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Friday, June 02, 2006

It never registered

As the time for refinishing the wood floor in our living room draws ever closer (i.e. we’ll get it done someday), questions come up. One of the big ones is what we’re going to do about the baseboard heaters lining many of the walls.

The baseboards are the original heating system in the manor. There’s an oil-fired boiler in the basement that used water from the original well (a second well was drilled somewhere along the way, because of the taste of the water in the first); the system would simply send hot water (steam?) through the baseboards. If I remember correctly, the house I lived in through high school (in Moline, MI) had a similar system. You would hear an occasional gurgle, and that was about it.

Over the years, a couple of problems developed with the system: the chimney cap came off, and a water pipe broke somewhere upstairs. The previous owners threw up their hands, installed a gas furnace (actually one upstairs and one downstairs), and shut down the baseboard system. The chimney is blocked up with a piece of tin, with a couple of bricks to keep it there, to keep rain water from running in.

A friend of ours used to do construction work, until he fell off a roof a couple of years ago and broke his neck. He cruises around in a wheelchair most days, but on good days he manages with a walker or even a cane. He’s trying to get back into the saddle, as a designer & supervisor if nothing else. So when we told him we were planning to refinish our floor, he advised against it — he explained the process, and the many things to go wrong, irreversibly so. But when we got quoted $4200 to have it done (which would about cover a new floor entirely), we’ve pretty much decided to take our chances.

It was the process of getting the quote that led to the question of the baseboards. A floor sander can’t quite reach the corners, so normally you cover that up with some molding. The baseboards protrude nearly two inches from the wall, and are mounted about an inch above the floor, so they’ll have to come off (the quote included removing and discarding the baseboard). When I mentioned that to our friend, he got a funny look and asked us why we wanted to take them out — hey, they’re not working anyway.

“Some people use them for cooling,” he said. “You bury a water tank and pump water through the system. It works about as good as air conditioning.”

“That system pulls water out of its own well,” I pointed out. “What if we just ran a return line to the well instead of using a tank?”

He looked awestruck. “That would be cold water coming out of a well!”

So I need to find and fix a water line upstairs, locate the original well, and run a return pipe to it. If it doesn’t pan out, there’s not a lot of investment involved. Low risk, potential high return, what more could you ask? But now we’ll have to remove the baseboards to do the floor and replace them afterwards.


  1. That's a great idea about using the well for the cold water AC.

    Unfortunately I don't know enough about home repair to even give an informed opinion. Hope everything turns out right.

  2. I've never heard about using baseboard radiators as AC conduits -- what a great idea! Hope it all works out. It's bound to be a learning experience, one way or the other...

  3. DO NOT TRY THE COOLING IDEA!!!!! You will have serious condensation problems that will ruin the wood floors. Besides cool air doesn't radiate like hot air. If the base board heaters are made of copper, you could probably have someone that would remove them for the material alone.

  4. That makes sense, bro. Time to think again.


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