Thread Number: 74115  /  Tag: Other Home Products or Autos
Furnace question for Easterners/Cold Country members~
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Post# 978967   1/19/2018 at 11:45 (273 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        

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I've attached a photo here of what I believe to be an original basement furnace of a
1936 build house I'm pondering. Anyone up here an expert on this stuff? I *think* it's a wood/coal burning unit but have no idea--haven't ever lived in a place that had anything but a modern-ish electrical model. I'd love to know all the details on what this is--who made it, etc. And even better would be a run down on reasons to keep vs. update to modern (if that is even a relatively straightforward project!).

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Post# 978973 , Reply# 1   1/19/2018 at 12:14 (273 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

That is so cool!

Assuming it was done right when originally installed, I doubt it would be cost effective to change it.

A couple of questions:
I don't see indications of central a/c. Do you know for a fact there isn't any?
Do you know where in the house the output and return air registers are located? I.e. at near floor, ceiling.
How many floors? Are all served by this system?
Is that an oil burner I see in the brown casing in front on the left hand side?
The left hand silver unit looks sealed up. Am I wrong?

Remember that the heat 'lost' from those uninsulated ducts actually warms the floor above so the heat isn't really lost.

Assuming the system is functioning to spec, I suspect a greater return on investment would be to make sure the exterior walls of the basement are as insulated as possible, thereby making sure the basement is well heated by the 'waste' heat. This would further warm the floor above, making those rooms comfortably warm at a lower thermostat setting.

However, my knee-jerk response is to ask Norgeway to weigh in on this question.


Post# 978974 , Reply# 2   1/19/2018 at 12:15 (273 days old) by toploader55 (Massachusetts Sand Bar, Cape Cod)        

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Hans will know for sure.

It looks like a converted Coal Furnace Hot Air System.

That's a lot of duct work.

Post# 978991 , Reply# 3   1/19/2018 at 13:25 (273 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        
Jim and Eddie--Thanks...

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To answer some questions....I know nothing about the system except what the listing tells me: Forced air, gas and no cooling. I just keep looking at it and thinking it looks like a coal furnace on an old battleship! Yeah...loads of ductwork. I know enough from visuals only that the large brown painted assembly is the blower fan. That's all.

I added photos here of areas where the heating registers are shown. I did not want something with old radiators--this is a 2400sq ft. brick tudor two story (and that basement is probably another 1000/+ square feet). Attic area is maybe another 400-ish sq. ft. This is out near the OH/PA border.

This place is on my short list for a pending trip back there to view things. I LOVE the house---just not sure about the neighbourhood (but the place sits on a 1/2 acre woodland). I keep looking at the listing every night and trying to stay objective about the whole thing--I need to go there and see in person. The place I want to buy is about a mile down the road from this one...but the condition of this old tudor really has my attention. It is immaculately maintained from what I can see. The kitchen--brilliant--and the Amana Fridge and GE range stay with the house. Loving the trash chutes on side of GE range and opposite end of countertop run.

Those bath tiles/fixtures--LOVE (rare to see a ceiling mounted shower head in a 30s bathroom). I would change absolutely nothing about the place aside from the carpeting on the stairs and dining/living room...just for sanitary reasons. And probably scrap the wall paper in that black/white tiled bath. I'm betting the flooring underneath that carpet is as nice as the woodwork in the rest of the place.

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Post# 978998 , Reply# 4   1/19/2018 at 13:53 (273 days old) by ken (Ulster Hgts, NY)        
Beautiful House

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You can see previous owners loved and cared for it. I like it as is. Those baths are great. How sad it would be if all those original features were to be ripped out and trashed so the house could be "modernized". Worse yet start removing walls for that "open concept" that seems to be so desired today. Is the garage roof flat? I wouldn't guess so considering the location but if it is Id pay particular attention to it's condition. Very nice GE range. Looks to be around a 62-63.

This post was last edited 01/19/2018 at 20:28
Post# 979004 , Reply# 5   1/19/2018 at 14:10 (273 days old) by turquoisedude (Ogden & St-Liboire (where??), QC, Canada)        

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Wow, Allen, that's a gorgeous house!  It seems to have been very well cared for.  Does the range come with it??  LOL

Post# 979005 , Reply# 6   1/19/2018 at 14:11 (273 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        
Ken--roof, etc

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Some pics of the roof of garage and view of the back 1/2 acre. There is a door at top of 2nd floor stair landing which leads onto this "deck"....not sure how good an idea it is to walk on it, but the fact it exists is nice! Agreed on the state of the place...I'm way too much of a preservationist to make those kinds of changes. I'm hoping that if I don't wind up with it, whomever else does will be as considerate of the time-capsule state of things and leave it as is! Most places this age have been ruined by now. This almost looks un-lived in. So damned nice.

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Post# 979006 , Reply# 7   1/19/2018 at 14:12 (273 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        

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All convey with house. I want that range badly. It's the same one we had in the 60s when I was a kid. LOVED that thing.

Post# 979015 , Reply# 8   1/19/2018 at 14:51 (273 days old) by speedqueen (Harrison Twp, Michigan)        
Forced Air?

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Are you sure it is forced air? The amount and size of the duct work almost says gravity to me. I have never seen anything like it before though. I eagerly await Hans' response!

Beautiful house, truly nice. The only thing I would change is the worn out carpeting. Anyone know what the fridge is?

Post# 979018 , Reply# 9   1/19/2018 at 14:56 (273 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

OMG that ductwork is a masterpiece! The furnace was originally coal and now it's either oil or natural gas. The glazed structural tile in the basement is a really neat touch too. I would snap that house up and not change a thing!!

Post# 979028 , Reply# 10   1/19/2018 at 15:16 (273 days old) by rp2813 (The Big Blue Bubble)        

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I was thinking gravity as well due to the size of the ducts and return, however in our somewhat smaller house, the gravity system was replaced with forced air and part of the large return system was left in place.


Also, we've been house hunting for a couple of months and I've noticed errors in listing information about things like heating systems, so the forced air description may not be correct.

Post# 979030 , Reply# 11   1/19/2018 at 15:24 (273 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

That supply ductwork was not setup like a gravity system, but the return drop is huge like it would be for a gravity system. I think they built and intended it to be forced air but still set it up so it could get by as gravity flow if need be.

If for some reason the furnace ever got replaced and central air were added that ductwork would be FAR MORE than enough to handle whatever equipment one might attach to it. Easily bigger than the biggest sizes they make for residential. Not that one would ever need/should ever put anything so big in a house like that.

Post# 979038 , Reply# 12   1/19/2018 at 16:13 (273 days old) by Xraytech (S.W. Pennsylvania, near Pittsb)        

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That house is spectacular, it’s always nice seeing someone who spent a lifetime carefully preserving their home,

Just curious where this home is located along the PA/OH border? This may be fairly close to me.

Post# 979041 , Reply# 13   1/19/2018 at 16:51 (272 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        
Richard~the fridge is...

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an early/mid 80s Amana

Post# 979049 , Reply# 14   1/19/2018 at 17:53 (272 days old) by beekeyknee (Columbia, MO)        

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Just to look at it I would guess that it was originally designed to be forced or convection in a pinch. I could be wrong about that though. If air conditioning and a top of the line humidification system could be added without messing up the integrity of the system as a whole, one would have a great HVAC. The duct work is fantastic as well as the whole basement. Plenty of space for washers, dryers, an Ironrite and sewing machines.

I had a house with a flat roof over the garage. It’s a great place for private sunbathing, which has excellent health benefits done in moderation. The wooded lot would probably provide a lot of firewood though selective cutting for a long time.

The wood framed doorways remind me of “Miss Daisies” house. I agree that very little needs to be done to the house. It’s almost perfect as is. The only question is “location”. Is it good?

Post# 979050 , Reply# 15   1/19/2018 at 18:12 (272 days old) by cuffs054 (MONTICELLO, GA)        

What a knockout! I'd buy it JUST for the furnace.

Post# 979053 , Reply# 16   1/19/2018 at 18:17 (272 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        
True functional art...

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As my own membeship name here implies. I'm very drawn to details like that furnace. I could stare at it all day while down in the basement doing laundry.

Post# 979054 , Reply# 17   1/19/2018 at 18:27 (272 days old) by bendix5 (Central Point, Oregon)        

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I love this house. The tile and wood work is beautiful and with colors that are easy to live with. The exterior is beautiful along with the surroundings. Keep us posted. Hope you get it. Dano

Post# 979056 , Reply# 18   1/19/2018 at 18:37 (272 days old) by speedqueen (Harrison Twp, Michigan)        

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Thanks for the information on the fridge.

The shape of the furnace certainly said forced air being more horizontal, but I just cannot imagine how that huge housing would work with a fan. Motor and everything else inside?

Post# 979060 , Reply# 19   1/19/2018 at 19:06 (272 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

The blower is in the box on the right. Back then a blower was an add on. Wasn't integrated until they made gas and oil furnaces for the purpose.

Post# 979082 , Reply# 20   1/19/2018 at 23:18 (272 days old) by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

Notice against the back wall the three burner stove for the wash boiler from the days when laundry day started by putting the water on to boil.

Post# 979083 , Reply# 21   1/19/2018 at 23:21 (272 days old) by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

Is that a gas heater in the wall of the bathroom?

Post# 979089 , Reply# 22   1/20/2018 at 00:43 (272 days old) by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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Nice house! I wouldn't mind having it, myself.


As for the furnace, I think I'd keep it. It has served well to this point, after all. A new furnace might be more efficient, but would it save enough to cover the cost of replacement? And let's not forget that a new furnace could well need more expensive parts more often (a sensor here, a control board there), and need replacement in 10 years...


Past this, it can be argued this system has some historic interest. I've posted this link before, but it might be worth posting again in which one person discusses his decision to keep an old gravity furnace in his house because of the historic value. In his case, he did change to a new furnace to actually heat...but left the old furnace more or less in place due to the history.


This above link includes a video showing the old furnace (with oil burner running), which I found interesting.

Post# 979090 , Reply# 23   1/20/2018 at 00:48 (272 days old) by LordKenmore (The Laundry Room)        

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Remember that the heat 'lost' from those uninsulated ducts actually warms the floor above so the heat isn't really lost.




It could also help keep the first floor's floor (the floor itself) feeling a bit warmer than would be the case otherwise, making the house feel more comfortable. I've known people who've actively heated their basement for this reason alone.

Post# 979092 , Reply# 24   1/20/2018 at 01:19 (272 days old) by GusHerb (Chicago/NWI)        

The sheet metal ductwork keeps the first floor floors warm here. And the air leaks in the sheet metal help keep the basement warm. It was around 66° during the cold snap. Insulate the walls of the basement which stick out of the ground about 4' and it'd probably stay 70° down there with no direct heating of it.

Post# 979093 , Reply# 25   1/20/2018 at 01:33 (272 days old) by Diesirae7 (Central Illinois)        
beautiful furnace!!

I have not seen such a beautiful furnace since I worked in the home heating business in Quincy, IL!! What you have there is originally a coal fired furnace, door on the left is most likely the coal-bin. That brown box on the right is the blower compartment, 1936 they were starting to use blowers to move hot air, Lennox was the first to use a blower on their furnaces, the brand is cast on the firebox door. It could be Lennox, Round Oak, AFCO. I'm certain this is the original system, the way the ducts are run, its not gravity convection. This furnace would last centuries, the Brown box in the ash pan door is a gas conversion burner, looks the same as the one in my grandma's house on a coal furnace. This furnace would be something to keep indeed, it will last and last, if anything, add a newer system with AC as a separate system or a ductless system and leave this alone!! You wouldn't be able to add central AC to this old furnace, no way it would move enough air or be able to fit a tiny coil on top of that huge opening.
That furnace is going to scare the hell out of the typical HVAC Technician , beware of that LOL

More closer photos please!

Post# 979097 , Reply# 26   1/20/2018 at 01:47 (272 days old) by tolivac (greenville nc)        

Really WONDERFUL place----Love the old heat system---If it works-----KEEP IT!!!!!Rest of the place-beautiful----KEEP IT!!!!ANYONE that rips this place up is a TOTAL IDIOT!!!!!If the system is indeed force air-an AC system could be added-would think that would be a must in Arizona.Can we see more pictures of details on the Heat system-could we see inside shots of the blower system?

Post# 979108 , Reply# 27   1/20/2018 at 06:43 (272 days old) by funktionalart (Phoenix, AZ)        
additional pics...

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are not a possibility at this point (for those who asked). Photos posted are from a real estate agent listing of the place. This is located 2000 miles from me, so until I can actually get out there myself to view, what ya see is what ya get--sorry!

Post# 979118 , Reply# 28   1/20/2018 at 08:25 (272 days old) by Launderess (Quiet Please, There´s a Lady on Stage)        
You can also pose your query over at

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There's nothing those guys don't know.

Post# 979158 , Reply# 29   1/20/2018 at 13:42 (272 days old) by twintubdexter (Palm Springs)        
I wondered if you were still thinking of moving...

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I remember a year or so ago you were contemplating escaping the Phoenix heat and moving Eastward. That's a beautiful house and you are fortunate to be able to maneuver the interior. When I see a house like that, stairs up and stairs down, I think "maybe in my next life". 2 weeks ago I turned a very old 68, and like Roxie Hart said in "Chicago" I'm older than I ever intended to be. I don't like being below ground-level so basements scare me. The department store I worked at in SF had an enormous basement store. I never liked walking through there, especially with 7 big stories above in a building that was hastily slapped together after the 1906 Earthquake. If the bedrooms are upstairs...well I remember what happened to poor Blanch Hudson when she tried to take the express way down. Even Olivia De Havilland in "Lady In A Cage" had problems and she had an elevator!


I'm sure if you buy a home like that you'll be very happy. All that room and all that craftsmanship. I'm far from knowledgeable when it comes to vintage heating equipment especially in cold climates but that unit looks like it was designed to last a good long time. You can always tour the neighborhood and ask what neighbors are paying for heat. If they answer the door dressed like Nanook of the North I'd double what they tell you.


poor Olivia...

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Post# 979161 , Reply# 30   1/20/2018 at 14:03 (272 days old) by Tomturbomatic (Beltsville, MD)        

I would want to see the utility bills before seriously considering a place that large. I value comfort.

Post# 979166 , Reply# 31   1/20/2018 at 14:17 (272 days old) by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
Welll probably will use more gas....BUT it will run silently, dependable just about forever, If I was LUCKY enough to have it I surely would NEVER take it out!!!No silly computer boards and electronics to cause service calls all the time, just dependable quiet heat!

Post# 979167 , Reply# 32   1/20/2018 at 14:23 (272 days old) by norgeway (mocksville n c )        
The whole pace

Is WONDERFUL, especially that kitchen floor and those bathrooms!

Post# 979195 , Reply# 33   1/20/2018 at 16:52 (271 days old) by combo52 (Beltsville,Md)        
Neat old furnace

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It was coal originally and was converted to natural gas long ago, it was always forced air.


It would be easy to add central-air- heat-pump and a back-up new condensing Nat gas furnace would be by far the least expensive way to heat and cool this old house which does not have much insulation.


John L.

Post# 979350 , Reply# 34   1/21/2018 at 15:59 (271 days old) by abcomatic (Bradford, Illinois)        

Allen, Oh yes, I love this house too. There is even a steel beam to hold the floor up. Nice gas fired hot plate to heat the wash water and the concrete rinse tubs which are just begging for a wringer washer parked in front of it to do a weeks worth of laundry. Nice place indeed. Gary

Post# 979394 , Reply# 35   1/22/2018 at 04:53 (270 days old) by askolover (South of Nash Vegas, TN)        

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I wish it were mine!  But....I prefer the Southern region.

Post# 979475 , Reply# 36   1/22/2018 at 18:30 (269 days old) by CircleW (NE Cincinnati OH area)        

That place is fantastic! It's easy to see that it is of very high quality construction. It's very unusual to see glazed structural tile in a residence - somebody spent some money on that. The bathrooms remind me of the ones I saw when I visited Pinecroft (the Crosley estate), which was built in 1928. The house you show is quite a bit smaller than Pinecroft, but appears to approach it in quality.

When I looked at the first picture of the basement, I thought it was in some commercial building, huge mansion or large apartment house, with all that ductwork and tile. I'm actually kind of surprised it didn't have central air originally, as it appears no expense was spared.

I'd like to see the electrical system in there. It appears the wiring is in steel conduit. I wouldn't doubt there are multiple fuse or breaker panels in a house of this size, like a commercial building would have.

I'm wondering who built this home? It's evident they were the upper class of their community to be able to afford something like this during the depression.

Post# 979563 , Reply# 37   1/23/2018 at 10:45 (269 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

"You wouldn't be able to add central AC to this old furnace, no way it would move enough air or be able to fit a tiny coil on top of that huge opening."

I'd be reluctant to do any major messing with the system. My first thought would be to rewire the blower/fan switch to allow operation independent of the heat. If there's a slot for a slide-in air filter I'd replace it with one of those self-contained electronic ones ... not as good as a HEPA, but still a def improvement.

Before I decided on any permanent a/c solution, I'd buy a couple of cheap 5,000 btu window units and place them as near as practical to the return vents. Why? In areas where the summertime humidity is as bad as the heat it's amazing how much one can UNDERcool (on paper) an old house and still be comfortable. I'd keep make sure at least one cool air return duct in the basement was open and install a 70pt dehumidifier.

Was the attic finished off later? If so, don't be surprised if there's a hefty layer of rock wool between the 2nd floor ceiling and the attic floor.

Post# 979568 , Reply# 38   1/23/2018 at 11:04 (269 days old) by warmsecondrinse (Fort Lee, NJ)        

"Insulate the walls of the basement which stick out of the ground about 4' and it'd probably stay 70° down there with no direct heating of it."

For reasons that never were explained, my mom and her brother decided my grandparents' perfectly operating boiler 'had' to be replaced. I warned that the basement temps would drop sharply, causing cold floors, cold basement, no place to dry clothes in the winter, pipes more apt to freeze, etc.

Since this info came from me, it was ignored. The boiler was replaced and when the consequences I warned of came, I was told it was a coincidence.

I'd leave the system as is and enjoy its benefits.

Post# 979761 , Reply# 39   1/24/2018 at 17:48 (267 days old) by toploader55 (Massachusetts Sand Bar, Cape Cod)        

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If cost is not a factor, I would go with Mitsubishi Inverters.

The owner of the house where I live installed a 10,000 and 2 6,000 evaporators that run off of one condenser. And they heat as well.

Two years now and I love the one in my space. Whisper Quiet and even the outdoor Condenser is nearly silent.

Post# 979762 , Reply# 40   1/24/2018 at 17:48 (267 days old) by toploader55 (Massachusetts Sand Bar, Cape Cod)        

toploader55's profile picture
If cost is not a factor, I would go with Mitsubishi Inverters.

The owner of the house where I live installed a 10,000 and 2 6,000 evaporators that run off of one condenser. And they heat as well.

Two years now and I love the one in my space. Whisper Quiet and even the outdoor Condenser is nearly silent.

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