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The cost of delaying the heating system upgrade

Our house has hot water heat.  Unlike a forced air system, there are no ducts to collect dust and mold.  It provides a nice consistent comfortable heat.  And it is more efficient than a forced air system as water retains heat longer than air.

Unfortunately, our system isn’t working properly.  The previous owner had added a couple of radiators in the basement but did not plumb them properly.  I had hired a plumber myself a few years ago to bypass the radiators on the second floor so they could be removed during renovations.  He didn’t understand the system either.

Bottom line:  there were a number of days last winter when the temperature in the house failed to get above 54 degrees despite the boiler running constantly.

The first estimate

A couple of years ago, we had a plumber who specialized in hot water heating come out and take a look at our system.  He recommended that the plumbing be completely overhauled.  When I heard that, a bulb went off:  why not have multiple zones like I’ve seen numerous times on This Old House?  So I never bothered getting a price on just redoing the system as a single zone.  No.  We were definitely going to upgrade.

I never did get a written estimate.  I asked the plumber if we were looking at around 5 grand.  He replied that it would be more like 5 digits

We didn’t have $10,000 lying around so I put off having the work done.

For the next couple of winters, we lived in a cold house as our heating bill sky-rocketed and I realized that the money we were wasting money that could be invested in the upgrade.

So here we are.

old plumbing
Old pipe configuration in the boiler room.

The new estimate

The plumber returned this week to examine our system and draw up the rough plans for the upgrade, including all new plumbing and zone controls.  He also broke the news to me that the price of copper had doubled since the last time he was here.  He said it would take about a week to prepare the estimate and I know it ain’t gonna be pretty!

Update: June 18

The estimate came in and it is right in line with what I expected it to be.  Not only is it higher than it would have been a couple of years ago because of the higher cost of copper, but we also wasted money in higher heating bills because the system wasn’t functioning properly.  It was a mistake to delay this project.  But at least it’s getting done now.



  1. Leslie

    Oh boy do I sympathize with the whole “waiting for the 5 digit heating estimate” ordeal. Now that our new system is in place and our bank balance down to three digits (two to the right of the decimal point) we’re going to be limited to cheap manual labor projects for a long time, but it was well worth it after both freezing because of and paying a fortune for our electric baseboard heat which is finally gone.

    And I’m glad I’m not the only one who buys tools and supplies that I KNOW I have but can’t find. My next big project after the one I’m on now is to do some major organization. Sad and ironic that I had just finally gotten our old house totally organized when we moved.

    Good luck with everything!

    • Thumb and Hammer

      Thanks to overdraft protection our bank account has a “minus” sign. With us, it’s all about debt management. We could wait and save up to pay cash, but that would mean enduring more winters without a properly functioning system.

      It’s rather funny to me to hear people talk about the length of time for payoff, ie how long it will take for a system to pay for itself with the improvement in efficiency. Frankly, at this point, I don’t care how much the heating bills go down as much as just maintaining a comfortable temperature in the house on those bitterly cold days. How do you put a price tag on that?

      It’s nice to know we’re not alone, in terms of astronomical repair bills and state of disorganization. Thanks for your comments.

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