I live in a 1911 Craftsman in Seattle. The heating situation is... pretty weird. (See the "more inside".) My 42-year-old oil furnace still works like a champ, but the oil company folks say they won't service it any more and it has to be replaced. I have been searching and searching to try to figure out the best way to deal with this before it gets cold out, but I am not finding what I need. Should I change my heating method and can people recommend whom I might call for this?
posted by litlnemo to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
OK. Here's the situation. The house was built as a one-story bungalow + attic and unfinished bedroom. During the last 50 years, the attic was finished (and roof partly raised), and the basement was finished.
The main floor is about 1100 sq ft. It is served by the old oil furnace in the basement. The oil bills are very high. The CO detectors in the house don't show any noticeable CO levels, but the oil company serviceperson who last serviced it said it was likely to cause CO problems, and they won't service it anymore. (He drilled a big hole right in the front of it to do some sort of reading! And so now I have a furnace with a hole in it. Still works fine, no CO issues, but because of the hole is putting out heat into the furnace room where it shouldn't. I am skeptical of what the serviceperson said -- I think it's possible they just wanted to sell me a new furnace.)
The basement, also about 1100 sq ft, is not served by the oil furnace -- instead, there is a gas heater against one of the outer walls. (The basement is divided into a living space, and laundry room, storage, etc. The gas heater only heats the living space. So it's not all 1100 sq ft.) Gas also runs to the fireplace above it on the main floor. I am not sure if there is gas piping to anywhere else in the house. There is an old pipe in the main floor kitchen wall where the stove is (and probably was, all the way back to 1911) which may be gas, but could also have once been for hot water. I have no idea at all. No ductwork for a new heater to use to heat the basement, but probably not difficult to add in that location.
The attic, 780 sq ft, has two huge baseboard heaters, one for the bedroom and one for the upstairs "living room" (currently just storage). The bedroom one is kept fairly low and the "living room" one is kept even lower. I use a heated mattress pad, and a small portable heater for the otherwise unheated upstairs bathroom. The electric bills for the house are outrageous, though my housemate and I have cut back on our usage to about 50% of what it was here a few years ago. There is no ductwork upstairs and adding it is not financially feasible for me now.
I have just gone through a divorce and so this is the first winter I will be paying all the energy bills myself. I don't know how much my husband was paying for oil, just that each delivery was several hundred dollars. Gas has been pretty cheap, but it is only used for the fireplace (occasional use) and the basement furnace (which my housemate, who lives down there, doesn't turn up much). The electric bills are very high.
My financial situation is precarious because of the divorce, so I am not certain what my best options are here. This is what I see at the moment:
1. Keep old oil furnace until it really dies. It won't get serviced unless I convince another oil company to service it. 42 years old, so could break down any time, probably in January when it's really cold. Keep paying horrible oil prices. Not very green, but no big upfront outlay until...
2. Get new oil furnace. Keep paying horrible oil prices. Not green, and now I've just made a big financial outlay for something that burns oil...
3. Get new gas furnace. Presumably requires extending gas piping to furnace location from elsewhere in the basement. (Not sure if there is any infrastructure there for it already.) Some cost of doing the piping, but it's a relatively short distance. Have been told that with old furnaces there may be asbestos abatement issues -- not sure if this is the case with mine. Also, something has to be done with the old oil tank. I do not know what would be required -- it seems to vary depending on the situation -- but it seems likely to be expensive. Still not too green, is it? But financially it might cut the monthly heating bills in half.
4. Go all electric. Not sure at all how this is done... electric furnace? Heat pump? What? My head is spinning. I do know that the bulky ductless heating things that go up near the ceiling would be very very ugly in my Craftsman house, so I don't want that. I hate my existing electric baseboard heaters and do not want more! I want to be rid of the ones I have. The problem with the existing oil tank is still here with this option. Probably wouldn't lower the heating bills as much as I would like, though currently it should be cheaper than the oil heat.
5. Is there something else I'm forgetting? Wood stoves are probably not an option. :)
I was told "Call Puget Sound Energy and they can get you set up with a new gas furnace and installer, etc." When I asked PSE, they didn't seem able to do any of that -- just said I should call a contractor. I'm feeling very overwhelmed by this; I don't know who to call, what the right questions are to ask, how to keep this from killing me financially, etc. If my financial situation were different, I would just pay people to get this done one way or another, but I can't do that this time.
So what I need is information to help me make an informed choice of what to do as far as the heat is concerned, and recommendations of honest contractors/companies I can call to assess the situation, or sell me the heating equipment, or install it.
Sorry this is so long!