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Question DetailsAsked on 10/14/2016

current heat - solar hot water in floor heat, wood stove backup. Cooling - evaporative cooler on roof. upgrade?

Weather in SE Utah varies. Winters bring more inversions and summers getting muggy. Solar heat and evaporative cooling are not working as well. I need to upgrade backup systems from wood stove and swamp cooler. HVAC not feasible. Considering split unit Mitsubishi 1.5 ton Hyper heating inverter wall unit with condenser outside.
House is open floor plan, vaulted ceilings, good air circulation approx 2000 sq ft, exterior walls Nudura concrete, good windows. probably would install 2 units at either end of the house and use cool for 2 months and heat for 1 month per year average. In this kind of a situation would this be appropriate and should the SEERs ratings be taken into account?

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You did not say what type of solar heat you meant - windows, roof hot water solar heating system (maybe tied in with the evaporative unit piping ?), electric heat off solar panels, ? Depending on what type you have and what it is costing you to operate and maintain it, you might ormight not want to try to integrate it into the new overall configuration, or might abandon it.

For your pretty much temperate climate, depending on your attachment and likes/dislikes about wood stove, you could bring in heating as part of the HVAC upgrade - or just install an additional gas (assuming you are connected to natural gas) stove on a thermostat. Depends on how much additional heating and cooling capacity you need - if the wood stove works well and just needs a bit of help on the coldest days, then a gas stove or in-wall electric heat (if your breaker panel can handle the added load) might well be cheapest. If you are talking day-in, day-out additional heating for several months in the winter, then a gas furnace would probably be cheapest, but using a heat pump (which heats using air temp down into the low 40's, electric elements below that) would likely give more consistent heat and less work on your part using it.

Summers getting muggy commonly means air conditioning rather than swamp cooler or perhaps in conjunction - so for cooling only, in a fairly mild A/C zone like yours, a mini split unit might be your best choice - alllows for 2-3 evaporator units located in the best spots around the house for more even cooling, as well as for some zoning of the cooling. If the evaporative unit does a pretty good job but needs some help, it might be just adding a chiller unit to it to cool the fluid (air or liquyid) down more might solve the problem.

Whether or not you upgrade your existing roof-mounted systems or go to a heat pump rather than a straight A/C unit and add electric heating elements for the winter versus going with separate gas or electric heat will probably be an economic and comfort issue - in your situation and location, I would guess a mini-split heat pump is going to be in the economic range, rather than separate heating and cooling units. You could keep the wood stove to minimize electric heating on the colder days, and abandon the swamp cooler (evaporative cooling unit).

Your best bet is to talk to several Heating and A/C contractors - tell them you are looking for ideas and eventually bids, but first want ideas / recommendations on the configuration they think will work best, then you will get back to them with the configuration of system you want for them to bid on competitively. I would also give them the option of submitting more than one bid - perhaps one for gas or electric space heating plus A/C mini-split and another for heat pump mini-split system, for instance. Or maybe one using a heat pump or supplemental gas unit and chiller to supplement the existing solar heating and evaporator.

(Note - if you are getting colder winters, unless the evaporator and any liquid-filled solar heating system runs a thermal transfer fluid rather than water, freezing of that water becomes a consideration in the redesign.

Include in the requirement for their submittal of plans/options that they consider or not consider (as you desire and indicate) the existing contribution from solar heating and evaporative cooler - i.e. you will definitely have to decide in the course of the first round of discussions whether you are supplementing the existing systems (which makes it a bit more complex controls wise), or canning those systems as no longer viable and going with all new stand-alone systems.

If this whole thing is too complex for you (and with your unusual existing systems, it could get messy and complex figuring out all the options) then an Architect with resident HVAC/mechanical staff designer might be able to rough out the options and look at alternative efficiency and cost issues to narrow the field - or to decide on supplementing the existing systems versus new system. Certainly, supplementing existing system is likely to be cheapest - but might or might not lead to lowest operating and maintenance costs, and does risk making the controls more complex to operate, especially for changeover from cooling to heating conditions - which in your area might well happen twice daily during parts of the year.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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