Our spec list from the CDC required us to replace the existing furnace with a brand new high-efficiency model. While it didn’t fire up, the existing furnace wasn’t necessarily unusable, but we budgeted and planned around replacing it anyways. The house was actually in really good shape duct-wise. There’s a cold air return in every room of the house feeding the air return trunk. New duct systems are essential a circle. Hot/cold air is blown out from one vent and then collected in a second (usually on or near the floor). This air is filtered and fed back into the furnace. In older homes, and certainly every place I’ve ever lived, the furnace just pulls in ambient air in the room or basement that it’s stored in. Around here, we have “The Cleveland Drop”. This is a hole cut into the floor of large main rooms with a register cover over it. It’s so the cold air can just drop into the basement and be sucked up by the furnace. While it doesn’t usually matter where your HVAC gets it’s intake air, recycling the same treated air is more efficient because the system will be adjusting back and forth between a few degrees of temperature change.
In addition to having the furnace replaced, we decided to install central A/C and have the ducts cleaned (something we would have done on the project no matter how the rest of the HVAC panned out). Em has never lived in a place with central A/C and despite growing up in Florida, it’s not a luxury that I’m used to. In Cleveland we probably have 2 to 3 months of really hot weather and every year there’s at least a couple of brutal days. Last year, the fourth of July weekend was particularly bad. We spent the entire time hunkered down in the bedroom with the wall unit running full tilt trying to watch a tv we could barely hear over the noise. On a personal note, I’m also looking forward to being able to host more house guests, parties, and board games without having to pass out napkins for everyone to blot their faces. It’s funny, in the grand scheme of things, when you’re already spending five grand on a new furnace, a couple more for an a/c doesn’t seem like that big of an expense. I’ve also noticed that it’s been far easier to spend money on this project (I’m kind of a miser in my normal life) because we’ve already debated and budgeted everything at the start.
The heating and cooling is the one large piece of the project we contracted out. We did some minor duct work ourselves (mostly moving things in walls and running to the new rooms). I’m not sure if we would have been legally allowed to replace the furnace ourselves, but it’s a level of complexity that we just weren’t willing to tackle. We ended up having about half a dozen companies bid the project. As part of getting into this program with the CDC, we were required to take a class on home-ownership. Part of this class involved a session with a contractor talking about maintaining your home. He explained that with your furnace, mostly all the equipment is going to be the same as long as you’re dealing with brand names and similar stats. The big difference between a good performance and bad performance in an HVAC system is about the installer. Proper installation means the air is coming in and going out as efficiently as possible. Bad installation could mean leaky gaskets, undersized or oversized equipment, or bad line work. Having your equipment properly sized is a really big deal. If you have too much furnace, then you’ll be wasting energy as you’ll be constantly changing the thermostat. If it’s too small, then your 2nd floor will never feel warm. Likewise, if you have too much A/C, then the house gets colder faster than the moisture can be removed leading to a clammy feeling like begin in a wet cave. And if it’s undersized, your upstairs will be really hot. When we had people quote the project, this difference really shown in the way the different companies handled the estimate. Several companies came in and just measured the physical footprint of the previous furnace and asked me about the square footage of the house. The company we ended up going with, by contrast, measured all the physical dimensions of the interior of the house and calculated out total volume. They also accounted windows, doors, and various other factors and plugged it all into some complex program to figure out proper sizing for the new heating and cooling systems. We actually didn’t get the quote back from them for a few days after the initial visit. Other companies would write us a quote on the spot. If you’re interested, we ended up going with Kasadonis Heating and Cooling. They weren’t the cheapest quote, but they seemed to be the most thorough during the quote process.
The new system is a 96% efficient furnace with a 2-stage blower and a 16 SEER A/C condenser. That all sounds really fancy and to tell you the truth, I really only understand the broad strokes of what goes into those numbers and qualities so I’ll try to explain it with a light bulb analogy. With light bulbs, you have energy that goes in and light that comes out. You also have some amount of heat that’s generated. Heat is wasted energy. So an incandescent lamp that gets really hot is clearly wasting more of it’s energy as heat than an LED lamp that provides similar light levels with a much cooler radiation. Any energy that isn’t coming out as light is inefficient. A heating and cooling system then, uses energy in the form of electricity and natural gas (in our case). Some amount of that energy is not going to be converted into heated or cooled air that is circulated through the house. For example, with older forced-air furnace systems, the furnace is vented up through the roof, often through an existing chimney stack. That venting can be as hot as 400F when the furnace is running full tilt. This is because the heat generated by burning the gas isn’t being efficiently transferred to the air that’s circulating through the house. There’s a lot of reasons this could be the case, and I honestly don’t understand the system well enough to describe the different ways in which waste is happening. What I can tell you is that we were guided in our HVAC choices by a couple of different sources. The more efficient your equipment, the more expensive it’s going to be. That’s pretty much always true no matter what you’re talking about. However, in our case, there were state and federal tax grants and rebates that made the choice a lot more financially appealing. Additionally, the spec list from the CDC required a high efficiency installation, as well as the terms for our renovation loan that requires energy efficient upgrades to the property.
Instillation day was really neat. It took 4 or 5 techs and laborers about 6 hours to put in the whole system and haul out the old furnace. They ran a couple pvc pipes to the exterior wall near the kitchen window. One is the vent and the other is the air intake. They added a couple of circuits to my breaker box to fit in the A/C in, and ran lines to the external condenser. They also ran a pvc drain pipe across the basement and into the floor drain. Both the A/C and Furnace cause condensation that needs to be drained away from the unit. They put in a polymer platform for the a/c rather than pouring a cement slab. I was a little surprised by that but as it turns out, a poured slab isn’t really done anymore due to long term problems it can cause. They also installed a new programmable thermostat that’s pretty slick. The work crew were all real nice and seemed to know what they were doing. I won’t have any gauge on the system until we get through at least a year of running it, but it turned on and seems to work out of the box. We’ll see if there’s any issues with the hvac inspection, but I can’t imagine anything big comes up on that front.
It’s good to have the last big piece of the puzzle in place. HVAC was the mechanical system we’ve waited the longest to get installed and now it’s completely done.