The Most Frustrating Project Yet.

We've been working on what has to be THE most frustrating project ever and we're near our wits' end. When we finished the sun room, making it into my office this summer, we knew we'd have to figure out how to heat it this winter. Because we believe that any job worth doing is worth doing right, we aren't satisfied with a temporary space-heater plan.

We originally thought we'd add a branch off the duct work for the house, but that would require putting a significant hole in the foundation or brick siding. So we decided to look into other options. I grew up with forced hot water baseboard heat so we looked there next. But while browsing the selection at Northern Tools we came across wall heaters with built-in fan blowers. The wall heaters would mean no sacrificing precious floor space, plus I'd be able to move the furniture around at will, which is something I love to do.

Having settled on a wall-style heater we set to work looking for a model that would run on 120v, thereby negating the need to run more power out to the office. We found a model that claimed to have slightly more than 5,000 BTU output, which all calculations indicated would be plenty for the 135 square foot space. We hit "buy now" and set to work planning the install.

And that's where it started to go downhill. First we discovered that the wire to the office only had 15 amps of service. One of my printers (I use two) pulls 8 amps. The monitor pulls 5. The heater, 12.4. Using the existing service wasn't going to work. So we decided to run a new line to the office exclusively for the heater, with an extra outlet near the window for the a/c unit I use in the summer (so we don't waste energy cooling the entire house when I'm working in one room all day). S and my dad literally spent 8 hours trying to get a new wire from the basement to the office without: a. drilling a new hole in the foundation and; b. crawling under the office in the crawl space.

We were successful in not drilling a new hole, but if you look closely you can see S's shoes in this photo that I took as he disappeared into the crawl space on day 2 of the project:
We probably shouldn't have listed "stay out of crawl space" as one of our goals because the whole project was smoothish sailing after that. S removed a panel of the plywood covering the floor insulation and my dad fished a wire out to him from the basement. S then fished the wire up into the sun room and out the socket hole they cut earlier.
And while they were in there, they replaced the old school, original fabric covered wire that services the existing office outlets. 
 (view from the basement)
Our super long cathedral ceiling light bulb changer from our last house came in super handy as S and my dad fished the new wires across the top of the ceiling in the finished portion of the basement into the unfinished section. The ingenious solution kept us from taking down paneling to string the wire around the perimeter of the room and back to the service panel in the unfinished portion of the basement. They hooked up the new wire to an empty 20amp breaker and the replacement wire to the existing office breaker. 

Back in the office, we finished wiring up the new outlet/junction box-to-be and power to the existing outlets and then waited patiently for UPS to arrive with the new heater. The new heater that I thought would roast my toes and fingers while I work away in my wonderful little space....
The heater arrived with a template on the back of the box showing exactly how much wall to cut out for installation. S carefully cut the box, I traced it on the wall and then he cut out the wood wall with his reciprocating saw.

The heater fit into the space perfectly on a dry-run so we fished the wire up the wall from the junction box/outlet we put in near the floor and wired the heater according to the instructions.
I was super excited when we screwed on the faceplate and thought the unit looked pretty nice and far less obtrusive than baseboard would be. I took a few photos and then we placed our digital thermometer on my desk, turned the heater on high and set a stopwatch so we could report back to my dad just how fast the room heat up.
And that's where this project became a monumental frustration. The room warmed to tepid at best and it took several hours to get there. At this rate we'd be turning the heat on at 5am so I could be barely comfortable enough to work covered in a down blanket, wearing a vest, hat, and my usb heated gloves at 8. I don't even think the thing can manage to keep the room at 60 despite all the insulation, the great windows and Feeney's body heat next to me. I. Am. So. Disappointed.

The bottom line is that this heater won't do. It's less effective at heating the room than our $50 space heater that S bought for his ultra chilly bathroom in Maine 5 years ago. It was advertised as heating 222 square feet so I thought it would rock our 135. And even now the BTU calculations show that it should be sufficient, but I suppose sufficient isn't the way to go when I want heat and I want it fast.

The real kicker is that if we want anything more powerful we need to run 240v out there, which means a different gauge wire, a wire that could have been run instead of the yellow one in the photos above. I'm angry at myself for not thinking of it first. The whole goal was to not run a new wire and even when we decided to run new wires I had such tunnel vision the project that it didn't occur to me to beef up the project. And now I'm cold because of it. And stuck with a giant hole in a wood wall.

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  1. Anonymous12/11/2010

    What about a cute little electric stove or fireplace...

  2. Bummer! So frustrating!

  3. Well, here's one good thing that comes out of this type of a project. By sharing it, you have given hope and inspiration to families like ours that have done things like that in projects. I know it's not a lot of help to you, but it certainly made me feel better.

    I mean, the whole thing of plowing forward with the same project even though you'd already changed the project by doing a task you set out to avoid, then looking back and saying, "OH, for Pete's sake, if we had just gone into the project planning to do that task in the first place we could have done this the way we wanted and not had to do it over..."

    That part? That's SO US.

    Thank you for not letting me be the only one.

    ~Angela :-)

  4. Sorry the plan didn't work, we've all been there!

    we pulled out an electric baseboard heater in our sunroom, and are trying out an electric fireplace instead. We've found it helpful to run the ceiling fan (on 'reverse') to help circulate the air. There are lots of cute woodstove-looking electric fireplaces that can really pump out the heat. We haven't found an energy-efficient space heating option, unfortunately.

  5. Is this frustrating to you guys come on man you have to be creative while you handle these kinds of situations


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