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Steam Heat Options

I currently live in a two family house built in 1923. Each unit is served by an individual steam boiler. Other than simply buying a newer steam boiler (which I am told will still only be about 80% efficient) what options are available to me to reduce my heating costs. Can I simply convert the existing system to a hot water or geothermal system. Running ductwork for a forced air system would be difficult. Please advise, thank you.

Re: Steam Heat Options


Your best bet would perhaps be to contact several heating contractors (Yellow Pages: "Heating Contractors", or "Oils-Fuel")in your area to have them come over to the house to make an expert determination of what is most expedient.

Off-hand, I tend to favor forced hot water conversions due to their higher efficiency & less maintainance, when compared with steam---most steam systems are old & inefficient & can't be easily converted to FHW, & unfortunately, most steam cast iron radiators would cost too much to modify them into functioning FHW convectors---any steam boilers that have been around for decades are closer to 50% efficient or less & thus waste a lot of $$$ in annual fuel costs---if there is a lot of white material covering the steam pipes & boiler, you probably have an asbestos hazard, which has to be disposed of by professionals in a proper manner.

It is usually not adviseable to convert a steam system into FHW----most steam systems are the one-pipe variety, so that considerable changes would have to be made to the radiators and the piping inside the walls & ceilings to get a working system---a small number of steam systems are 2-pipe systems---these can more likely be converted to FHW, but even there, the fittings and piping would have to be modified considerably---however, keep your mind open until the heating contractors actually visit your house & give you the comparative cost of staying with steam, or modifying the steam system, or ripping everything out & installing FHW---get several estimates and opinions & eventually you will be able to make an informed decision on which way to go on this deal---there are usually energy credit rebates that are paid on new "energy star" efficient boilers by local & federal govts or the mfgr of the boiler--ask the installers about this option.

If you are the landlord & rent out one of the apts, there is an income tax write-off on your itemized deductions for any heating system renovation costs you incur for the apt. being rented by completing Schedule E of the 1040, which will reduce your taxable income.

There is also the recent innovation of using PEX plastic pipe to snake up thru the walls & ceilings to install new radiators or finned baseboard, or steel panel radiators---the flexible plastic is easier to feed thru tight spaces to complete the piping distribution network.

If you have natural gas in your area, this is usually preferred over oil to get a higher efficiency system with less cleanings and annual maintenance involved---condensing boilers at 95% efficiency or 3-pass boilers at 87% efficiency are preferred---due to the new designs of the combustion chambers & other innovations, you can expect to see a 30% drop in fuel usage by switching to gas-fired or oil-fired FHW boilers.

Extensive insulation should be blown into your exterior walls and attic if not done so already---R19 for the walls & R40 for the attic---this is blown in by forced air from the outside after removing a shingle or piece of siding here & there---an excellent investment that cost only several hundreds of $$$, & the cost will be quickly recovered in fuel savings within a year or two.

Tight windows, preferably double pane or storm windows are also a very good investment that will pay for itself in a short time in fuel savings---eliminate any drafty windows, they waste a lot of fuel.

Boilers by Buderus, Burnham, Crown, Dunkirk, Hydrotherm, Peerless, Slant/Fin, Utica, Viessmann, Biasi Triangle Tube & Weil-McLain, among others are recommended---there is a "companion" indirect hot water heater that is combined with these boilers that is recommended for the domestic hot water supply, instead of a separate hot water heater.


Re: Steam Heat Options

Geothermal and radiant heating are both extremely efficient. If you have it done this year, you'll be able to apply for a federal tax credit. Good luck.
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