Oil to Natural gas HVAC upgrade

Before and After pictures:

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Andrea and I got through the first year in the house using the old oil furnace that was installed in the house when we purchased it. It dated back to 1991. I found a wood stove from a friend and purchased it to back up the oil furnace, as fuel oil was so expensive. That worked, as we were able to get through the first winter using only about 250 gallons of fuel. The first winter, the oil furnace worked flawlessly and reliably.
The next winter of 2013-2014 however was a different story. It was much colder! We had about 4 cords of firewood from a tree company cutting trees down at some of the neighbor’s houses. We had to primarily rely on the wood stove to get us through the winter because the furnace was giving us a real hassle. Either good or bad, we made it through this season using only about 250 gallons as well; despite it being a much colder weather…this was sort of a blessing and a curse. I was just glad we had plenty of firewood, but building fires every day was much more of a chore.

The primary problem with the furnace we had I sort of noticed when the home inspector checked out the house, but didn’t think any further. While he had the furnace running, I noticed a small whirring noise coming from the Beckett oil burner, along with its usual sounds. That whirring noise was actually a failing oil pump. All it was waiting for was some really thick fuel oil on a really cold day to quit working. I did everything I could to make it work. From pouring diesel fuel treatment in the tank, to heating the lines, and priming the pump…it would not work if the temperature was more than 40 degrees out…when you didn’t really need a furnace anyways.
Well, my cousin to the rescue! He moved into my grandmother’s old house. Prior to moving in, my father had a heat pump installed in the house, but the technician left the old oil furnace there. He let me crawl under there and pull parts off the furnace. I pulled the burner off and replaced the failing one on our furnace with it…that kept us running through the last two months of the “polar vortex”
SOLD! We sold the old house I purchased in Lakeside, and was able to use the money to upgrade the heating system. About a year prior to this, I noticed gas meters at some of the other houses in the neighborhood. I called the gas company to inquire, and they said there was natural gas in the neighborhood, and they would install a line for free if we converted to gas heating. Yes! This was the way to go! After the house sold, I called the city to come install the gas lines, and got estimates from mechanical contractors to install a new system.
Despite the fact the 35 year old Sears air conditioner was working great, I decided to replace it as well. We ended up going with an American-Standard system. The air conditioner is a 15 SEER 3.5 ton unit, and the furnace, an 80,000 BTU / 50,000 BTU two stage unit with 97& efficiency. I also got a Wifi thermostat included that I can control anywhere with my smartphone

The first step of the process was to get natural gas into the house.  The gas company came and used this nifty machine to pipe the gas from the street up to the house.  They didn’t need to dig up the yard at all.  The machine pushes the pipes underground towards the house where they want the connection to go:

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At the side of the house is where the pipe ended and the meter was installed:

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Old furnace is removed…really opened up a lot of space in the utility room:

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The old furnace uninstalled, sitting beside the new furnace with the air conditioner coil sitting on top of it,  waiting to go in.  You can really see the size difference here! Part of the old furnace was hiding behind the wall, and was taking up space in the closet. The old furnace is rated at 120,000 BTU and 80 percent efficient.  The new one is rated at 80,000 BTU, and 97% efficient.  While that sounds like a significant drop, the house has been insulated since we moved in, and requires less heating power.  Plus, the old furnace was not running at full capacity due it’s condition, yet it was producing enough heat to keep the house warm.  (The gas furnace actually warms the house up from 60 degrees to 70 degrees in the same amount of time the oil furnace did)

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The old air conditioner on the right sitting beside the new air conditioner on the left.  The new air conditioner has the same cooling power as the old one but is much bigger, as it has more coils surface area, for more efficiency. I had the air conditioner company place it to the left like that because I have future plans to add a back door to the workshop area where the old air conditioner now sits.

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One of the reasons we were having allergies when the air conditioner was on during the summer…the old interior coil which you see here is FILTHY!

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THE GAS LINE:

A big part of the installation of the new system was the installation of the gas line.  The gas company put the meter on the opposite side of the house than the furnace.  This meant that the lines needed to be run across the house to get to the furnace.  This was bad, in that it added about $600 to the installation costs, but good in that it enabled us several places to use natural gas along the line.

This is a tri-level house, so the right side of the house has a crawl space, and the left side has a regular basement.  The gas line enters on the right wall (north side ) of the house, and runs through the crawl space directly underneath the kitchen.  A tap was installed so that we could add a gas cook stove in the future.  It then exits the crawl space and runs along the back of the house (the west side), where another tap is placed on the line.  This is for a backup generator, and/or a barbeque grill.  Next, the line enters the utility room (on the south side) of the house right behind the dryer.  Again, there’s another tap there.  The line then heads up to the ceiling within the utility room where yet another tap is added for a gas water heater (see Tankless water heater blog entry)  Finally, it goes across the ceiling of the utility room where it drops into the furnace, the last thing on the line….so there’s plenty of connections for gas.

WIFI THERMOSTAT:

One of the cool things I had added to this project was the Honeywell WiFi thermostat.  This enables control of the system from anywhere you have an internet connection.  If we are traveling home from a road trip, we can grab a smartphone and turn on the heat or AC while we are traveling, and come home to a comfortable house.  It also works great when we are laying in bed, and want to turn the heat on before getting up.  The thermostat also can be programmed to automatically set the thermostat back, saving us energy when we are not at home, or asleep.

…AFTER 1 YEAR

We have noticed significant reductions in our utility bills with the new system.  We were also using space heaters in some of the rooms to keep warm.  Without using space heaters, the electric bill dropped from about $120 during the winter to about $70.  The fuel bill has dropped from about $200 a month during the winter for oil to about $120 during the coldest part of the winter for natural gas.  Some of the drop in the electric bill can be attributed to switching both the dryer and the water heater over to natural gas as well, but as you can see, producing heat with natural gas than fuel oil!  …a total savings of $130 a month during the winter!

Savings during the summer was just as good too, with the old air conditioner running, the highest electric bill I saw was $175,but around $150 average.  So far this past summer, which was rather cool, I didn’t see an electric bill over $110!

Comfort!  One of the nicest things about the system is the way the heat stays much more balanced over the whole house.  With the furnace at the south end of the house in the basement, heat, and cool air from the HVAC system had a hard time making it to the north end of the house, where the dining room was, and the upstairs attic room was….there was simply not enough CFM in the blower to move the air to all the air ducts in the house.  We simply closed the door to the upstairs attic room and one of the bedrooms we weren’t using because they stayed cold.

With the new system however, the blower pushes enough air to reach the farthest ends of the ductwork, thus heating and cooling these rooms much better.  The heating system runs longer, and more frequently too, in low power mode, keeping the heat balanced throughout the house.  The nice thing about the system being smaller is that I was able to move the chest freezer down to the utility room and put it beside the furnace 🙂

 

 

 

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