Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Heating a House

When Pramas and I bought this house we were thrilled to be able to get a newly constructed home in the city and on the transit lines. We're still pretty thrilled with our house, though we have expanded to fill it and sometimes wish for things like a basement for dedicated game space and a spare bedroom that would give us room for guests.

The house came with several nifty features such as cable jacks and outlets in every room (not quite as nifty as Tim's full-wired house with the media closet and embedded surround-sound speaker system, but good enough to get cable and internet in any/all rooms of our choosing), a porch and fenced yard, and a "state of the art" and energy efficient hydronic radiant heating system. And, I have to admit that in general our house is easy to heat so I guess it was doing its job.

Unfortunately, problems with the hot water system popped up here and there around the development. The SHA's rental properties were among the first to be discovered. There was a bit of a minor scandal when it was discovered that the SHA not only knew about the defective piping used in the building of all our houses but had been fixing those failed systems without bothering to inform the Homeowner's Association or the other property owners. We even got a little press coverage when the SHA finally disclosed what they knew to the homeowners and we found out that information included knowledge that they'd "found unacceptable levels of lead in drinking water pipes." After much brouhaha and water testing around the development the lead thing was ruled to be an isolated issue (corrected a year before the homeowners even learned of it) but a lawsuit erupted over the defective pipes and the SHA's mishandling of the HOA when they had control.

That lawsuit has finally settled and to our initial relief, it seemed that we were going to receive a settlement check to cover the necessary repairs> In fact, we have indeed received a check. Unfortunately for me, after looking at the two operations that are offering "discounted" quotes (basically, a group rate for the 165 or so homes involved) to replace the system, it's clear that this settlement will only barely cover the basics of the work (the actual replacing of the pipes and water heater) and none of the "additional costs" (ripping up the walls, floors, or ceilings to get to the pipes; drywalling; re-flooring if necessary, repainting) not to mention that we would have to vacate our house for about a week.

So, I've been looking at other options. Until I hear back from the plumbers, I don't even know if the affected pipes were for heating only or if they're all the same pipes that bring water to the taps throughout the house. If the latter, we're kinda screwed. If we have some leeway, it might be possible to just cap off the "heating" pipes and leave them alone, replace the water heater, and then substitute electric heaters in the walls where the electric blowers for the hydronic system already exist. We don't have any ducts built into the house so central heating (or central air) aren't viable options. I've researched heat pumps and ductfree split system air conditioning. Even considered a gas or electric fireplace (though we'd have to seriously reduce the number of bookshelves taking up the walls in the house to do that).

We don't typically have to turn on the heat in our house until sometime in November but there's a ticking time bomb in the walls and I don't want to have to face it failing in the middle of January, or during any crazy Snowpocalypse action. If we have to go with replacing the hydronic system with a similar one, the "group pricing" offer we've got in hand from the two plumbers the HOA recruited isn't going to last forever.

So. Decisions have to be made. Soon. If anyone knows any good plumbers, HVAC experts, or reasonable and reliable general contractors in our area, I'm taking references and actively investigating my options! Or, if you can think of any other heating options that I haven't mentioned here (as Evan did when he noted that I didn't necessarily have to go with another hydronic system at all) I'd love to hear from you.


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Blogger Laura Says:

Boy, this is unfortunate. I think you should keep the hydronic system since it is going to be cheaper to operate over electric heat in the long run. Electric heat is very expensive. I suspect that you have different piping supplying your domestic hot water (drinking/bath) then the piping supplying your heat. Typically they are installed at different temperatures (like 120 degrees for domestic hot water and 90 degrees for space heat). Good luck!

A good plumber: Jensen Plumbing: voice mail 206-824-7717
pager 206-671-0133
(Greg Jensen). We used him when we replaced the entire plumbing system in our house and he did a fine job and was very easy to work with.

Blogger Nikchick Says:

Laura, thanks for the referral. I gave Greg a call and he's not able to handle this kind of job but said to thank you for referring him.

So far I've had three calls back from plumbing/heating guys I've contacted for estimates. Greg called back to say right off that he couldn't handle the job. Another guy called back and was very knowledgeable about the systems, confirmed that what we have is "cheap junk" and a "cockamamie" idea and gave me lots of references to high quality replacements that it's doubtful we can afford. A third guy is hopeful there could be a work around and I'm waiting to see what he proposes.

Anonymous Laughing Muse Says:

I know a contractor - the one who's looked over my hydronic system and knows how they work, has even designed and installed heating and piping systems for corporate buildings. Problem is, he's actually quite a bit south of here, but he's planning to come up in May to replace my hydronic heating system's water heater with a tankless model. I can get you his information, if you want another estimate.


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