Furnace 101 needed

mabeldingeldine_gwNovember 9, 2013

We have an old Maine Cape with a dirt floored, damp basement which houses an older New Yorker HWBB furnace. Our last service tested it at 86% efficiency.

How do we determine when it is time to replace it? We recently learned our town will get natural gas in about 3 years. Should we consider changing to a gas boiler? Propane? Direct vent gas heaters?

We currently don't have any heat on the second floor, and are OK with that, but do we consider adding heat when time to replace?

As you can see, we have a lot to consider. What I am hoping for are some suggestions for places to research this topic. Thanks!

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What is your fuel source now?

And to be clear, do you currently have boiler or furnace?

Your description is very unclear.

Your answers would be helpful.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 4:59PM
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if you don't get natural gas for 3 years...will
you wait until then to replace, if you chose
gas as your fuel source?

is HWBB hot water base board?

best of luck.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2013 at 7:14PM
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Thanks for the questions. We have an oil fired hot water boiler, with baseboard slant-fin radiators.

We are trying to decided whether we wait for natural gas, stick with oil, or install a convertible propane-natural gas boiler, or do something altogether different. Another consideration would be how we get hot water if we opt for something different.

We do have a woodstove, and one option might be a masonry heater, or as I said above, consider direct vent heaters, etc. We did investigate solar, but don't have adequate roof space to accommodate the needed number of solar tubes even though the orientation is ideal.

Thanks again for any advice, we are woefully unprepared for making this kind of decision!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 10:44AM
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If you are happy with your radiator heat. I would try to hold on until nat gas service is available. Then go high eff nat gas boiler. In the meantime do your homework about adding radiator heat to upstairs.

If the numbers work, you could go ahead with a new propane fueled boiler that could be later converted for nat gas. Discuss with dealers.

What is your location?

I assume you don't have AC and that it s not a priority.

That would be my strategy.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 11:17AM
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Thanks tigerdunes. We are in mid-coast Maine. Winters can get to -20F but temps average in the mid to low teens during the coldest weeks. We will not be adding A/C at this time; for now a window a/c that we run occasionally is adequate.

The house is old but has been insulated in the past with fiberglass batts, and we are slowly tightening things up as we renovate room by room. We completed an energy audit which was very helpful.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 3:27PM
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If you give me your oil cost/ gallon and propane cost/ gallon, I will run a fuel comparison calculation for you.

If your boiler is old, I doubt you are getting 86% efficiency. What is age of boiler?

post back.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 4:14PM
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We are paying $3.359/gallon for #2 heating oil, and burn between 750-850 gallons a year. Propane is averaging $2.7/gallon. The furnace at least 30 years old, but I don't know for sure how old; it has been well maintained, but will need work on the water jacket as the current one lacks a purge valve and has some questionable plumbing.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 7:27PM
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I think it would be poor judgement and use of monetary resources to spend any money on this oil fueled boiler.

I do not believe you are getting 86% eff from this boiler. And I doubt you are getting 80%. However for fuel comparison purposes, I will say you are getting 80% on boiler, 95% for new propane or nat gas boiler. And I used $1.00/ therm cost for nat gas which might be too low for your location. You might want to check.

For all practical purposes oil and propane are a wash. You can see some nice savings though with nat gas as expected. Keep in mind this comparison is to be used as a guide only.

Cost per 100,000 btu of useable heat
Oil: $3.04
Propane: $3.11
Natural gas: $1.02

I would look into a high eff propane boiler that could be converted for nat gas before I spent any money on oil fueled 30 yr boiler.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 6:26AM
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In addition to considering fuel chang pay-back, I would suggest that you need to include the cost of switching fuel from oil to gas. You should include to mitigate or neutralize your oil tank and piping's footprint on the environment in addition to costs associated with bringing in the gas from the street as well as the cost of running pipes inside your home.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 9:41AM
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For Salti

Sure you are going to have these costs and they can vary depending on location. Most nat gas distributors will bring the gas line to the new meter located at the home.

Yes these are upfront costs but getting off oil to nat gas should be a nice payback.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 10:20AM
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"Most nat gas distributors will bring the gas line to the new meter located at the home."

Don't know about "most" - I defer to your experience.

In my case it would have cost me over $10,000 to get it to my house ten years ago. And this only if a few of my neighbors had also signed up.

I made no case for or against - just said it is in fact a cost that needs to be considered.

BTW, my 40+ year old oil burner was properly maintained with annual servicing and consistently had an 81-82% efficiency.

Each time I suggest that oil MAY be a good option in an EXISTING installation, there seems to be a backlash doubting even the possibility. Without even a hint of the costs associated with changing over to NG I can't see any possible way to predict a "nice payback."

Maybe my situation was an isolated case, but NG was not even a contender three years ago.

Just sayin'.

This post was edited by saltidawg on Mon, Nov 11, 13 at 11:13

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 10:56AM
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I did find the statewide average for natural gas, which is $1.55/therm. I am completely in the dark about how this compares to oil, though.

I know right now natural gas is clearly less expensive, but will it remain so? There is a lot of gasline construction going on right now in Maine. We have a pipeline going through our town now with a pumping station, and I hope the town will negotiate a deal with them to bring gas to the house if/when it happens. In the meantime, we have propane already for cooking, so that should reduce start-up costs.

I did not think about the oil tank/piping. Unfortunately, we had to replace the tank when we purchased the house and add a concrete pad, to the tune of about $1200 (special-size tank). If/when it is removed it will have to come through the house as the PO eliminated the bulkhead door so the only entrance to the basement is through the house; at least it is close to an exit door.

I appreciate all the different opinions on this project. It will be expensive and we know it, thus the early planning and questions.

I would love to hear opinions on direct vent gas heaters or other options as well, especially masonry heaters, or wood or biomass burners.

I would also appreciate a quick explanation of how the BTU comparison works -- how many BTUs do I get from 800 gallons of oil with a furnace burning at 80% efficiency? How does that compare to natural gas?

Thanks for your feedback!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 2:47PM
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Nat gas is the cheapest fossil fuel for home heating.

The United States is the Saudi Arabia for producing nat gas. Oil will be priced to the world market. Yes, the US is closing the gap to energy independence. Oil though will always be very expensive to nat gas. The only benefit in the near future is oil customers will be sending their dollars to US and Canadian producers, not our enemies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Yes comparatively, oil produces higher BTUs than propane or nat gas. The fuel comparison calculator that I used accounted for that factor.

Really this is a no brainer. Get off oil as soon as possible. I would go ahead and make the move to high eff propane boiler now and convert to nat gas when that service is available. You already have the infrastructure available with baseboard hot water heat.

If you want a BTU comparison between the fossil fuels, let Google be your friend. I think you are over thinking your situation.

BTW, how large is your home?


    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 3:33PM
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I expect that the gas company coming into your area is going to make great deals with homeowners that agree to have at least one gas appliance. Try to find out any details already in place. The fact is, if they are digging to put the lines at the street, the marginal cost to go to the houses is lower than digging it back up and adding the taps for each house so they will deal.

Can you look at the deals being offered by gas companies in nearby burgs right now? Maybe you can find out what the company that is authorized in your town and get information about that specific deal. I don't know if local or state utility regulators will be involved.

If you had an energy rater in recently, I am surprised they this was not a topic in the conversation. Call them up and see what they know!

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 5:26PM
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"I did find the statewide average for natural gas, which is $1.55/therm"

That price is very high. Call the gas company to find out what the rates would be if your were a customer.

Gas prices should remain cheaper compared to oil as long as hydraulic fracturing it allowed in the US.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 5:56PM
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We converted a year ago from a 1940 oil-fired boiler to a Buderus Logano GC-124 natural gas boiler. The model we purchased was designed as a conversion unit, so the piping and other connections were supposed to be easier. We already had natural gas for the stove and water heater, so adding on the boiler was very easy.

I couldn't be more happy with the gas conversion. We did not go for a relatively expensive high-efficiency boiler because we have moderate winter weather and our house is small. It has worked extremely well and our entire gas bill did not exceed about $110/month even in the winter. We use a Honeywell setback thermostat, but didn't make any other significant changes.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2013 at 6:43PM
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mike_home, that statewide average is from the state's energy office and is updated weekly. Maine has very little natural gas at this time, just in the largest 2-3 cities, so prices are high

Natural gas prices might come down, in Maine, but again, might not. Fracking is still relatively unregulated, but how long will that last? All this adds to the complexity of this decision.

ionized, good ideas about looking to see what other towns are being offered for hook-up deals. I will poke around. We had our energy audit down 8 years ago, before natural gas was an option for my town, so we did not ask about it, we just presumed we would stick with oil and wood supplement and spend some extra effort on tightening up, which I think we are seeing results from as our consumption is decreasing.

The house square footage? I can't remember, but probably around 15-1600 sq feet. Small Cape with addition then an ell.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 10:14AM
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