Home>Discussions>INSULATION & HVAC>Radiators, gas hot water boilers, and wood stoves--oh my!
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Radiators, gas hot water boilers, and wood stoves--oh my!

I just bought my first house this summer, and I knew going into it that the furnace would need to be replaced sooner than later. One of the contractors I had in for a bid said it was possibly original to the house (1886!) and was originally designed to burn coal and was later converted to run off city gas. It works as a hot water boiler now, and I have radiators in the house. It's hugely inefficient. The previous owner said that her gas bill for last year was $3000; at my old apartment, with about the same square footage (1200) but with a new gas furnace, the heating costs for the year were about $1200. So something has to be done.

I've always wanted a wood stove, and I was wondering if it was at all possible or cost/energy efficient to incorporate one into this house. I don't want a wood-fired boiler, since one of the big appeals of a wood stove for me is having the hearth with a visible flame in the center of the house. I have heard that you can hook up a wood stove to the ductwork to heat an entire house, but that wouldn't work with my radiators, right? I'd have to have replace the pipes with larger ductwork, remove the radiators, and put in some kind of baseboard vents, right? (Pardon me if I'm not using the correct terms, I'm new at this.) And this would probably be a huge, expensive ordeal and I should just bite the bullet and get a new gas-fired boiler--right?

The way the house is arranged, I could probably put a wood stove in the dining room and heat all of the downstairs, but I would need something to heat the upstairs (all the bedrooms) in which case I would probably have to replace the old boiler anyway. Would it be energy efficient to use a wood stove in that way? I haven't personally priced it out yet, but my intuition is that wood (here in northern Minnesota anyway) is cheaper than gas. Anybody have any experience heating with wood that they'd like to share?

Re: Radiators, gas hot water boilers, and wood stoves--oh my!


I would stick with a new gas boiler and radiator hot water heat---you can always have a small wood-burning stove installed, mostly for emergency/loss of power from winter storms that would knock out the elec. needed to run the boiler pump & possibly the gas boiler valve.

There are several ranges of prices for new gas boilers & you can get one that saves a lot of fuel for a reasonable price.

Don't forget to consider spending a few hundred $$$ on blown in insulation for the exterior walls & the attic, if there is none there now--it will make a big difference in keeping the heat in the house.

Hot water heat with radiators is one of the best central heating systems you can have---the heat is even, trouble free, includes a hot water heater that runs off the boiler for low cost domestic hot water---you'd be nuts to pull out a great system just because you need a low-cost boiler.

Re: Radiators, gas hot water boilers, and wood stoves--oh my!

sonya-I would agree with Dobbs; essentially, you already have 75% of a good heating system; you just need a new boiler; they take the old one out, put the new one in, you're good to go.

A low cost gas boiler would cost the installer as little as $1500 to $2000; perhaps another $1k for installation labor, piping new components like zone valves, an additional pump, etc. for a low quote starting at $3k.

It's important to get at least 4 to 6 estimates (Yellow Pages: Heating Contractors); you can call fuel oil dealers, also licensed to install gas boilers.

I would suggest that you tell the prospective installers that you're out of work, short on funds & that you need the LOWEST QUOTE POSSIBLE on the replacement boiler and the companion indirect hot water heater; try to get the quote at, near or below the $3k mentioned; high performance and condensing boilers would cost considerably more than $3k.

Talk to any friends, relatives who have recently had a new boiler installed; you need to find someone who is courteous, helpful & goes thru the house to do a HEAT LOSS CALCULATION that will assess how big the boiler should be.

The new boilers are the size of a large suitcase; some of them are hung on the wall.

Insulation is also important; you will see a 30% drop in your gas bill if you get a new boiler; the reason for this is the improved design of modern boilers over something that's 50 years old.

A rough estimate of boiler size is obtained by taking the total square footage of your house (including heated basements or utility rooms) and multiplying by a factor between 30 and 60 to get the total btu/hour rating of the boiler.

If you house has lots of insulation, tight windows with no drafts/storm windows/twin pane, etc., you can multiply by 30; if the house is drafty with lots of single pane, drafty windows, multiply by 50 or 60.
If you live in a very cold area, this would also be a factor.

Thus, 1200 X 40 = 48,000 btu/hr as the typical size of the new boiler for a house that size.

This is a relatively small boiler that should save you lots on your gas bill; many of them are high-efficiency models.

I strongly recommend you buy a low-cost gas boiler with electronic ignition (not standing pilot) together with an INDIRECT HOT WATER HEATER to supply your domestic HW for showers, washing, etc.; these are considered a companion to the boiler & run off the boiler hot water so no extra fuel is consumed; if you live alone you might get by with a Biasi B10 boiler that has "combo" domestic hot water heater in the same boiler.

I like companion units by Triangle Tube (Triangle Tube Solo/Prestige boiler & 40 gallon Triangle Tube Phase 3 indirect hw heater); or Crown boiler with 40 gal. Triangle Tube Phase 3 indirect; or Burnham boiler with 40 gal. Lochinvar Squire indirect; or Buderus boiler with 40 gal. Buderus indirect; or Peerless boiler with 40 gal TFI Everhot indirect; or Weil-McLain boiler with 40 gal. HTP Superstore indirect.

I also like boilers by Biasi, Viessmann, Dunkirk, Utica, Slant/Fin, & Hydrotherm.


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