Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Questions, answers and advice for people who own or work on houses built during the 20th century.

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rkcorrigan
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Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by rkcorrigan »

Can anyone help me figure this out? I live in a 1932 Tudor revival. I am trying to figure out what is going on with the history of heating in my house.

Currently heated by huge heavy Weil McLain radiators and boiler.

The house has an old coal shoot.

There are closed up square vents with wood lattice covers in some of the rooms.

I got a itch to make a hole in a wall to see what was going on, and found duct work.

Walls with duct work are also made of drywall instead of plaster/lathe. Making me think that some renovation was done to put the duct work in?

Was the house heated by coal and forced air, and then converted to hot water radiator heat? Then why the drywall around the ducting if the ducting came first?

Also, there are old outlets behind some of the radiators, meaning that the radiators were not there when the house was built.

Any ideas on the timelines of all of this?

rkcorrigan
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by rkcorrigan »

I found this information here: http://sunhomedesign.wordpress.com/2007 ... cas-homes/
By the end of the 19th century the invention of low cost cast iron radiators would bring central heating to America’s homes with a coal fired boiler in the basement delivering hot water or steam to radiators in every room. At about the same time, in 1885, Dave Lennox built and marketing the industry’s first riveted-steel coal furnace. Without electricity and fans to move air, these early furnaces transported heat by natural convection (warm heated air rising) through ducts from the basement furnace to the rooms above. These two methods would dominate home central heating until 1935, when the introduction of the first forced air furnace using coal as a heat source used the power of an electric fan to distribute the heated air through ductwork within the home.
So was my home heated by a riveted-steel coal furnace using natural convection through the duct work, and then switched to the older hot water form of heat? House is heated by hot water now.

mross_pitt
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by mross_pitt »

Hard to say. Is the ductwork obviously much newer?
Someone could have switched heating systems at any point in the homes history. A lot of people prefer the lack of dust and efficiency of hot water heat. You likely had a forced air furnace of some sort previously.

Usually, the upper floor wouldn't have been passively heated by ductwork in a wall. There would be open ducts from the ceiling to floor above.

rkcorrigan
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by rkcorrigan »

Isn't it strange that the house was then changed to hot water?

I don't mind the hot water radiators at all....I grew up in a house with steam heat, so it's all normal to me.

I just can't figure out the:

1. coal shoot
2. duct work
3. hot water heat

Must have gone in that order? There is no evidence in the basement of the forced air. The hot water boiler is at least 50 years old....so the air would have been before that.

rkcorrigan
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by rkcorrigan »

Also, wouldn't retro-fitting a house with hot water heat be ridiculously expensive?

Tom and Jada
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by Tom and Jada »

rkcorrigan wrote:Isn't it strange that the house was then changed to hot water?

I don't mind the hot water radiators at all....I grew up in a house with steam heat, so it's all normal to me.

I just can't figure out the:

1. coal shoot
2. duct work
3. hot water heat

Must have gone in that order? There is no evidence in the basement of the forced air. The hot water boiler is at least 50 years old....so the air would have been before that.
The hot water radiators are likely the original source of heat. The original boiler was likely coal-fired.

I think you answered your own question regarding the ductwork since you said it was behind drywall versus plaster. It was, in all likelihood, added later and might have been an attempt to install central A/C or for a second furnace. Sounds like it was started and never finished. Have you been able to tell where the ducts go, if anywhere?

The outlets behind the radiators could be due to lack of communication between the electricians and the plumbers when the house was being built. It wouldn't be the first time that has happened. We have something similar in one of our rooms that was clearly an "oops" by the builders, as the radiator in there matches the rest of the ones in the house.
Tom and Jada
Current project: Circa 1915 Georgian Colonial Revival
http://www.colonialrevivalrestoration.com

Sombreuil_Mongrel
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by Sombreuil_Mongrel »

My sig house was remodeled in 1886 by an up-and-coming NYC architect; they installed fresh-air ducts throughout the house at that time. Never connected to any heating system, they brought outside air into the rooms which had first passed over a large masonry-vaulted area in the cellar used to store ice. Early AC in 1886?
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eclecticcottage
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by eclecticcottage »

Just guessing...

Original radiator heat
Replaced with ducted
Re-replaced with radiator b/c someone preferred it and plumbing had been left?
The Cottage Blog: http://eclecticcottage.blogspot.com/

Current home: 1950's Summer Cottage turned year round home (the Cottage)
-@ 700 sq ft, heated with a wood stove, on the shore of Lake Ontario
Previous home: 1920's Vernacular (the Old House)

triguy128
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by triguy128 »

Remember, forced air heating is not better, it's just a lot cheaper and integrates easily with central AC. Just how drywall si not better than plaster, it has advantages, primarily, it's a lot cheaper to install and requires a lot less skill. Hydronics are better in so, so many ways. But residential chillers are a bit pricey. I personally like a mix of the two. SO a condensing boiler with outdoor reset combined with a airh handler wiht hydronic coil and a heat pump. so in mild weather, you get economical electric based heating, then in cooler weather, you use more economical and comfortable radiant heat, but still get some air movement to allow for things like zoning, central humidification, dehumidification, ventilation and for cooling in summer.

I'm now wishing I had spent hte extra and purchased a combi boiler instead of a tankless water heater and converted my remaining radiators from steam to to hot water (repalce steam traps and flow control with thermostatic valves and/or manual flow controls). I'm at least looking at zoning.
1925 Neo-Classical

Previous home - 1968 single story Ranch/Colonial, 1200sqft - 11 windows
Current home - 1925 2 story Beaux Arts Neo-classical overlooking the Mississippi River, 3200sqft - 48 Windows

Texas_Ranger
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Re: Old duct work in house heated by hot water boiler? Huh?

Post by Texas_Ranger »

Remember, forced air heating is not better, it's just a lot cheaper and integrates easily with central AC.
And that's only true in the US for the simple reason that hot-water heat is highly uncommon today. Boilers and radiators aren't inherently expensive, prices mostly depend on economics of scale (and in case of radiators of course quality/design - a cast iron radiator is considerably more expensive than a flat pressed steel radiator mass-produced in some Eastern-European factory). I'd say in Europe you could build a decent hot-water heating system complete with gas condensing boiler and installation for less than US$ 10000. Central AC in homes is virtually unknown, even in the Mediterranean window and mini-split units are far more common.
The bad thing with electricity : it almost always works.

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