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100 yr old Steam Boiler Coal-to-Oil Converted - Replace or... Help?
I'm writing to this forum because I have seen how high-quality and non-biased the replies are. I hope you will be able to help me out.
The subject of this post is a 100-yr old steam heat boiler/classic radiator system that was converted from coal to fuel oil. This car-sized, asbestos-covered monster (you can hear it cycle on from the 2nd floor) goes through ~1900 gallons of oil a year for heat (in the northeast, about 7000 heating degree days). It has a newer burner on it. For my parents, that is about $6,000 a year depending on oil prices.
With the proceeds of the sale of their former home, my parents purchased their final dream home. Although they don't complain, they have had many issues with it, from temperature extremes in the shower (electric tank) and low water pressure to old electricity. Following some work on the waterways of the area by an engineering corp, the neighborhood floods every few years into their basement. The water quality of the point source is no longer safe for consumption, but the village water clogs water filters in 6 weeks and ruins appliances. The truth is that they've spent all the money they did have fixing issues with the house and don't really have much left now. I want to help in a way that actually makes an impact.
The home is about 4,000 sqft, about 9' ceilings, and lots of windows. Half of it is 200 yrs old while the other half is 100 yrs old. There is an unconditioned attic and a basement that does have a loop of steam pipe in it from radiators above it. The brick must be at least a foot thick. There is no insulation to speak of (maybe under the floor of the attic?) and everyone warns against changing the envelope least we ruin the house with moisture and other issues. (I'm still separately looking into attic insulation as an option). They caulk in the storm windows each year.
They tried to space heat by putting in propane fireplaces and later a pellet burner in the basement. In both cases, they used the same amount of oil, just had a propane and pellet bill to add to it. Someone suggested putting pex radiant heat under the floors, but in my limited experience, the cost of adding a whole new type of system instead of upgrading your existing system rarely seems to pay off long-term.
I read on this forum already that descaling, flushing, and other maintenance can help a lot (not sure if any of this has been done yet as my dad does have the Steam Heat manual). What I'd like to ask is if there is something I can do to make the existing system more efficient (I've thought about getting them a new boiler as a present). In particular, my questions are:
1. What do you think the efficiency of this current boiler is? I'm trying to calculate savings by switching, but I'm not sure what I'm working with.
2. Should we upgrade to a newer, higher-efficiency boiler? If so, what should I be looking for? I heard condensing isn't good if your water is like theirs is, but what else should I look for?
3. Should we switch the existing radiators to a hot water system to save money? Would that work?
4. Is there some other approach I haven't thought of that would save them money?
Thank you for your time and expertise!
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