All right folks, are you ready for some serious excitement?

While HVAC or plumbing might not be the thing that jumps to your mind when I mention excitement, when you've been without either for a few months even baby steps are exciting.

The fact is, this is our toilet situation.

Yes, it may be installed, but it requires us to fill a bucket in the other room and come into this room to fill the tank before flushing it. Baby steps, but we've got a flushing terlet!

As you likely already know, a few months ago we had a freeze disaster at our water house that has left our house without functional heat or plumbing. It all started on February 19th when we discovered the boiler had quit and our house was hovering at about 20 degrees. This caused the pipes to freeze and burst throughout the house, and has necessitated an insurance claim and a major plan to rectify the situation.

A few weeks ago we mentioned that we're taking this opportunity to not just repair the damaged components and piping, but instead to replace the whole HVAC system and put a better solution in place that would help prevent this from occurring in the future, and better serve the house's HVAC needs.

But the main thing about this whole process, we're learning that it's not a sprint, it's a marathon...and we feel like we're running it without any training...and we're sort of slow and out of shape.

Since that fateful day in February we've been working to obtain quotes from various contractors and develop system plans that will meet our needs. Through our various conversations with six different contractors, one of which that wrote us back and said "this is over our capabilities and would like to withdraw our quote," I think we've finally come to an agreement on the type of system we're going to go with.

And The Winner Is...


You have no idea how happy I am that we are making the jump to geo.

When we were first considering all of our possibilities we hadn't really thought of geothermal as an option. We figured it would be way too expensive and way too difficult to find someone who could do the work. Instead we looked at an electric heat pump, a new oil boiler, a propane boiler, electric heat pump with propane backup, an oil fired forced air furnace, and just about any combination of all of these items, but never really considered geo.

Through all of these options and the various contractors, we ended up talking to two that were fine doing one of the various options we were discussing, but also had a specialty in geothermal installs. The more we researched our options, the more it looked like a possibility.

If you're not familiar with geothermal, the oversimplified explanation is that it uses liquid filled pipes that are buried and run through the rather consistent temperature of the earth that sits just a few feet below the surface to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. It's extremely energy efficient, only requires electricity, can perform both heating and cooling, and is very quiet. 

The complicated explanation has to do with the boiling point of the liquid in the buried pipes, heat exchangers, horizontal vs vertical loops, loop lengths, heat loss calculations, desuperheaters, and a whole slew of other items that make your head spin when you're researching.

The good news is that we've waded through the research, have some sound information, and a good guide in the process. Second of all, and most importantly, we look to have enough yard space to do a traditional horizontal loop install, which is usually the big obstacle to overcome in geo. And since we're removing all of the old boiler and copper radiator piping, we should have a good amount of room in the utility room where we can put the indoor items.

But for us, the biggest obstacle regardless of what approach we were taking was figuring out how we could convert from a radiant system to forced air without adding unsightly duct work throughout the house. We are getting rid of the baseboard radiators and didn't want to just end up replacing them with big boxed in duct chases running between floors. The house is over 100 years old, and we want it to keep looking that way.  

Through lots of brain storming and several very in depth discussions we came up with a pretty solid plan. We're going to split the system into two, placing a geo heat pump and handler downstairs and running duct work below the house to heat and cool the first floor from below. Next we'll put a second air handler and split unit in the attic. This attic unit would heat and cool the second and third floor from the ceiling down. We'll only need to run the geo line set into the attic and won't need to box duct work in anywhere beyond the return locations. Win win.

With a plan in place for our system we were starting to feel good so we went ahead and started to take out some of the old baseboard and standing radiators. In the living room we removed the baseboard radiator and discovered what many years of massive heat variations will do to paint on original moulding. 

Don't worry, we tested, and we got lucky. It's not lead paint.

Besides, we won't be stripping or standing the way we've done in our house in Old Town. I'm done with stripping every bit of paint from moulding. We're going to remove the worst paint with steam and get it in shape to be painted again. Any lumps or bumps we're calling character and leaving it at that. Do you blame us? I don't.

Removing the larger radiators has been an extremely fulfilling experience. I've always felt like these guys were sort of out of place and didn't belong in the house. They feel like radiators you'd find in a school built in the 1940s. 

After being tortured by these damn things and their rupture, it feels pretty great to take them to their final resting place. In each case I start with the little tubing cutter and make my initial cut.

Once the tubing was cut taking the whole thing out couldn't be more straight forward. Removing a few screws or nails from the radiator surround and just popping the whole mess out is as easy as pie.

The coolest part of the whole project, whether I was taking out baseboard or the large radiators, was finding out what was hiding behind each of them. In the case of the larger radiator, I can see that the wall and moulding were both painted a rather bright color.

One thing is for sure, there's going to be a whole lot of old radiator covers and pieces that come out of this effort. I'm wondering if they're trash or if they're worth taking to Community Forklift. I'll have to contact them to see if they have a need for "really old and pretty ugly baseboard radiator covers." I wouldn't see why not.

All told we're moving in the right direction, even if we're moving at a snail's pace. Having a decision made on HVAC is a tremendous load off my shoulders, and knowing that the solution will be energy efficient and unobtrusive in the house is pretty awesome. I can't wait to share all of the detail steps with you as we go through this geothermal install. I'll try to be detailed in the event you're considering it for you house. And when we're all said and done we'll do a post project analysis to give you all of the important details.

My guess is that we still have a few months until our whole HVAC and plumbing project is wrapped up, so we'll keep running ahead in this marathon and hope we don't hit the wall. We hope you'll run along with us and enjoy the race.

Comments 15


laurie clabbers
5/5/2015 at 4:54 PM

So glad you are heading toward a resolution for your hvac and plumbing nightmare. I will be very interested to hear all the details and follow your progress. As the owner of an almost 100 year old house myself, I am curious about your comment regarding steam stripping of paint. What have you found to be the most useful tool to accomplish this?


When we get to that point in the process we'll share our tips. The main thing is that we're trying to do basic prep rather than full paint removal. So the steam is more for major chunk removal and smoothing. Having gone the route of complete moulding removal and full chemical stripping, this is hopefully the path of least resistance.

5/5/2015 at 5:45 PM

What a high, from such a low point--good for you guys. Still, my favorite parts are the more decor-related posts. Hope you have something coming up, Wendy!

5/5/2015 at 6:35 PM

Do I remember something about the attic being spray foam insulated? I remember reading that the floor was. If the attic is only insulated at the ceiling (like most) you will want to make sure the ducts are sealed as well as insulated. Air leaks in the attic or under the house can really kill energy efficiency of a system/home. Something about creating negative pressure in the home, which draws in unconditioned air etc, etc.

Congratulations on going Geo though. It can be pricey but totally worth it.


Yes, the attic is spray foamed, but in a good way. The attic space is all conditioned since the foam is in the roof rafters rather than on the floor. It should make a perfect home for an air handler. The only non conditioned area we really need to worry about is one place where the geo line set will run. We'll just need to insulate the lines in this space rather than the duct. Additionally, the crawl space is conditioned too. The walls are all foamed down there and the floor has a nice vapor barrier.

5/5/2015 at 9:40 PM

We've been very happy with the decision to upgrade the 1970s electric baseboard with geothermal units. In order to accomodate 5400 sf, our contractor installed 3 separate systems---1st floor/front wing; 2nd floor/front wing; & both floors/back wing. We utilized space in the attic rather than steal space from another room, & only 1 short section of ductwork visible in the mudroom will be hidden in a bulkhead. Our crawl space wasn't deep enough for traditional ductwork, so the 1st floor has 'split system' units in each of the 5 rooms. Now that mini-ducts have come into use I'd like to upgrade from the split systems. Even though they're energy efficient & zoned for each room, they still aren't invisible. Alt disappointed As for steaming paint, we didn't find that to be very effective, so I'm interested in hearing about the equipment & process you used.


Wow, 5400sft would definitely take a major set of systems. We're just below 3,000, so we're on par with you with two systems. Glad to hear you're happy with it. We've had so many people out to the house try to get us to go the wall unit approach, but we really worry we'd always see it and always notice it. I know they're more efficient and less expensive (and easier to install), but we're going to sacrifice that for the look.

James Howell
5/5/2015 at 10:00 PM
We have geothermal and love it.

Excellent! Have heard the same from everyone who has it.

Carly G
5/6/2015 at 12:40 AM

You should make a cool hall table or coffee table with some of the old copper pipes!


Sadly, I think these pipes are destined for the scrap yard. Many have ruptures and are worth more as scrap metal. We may look like a couple of meth addicts cashing in copper tubing, but maybe we'll get a few bucks for it.

5/6/2015 at 1:40 PM

My next door neighbor has geo - the deep tube version since it's in tow on city lots. She seems to like it a lot, but the 'heat pump' part is installed right under my bedroom window and it's pretty loud when I have that window open (OK the rest of the time, though).

I'm looking forward to the 'basement and attic' installation details. Ever since the neighbor got her system, I've been thinking about upgrading.

5/7/2015 at 6:54 AM

Sounds great! I'll look forward to hearing about your experience since it is on our list of future possibilities as an add-on for our current system.

Mostly, I'm just glad that you get to move forward. You went through a rough ordeal.

6/4/2015 at 12:28 PM

We have talked before (thanks for recommending springfield insulation) we used them for blown in cellulose in our attic. I am curious why you decided to not go with mini-splits in your vacation property? I am not sure of its size but it would have been an option that is easily zoned and can come up to (or down) in temp quickly if you arrive Friday and leave on Sunday. So not much wasted energy.

And with the ducted versions that can be installed in closets or attics you wouldn't have to live with the visible wall unit. Was it a consideration? Although Geothermal is awesome.

6/23/2015 at 8:53 AM

Thanks for posting! I will definitely look at this

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