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What Kind of Heat Fuel Should I choose?

10 years ago

I really need some independent advice on which heating system to go with in preparation for winter this year. I have been terrified of putting in an oil furnace because the plumber who came to look at the system said he expected I would need to fill the 275 gallon tank every 2-3 weeks in the winter. That's like a 1500 to 2000 heating bill per month!

But I went online and used a calculator that advised for a 4000 sq ft house in a severe winter zone would require about 13 million BTUs per month to heat. Even doubling that to account for the age and drafty nature of the house I would only be looking at a little over $800/month with oil.

To give you a thorough picture of what we are heating, it is a solid brick home constructed around 1800 or so. The brick is 18-24 inches thick, and the walls are plaster and lathe throughout with the exception of two small rooms with bead board on exterior walls laid over the brick). The house is 3600 sq feet with two full cellars and a full attic. There is no insulation and we have 20 windows that are single-pane and some are drafty. There will be a new roof installed this summer. The heating system we want to use are the original mono-flow hot water cast iron radiators, of which there is one in every room. They still have a 3 inch main with 1 inch pipes tapped off to each radiator.

One plumber suggested sizing down the cellar system to 1 inch pex saying it would prevent a lot of heat loss. Is this true? The system seems incredibly complex and there is only one place where there appears to have been any seepage over the years. He explained that our only option in that region to run the radiators is an oil furnace, because we are working out of town and can't be there to bank coal or wood.

The other plumber was the one who said the oil would be so expensive, and he suggested an outdoor wood furnace. Now he does not sell or install them so I tend to trust that he is being honest. Ditching the radiators is not an option, this is an historic restoration so we have to keep it legit so to speak.

Finally, we are having five large firs (about twice again the height of the house) taken down next week. They could be used to run the outdoor wood furnace if we could 1. hire a caretaker in our absence, or 2. make some adjustment to allow one of us to be there at all times this winter.

I really like the idea of the wood furnace especially with all the wood we're going to have lying about, but it would be tough to arrange someone being there. So does it really sound like my heating needs could be THAT high? With oil I mean? $2000/month?! I will say that the house, as drafty as it must be, held temperature amazingly well coming out of winter and into summer. It has been in the 70s and 80s there for four weeks, and every weekend I have opened all the doors and windows the whole three days I was there. This past week was the first time the house wasn't cold inside. Would this be indicative that it will hold the warmth well come winter?

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Marks-Woods Construction Services, LLC
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