Home>Discussions>INSULATION & HVAC>Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
11 posts / 0 new
Last post
Gfarra
Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Hi All,

I live in northern NJ and my house was built in 1998 and I'm the second owner. My heating system is gas fired hot water baseboard with a Utica boiler which I am guessing a builder's unit.

My wife and I are comfortable at 70 degrees and the house/heating system has no trouble except when the polar vortex shows up. During the overnight hours (no sun to help things out) my house struggles to maintain 70....we wake up to 65 degrees and a heating system that is running 24/7. I do not believe there is air in the lines since we installed a Spirovent air separator on the system....though I admit, the baseboard doesn't feel as hot as I "think" it should....but that could be my own expectation since they always feel hotter when its 30 degrees out versus 2 degrees.

My HVAC guy tells me that my boiler is putting out 180 degree water and its simply due to NJ building code is designed for 15 degree nights not the zero degree nights we have experienced the past 2 winters.

So.....where do I start?? Adding insulation? upgrading heating system? Or should I invest in a home energy audit?? Are those really worth it or do they simply try and sell you stuff you may not really need??

Thank you,

George

NashuaTech
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
NashuaTech

George,

I think your best bet at this stage is to get at least 1 or 2 additional opinions from heating service/repair outfits in your area, until you hit upon the right tech for the job----this problem could be nothing more than something that needs minor adjustments, with the result that it will work just fine when minor adjustments are made.

I assume you have your boiler serviced each fall for an annual cleaning & adjustments---this will assure that the boiler burns cleanly & has adequate intake air, good combustion & adequate exhaust for flame byproducts---many techs recommend an annual cleaning with gas-fired equipment, but some allow for a cleaning only every other year due to limited combustion byproducts in natural gas.

The big reason for trying to find a tech with many years of experience is that this problem could be caused by any number of problems that can be solved quickly & without the need for any extensive costly modifications----you wouldn't let a car service mechanic replace the engine in your car, without first getting at least a 2nd and 3rd opinion!

1) until it's been proven otherwise, assume the problem is a mostly small, isolated thing that can be fixed when the cause is found by someone who knows how to troubleshoot heating systems---contact Angie's List (or call a relative who is a member) to get a list of seasoned hot water (hydronic) heating system techs; call relatives & friends who have a hw heating system to see if they can recommend someone; go to your local "Heating Equipment" jobbers/parts distributors (Yellow Pages) & talk to the counter man, explaining your problem & your need for an experienced hot water heating tech---the counterman in these Parts houses is invaluable, as he knows all the service technicians & their expertise.

2) you may not have sufficient AVAILABLE AIR in your boiler room/cellar to adequately fire the boiler---remember the gas flame needs a good supply of air to mix with the natural gas to get a good hot flame--sometimes a boiler is installed in a small closet or cubby hole, or too small a room in the cellar, and it can't produce the amount of needed heat because it's choking for air (the solution is to simply install 1 or 2 air vents to the outside air).

3) you say the boiler is working 24/7, and you're STILL not getting enough heat---there's something wrong with this picture---the boiler could be choking for lack of adequate air, or too small a boiler was installed to account for the heating needs of the house, the need for an annual service visit has already been mentioned-----no boiler should have to run 24/7---some reserve capacity is always calculated into every new boiler installation to accommodate (usually) zero degree outdoor temperatures---the internal rotors on the boiler water pump (circulator) may be worn or broken & the boiler hot water is not circulating adequately.

4) a house built in 1998 should have all the building code requirements of insulated exterior walls and tight, double-pane windows to insure that the boiler heat remains in the living quarters, instead of escaping thru the walls, but there are simple ways to check for presence or absence of wall cavity insulation in all walls---does the house have double-pane windows???

5) Be assured that a gas-fired Utica boiler (very well-respected brand) producing hot water heat is an unbeatable choice for heating a home, that's why it's important to determine the BTU output of the boiler (stated in thousands of BTU/hour output on a tag at the front of the boiler) and the amount of HEAT LOSS that the house is experiencing thru possibilities like inadequate exterior wall insulation, absent or single pane storm windows, etc.---you can make a rough calculation of the amount of heat (in BTUs) needed to heat your home by multiplying the total square footage of all the rooms (assuming 8' ceilings), and multiplying the total result by approx 30 (BTU) the total result should roughly jibe with the stated BTU/hour output as listed on the boiler tag at the front of the boiler; 3/4" copper tubing baseboard is rated at approx 430-500 btu/hour per linear foot heat output with boiler water that is approx 160-170 degrees hot; multiplying the total amount of feet of baseboard in the house by 430 to 500 can approx calculate the amount of heat output of all the baseboard---this figure should approximate the amount of heat (in BTUs) needed.

If the above figures don't roughly jibe, an elaborate computer-driven HEAT LOSS CALCULATION can be done by a professional to determine the heat needs of the house (in BTUs/hour).

Gfarra
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Hi There,

Thank you for your reply. To address some of your comments:

1) The boiler is in an unfinished basement no walls or anything to obstruct so it should be getting plenty of air for cumbustion.

2) Let me clarify when I say it runs 24/7. The boiler itself cycles on and off as the water temp fluctuates between 170 and 180 degrees. The circulator pump runs 24/7.

3) I do have the boiler serviced every year around October. My guy used to bleed out any air, this past Oct we installed the Spirovent. He also cleans the burners. I dont recall if he has ever flushed the boiler, but last season he had to drain the system in order to install the Spirovent so I assume the system got flushed because of that. My area does have very hard water but I do have a whole house softening system which is salt based.

4) The windows are Andersen double pane vinyl windows.....most likely the entry grade offered by Andersen

5) Tag on the boiler reads Model MGB175HD, Input 175000 BTU/Hr, DOE Heating Capacity 143000 BTU/Hr, and Water 124000 BTU/Hr. (I hope I got all this right :))

Any additional thoughts would be appreciatted.

Thank you,

George

bill
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
bill

You could turn your high limit cut out up to 200 degrees f. so that the boiler would run flat out a true 24/7. also insulating your basement would help.

Gfarra
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Bill,

I assume you mean adjusting my aquastat to 190 or 200 degrees?? I asked my guy about an outdoor reset and/or manually changing the aquastat to a higher temp setting temporarily during these bitter cold spells.

He said it wasnt recommended but didnt elaborate why. Does doing this add stress to the system as a whole?

George

keith3267
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
keith3267

I'd say start with the energy audit. Trying to solve this kind of problem without first doing an energy audit is like getting a check engine light in your car and buying parts you hope will fix it without first reading the code causing the CEL to light up.

Your energy audit should also include an infrared (IR) scan of your house. An IR scan can really pinpoint where heat is escaping your house in winter. If you can't find an auditor with an IR camera, you might want to invest in the one Tommy uses on TOH. Its pretty inexpensive.

http://www.flir.com/flirone/display/?id=69324

Gfarra
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Thanks for the input Keith. I will definitely look for an outfit that offers the IR imaging. that is a nifty IR tool!!

Regards

George

Dobbs
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Dobbs

George,

There's a reasonable chance that the problems you've been having with your "very hard water" and the calcium and salt deposits you mention, have been clogging up the boiler heating distribution piping-----and THIS is the reason that you're not getting adequate heat from the baseboards!

This would jibe with the sensation of you feeling only lukewarm heat when you touch the piping at various spots----the piping should be just about too hot to touch when the system is firing up and boiler-heated hot water is flowing thru the system (160-180 degrees F); in addition, clogging would greatly reduce the VOLUME of hot water that is flowing thru the loops, and thus be an additional impediment to adequately heating the baseboard convectors.

The clogged piping can be "flushed out", preferably by a pro, in most cases, which should considerably improve your boiler heat output; and the service person may be able to set up an arrangement in your boiler room where only water that is low in calcium and salts is used for the boiler water to avoid this problem in the future---there are installed water softener systems that may be a solution, there are also numerous sediment/anti-scale liquids and removers in gallon jugs that are widely used by boiler service workers---be aware that the water used in the boiler & heat distribution piping/convectors/baseboard is ISOLATED from the water used in the rest of the house by a one-way valve & functions at a much lower 12-15 psi (as opposed to 80-100 psi for your tap water.)

Read the comments by Richard Ashworth at the bottom of the following site:

http://highperformancehvac.com/boiler-water-loops/

Also view the following YouTube video, along with other associated YouTube videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTizuz7qvmo

Also Google: "I need help with a clogged hot water heat zone"
And Google: "How to diagnose sudden loss of hot water pressure & flow in a building"
And Google: "Clogged hot water pipe example from water heater outlet to house" to get to Inspectapedia & YouTube

Gfarra
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Thanks everyone for the input. This is all very helpful

Regards

George

bill
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
bill
Gfarra wrote:

Bill,

I assume you mean adjusting my aquastat to 190 or 200 degrees?? I asked my guy about an outdoor reset and/or manually changing the aquastat to a higher temp setting temporarily during these bitter cold spells.

He said it wasnt recommended but didnt elaborate why. Does doing this add stress to the system as a whole?

George

there is no problem setting your aqua stat to a higher temp. as long as the temperature is well below the boiling point of the water, from what i understand you aqua stat cut out at 180 degrees. if your system ran hotter the radiators would be putting out more heat and therefore giving more heat into the room , also it is very important that your radiators have nothing in front of them so that the air flow in unrestricted. I have set aqua stats to 200 degrees with out any problem.

http://www.runtalnorthamerica.com/bisque/calculating_btuh.html
Water Temperature Multiply the Listed BTUH output (180°) by:
120° 0.38
130° 0.48
140° 0.57
150° 0.67
160° 0.78
170° 0.89
180° 1
190° 1.13

as you can see water temperature increase your out put by 13 % over 180 degree out put even more so at 200 degrees f the figure for 200 was not available on this web site.

Gfarra
Re: Overcomming winter's Polar Vortex....insulation and/or heating upgrade??
Gfarra

Hi Bill

Yes, my aquastat is set at 180 degrees. Its amazing how a 10 degree differential results in 13% more thermal energy.

Good to know pushing it to 190 during these cold snaps wont mess anything up

Thank you all

George

Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

Find TV listings for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.