Replacing a 50+yr old boiler

bluesboysNovember 17, 2008

1 have a 3500sq ft, two story cape in frigid Maine. Our current heat is an 50+ yr old oil furnace with steam radiators. Last year I burned almost 1500 gals of oil, with heat during the day set at 60 (Honeywell Programmable Thermostat), 65 in evening, and 60 again at night. I had a contractor in today who quoted me $10,000-$12,000 to replace the steam boiler, line the chimney and take out the old boiler, $15,000 to replace system with hot water(System 2000) and line the chimney, and $18,000-20,000. to switch to Triangle Tube gas boiler. Yikes! Can it really be this expensive? Sally

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yes, it is that expensive and will likely NEVER pay for itself.

If you are actually looking for an investment that will pay for itself, look into an anthracite stoker boiler from efm, keystoker etc. they are very convenient and can save you money. removing the old boiler that i'm assuming is functional and replacing with another slightly more efficient boiler that burns oil/gas/propane etc. is a financial decision that you will regret.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 1:26AM
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My suggestion would be to seek proposals from 2 or 3 other contractors. That way you'll have a much clearer idea of what's a reasonable cost in your area, and you may get suggestions for some less costly solutions. You shouldn't rely on quotations from a single supplier. Shop around.

And, not to disparage the suggestion of the previous poster, which I'm sure was well intentioned, a stoker boiler is an idea perhaps better left to the heartier and thriftier among us. This is unless, you relish the thought of hauling out and disposing of ashes and cinders, not to mention manually feeding a fuel hopper.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 11:29AM
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stoker-man would not approve of that wa8b !

There are many coal stokers being sold in New England. Center Farms sells them all the time in Maine.

efm stokers are fully automatic. No manually feeding the hopper. A ton of Anthracite is equal in heating value to 180 gallons of fuel oil. Oil may be low now, but don't count on it staying at this price.

Back on doesn't matter how old your boiler is...if it is in safe working condition, keep using it.

efm stoker/boilers that are 30-50 years old are sold all the time, many times within minutes of appearing in the paper.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 4:07PM
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I know there are fans out there of coal stokers, which no one will argue make use of a cheap and plentiful fuel. Unfortunately, coal probably just isn't the best choice for many homeowners, unless they're willing to deal with the extra chores that a coal heating system entails. Someone will have to haul the ash and cinder out of the basement and dispose of it, and someone still has to operate the clean-out lever on a regular basis, and then, of course, there's the occasional stoppages in the the stoker to be cleared.

There's also a space consideration. you're either going to need a silo or you'll need to have a basement with sufficient square footage and head room for coal storage. A ton of rice anthracite takes up about 40 cubic feet of space. Then you need room for the feed mechanism and the furnace/boiler -- plus sufficient space around them for servicing. And finally, let's not forget a place for the delivery truck to back up to a coal chute.

Die-hard coal-stokers will think this is all worthwhile, but let's face it, most homeowners don't want the bother. Oil or natural gas may cost more....but they're so much simpler.

The original poster said that she burned nearly 1,500 gallons of oil last year while keeping her house at a less than comfortable (at least for most people) temperature of 65F during evening hours. While the numbers she mentioned for upgrading her present system sounded rather daunting (and perhaps on the high side) , if she can reduce her heating costs significantly and raise the thermostat a few degrees with a modern gas condensing boiler and she plans to stay in the house for the foreseeable future, I'd say it's worth looking into, especially if her state or local utilities are offering any incentives or rebates.

If she's owned the home for many years, there could be some tax benefit as well. It's possible that all or some portion of the cost of a new boiler could be treated as a capital improvement, effectively raising her cost basis on the house. If she were to ever sell the house at a significant gain (exceeding her exclusion), she might recoup some of her investment through savings on capital gains tax.

Then, of course, there's that good feeling you get every time you open the gas bill -- and it's about half of what your old oil bill used to be!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2008 at 8:25PM
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I had 2 of those 3 things done as part of a larger renovation and I don't think it cost nearly so much (not in Maine -- DC area, which surely is more expensive).

Why is it 10k just to remove the old boiler and tank? That should not be expensive . . . even relining the chimney shouldn't be that much. A new boiler (gas) for 18k-20k also seems high, but if you're paying that much it should *definitely* include removal of the old system and relining the chimney.

I have no idea on the radiators.

In other words, putting aside the radiator conversion, I would think the boiler replacement should be more in the $15-20k range for everything, unless there's something unique about the job. (or less)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 1:02PM
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Tough for me to say, converting from steam. While you mention using the existing piping, which must mean you have a two-pipe steam system and radiators. With the supply piping being oversized, which affects circulation selection, the return piping could be undersized and require replacement, or changes at the least. Add in that steam vents, traps, sometimes valves, and other oddities used in old steam are removed, the price adds up.

While steam can be a great heat, you are doing yourself a favor on the wallet when considering upgrading to a 90%+ hydronic system. However, to achieve the energy efficiency potential, assuming the radiators can be used; strong consideration should be given to removing most or all the feed piping below. Besides the wasted energy expended in circulation and heating through the mass of old steam piping, balancing of the radiators will most likely become an issue with water. Unlike steam, water will take the path of least resistance resulting most often in a balancing nightmare and becoming a comfort debacle.

If the piping was removed, downsized, and laid out properly by zoning (Not like normal baseboard that is in series) or the piping to the radiators was laid out in a 2-pipe reverse return, then all the radiators will receive balanced flow, then now or in the future individual powered or self powered radiator controls could be added for zoning, temp control or lowering unused areas.

If he knows what he is doing, that price could be reasonable.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2008 at 2:52PM
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I understand that stoker boilers are not for everyone. for those that actually want to save money on heating they are one of the most convenient options, far more convenient than heating with wood etc. i'm just letting the poster know that if they're objective is too save money and make an investment that will pay for itself, then don't look to oil/gas/propane. sure, you can throw $10,000 at a new boiler and get a system that may be more efficient, but if you keep in mind the upfront cost, the slightly lower heating bills will never save enough to pay for the initial investment in an appliance that burns oil/gas/propane. the only chance she has of ever paying back a sytem burning oil/gas/propane is a highly efficient condensing boiler with all new plumbing and complete removal of the old system; and only if the price of gas doesn't increase much in the next 20+ years.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2008 at 12:45AM
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