By Karina | January 30, 2012
We’ve been meaning to do this for AGES. We were heating our house with fuel oil, which was expensive and dirty, plus, it’s super smelly and actually exactly the same thing as diesel fuel, really. Every year the furnace would need service because of sludge clogging the lines (algae grows in the fuel oil because of the low sulfur formulation – which is good for emissions! but was a real hassle every year when we had to replace the filter). The furnace was old, too – I live in the 845 area code, and the “call for service” number on the side of the furnace was a 914 area code – which changed about 12 years ago to 845. We estimate the furnace was about 20 years old. And old means, in general, inefficient – especially when it comes to heating equipment that runs on fossil fuels. We also had a hot water heater that was over 10 years old (and those tank heaters are known to kind of randomly explode into a mess of hot water at any time over 10 years) that ran on propane, and was also wildly inefficient. It was time to replace both of them.
So, once we had enough money saved up, we found someone to come out and put in a new furnace and hot water heater! It was a multi-step process.
We decided to go with natural gas because it met several of our criteria: it was available, it was possible for us to install with a minimum of expensive infrastructure upgrades, we had the money on-hand, and as a bonus, there were several rebates we were eligible for. By going to natural gas, we can get rid of the fuel oil AND the propane tanks and rely on only one formulation of fossil fuels to heat our house and our hot water, cook our food, and dry our clothes.
First, however, we had to have a gas line installed to our house. This was pretty expensive, because we had to pay $40 a foot over the first 100 feet. It added up to just over $1,700. It looked kind of like this — we absolutely got our moneys worth, by the way. The gas company usually is able to use a horizontal boring machine to drill sideways under the homeowners lawn, and install the gas line without disruption and fairly quickly. We live on top of a granite outcropping, however, so they had to go the old fashioned way with bulldozers and diggers. I’m glad they had to do that work, and not me.
Then we waited a few months and saved more money.
Next we found a local contractor. The fellow we did find was pretty wonderful – he gave us lots of options that included ways to make our entire home more efficient, including rerouting the ducting downstairs and creating a dual zone system so we could have different heats set for both the downstairs and the upstairs, insulating all the ducting, and changing the locations of some of the heat registers for more effectiveness. We also wanted to install a tankless hot water heater, which would heat up the water right when we need it instead of keeping a bunch of water hot all day long when we are not even home. Unfortunately, we found ourselves with restricted funds so we told this nice fellow that we would have to wait on the extra efficiencies and we went ahead with the efficient furnace and a standard natural gas water heater — but we look forward to working with him in the future when we’re able to afford fixing up the forced hot air system and putting in a tankless hot water heater system.
And from the realm of incredible, the night before the furnace installation we ran out of fuel oil! It “clunked” off at about 11 at night and we put an extra blanket on the bed. What stupendous timing!
We now have a new furnace that is 95% efficient. I can’t even hazard a guess as to how efficient our old fuel oil furnace is, but according to the energy.gov page all about heating systems, we probably had a furnace that was between 70% and 80% efficient. The new furnace and a new hot water heater (also a natural gas version, though not the super efficient one we wanted – we didn’t save that much money!) was $6,400.
The new furnace runs on natural gas and is still a forced hot-air model like we had before. The major differences, though, besides the fuel source, are the electric ignition, the variable speed blower motor (which starts up slowly while the air is heating and ramps down as the furnace shuts off, so there’s less time where the furnace is burning and no air is moving).
Of course we still have lots to do. The next thing (which we can do ourselves) is to insulate the ducts in the basement. Middle-long-term is to get a new direct-contact/tankless hot water heater. And the long term plan is still to put some solar panels on the roof and further evaluate a geothermal system.
But for now, I’m so happy that we don’t have to buy any more fuel oil. We haven’t gotten the prices in on running the natural gas yet, but we are hopeful that it will be cheaper for us to run. We’re not keeping the house any warmer than we did before, but it *seems* warmer because we know we have a new furnace. Plus we were able to give away the two above ground oil tanks in the basement to people who really needed them, which is pretty great as well!
Clearly, upgrading our old farmhouse without going into debt is a long process. It was last year that we put in new insulation in the attic. We still have a long list of things to do, including finding a way to reinsulate all the house walls (either with or without taking off the siding) – their thermal value, is, well, suspect. There are a few cosmetic things (and functional things) too – like finishing the attic so we can use it as a family room, and redoing our incredibly ugly bathroom. And painting! so much painting to do. It’s nice, though, to do this as we’re able to, and to know that we’re tackling some big ticket items that are making a real difference both to the environment, and to our pocketbooks!
And as soon as we can calculate our payback you can bet I’ll be telling you all about it!
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