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Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

Hi, everybody! I thought I had my heating solution nailed down, but.....

I have an EFM PK500 made in 1988 at 102K BTU with internal DHW coil. In my 1926 house (1792 sq/ft, storm windows, 12" of blown-in in the attic but solid brick walls w/no space for insulation) I'm using 650-660 gal/year for heat and HW.

The previous owner was, shall we say, bizarrely lax in PM'ing it... for 7 years he had the top of the line service contract but never called for the free included tune-ups! The tech said it was in surprisingly decent shape when I got them in, but the HW coils were so clogged that even after having them do the acid flush I still was getting less than 1/2 gallon per minute. So when I got the quote to replace the coils, ($1,000) I decided it might be time to look to upgrade or change.

Since anthracite is easy to get in this part of Eastern PA, and the house was originally designed for it (with proper chimney height & construction, dedicated coal bunker, etc) it seemed like a very economical way to both save money and get my hot water. However, after putting a deposit down with a local installer, it has been 6 months and every time he or I called the stoker factory it was like talking to the Shirk Brothers in "The Money Pit"... "Oh, it'll be ready in two weeks.....". So I canceled the order and am now back to square one!

It seems like this EFM boiler has a good reputation for longevity, and I've had several people tell me that 21 years is not old for these boilers.... so in addition to looking at new, maybe retrofits? I was wondering what the group's opinion is on this.

I was now thinking of getting the new HW coil in, having them de-rate the boiler down a notch (maybe 90 vs 102? It doesn't run all that much even on the coldest days...), and add an electric damper and a Tecmar controller. Would anyone hazard a guess as to whether this would be a cost-effective change?

The other options are to get a new boiler, or add gas service with new gas boiler but UGI's quote of aprox. 6,600 only included the cheaper Crown, not the higher-efficiency models which they told me could add maybe another 4,000 to the price :eek:. (but there quotes do all include running a line in from the mains).

I am getting into analysis paralysis here.... so many options and SO much cost with the new systems it's so frustrating to start all over again!

Thanks folks...

Re: Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

At the current time with the atmosphere in Washington D.C., I would be leery of installing a coal unit. It could become very costly very soon.

Unless you are going to upgrade to a high efficiency unit, I can't see replacing the unit you have.

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

Ditto, if it ain't broke, I wouldn't "fix it". I'd go with the coil replacement, re-tuning, and invest in a decent bimetallic thermometer with a temperature range of 150-750 degrees F and check the stack temperature immediately post tune-up and monthly or bi-monthly thereafter (and record it) and check the draft control for signs of soot build-up or debris. A decent thermometer will set you back about $80.

As you probably already know, most any change in the performance of a heating unit will result in a change in stack temperature. The usual calculation is that a change of 40 degrees F in the stack temperature represents a drop in efficiency (of your burner) of one percent (doesn't speak to its how well the boiler absorbs the heat and moves it to the water). Generally a change of 80 to 100 degrees F from the last tune up is an indication of need for another tune-up.

I would get the chimney/exaust vent/flue cleaned, tested and inspected verify its sizing, no soot deposits or corrosion, etc. especially since you indicated prior owner was lax in PM, and if you are having a problem with venting or backdrafting replace or upgrade the damper if your tech recommends it and your boiler requires it I have a barometric damper and wouldn't add to that because it couldn't be integrated with a safety with my system and it'd likely run sooty, cause condensation problems or worse if I did.

Keep in mind that any adjustments you make to the home regarding air infiltration, ventillation, insulation may effect combustion air/air pressure balancing.

Not familiar with your particular boiler mfg or model, or space limitations, but I do wonder if an indirect might be worth considering.

Re: Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

From what you have described, it sounds like it would make sense to fix what you have at this point.

Regarding the coal issue. I am not surprised to hear that you had not yet received your unit. Coal burning appliances are presently in great demand, and stoker boilers seem to have the longest lead time. Some hopeful buyers put money down in June or July and will be waiting until next spring for their units. While at a local dealer getting some door gasket rope recently, he said he would not be getting any units (hand fed or stoker) from Harman until April 2009.

I think you are lucky to be in prime anthracite country since you could probably get it for $165 / ton. Based on your oil usage description i think you would need 4 or 5 ton per year. You can do the math on what you would save over oil and how long it would take to get your money back on the investment in a stoker - boiler.
There are used boilers available in NEPA that have been reconditioned and are a fraction of the price of a new unit, and are currently available. Some searches on Craigslist and other local classifieds might be useful. ROI would be much quicker on a used unit, maybe even as little as 2-3 years.

Jack is correct, the future taxing of coal is unknown, but since coal doesn't care if it gets wet, unlike wood or pellets, you can buy in bulk and have a few years worth stored away prior to possible tax increases.

Re: Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

Thanks for the feedback, guys! BRP, I had both chimneys (boiler and fireplace) checked and cleaned when I moved in, the only real problem found was some ornamental exterior brickwork at the top broken off apparently when the roof was last done. Both chimneys are tile-lined and still in good shape.

Good point about the indirect.... I'm now putting a rfq together that will specify bypass/removal of the internal coil with an indirect installed.

Bp21901, yeah, even with the cost of a brand-new install I had figured a pretty darn quick ROI with coal (not counting MY labor to run it, feed it and clean it, that is) :rolleyes:

I'm still going to be keeping an eye out for something used but I guess now my immediate need is to get the EFM fixed up better right now.

Do either of you have an opinion of an ODR? For what it costs, a Tecmar is just seeming to make so much sense. Especially in this area where we can have much milder fall and spring days and nights, why have the boiler cranking full speed ahead when that much power is not really needed? Or am I off base here, is an ODR not really that big a saver?

Thanks for your input!

Blue RidgeParkway
Re: Refit or replace 20yr old boiler?

Depends. What type of system do you have? one pipe, two pipe, etc. and what type of rads or convectors and what's your distribution "engine" (heat of the water alone or single pump or a bunch of tacos?

But if your coil was so clogged, your boiler itself couldn't have been that efficient regards your DHW year-round, so frankly I'd hold back and re-examine after you've solved that issue, reconfigure and indirect or just coil replacment, re-tune and monitor before I started further tweaking especially since you might be reconfiguring down the road. Wonder the status of your distribution if you've got sediment, scale, rust, etc.

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