Major DIY home renovation in the future-thinking of converting to hot water heat?

Discussion in 'Boiler Forum' started by IHDiesel73L, Aug 1, 2011.

  1. IHDiesel73L

    IHDiesel73L New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NJ
    First off-great forum! Glad I found this place! My wife and I bought our 700 SF single story 2 bedroom/1 bathroom ranch with attached garage in Northwestern NJ a little over three years ago. We just finished the basement which gave us an extra 400 SF of living space in the form of a family room, but we'll need more room soon. We knew we would either have to add on or move one day since we are hoping to have three children (our first is due this September :eek:) eventually, so with the housing market being what it is, I think it would be wise to plan for an addition in the next 4-5 years. Basically we need one more full bath and one more bedroom for a total of three bedrooms and two full baths. The addition I've sketched out will simply be a 15' x 26' box tacked onto the rear of our existing home. This will provide the space for two new bedrooms. One of the existing bedrooms will be divided into space for a hallway to access the two new bedrooms, and a full bath connected to the master bedroom. I've been fooling around with ideas in Google Sketchup (amazing tool considering it's a free download) and made up a graphic to illustrate the existing house vs. the planned addition:

    [​IMG]

    The blue walls are the existing walls of the home so you can pretty much tell what the original building envelope looks like. The pink walls represent the planned new construction. The grey walls represent the present bedroom which will be cut up into a hallway and a master bathroom. I realize this isn't a DIY construction site, but I figured that some background would be helpful. Right now the home has a 6 year old forced air oil furnace which we supplement with an add-on wood furnace which is integrated into the existing ductwork. We like heating with wood, and provide most of our heat this way, burning five cords or so per winter, but we hate the forced air heat. There are lots of cold spots in the house no matter what we do, and the dryness is just awful in the dead of winter. In any event, we want to be rid of it when we renovate. I will be doing a lot of the work myself-my FIL is in the construction industry and will be serving as my adviser for the entire project. He will get me subs for the excavation, foundation (there will be a full basement under the addition), and electrical, but the rest we'll be doing ourselves/with the help of a few laborers. Basically I'm trying to get an idea of what skills, tools, etc...I need to install an oil boiler myself.

    First, obviously I'm starting from scratch as there is no existing infrastructure for hot water heat. Part of what always made me leery of hot water heat was sweating copper and working with rigid pipe in general. Despite a lot of DIY experience this was something I never quite mastered. Lately though I've been reading a lot about PEX and it's applications in hot water heating. I also happened to see an episode of "Ask This Old House" where they used PEX to add a zone to an existing hot water heat system and it looked fairly straightforward. Is installing a boiler these days really as easy as running attaching PEX to each zone valve, snaking it up to the appropriate baseboard, and then doing the same to bring it back to the cold side of the boiler? I'm hoping so since working with flexible PEX would be a lot easier than cutting copper pipe, sweating elbows, etc... I have the basic idea of how a boiler works down, but one thing I know nothing about is sizing baseboards for a room-can anyone tell me what a good installation would look like in house like mine? I know that I need to do a heat loss calculation to size the boiler, but I have no idea how much baseboard an 11 x 14 bedroom or an 8 x 11 bathroom needs. Any help or guidance will be greatly appreciated!
  2. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    Maine
    Even with pex there is still going to be a lot of soldering. All the baseboards need adapters soldered on both ends as well as having to be soldered together to form runs longer than 10' Then there is all of the manifold work on the boiler itself.
  3. IHDiesel73L

    IHDiesel73L New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NJ
    I figured as much. I guess I ought to start practicing now. I might also be able to get a plumber through my FIL to set up the manifold for me and run all of the PEX myself-I'll just have to double and triple check my solder joints on each baseboard.
  4. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,258
    Location:
    New England
    Pex is neat stuff, and works. Soldering isn't really that hard if you follow some strict rules: make the pipe and the socket shiney bright and clean, flux both parts, heat the socket until it will melt solder, and apply solder to the joint, not in the flame, but melted by the heat of the metal. $10 in joints and some pipe and some practice, and you'll be good enough (not great or neat and fast) but leakproof. It also helps if you wipe the hot joint to remove excess solder and make it look better - lots of drips are a sign of sloppy or inexperienced workmanship and it gives you a chance to see how evenly the solder flowed around the joint.

    Once you have your heat load analysis, each baseboard heater will have a spec sheet of how much heat per foot it can produce with a specific water temp input and a specific flow rate. You make the thing long enough at a temp you prefer, and you'll know the heat level it can provide. Different types and brands or models will produce a different amount of heat.

    What you are attempting is something people go to school (apprentice, college, etc.) many years to figure out. It is not for the feint of heart, and expect some glitches (that may be expensive). Trying to get a foolproof plan over the internet is asking a lot, and unlikely to produce optimum results.
  5. IHDiesel73L

    IHDiesel73L New Member

    Messages:
    3
    Location:
    NJ
    All good points-thanks. With regard to the last part, I realize what I'm getting myself into and that there inevitably will be a leak or two, etc...I'm just trying to make sure that I'm jumping in with eyes wide open so to speak. I post on another forum that deals exclusively with wood fired heating appliances, boilers being one of them, and there are more than a few folks there who have converted their homes to hot water heat themselves. I've gotten a lot of good advice already on pitfalls, wouldas, couldas, and shouldas, I just wanted to get the opinion of a forum like this one as well. Looking forward to learning a lot more.
  6. juror58

    juror58 New Member

    Messages:
    7
    Location:
    Central NY State
    I replaced my hot air heating with hot water in my 100+ y/o house about 20 years ago, before the internet and forums like this. I used all copper, as pex wasn't the material of choice then.

    The hardest part will be getting the right information on sizing of the boiler, radiators, etc. Since your FIL is in the trades, he can provide a lot of the technical info and help sourcing the parts. He hopefully can call in a couple of favors to help you with the sizing. If not, you can get pretty close searching various forums and asking lots of questions. The rest is mostly plug-and-chug, aka "grunt work." Even the boilers, especially for the size of your house, will come pretty much complete out of the box.

    As jadnashua says, soldering isn't that hard. You just have to take your time and don't cut corners.

    My advice to you at this stage is try to design the system with future maintenance and repairs in mind. Don't cheap out, either. Little things designed in now can prevent a future simple repair from turning into a weekend project. The biggest thing is extra valves. Anything that may need replacement should be able to be valved off...circulators, zone valves, expansion tanks, etc. (But NEVER the safety valve!!!) That way you don't have to drain the whole system for a simple repair. Remember, those breakdowns will inevitability happen in the middle of the night or on a holiday weekend. I even designed my system with an extra zone, valved and capped, "just in case."

    I am constantly amazed at how many boilers and hot water heaters are installed that can't be isolated from their systems. Replacing a leaking boiler safety valve or dead circulator often requires draining the entire system. At a minimum, the boiler should be able to be isolated from the rest of the system. Better yet, individual components. Replacing the circulator on my boiler was so much easier a couple of years ago because I installed the ball valve flanges in 1992.

    I wish you the best with your projects. There is nothing like the satisfaction of completing a project like this.
  7. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    Maine
    (quote); I am constantly amazed at how many boilers and hot water heaters are installed that can't be isolated from their systems. Replacing a leaking boiler safety valve or dead circulator often requires draining the entire system

    You don't have to drain anything if you know what you are doing.
  8. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Master Hot Water Mpls,MN

    Messages:
    303
    Location:
    Minneapolis
    DIY hydronics is possible with professional backup. Find a friend in the boiler business first and then proceed with final inspection and sign-off to keep the newborn safe and warm...congrats.

    Before anyone starts a DIY radiant floor or other boiler based project, a professional should design the system, performing a heat load for each room so that the radiation is adequate. In smaller homes a combi water heater can be used for both domestic hot water and space heating (a heat exchanger is required).

    We use European style panel radiators more than fin-tube radiation, as they warmer, more efficient and take up less space. By the way, no soldering.

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