When we moved into our 89 year old bungalow we expected some problems with heating and cooling. Thick plaster walls and attic insulation will only go so far. Fortunately, the windows were new so they weren’t as drafty as some old houses I’ve been in. The heating and air conditioning on the other hand, promised to be a problem. In fact, the furnace was so old, we couldn’t even find replacement filters for it. At least it worked though—the air conditioner could barely manage to keep our 900 square foot home cool.
Although we were hoping the system would hold out for just a bit longer, our luck ran out in June. Even though we were having a fairly mild summer, it was clear that the air conditioner was struggling to keep up. We conducted an energy audit and while it wasn’t terrible, there was room for improvement. So rather than landscaping the backyard, our big summer project turned out to be replacing the entire HVAC system including the air conditioner, furnace, and ducts.
The old furnace and air conditioner were a little worse for wear by the time they were removed.
We relocated the air conditioner to the far end of the house, on the south side. The former location was behind a row of shrubs and impossible to access. We were a little concerned at placing it under our bedroom windows but it’s so quiet, we can’t even tell it’s running.
Once we decided to replace the system, we took advantage of the opportunity to make some improvements. Jonathan’s biggest request was we replace the low hanging ducts so he wouldn’t hit his head anymore. They rerouted the ducts and used a more flexible (and softer) material. It made Jonathan’s decision to move the repair part of his business into our basement much easier.
The next upgrade was running a new vent into the back office. Despite the fan and the blackout blinds, the office was a heat box in the summer, particularly in the afternoon when the sun hit all those south and west facing windows.
Since the office is an addition, it sits on a slab—you could actually see the old casement window in the back wall of the basement. Since they had to remove the window anyway, Jonathan climbed through it and ran a data line into the office to create a new backup internet connection. He also pulled out some old knob and tube wire while he was down there.
One of the HVAC guys followed with the new duct while the other cut a hole in the floor for a new register. (And yes, we saved the wood to repair the patch in the bedroom.) We sprayed the shiny new duct with matte black paint while the guys were working on the furnace.
We have some great old registers in the house and found one that was somewhat close.
Although we were very pleased with the upgrades, the one thing that still bugs me is that we couldn’t use our Nest thermostat with the new system. The new thermostat lacked some great features of the Nest like easy-to-manage screens and a learning mode that predicted our routine and adjusted the settings accordingly. (During the winter, it was nice to have the heat kick on right before we got home from work.) Although to be fair, Jonathan loved the online data collection and management features.
At the moment though, my concern was aesthetics.
They installed the new thermostat in the old location and I put my foot down. It was huge, and prominently displayed in our living room. Jonathan took pity on me, climbed back under the slab, and ran the wires to the wall next to the back door. He moved the whole thing to the kitchen, patched the living room wall (adding sand to the plaster so it would match), and repainted. It still lacks the sleek look of the Nest but at least we now have all our necessary devices in one place, right next to the back door near the boots and the umbrellas. It will do until I find an affordable version of a metal thermostat box.
We brought the city team back for a follow up energy audit and the result were so much better, we ended up qualifying for a rebate from the city. I think the best part was when one turned to us and said, “Congratulations on your new energy efficient home!”
The reminder of our summer was also a lot more comfortable than before. And maybe the landscaping will have to wait a little longer—we’re now looking at the city rebates for solar power!