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Heating Options for a Large Space

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    LESLIE: Justin in Rhode Island is on the line with an interesting project at a very old building. How can we help you?

    JUSTIN: I’m calling about a property that I just purchased. It is a church building that I’m in the process of converting to a residential and I have some questions about a heating system for this building.

    TOM: How can we help?

    JUSTIN: It’s an enormous building. It’s about 2,800 square foot on the top main level and about 2,600 square feet on the bottom. And in the past there, was a coal system with radiators. For about 20 years, there’s actually been no heating in the entire building and I just finished replacing a lot of the damage that was caused by that. And now, with the winter coming, I’m looking to having a heating system as soon as possible, really. And I’ve searched around quite a bit, different HVAC specialists, and they seem a little uncertain about how to heat something this size.

    TOM: Yeah, it’s more of a commercial project than a residential project.  Now, the work that you’ve done to repair, do we know if the radiators are in good condition? What kinds of radiators are there?

    JUSTIN: Actually, there’s nothing left currently. The previous owner had removed everything.

    TOM: Oh, so you got nothing.

    JUSTIN: Everything. It’s a pretty blank slate.

    TOM: Do you want to air-condition the home, as well?

    JUSTIN: It’s not necessary, 100 percent, but it wouldn’t be bad to have that, certainly.

    TOM: So, first of all, you have to decide if you want to use a forced-air system or a hot-water system. If you use a forced-air system, you’re going to have a duct system installed that will provide both warm air and cool air in the summer, warm air in the winter. If you want to use a water system – a hot-water baseboard system or a radiator system – then that would cover the heating but not the air-conditioning. Most folks today use forced-air even though it’s a drier heat. It’s less expensive because you’re not kind of putting in two separate systems. So I think that this is completely doable.

    You probably need to speak to – not your sort of your local HVAC residential contractor but somebody who’s more experienced with commercial work to figure out the best way to get the duct system run, to make it look good, put it in such a way where it could be hidden behind ceilings or walls or featured, if that’s the kind of look you’re going for: sort of that industrial look.

    But there’s calculations that are involved to be able to tell, based on this many square feet, and more importantly, this many cubic feet that have to be heated or cooled, how many BTUs you need of heat, how many BTUs you need of cooling power to be able to make that building comfortable. And that sounds to me like you just haven’t found the right guy yet.

    JUSTIN: More recently, I’ve been kind of reading into radiant heating from the floor. The forced hot air was the first thought and it’s become somewhat of an issue because of the original tin ceilings, actually, on both levels. And we really didn’t want to disrupt without having to replace any of that again by running ductwork through the basement or through the attic. So I was really interested in what your opinion was on radiant-floor heating for something this size.

    TOM: I think radiant-floor heating is fantastic. You can do a lot with PEX piping today – cross-linked polyethylene – and it certainly is an option. But again, it’s a big project. And given the size of your home, it’s going to have to split up into many zones. Are you taking – was it a big, open space that you’re sort of dividing into rooms?

    JUSTIN: The plan is to have, really, just one enormous space. It’s about 70 by 40, roughly. Just a big, open rectangle for the most part.

    TOM: OK. Well, I mean I think radiant-floor heat is a great idea but of course, that doesn’t help you on the air-conditioning side. If it comes to air-conditioning, there’s a type of system called SpacePak, which is a high-velocity, low-volume system where you have very small air-conditioning hoses, so to speak. They’re about 3 inches in diameter that are a lot easier to hide. And they’re very often used in buildings that are design-sensitive, where you don’t want to do a lot of disruption to put in big, old heating ducts.

    JUSTIN: OK. OK, great. OK. Thanks so much for your call.

    TOM: Sounds like a fun project, Justin. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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