Heat…Air…and stuff

Heating and Air Conditioning. Depending on the season, the weather within the season, and where you live, you likely need one or the other or both of these at certain times of the year! Well, in the past year I have learned more about both than I thought I needed to know, but obviously did need to know! I owned two homes on my own before I bought my current house. Both had heat pumps – heat and air in the same unit using the same thermostat – simple and easy to use – all I needed to know is how to set it for heat or cool and how to change the filter in the hallway once a month or so! Other than one time when it was blowing icy cold air in the winter with it set on heat, I never had any trouble with it – at that time, I found out it was possible for “something” in the unit to freeze and a repair person replaced some do-hickey thingy and all was fine! Simple!

When it came time to buy a home here in good ole Albion, I knew I didn’t want a heat pump – they aren’t as good to have in this area with the cold winters – not to mention the high electric bills if you heat and cool with electric! So, I was VERY happy to find a house I fell in love with that had a boiler with radiant baseboard heat that ran on natural gas! PERFECT! Only problem was the house didn’t have any air conditioning. But, that wasn’t really a priority – I figured there wouldn’t be that many super hot days that I would feel a strong need for air conditioning! My priority, at the time of purchase, was thought to be gas logs in the fireplace over air conditioning…..but, did want both at some point!

So, first thing I had to learn about was how a boiler worked! I have a two story home, so the boiler was set up with two zones – one zone with its own thermostat for the downstairs and one zone with its own thermostat for the upstairs. The first winter here, I played with the two thermostats to figure out the best way to keep the house warm without too high of an expense for the natural gas – no more single thermostat that heated the whole one story house on the same setting. I discovered that a lot of the downstairs heat rose up the stairs and heated the rooms up there without having to turn the upstairs thermostat up too high – BONUS! So, typically, I turn the downstairs thermostat up a little during the day and the upstairs thermostat down…..then, I turn the downstairs thermostat down at night……but, since I don’t like it really over warm while I’m sleeping, I found that I didn’t usually have to turn the upstairs thermostat up much at night – I could get in my jammies and under the covers and was quite comfortable! I also closed off the guest bedroom – not being used, why let too much heat gravitate into it? Worked just fine for me the first two winters – I’d fiddle somewhat with the heat settings depending on the weather, but for the most part, my system worked great…..and my gas bills weren’t too bad! Success!

And, then……..this winter taught me a very valuable lesson about boilers! We have been having an unusually brutal winter, this year! Including several days over the course of a couple of weeks where the temps were zero and below and the wind chill factors reached double digit negative numbers and a couple days as low as -40 degrees (yes, that is a MINUS sign in front of that 40)!!! I knew to protect my water pipes from freezing – I wasn’t too worried because I have a basement, but still left doors under the sinks open and water trickling from the faucets. What never occurred to me was that a boiler is a system of water pipes taking hot water inside the walls and the ceiling between the downstairs and upstairs floors to the baseboards! Even if I had considered the water pipes, they are carrying HEAT, so no problem, right? WRONG!!!! I woke up the morning that we had 50-60 mph winds slamming -40 degree wind chill factor temperatures against the west side of the house and discovered it was pretty darned cold upstairs…….and not as warm as it should be downstairs, either! At first I just thought the boiler couldn’t keep up with those wind temperatures – no problem! I felt the baseboards downstairs and they were hot (so they were working fine – just having a hard time keeping up)! But, I felt the baseboards upstairs and they were all COLD! The spare room that was shut off was freezing – the floor was cold and it felt like a window had been left open! So, I immediately thought there was something wrong with the upstairs zone! I called the guy who installed it for the previous owner and was told that the pipes were likely frozen because I had that zone turned down to a point where it didn’t keep hot water flowing! He recommended I turn both thermostats up as high as they would go to get the downstairs super warm to gravitate more heat up the stairs and so the upstairs would continue to try to push hot water past the frozen areas to break them free! He said I would either thaw them out and the heat would start to flow OR I would thaw them out and see signs that they had burst and were spraying water in the walls somewhere! UUGGHH!!! So, for two and a half days, I kept it like a hot summer day downstairs — the thermostat was set on 85 and the gas logs were blazing! Between what gravitated upstairs and the heat from the wall unit in my bedroom (more on that in my section about the air conditioning), I was able to get it up to about 72 upstairs. I watched walls and ceilings like a hawk for any signs of water leaks and prayed!!! Finally, about 2:00 am on the third night, I woke up sweating……the heat finally started flowing and since the upstairs thermostat was set on 90, it got pretty hot up there! YAY! No signs of leaking pipes! I dodged a bullet, solved the problem, and learned a VERY valuable lesson — if the weather is going to drop super low, open all the upstairs rooms and set the thermostat to where it will keep hot water flowing!!!

So, remember I said my first priority was going to be gas logs in the fireplace and that air conditioning could wait? Well, my first winter here was very mild and my first summer was very hot! So, I flopped my priorities! At the beginning of the second summer, I started researching air conditioning units — I figured I could just get a central air unit, have it installed, and be done. WRONG! I discovered that cape cod homes aren’t really set up to run duct work for central air – no attic, no crawl space over the second floor, no easy access between the floors! I talked to several heating and air companies and they all told me there is no easy solution for me! I could put in a central unit and just cool the downstairs – what good is that when heat rises and you want it cool up there for sleeping??? OR, I could run duct work up through closets, but it was not really recommended because of the layout and that it probably wouldn’t be efficient or work the way I would want it to work – and would cost a lot more and tear up the house! OR, I could install Mitsubishi splitters – wall units connected to an outside unit – but, I was told by most that it would only cool HALF of the house (up and down on one side) – unless I put another unit on the other side of the house!!! I really didn’t like that idea – first, I didn’t care for the idea of the big wall units inside my house – second, I don’t limit my use of the house to just the living room, dining room, and my upstairs bedroom — what about the other rooms in the house??? But, I finally talked to one local company that convinced me it was the best way to go — that it would be costly, but the most efficient and effective way to cool the house! They said they were fairly certain that, given the flow of the downstairs, that two wall units on the east side would cool the entire downstairs. They said the one unit upstairs would likely cool most of that floor, but probably not the spare bedroom – that I’d need another unit to do that room. So, I agreed to go with that option and I LOVE it!!!! The two downstairs units DO cool the entire downstairs and the upstairs unit is great for my room and the bath and laundry rooms. I decided to wait and not do another unit for the spare bedroom – if I should need it later, I can always add it. It is very efficient – my electric bill only went up about $10-15 during the highest use month! And, each unit is individually controlled, so I can have one or any combination of the three on, as needed! I was happy to discover that the wall units aren’t as unsightly as I thought they’d be, either — at first they caught my eye every time I entered the room, but soon they became practically invisible to me! The other cool part is that they also provide heat, if I should need it…..under normal circumstances, I don’t, but the upstairs one sure came in handy when I was trying to thaw out those boiler pipes that I talked about earlier!!!

Here is what they look like:


The outside unit – small, tucked away beside the chimney, wires hidden under vinyl covers that look like gutters

All three inside units are connected through this one outside unit

002    003_2  007_2

Living room, dining room, and upstairs bedroom units

And, finally, let’s talk about gas logs in the fireplace! I got quotes earlier this year, but had pretty much decided that I didn’t really need them and it was a lot of money for a “nice to have”. But, when the winter started right out early and strong, I gave it another thought! I decided to go ahead and get them installed – if only for times when it was super cold or when the power goes out (a non-power generated heat source would be a God-send!). As I was talking with the company I chose to do the work, I became interested in the potential to reface the fireplace! They had some examples in their shop and spoke about the option. I didn’t think I wanted to change my fireplace – I liked it the way it was, but the more I looked at the gorgeous stone work, I started thinking about mine differently. It was cement block, which looked nice, but in comparison to stone work, it was kind of cold and industrial looking. I thought maybe having it refaced and adding a wood mantle and hearth might warm it up some and make for a nice focal piece in the living room. So, I went with it! And, am I ever glad I did!!! I can not stop looking at it!!! I love the look of it and love the option of turning on the gas logs and warming up the room on a cold evening! What a difference it makes in the room and the whole house!

Before 10


Cement block w/ cement slab mantle and hearth

Gold doors were a bit dated (but easily changed)



Mica stone facing in beautiful ledge stone style

Wood mantle and the same wood on the hearth edging

The hearth is topped with the same slate-style tiles that are in my dining room and kitchen (they match the mica beautifully – color and graining) 

New bronze firebox frame with ledge stone firebox liner and gas logs

So, I’ve learned a lot about heating and air……some valuable lessons and lots about installation and efficiency concerns! And, I now have warmth or cooling when I need it and a beautiful fireplace that I am so very proud to show off!!! I’m a happy camper!!!

One Comment on “Heat…Air…and stuff

  1. Kim,
    I’m happy that you are a happy camper! It sounds like your life has been way too complex. Sit back and enjoy your home.

    Tom The Backroads Traveller

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