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Considering a new furnace/boiler....where do I start?

My existing oil fired Utica boiler is at the end of its rated lifespan, and I figured I better get a start on shopping for a new one before I'm forced to make a quick uneducated decision on one.

I have about a 1,500 sq ft Cape Cod style home. Oil heat. Radiators. No central air. Presently have 2 zones (1st and 2nd fl, and a separate basement zone), but I was considering upgrading to a 3 zone to make the 2nd floor controllable. My existing furnance is a boiler whereas I don't have a separate hot water heater.

My goals for a new unit would be maximum efficiency possible, and keeping the relatively small footprint of space. I also considered contacting the local Natural Gas provider for a quote for installing a gas line, as there is existing gas lines on the next street over.

If anyone has any recommendations on brands, styles, and any tips or what to stay away from, I'd be greatly appreciative. Thanks!

Re: Considering a new furnace/boiler....where do I start?


You didn't mention what part of the country you are located, or what you experience for low winter temperatures, or exactly how old your present boiler is now---most boilers are made of cast iron & can last 20 years or more, although they do tend to lose efficiency as they get older; recent technological improvements, even in cast iron boilers have produced more heat for less $$$ in recent years.

Utica makes good boilers, both gas-fired and oil-fired; additional boilers I would recommend include Buderus, Burnham, Crown, Dunkirk, Peerless, Slant/Fin, and Triangle Tube; the way in which you now obtain your domestic hot water, (DHW) (showering, sinks, washing, etc) is by what is know as a small domestic tankless coil that holds approx 1.5 gallons of DHW--these are not recommended as they are constantly running out of DHW due to their small HW capacity (tankless coils also force the boiler to constantly fire 24/7 just to keep the tankless coil water hot---a real waste of fuel)-----your new boiler should be installed not with one of these, but with an efficient & $$$-saving DOMESTIC INDIRECT HOT WATER HEATER (below).

1) Find a good local installer---consult the Yellow Pages, or Angie's List (recommended for $15-$25/year subscription) under "Heating Contractors" to get a CUSTOMER SATISFACTION review by numerous customers who have recently used these contractors/installers in your area, so you can weed out the installers who do slipshod installations, and have low customer satisfaction scores; in essence, you have to have a least 3 separate boiler installers come into your house to take a look at what you have (the cost estimate can vary considerably, so get at least 3 quotes) & do a HEAT LOSS CALCULATION (based on your location, amount of insulation in exterior walls & attic, # of windows/double-pane/single pane, etc.) to determine how much heat the house is losing during a cold winter day; many inadequate installers just select a new boiler based on the output of the old boiler---a big mistake, & one that costs the homeowner a lot of extra $$$ in wasted fuel usage; most local installers will deal with & install only several of the boilers mentioned above.

2) Type of boiler; there are 3 basic boiler types: a) small wall-hung "combi" condensing boilers (Rinnai & others) that have a small stainless steel combustion chamber that provides hot water for the radiators, as well as the domestic hot water supply (showers, sinks, etc); (DHW) all in one small, wall-hung package; these tend to still have a lot of bugs in them because it's a new technology and they break down a lot; b) a 2nd type of boiler is the wall-hung or floor model condensing boilers (Triangle Tube & others) that have a high efficiency (approx 95% eff.) in the amount of gas/oil they burn & thus save $$$ on fuel expenses---these too tend to break down a lot because of new technology & it can be a pain in the neck to have to keep calling the repair man in when it's freezing & you're out of heat; c) the 3rd type of boiler is probably what you have now--a heavy cast iron floor model that weighs 300 lbs or more--these are the "tried & true" boilers that have been around for decades that deliver approx 85-87% efficiency & seldom break down during the heating season; these units have also improved in their technology & are recommended, especially one with a 3-pass combustion chamber if you continue using oil; cast iron boilers are usually sold with a companion 40 gallon indirect hot water heater (Triangle Tube IHWH, HTP Superstor, Weil-McLain G0ld Plus, Amtrol, TFI Everhot) that will provide all the DHW you need for showering, clothes washing, etc.---IHWHs strongly recommended as a cheap way to produce DHW.

3) Gas-fired or Oil-fired: a gas-fired boiler is strongly recommended if you can have the local gas co. extend their lines to your house for a reasonable charge---call your local Public Utilities Commission (the public entity that regulates gas co. services) first to see if they have any local laws that require the gas co. to hook up new customers free of charge, or for a low rate---the price of #2 oil keeps going up because it is subject to international crises, natural gas is plentiful in the U.S. & new drilling technology has produced an even more plentiful supply of NG in the U.S.

4) piping distribution/zones: Yes, make sure to tell the installer that you want a separate zone for the 2nd floor, with its own T-stat; this will mean opening up the walls & rearranging the piping system for the 2nd floor, so get a quote from each of the 3 installers you interview for the job.

5) radiators/baseboard: I strongly recommend keeping the cast iron radiators (some installers want to rip them out & install baseboard); cast iron rads emit more heat & stay hot for a much longer time.

6) Exterior Wall Insulation & Double-Pane Windows-This item should have been placed first, because it is the FIRST thing you have to do before you and your heating installer settle on the size of your new boiler---the concept of getting the biggest bang for your annual heating dollar depends on KEEPING THE HEAT INSIDE YOUR HOUSE; this in turn depends on having R19 level insulation in all your exterior walls, R40 insulation in your attic, and double-pane or storm windows throughout the house---this is known as the HOUSE ENVELOPE; if you have some exterior walls that lack insulation, you can hire a company (Yellow Pages: Insulation/cellulose/blown in) that can do this as a retrofit & is the best way you can save on your heating bills for decades to come; the amt of money insulation installers charge is usually very low---well worth it---it also saves on your summer cooling bills.

7) Summer cooling: Those without central air ducting usually opt for either ductless mini-split ACs by Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Hitachi, Friedrich & others, or 220v thru-the-wall- ACs in the 15k BTU/hr to 18k BTU/hr range that can cool an entire floor of the house; the mini-splits are more quiet than the TTWACs, but cost approx $4k for one zone (expensive) while the TTWACs cost approx $400 plus installation.

Re: Considering a new furnace/boiler....where do I start?

About A/C. I bought a Frigidaire through the wall 15k btu that runs on regular household current. Voltage Rating: 115V, 60Hz. This is so problem free that PC Richards offered very cheaply their own warranty on top of Frigidaire's for 10 years free in-home service for anything. This was the one time I actually paid for a service contract, it was so cheap and 10 years peace of mind was worth it. I'm now on year 5.

It is through the dining room wall, and one vent cools the kitchen and the other goes directly to the living room, the whole floor is rapidly cooled. The upstairs is cooled by cheap window fans, I prefer the night air. I live in NJ. I haven't used my upstairs window a/c for years.

You don't need an expensive a/c system that costs $$$ and requires annual service calls.

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