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help with updating heating system
Folks, I’m trying to address problems with my home heating system and need some help. I’m a homeowner and have little technical knowledge about these matters, so please excuse my ignorance and poor use of terminology.
These are my issues:
• The burner is LOUD. This is actually a big deal for me since I have a sound studio here and use the basement as a satellite recording space. This is my bottom-line problem; I have to improve it.
• My oil consumption is high. I keep the house in the mid- to upper-60s and still burn a lot. (Spent $4600 in 2012, including hot water.) I live alone, so don’t use all that much hot water.
• The boiler appears to be oversized. I came up with an approximate heating load using web-based calculators, and it was closer to 70k.
Here’s my current setup:
• small masonry cape (~1500 ft2); no insulation but tight storms
• attached wood frame barn (~700 ft2); heavily insulated; no doors or windows; electronic equipment in one of two rooms generates considerable heat so there’s very little impact of the barn on the heating load
• two-zone oil-fired FHW system for both house and barn; barn on same zone as unused basement convectors; may have been a steam system originally
• cast-iron HW convectors in house (circa 1948); new baseboards in barn
• 140,000 BTU/hr Weil McLain with domestic hot water coil; 4 yrs old; good condition; recently serviced as part of annual contract
• there MAY be gas service to the house (that is, there’s a pipe stub but National Grid has no record of it; it’s possible that the line is intact but they’re noncommittal)
• the boiler is vented through the chimney, which was also cleaned this year and is in good condition
If I could improve what I have, I’d be happy to keep the current system intact. So my first question is:
Can I significantly reduce the noise level of my current oil-fired boiler? I haven’t found any basis to think this is possible other than soundproofing the space; I’m looking into this elsewhere. BTW, I also experience higher than desirable noise from the hot water distribution when the system is active; I assume this cannot be easily addressed unless encapsulating the pipes. But is it possible that different type of circulators (or some other change) could reduce the noise of hot water flow?
If I can’t improve the noise level of the current system, it appears that I need to make a fundamental change. However, I’m baffled when trying to compare the choices. I’ve had a few plumbers in here, also asked around, and have gotten lots of conflicting information. So I’m hoping for some enlightenment here!
It seems like the basic options are:
1. Replace the oil burner with a gas burner. This would be the least expensive choice, though I have no idea about whether noise levels would be sufficiently improved with such conversions. I’ve gotten a huge range of opinions about this one, from strongly positive to strongly negative. Some say that the efficiency of an oil burner converted to gas would be far lower than a unit designed for gas in the first place; others say this is a minor issue.
2. Replace the entire boiler with a high-efficiency (~85%) cast-iron gas unit. This would be more expensive, but seems to be non-controversial; it appears like it would greatly reduce the noise level, provide long-term reliability, and (at least currently) benefit from the favorable cost of fuel. If the costs can be justified, I have a feeling this would generally be a non-controversial choice.
3. Replace the entire boiler with a high-efficiency (~95%) mod-con gas unit. This would be the most expensive option, MIGHT be the quietest (I’ve gotten mixed feedback about this), and (at least currently) more than any other solution benefit from the favorable cost of fuel. I intend to live in this house for ~10 more years, so I’m not concerned about the shorter lifecycles of today’s condensing units. I’ve gotten mixed feedback about the advisability of installing such a system in a home with traditional cast iron convectors, though it’s clear that plenty of people are doing this. I’ve read that outdoor reset makes it possible to run such a system at temperatures consistent with condensing, but it also seems like using oversized convectors might be necessary and I can’t do anything about this.
I realize that the cost savings of (current) gas operation need to be balanced by the conversion investment (costs of bringing in gas service, venting, oil tank removal, and any cost differential of installation.) My initial estimates suggest that the worst-case scenario is a 5 – 7 year amortization, which is fine with me. I was surprised to learn that National Grid is offering the Burnham Alpine for $1100—less than a traditional cast-iron boiler after all of the rebates are factored in—so that has to be considered. I haven’t seen anywhere near the enthusiasm for the Alpine as for other mod-cons, though.
So, my second basic question is:
If it turns out that replacing the current heating system is justified, which is the best way to go in my situation?
I appreciate any and all feedback, and will be happy to supply whatever additional information would be helpful. Thanks in advance!
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