Talking about Tree House’s new HVAC system might not scream exciting!, but it is (very, very) exciting to rip off that expensive bandaid and allow this home to be warm and cozy year round! As a refresher, Tree House was considered a three season home when we purchased it, with very hot-to-the-touch baseboard heaters to get us through fall and chilly spring mornings – yet likely not warm enough to get us through a freezing day in the middle of winter. However, each baseboard heater needed to be turned on individually from room to room, and the thought of accidentally forgetting to turn them off was a fire hazard waiting to happen. Adding a furnace and air conditioner was one of the first items on our to-do list, and while we were at it, we also decided to remove the space hogging water heater in favor of a tankless. But like most things, it wasn’t as simple as hiring a contractor, paying the team and continuing on our merry way.
There were a few small-ish challenges to get us from to A to B, which looked a little like this:
- First, we called the gas company to request that a gas line be run from the street to our home. This was surprisingly less than we thought it would be (around $200 plus $10 for each additional foot over 100′).
- While we waited for that to happen, we called at least five contractors for the job, and we were able to meet with three of them.
- The first contractor backed out at the last minute and the second contractor wasn’t local (and therefore, less familiar with code and permits in the area), but the third contractor stuck. He was professional, friendly and made us feel pretty comfortable with signing on the dotted line. See more of our tips on hiring and working with contractors in this post!
- Meanwhile, the supply company ran the gas line, and we were, mostly, off to the races! From the first phone call to the day our contractor started was a little over 2 months.
But by far, the biggest challenge was figuring out where in the world everything was going to go while maintaining the lofty, cabin vibe we first fell in love with! (You can view an entire video tour to get a sense of the space, if you’d like.) The main living space has pretty exposed beam ceilings, and the very last thing we wanted was to start running drywall soffits around the perimeter. While that would have been the easiest solution, we were adamant about keeping these ceilings clutter-free:
Between the three contractors we met with, we spent hours (upon hours upon hours) problem solving the best way to work around the ceilings. Several solutions were brought up, most of which still required a drywall soffit or two, and maybe we were being stubborn (us?!), but we wouldn’t settle until we could all agree on a plan that would be as energy efficient as it was aesthetically pleasing – no small feat.
Finally. We came up with a workaround that made us pretty happy, which was a mixture of exposed ductwork, small vents and a furnace return that wouldn’t stare us in the face. By installing a horizontal furnace in the attic (directly off of the sleeping loft), our contractor was able to conceal the majority of the ductwork in the attic itself while running the ducts around the rooms that surround the perimeter of the living room. Phew. I realize that might not make the most sense unless you’re standing in the home, but essentially the furnace looks like this:
And the vents for the rooms directly under the attic look like this:
While the vents in the living room are very discreet, just as we wished (look how tiny!):
Meanwhile, the only room where we had to compromise was the master bedroom. You guys, I was so torn on this, as I don’t necessarily think exposed ductwork has a place in this home, however, it was either exposed ducts or a drywalled soffit (trust me, we ran through every option under the sun to work around this old house!). The master was an addition of the home at some point over the decades; it’s essentially a box that sticks out of the side of the house. To keep the integrity of the ceilings in the living room, the ductwork in this bedroom looks like this:
It’s not my favorite, but Scott has agreed that we’ll do our best to conceal it with paint to match the walls when the time comes. We all know that paint is the most magical tool of all, so fingers crossed we’ll make it look like it was always meant to be there! Aside from the master, there’s a small elbow of ductwork in the kitchen and smaller bedroom, both of which were unavoidable due to our home’s attic configuration. Luckily, the kitchen elbow will be completely concealed with cabinetry, and we’ll simply paint the elbow in the small bedroom.
The air conditioner was the least dramatic decision to make, and it’s tucked neatly along the side of the home. Eventually, we’d like to create a large gathering space in the backyard (seen below) with pavers and a fire pit – among a thousand other updates – so our main goal here was to keep the AC unit out of sight:
The last obstacle was finding a home for the tankless water heater! We decided to spring for the tankless for a few reasons. First, we didn’t want to be paying for hot water in a big, honking tank while we weren’t using it (we’re not living here full time, after all), and two, the tank we inherited took up an entire closet in the mudroom. The mudroom has the potential to be the sweetest little entryway, and it was an easy decision to nix it in favor of something small that would save us money in the long run, too.
The tankless’ new home is in the bathroom closet, located directly beneath the attic where the furnace lives. (The original huge tank was removed from the mudroom, giving us a blank slate in there – hooray!) All of the lines for the entire HVAC system run through this closet as well, which can ultimately be drywalled in with, get this, a vertical soffit. Ha! However, this soffit will be tucked away behind closed doors, and when we eventually renovate the bathroom, we already know that we’ll need to figure out a clever shelving system. Although a bathroom overhaul will be a while down the road, we feel confident that this location is so much better than the front mudroom.
To top off the new system, our contractor installed a Nest thermostat that we had purchased prior through a rebate program, saving us $100 off the top. Although it still needs an internet connection to control while away (which we don’t have at Tree House – yet!), our goal is to put systems in place for a smart home down the road, similar to the one we’ve created in our Chicago home. Note: Scott’s itching to remove that backplate, which was installed before we had a chance to notice!
And that, friends, is the story of how we took Tree House from a three season home to a year-round retreat. Well, step one of many, anyway! We took these photos last weekend, and while we were there, we recruited two friends to help us demo the mudroom and kitchen (among a few other things!). If you followed along on our Stories, you know that things escalated quickly, but we have so much more to share – soon.