be fairly cheap, and keep my feet warm!!