We bought our Victorian just in time to experience the coldest winter here on record in Chicago. A pipe even burst in the basement! (Although to be fair, that happened to a lot of homes in the area. A pipe burst in our old house too, with which we had never experienced any heating problems.) After sealing our drafty windows with plastic sheeting the house stayed dramatically warmer, and we also had our old boiler serviced and bled the radiators. The house still struggled to stay in the mid to high 60s on the first floor though, while it was comfortably warm upstairs and hot all the way up on the third floor. So before another winter comes, we had some work done to the house’s heating system.
The boiler still has some life left in it, but its chimney is in need of big repairs. We could have added a liner to prevent further corrosion, but the age and condition of the brick would have made it an expensive and difficult job. Another option for roughly the same cost was to replace the old boiler with a new model that was more energy-efficient and that could be vented out the side of the house, so that’s what we chose to do. We also replaced the water heater at the same time. There was a backdrafting issue identified during our house inspection, there wasn’t enough capacity for a house of this size, and the thing also had to be fixed twice in the last two months. Those three factors swayed us toward replacement. We chose an indirect water heater which is now tied into our new boiler, so it’s piggybacking off of the radiator system for faster heating and more efficiency.
Ooh, get ready for some more Pinterest-worthy pictures!
So pretty, right? Our basement’s a gem.
And we’re down to a single gas meter! The Victorian was split into apartments in the 1930s (common in the depression era), and it was still a multi-family house until just before being sold. There remained both a residential and commercial account for gas, and getting them combined into one residential account (which has significantly lower rates) was a long process. Lots of red tape and hoops to jump through, and the expense of rerouting the pipes is the responsibility of the home owner. We started the process right away when we moved in a year ago, and it took a good ten months.
Then there’s the last of our heating system upgrades. We were cautioned against using the valves on our radiators because when they’re as old as ours, mineral build-up and corrosion can cause them to break with use. Hot water radiators are either on or off — there’s no middle adjustment — so ours were all on, all winter. That third floor was toasty. Now we’ve added thermostatic radiator valves to each of the six radiators on the third floor, and to two of them on the second floor (in rooms that were consistently warmer than the rest). They aren’t pretty, but they’ll automatically turn the radiators off when the room temperature is warm enough, so that the heat can be directed to where it’s needed instead. The valves are currently set at 68, but we’ll experiment to see what’s best when winter comes — they can all be individually adjusted.
Brandon and I can take consecutive showers now without running out of hot water, and between the new valves and the boiler, we should see more even and efficient heating this winter. That, and the elimination of the commercial account, will also bring lower heating bills. Working on the guts of the house doesn’t bring the prettiest pictures, but we’re glad to have had the work done.