Old-fash­ioned Heat­ing Fol­low this cou­ple’s jour­ney to re­store heat to their Vic­to­rian.


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Glenn and Gail Gi­aimo

We Fern­dale 1997 moved to in and Were thrilled to own a beau­ti­ful 5,000 vic­to­rian square Foot home

that proudly bears the honor of be­ing on the Na­tional Regis­ter of His­toric Places. Soon af­ter we moved in, it be­came clear that the cur­rent “heat­ing solution” of two pel­let stoves and a small forced-air heater was to­tally in­ad­e­quate to keep the moist coastal chill out of the air. The home has sin­gle-paned win­dows with over 1,000 pieces of sep­a­rate glass, many of which are orig­i­nal stained glass, as well as ex­ten­sive pe­riod-ac­cu­rate wall­pa­per that hangs from cheese­cloth on all our walls. We wanted to honor our home’s pedi­gree by choos­ing a pe­riod-ac­cu­rate method to heat it.

Our heat­ing jour­ney be­gan in 2000, when we de­cided to in­vest in 34 an­tique ra­di­a­tors from Bos­ton to for ev­ery room of the home. We quickly for­got the de­liv­ery cost for 7,500 pounds as we un­packed our beau­ti­fully em­bossed ra­di­a­tors, in­stalled them on the in­side of the walls of ev­ery room and con­nected them to flex­i­ble PEX tub­ing. We routed these new lines in­side the walls, along the at­tic sub­floor and un­der­neath the home to out­fit all three sto­ries.

All this plumb­ing was di­vided into dif­fer­ent heat­ing zones that were con­nected to man­i­folds (like ar­ter­ies and veins) pow­ered by a mas­sive hot wa­ter heater (like a heart).


Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter the heat­ing sys­tem’s first year of op­er­a­tion, the night­mares be­gan. The heater proved to be un­re­li­able, in­ef­fi­cient and un­af­ford­able. As per­sis­tent as we were, we could not keep up with the con­stant break­downs and huge repair bills that oc­curred over the fol­low­ing eight years. To top it off, the gi­ant hot wa­ter heater was con­stantly com­ing on to warm the re­cir­cu­lat­ing wa­ter in the tank, caus­ing our propane bills to soar to more than $1,000 a month for six months of the year. So, in 2008, we fi­nally gave up and made a long over­due de­ci­sion. We shut down our propane heater for good and said good­bye to our warm and toasty ra­di­a­tors in lieu of a small pel­let stove in our main par­lor, sup­ple­mented by por­ta­ble elec­tric heaters and lay­ers of sweaters and blan­kets in the win­ter­time.


Eight more years of heat­ing woes—huge elec­tric bills plus the added in­jus­tice of be­ing cold Novem­ber through April—prompted us to reach out and see if newer tech­nolo­gies could cost-ef­fec­tively heat our house. When con­sult­ing with a lo­cal so­lar in­staller and me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, we re­al­ized that a $20,000 so­lar op­tion was out of our bud­get. Thank­fully we al­ready had the bones— radiant hy­dronic heat­ing man­i­folds and PEX plumb­ing— con­nected to our cast-iron ra­di­a­tors. Af­ter more re­search, we made the de­ci­sion to in­stall a tan­k­less Noritz model CB-199 Combi Boiler. This high ef­fi­ciency con­dens­ing boiler is the one we wanted for three rea­sons. First, it heats both do­mes­tic hot wa­ter and our ra­di­a­tors; sec­ond, its on­de­mand tan­k­less de­sign re­duces heat­ing costs sig­nif­i­cantly; third, it is 80% smaller than con­ven­tional heat­ing and hot wa­ter sys­tems.


Be­cause we live in a sparsely pop­u­lated ru­ral com­mu­nity in the red­woods of north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, our pick for in­stall­ers in our area for the unit we wanted was scarce. Fi­nally, out of frus­tra­tion, we called Noritz di­rectly, who put us in touch with Fred Pat­ter­son, a whole­sale dis­trib­u­tor for Noritz. Sev­eral weeks and many phone calls later, Fred, an ac­com­plished in­staller in his own

right, took pity on us and on a cold Jan­uary morn­ing in 2017, drove five hours from Sacra­mento to save the day. Most of Satur­day and all day Sun­day, we teamed up with a lo­cal plumber to dis­con­nect the old heater, re­move our 50-gal­lon do­mes­tic hot wa­ter heater and in­stall our new Noritz con­dens­ing boiler. Con­nect­ing the new sys­tem to the old do­mes­tic plumb­ing and radiant man­i­folds was like per­form­ing a mirac­u­lous heart trans­plant. But just like wait­ing for the pa­tient to wake up, start­ing up the sys­tem was the moment of truth.

So here it was, 40°F out­side and not much warmer in­side. We set our first floor ther­mo­stat to 65°F, and voila! Within an hour, the seven rooms out­fit­ted with ra­di­a­tors heated up to 65°F. Con­sid­er­ing that we don’t have in­su­la­tion in the walls and sin­gle-pane win­dows, we were amazed to feel even heat­ing in ev­ery room. And what a nat­u­ral cozy feel­ing that warmth from ra­di­a­tors pro­vides! For the first time in eight years, our ra­di­a­tors came to life again.


As with any new sys­tem, we needed to work out the bugs over the next few weeks. Af­ter Fred left, we were the lone rangers, spend­ing hours on the phone with Noritz tech­ni­cal sup­port to sort out var­i­ous prob­lems. The old ex­haust vent needed an up­grade to a high-heat, 3-inch polypropy­lene pipe be­cause the newer sys­tem had a higher ex­haust tem­per­a­ture that could have melted the old pipe and cre­ated harm­ful va­pors. The circa-2000 bleeder valves were faulty and had to be up­graded with new valves (all 34 of them) be­fore we could bleed our ra­di­a­tors. Once we fixed the leak­ing valves, it took a lot of trial and er­ror, “bleed­ing” the ra­di­a­tors to re­move all the air in the lines (like trapped gas). We only have one more piece to go: the whole house fil­ter. Af­ter that, our heat­ing story will have come to a happy con­clu­sion. Our elec­tric bill is a frac­tion of what it was and our propane costs are now rea­son­able. We can em­brace the com­fort each beau­ti­ful ra­di­a­tor pro­vides.

If you’ve al­ready in­vested in an older radiant heat sys­tem but are un­happy with its per­for­mance like we were, con­sider re­plac­ing your heater or boiler with a new-tech­nol­ogy on-de­mand sys­tem. Whether you have a small cottage or a three-story Vic­to­rian, af­ford­able warmth may be right around the cor­ner.

Our heat­ing jour­ney be­gan in the year 2000, when we de­cided to in­vest in 34 an­tique ra­di­a­tors.

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