Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Did you know the house has three kinds of heat?

That's what the seller of our house turned to us and asked.

We responded with blank looks, so she elaborated: "It has the furnace, the wood stove, and the ceil heat."

Even that explanation didn't really help.  The furnace and wood stove were obvious, but ceil heat?  We had noticed some extra thermostats throughout the house, and a whole bunch of electrical breakers that went with them, but neither we nor our home inspector could figure out what they controlled.  We all surmised that they must have been for some electric baseboards or something of the sort that had been removed long ago.

So when the seller mentioned the ceil heat, we just smiled and nodded.  The poor woman had been legally blind for years.  Clearly her dear departed husband had been taking care of the home maintenance for years, and he had forgotten to tell her--or she had forgotten that she was told--that he had removed the system.

Really, I should know better.

A few months later, P was busy repairing the walls in the guest bedroom and my office, and decided that it was the perfect time to just remove the defunct thermostats and patch up the walls, while he was at it.  But just in case, he decided to do a little research first.

Ah, Google, friend of the older house renovator.  How else would we have learned that ceilheat was radiant electric heat with wiring embedded in the ceiling drywall?  Apparently it was briefly in vogue when our house was built.  In retrospect, it seems kind of obvious that ceilheat would have something to do with the ceiling, but trust me, that thought never crossed my mind before Google explained it to me.

And if you don't mind pausing for me to rant, can anyone think of a worse way to heat a house?  Heat rises--so if you start with a heat source at the ceiling, the top of your head will be nice and toasty, while your feet are still freezing.  Not to mention, I'm fairly certain that the attics of these houses were not insulated when they were first built.  (Or if they were, it was nothing compared to modern standards for insulation.)  So for every bit of heat that oozes into the room, at least as much is vanishing into the neighborhood.  Yeah.  Brilliant.

We turned it on, and sure enough, after all these years, it still works.  Then P discovered yet another maddening problem with the system: it means we have all sorts of live wires running through the ceiling.  And presumably, if you break the wire at any spot, the whole system will go out.  He has to get out our little proximity voltage tester (best tool ever if you live in a house with unpredictable wiring) anytime he wants to put so much as an extra screw into the ceiling.  The wires seem to be about six inches apart--can you imagine trying to install an extra light fixture?

Given our total contempt for the ceilheat system, P was all for pulling it out.  But I got cold feet, and insisted that it stay for the time being.  So we turned off all of the breakers (resistive heating uses a lot of juice--it's about 1/3 of our box!), and forgot about it for the next six months.

Over the summer we destructed another one of our heat sources, and removed our wood stove in the name of aesthetics and nine extra square feet in our dining room.

Stay tuned.  Next time, on SecretCityRanch: Learn more about our third heat source!


shelzmike said...

I know this is a way old post, but was looking up something different regarding my CeilHeat (i have the exact same thermostat!). Anyhow, the thing about ceiling heat is that even if it breaks, it will still work. At least that is what I have been told by multiple sources. In fact, one year we had a roof failure, leaking water, and a partially caved in ceiling and it still worked/works. Just an FYI :)

Karen Tobey said...

Hello, I am a 60yr old widowand live in a 1bdrm apt in Red Bank, Tn. It is a real nice apartment but sure is cold. The heat was not explained to me but I notice thermostats, like the one showing , in all rooms except the bathroom. To make the story short, it is stupid. Heat rises. I am 5'5 so why can't the heat be at my level. Up in the ceiling, that is dumb.

To make the story short, the thermostat has numbers you see in this little hole. Number 1 thru number 5. Well, mine is set on number 4 and it does not do anything. If I put it on #5 which I have done in the past, it uses electric! In 7 minutes it uses 5 kilowatt hours so this thing does not work.

Karen Tobey said...

Hard to publish this comment