Home>Discussions>INSULATION & HVAC>Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water
31 posts / 0 new
Last post
Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water


Yes, those are effective initial steps you can do now---oil seems to be coming down in price in recent weeks, let's hope it continues & you can get a better deal for what you pay for oil this winter.

If the service person agrees a smaller nozzle should be put in, make sure they adjust the fuel pump pressure accordingly to specs & use a combustion analyzer to adjust the flame for proper O2, CO2, CO and SO2 content---many experienced techs adjust the flame by eyeball, but it should be done by instrument to save fuel.

There are so many other possible ways to reduce heating costs that are hard to see over the internet---from installing ceiling fans on the high ceilings, to DROPPING the ceilings (if it won't spoil the room decor) (putting in dropped insulated ceilings)---not that hard to do & a great fuel saver.

Pay a small fee to an expert who can go thru the house & point out aspects a homeowner/resident often overlooks that are major ways a building is losing heat.

In the Yellow Pages under Building Inspectors, radiant heat survey, insulation service, there are people that can help---many will go thru the house free of charge & give a free estimate for their services.

Other possibilities are the heating system---although the boiler is not that old, many people with steam have changed to gas-fired hot water baseboard (if you have natural gas available in your area it may cost lots less than oil), or oil-fired forced hot water.

This would perhaps mean ripping out the steam rads, unless they could be converted to hot water (some can, some can't).

Meanwhile, there are many sites on the internet you can go to for more info on this topic.

Google "reducing heating bills", "heating cost reduction",etc.---with and without the quotation marks.

The important thing is to learn as much as you can now before you spend $$$ needlessly on repairs or renovations that will do little or nothing to reduce heating losses.

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

Thanks very much for your sage advice, Jack. We do not have natural gas in our area, and I'm not keen on a propane tank, so oil seems to be the choice.

I wouldn't want to drop the ceiling in that vaulted-ceiling room, because the ceiling is great-looking knotty pine with two skylights (there is a ceiling fan to help push the warm air down, though).

Our radiators are quite old, and some of them are beautifully cast with intricate designs. I'm guessing they aren't convertible to hot water, but if they were, what would be the ballpark cost of that? And what are the advantages of hot-water heat over steam heat? We'll be in the house for seven more years, so we have to consider the cost versus fuel savings, but of course we also want to make the house attractive to a prospective new owner.

That's exactly why the previous owner ripped out the ancient boiler and replaced it before putting the house up for sale. For most of his heating, he used a whole-house wood/coal stove that sits in the dining room. It's a handsome stove, but we don't have the time or the inclination to tend it.

My husband says that next time we should buy a house with less character, but I really love interesting old houses, and this one is a gem. I just have to figure out how to heat it more efficiently!

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water


You can probably disregard what I said about conversion to forced hot water---it would no doubt cost ~$15k if not more to completely remove the rads (which you like) & install a new boiler and HW baseboard---with THAT kind of investment there may be a 25% to 30% drop in annual fuel costs, but it would take you over a decade to recoup your investment.

A steam system requires weekly if not daily attention & the boiler efficiency is usually only 80% tops.

Forced hot water (FHW) has the advantage of being easily zoned to different areas of the house (as many as 8 zones if needed) so that each room can be controlled with a thermostat---oil-fired boiler efficiencies are up to 95% for condensing/variable output models.

The current trend is also to use very little water in the fhw heating systems---only a few gallons--all these measures are aimed at reducing the amount of fuel burned.

The domestic hot water would be zoned off the boiler very easily.

The option of having radiant floor zones would be possible.

There is always the option now with your steam system of keeping some of the infrequently used rooms at 50 degrees to conserve fuel.

If it is just you and your husband, 2700 sq.ft. seems like a lot of house to maintain---a much smaller house would, of course have much lower utility expenses & the upkeep would be less of a problem.

If you both are retired and "empty nesters" a much smaller house may be a good option in the near future---this of course is a personal decision based on personal preferences.

In the meantime, many real estate agents might tell you to "stay put" until you are ready to leave in 7 years---your house may well be very attractive to a large family, or to an investor who is willing to invest big $$$ to convert to condos or several apartments.

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

You're right that the house is more than we need, but it wasn't when we bought it. Now is not a good time to try to sell it, but I'm confident that it will find a buyer when we do. We're surrounded by McMansions that dwarf our house, and we're on four acres. No doubt the new owner will consider it a tear-down, which saddens me. No way the township would let anyone turn it into condos or apartments, though.

But how does one keep individual rooms at 50 degrees with a steam system? We have only one thermostat, and the individual radiator controls seem to be either on or off, nothing in between.

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water


Sounds like a great piece of property---I'm sure you'll get a very good price when you do decide to sell.

I think your steam heat system can be made more efficient & will burn less fuel if some minor adjustments and routine service is performed.

The symptom of excessive fuel usage in a steam system is often caused by a misbalance in the air vents (both on the rads & the main steam lines in the cellar).

Often some of these get stopped up & the service reaction is to increase the pressure setting on the pressuretrol as an attempt to force more steam thru to the rads (bad idea)---steam systems need operate at only 1 or 2 psi (per square inch pressure).

The symptoms and troubleshooting for steam systems are listed in the sites below---with a simple procedure for checking the rad air vents to make sure they are open, soaking in vinegar to open, etc.

If your service person is familiar with steam heat, it would be wise to involve him/her to make sure the system is operating at the right pressure.

The Heating Help.com site is run & owned by Dan Holohan, who is a widely known expert on steam heat---excerpts of his book are free, online at the site & will help you understand how a steam system works.

At the first site click onto "abnormally high fuel bills" to read the symptoms, as well as the other titles.

In some cases a thermostatic radiator vavle (TRV) is installed between the rad's air vent & the rad to control the heat of the rad in a particular room---but first the air vents should all be checked out to see if they're working.

In other cases, a smaller diameter rad air vent is installed---this has the effect of holding more air in the rad so hot steam can't enter, thus reducing the temp of that room & saving fuel.


Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

That's a great site, Jack. What it tells me is that we need a consultation from a service technician who really knows steam heat. A lot of those problems seem plausible in our house. The maintenance people from our oil company never seem to quite understand the system. One of their servicemen showed me how to add water to the boiler, which I did religiously until another serviceman told me that the system was self-filling and I needn't bother. I guess that's understandable. Not much steam heat being installed anymore.

I am so grateful for your time and patience!

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

Greetings from the Bronx. My older (1929) brick house has an oil fired boiler used for single pipe steam heat and hot water. The boiler dates to the 60's. Insulation in the house is spotty. No zones. We are quite modest in our needs. We tend to keep the rads off on the first floor (where the thermostat is set to about 50 degrees) so that the second floor bedrooms heat to about 65 when the heat activates.

Costs are ridiculous. With the boiler serving only the needs for hot water over the summer, we just had the tank filled (about 180 gallons, for the interval since April), at $4.39/ gallon. That was almost $800.

We are open minded to many options. These might include replacing the boiler, but what are the more exotic options? Change to circulating hot water? Consider heat pumps? Geothermal? Solar tanks? On demand water heat?

The house has a small gas line for cooking, but this would need to be expanded for heating. We could also consider a gas fireplace insert (fireplace is currently ornamental with no flue).


Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

I just replaced my 43yr old boiler with a Buderus G215 with a Superstor Indirect hot water tank. I did not go with the Logomatic controls. If you are unsure what size boiler you need many places, will do a heat loss calculations for you. I did my mine at FW Webb. You just measure all your rooms and windows and they take care of the rest. I paid about 6K for a complete install including a new chimney liner. I got rid of the old boiler for free to the trash guy that comes around picking trash. I have been using the system for about 4 months with no problems and love it.

Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

I've got a 2800 sq ft. house with a Burnham boiler and Beckett burner, and an indirect tank. About a year ago my 13 year old indirect tank rusted on the bottom and was replaced by a very expensive Crown Megastor stainless tank with a lifetime warranty (48 gallons?). That started leaking in a year. It was replaced with the same ($700 in labor from my pocket), which promptly leaked from the bottom in two weeks. The plumbing/HVAC contractor is stepping up on this one and is installing a HTP Superstor Ultra. Is this comparable to what I bought initially?

Also, I keep hearing that alkalinity may be at fault here (there is no way it causes stainless steel to rust in two weeks however). I checked my ph with a kit, but the readings are too imprecise. What do you suggest?

jim hankinson
Re: Replacing Old Furnace/hot Water

The problem may not be alkalinity, it may be excessive chlorides in your water. If you read your warranty there is generally a disclaimer for stainless tanks. The Megastore warranty I refererenced states that the warranty is void if the ph is under 6.0 or over 8.0 or if chlorides are in excess of 80ppm. Someone should have a sample of your water tested.


Sponsored Stories

TV Listings

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