So...what's new with you?

Us, well, now that the weather is a little nicer we've been shuttling back and forth between Old Town and our new house in an attempt to both get a handle on our heating and plumbing system woes, and also to move some of our little projects forward a bit.

I'm not sure what it is, perhaps it's the fact that the house has no functional heat or plumbing, but Wendy and I are somewhat to very overwhelmed by the whole situation at any given time. That being said, it's a pretty overwhelming situation, so I'm going to go ahead and give us a pass on feeling the way we do.

So the $64,000 question (oh man, hope it's not actually that expensive), what's the plan for the plumbing and heating situation?

Well, the short of it, we're not quite sure yet, but we're doing a TON of research.

We've actually met with five contractors to get quotes and ideas about our system. On one hand we could do a straight repair of the system with a new boiler and new baseboard radiators throughout the house, but it essentially needs to be a completely new system. Every old solder joint is suspect and every radiator has some damage, so we're pretty much starting from scratch since it was all so heavily damaged.

But rather than just starting over with what we had, we're taking a hard look at all of our options to figure out what we should have.

I think we're also going to take this opportunity to throw some additional money into the project to add central air to the house while planning things out. It just feels like the right time to tackle this project, in spite of just adding more complexity onto our plate.

So at this point we need to make some planning decisions with whichever contractor we choose to work with. We'll have to choose fuel/energy, deciding between oil, propane, or electric. We'll need to choose heat source type, deciding between boiler with radiant, traditional forced air, high velocity forced air, mini-splits (okay, likely not mini-splits), or some combination of approaches. And we'll need to plan for any future items we may be interested in doing and how it could impact the new system, either in the short or long term, like grey water recovery, geothermal heat source, or eventual solar. It's a TON to think about. But I'm excited to start making decisions and sharing them, and our justification for making them here on the blog. Maybe our thought process might help someone else in planning their system.

In other news we've been making little updates here and there in the house. Wendy has been beautifying where possible, which included giving our house numbers a little refresh. I know it's a tired trend, but we're now doing a little spray painting with oil rubbed bronze. (I promise we won't do it all over our house!)

She also painted the front door Benjamin Moore's Wythe Blue, and we're just thrilled with the results. It's more of a sea glass color, so the green undertones work well with the green roof on the house. 

Wendy has also spent several days completing the unglamorous job of priming five unfinished adirondack chairs. We'll also paint these Wythe Blue and can't wait to try them out around the fire pit or on the porch until we have a more permanent seating solution out there. Regardless, it will sure beat moving the folding dining chairs outside every time we want to enjoy the view and a meal.

We've learned that a tree that's struggling a little bit is actually a very nice cherry blossom. We'll need to figure out how to prune it up some and take care of a disease that appears to be on its limbs, but it still made for a rather lovely look.

Taming the gardens has been high on our list while our indoor work is at a standstill. This included the trimming back of some massive round of sea grass next to our porch.

We've also been completely enthralled with Ben and Sally, our newest neighbors. (We've named them.)

They're the new Osprey that have taken up residence in their nests and they are just interesting neighbors. They're extremely vocal and love to call to each other. And they also love to fish, which is amazing to watch.

They swoop down into the chop of the water with their outstretched talons and pluck huge fish right out of the water. I hope to get a good photo of that activity before too long.

And finally, we're taking every low tide opportunity to clean up our neighbor's abandoned beach of debris that has collected over the years. There's a lot of crap out there. It looks like someone drove a car into the water about 50 years ago, and there's a fair amount of things that haven't completely rusted away.

Well, that's what we've been up to, you know, besides worrying about work, life in general, and all the other boring stuff everyone can more or less commiserate on.

So I have a question and we'd love some of your input. If you were planning out a new HVAC system in your 100+ year old house in our neck of the woods with moderate insulation, what would your approach be? Heat pump? Boiler? High-velocity? Electric? Oil? Propane? Solar? Geothermal? Nuclear Cold Fusion?

Comments 26


Ursula Ellis
4/15/2015 at 12:17 PM

While I know NOTHING about HVAC, I loved this post. What a beautiful place!


Thanks, Ursula!Alt smile

4/15/2015 at 1:58 PM

I don't know what it would be, but it would not be a heat pump. They blow out air set to the temperature you've set the thermostat and really are very inefficient under 32 degrees. We live near Roanoke and the heat pump stinks.

I look forward to seeing what you decide.


Thanks for sharing your input on this, Gwen!

Clare Hescox
4/15/2015 at 2:17 PM

If I were in your position, I would do Geothermal, it is front end money heavy but long term economical. I would also install solar panels to heat the water and maybe use for electricity. Your place is so beautiful and a ittle isolated so being off the grid might be the way to go. I love your blog because I live in a 120 year old house in PA and have done a lot of the same projects in my house over the years. Keep it coming!!!


Thanks, Clare. The more research we do, the more attractive Geothermal is looking. To your point, it's a lot of money up front, but the cost savings over time are substantial. Good luck with your house in PA!

Adam Krautheim
4/15/2015 at 3:35 PM
Welcome to the neighborhood! We recently sold our home in Oldtown and moved to the Eastern Shore (Queenstown). I recommend you go with geothermal. Steele's HVAC installed the units. Rodney is your go to tech. He was just out to install two Nest thermostats. We'll cut our utility bills and be able to monitor the system while away from home. Good luck with the project.

Thanks for the input, Adam! Geothermal is looking more and more like the best option!

4/15/2015 at 4:07 PM

I can't help at all on the HVAC stuff, but I want to heartily encourage additional photographs of Ben and Sally. My favorite osprey fact is that they line up the fish they catch with the fish's head pointing forward as they fly for less wind resistance. Definitely try to get a shot of that.


Happy to oblige. And maybe we could even get a photo of your very cool fact in action.

4/15/2015 at 5:01 PM

Over the course of 42 years of home ownership and 5 houses, we have found heat pumps to be the most economical. We were able to cut our heating/air conditioning bill in half by switching from gas/ air conditioning to a high efficiency (17 Seer) heat pump in just the last two years ( Richmond, VA). The new heat pumps do not blow out cold air during the heating season the way they use to. The forced air is not as warm as with gas heat, but still comfortable.
Unfortunately, our lot is covered with 80 foot oak trees, so solar is just not a good choice for us-- but perhaps it would be at least part of the solution for you. I would love to hear all about it as you explore your options. Happy investigating!


Thanks, Bea! So glad you've found a good option over time that you're happy with. We worry that we'll have regrets after we put in a new system, so we're researching the heck out of it now.Alt smile

4/15/2015 at 5:29 PM

I can't help with the HVAC but I can offer a suggestion for trimming ornamental grasses. For the past 2 decades I have used a cheap electric hedge trimmer. Trims the grasses in literally ten seconds.


Thanks, Elanor. That definitely sounds like a better way to go.Alt smile I think we'll be purchasing an electric hedge trimmer before long with all of the bushes and yard at the new place.

Karin K
4/16/2015 at 7:37 AM

Great post! I really have nothing else useful to offer, other than sympathy for your heating ordeal, and confidence that you'll end up with a state of the art solution.


:) Thanks, Karin!

4/16/2015 at 8:36 AM

HI Alex and Wendy, I've been a long time reader and I think we are living parallel lives right now-we just recently bought our 1950 vacation home fixer upper on a lake and have had our share of mishaps and expensive discoveries during the winter months. Highest on the list was a complete HVAC replacement, which is happening now. We were on a 35 yr. old oil burning forced air system and have chosen to go with propane and we are also installing a/c for the first time in the house's history. New insulated ductwork, tanks, the whole nine yards. I can certainly share any info if you'd like so just email your blog!


Wow, the parallels are crazy! Congratulations on making progress on your new system and we appreciate the offer to reach out for info. We might take you up on it!Alt smile

4/16/2015 at 2:23 PM

Blake Hill House (circa 1882) has two natural gas units tethered together on one thermostat. The only change I would use is to use Geo-thermal to prime in order to save a bit on gas when the temperatures dip down.

We stay nice and toasty, and the expense was only high for the three coldest months. We do not have any insulation at all right now, but we will be adding some this summer. We live in Western New York.

I was nervous about the winter because we moved here from California, and we are all still adjusting to the bitter weather of winter.

We do not have A/C, so I cannot weigh in there.


Thanks, Stacy! We appreciate your advice on this and we hope you're enjoying the "new" house and change of scenery. I imagine it will take a while to adjust from CA to NY winters!Alt smile

4/16/2015 at 11:10 PM

If you're doing major work, maybe this is a good time to improve the insulation as well.

And use nuclear cold fusion if you can find it.


Thanks, Harry! Insulation has been a big item of discussion as of late. The attic and crawl space have been spray foamed, but the other two floors leave much to be desired. It's definitely on our project list.

Franki Parde
4/19/2015 at 10:41 AM

Do NOT GO WITH A HEATPUMP!! I cannot tell you how noisy they are and the heat/air is UNEVEN and I just groan every time it turns on at night...just a burden we have to bear since ours is not that old. Grrrr!! You must be having a ball with these nice temps and being outdoors!! franki


Thanks, Franki! I really appreciate you weighing in on heat pumps, and yes, we're really enjoying the moderate temperatures these last few weeks. It's been lovely!

4/19/2015 at 1:47 PM

I'm really excited for your deliberations on what systems you choose. You have such an intense research period, and your choices are always well justified. Good luck!!


Thanks, Whitney. I'm getting anxious about getting things fixed, but know that we want to make sure we make the right decision for the house and how we'll use it. The not having water/heat/working toilets thing has gotten really old though!

Since you've not signed in yet, you will need to fill in your name and email below. If you have a Facebook account, save yourself a step and use Connect to login.

Denotes a required field.

Please enter full URL, including http://

You can use Markdown syntax in your comment. And you can also use lots of Emoji!
  • Search

  • Login
  • Follow
  • Advertising

If you're looking for information on advertising and sponsorships, head on over to our sponsorships page. You can purchase site sponsorships in a few easy clicks. 

Toolbox Tuesday
Open Housing
  • We're Featured!

Old Town Home has been featured in the following places and publications:

The Washington Post
Washingtonian Magazine
Old House Journal
Apartment Therapy House Tour
Washington Post Express Feature
Home & Garden Blogs
© 2024 - Privacy Policy
Login Below
Sign in with Facebook

Unexpected Error

Your submission caused an unexpected error. You can try your request again, but if you continue to experience problems, please contact the administrator.