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Gas Fired Boilers - Reliable Manufacturers?

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heatboy
heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
Are you expecting all three of these contractors to perform heat loss calcs for a job they may or may not get?

It is more advisable to interview each of them and ask the pertinent questions then decide who you want to work with. Once that is done, the boiler and system design can be put together. Buying the contractor is, by far, the most important decision you face. Any boiler is just a hunk of metal until it becomes the heart of your comfort.

I should say this is from a contractor's point of view.

hb

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  • Steve_155
    Steve_155 Member Posts: 4
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    Gas Fired Boilers - Reliable Manufacturers?

    I was referred here from another HVAC discussion board. My wife and I are currently getting estimates for replacing the original (circa 1964) natural gas boiler in our house. How do we know which manufacturers make good gas boilers? Who are the best names out there in terms of reliability and longevity? Are there websites (preferably free or low-cost) that have reviews and/or ratings? I have been disappointed with what I have found online even from the likes of Consumer Reports.

    So the quick question is - Who makes the best performing and most reliable gas boilers?

    The long version follows...

    We live in the Northeast US and our heating is currently via hot-water baseboard radiators (however we hope to convert the kitchens and bathrooms to radiant in-floor when we re-do them). The contractors that have come in have estimated our current unit is at best 70% efficient, probably lower. We are still deciding between a "regular" 80% efficiency boiler and a high efficiency 90-95% boiler and have asked each contractor to estimate the job both ways. We expect to stay in this house at least 10 years.

    We currently have estimates that include a Williamson GWA model boiler (approx 80% efficient), a Dunkirk Q95M boiler (95% efficient), and we are still waiting for a few more estimates to come in. My father swears Weil-McLain is one of the best names.

    Are Williamson, Dunkirk, and Weil-McLain good brands? Are there other brands we should be asking about? How about for the different efficiency levels? Are some brands better for high efficiency units? Is 90%+ efficiency really the way to go? Any info is appreciated!

    Thanks,
    Steve
  • ALH_4
    ALH_4 Member Posts: 1,790
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    Decisions

    Really, nearly any of them are reliable if installed correctly. The biggest decisions are what contractor to hire, and whether to use a mod/con.

    I would hesitate to use an aluminum boiler, because of their susceptibility to non-neutral pH. I also think mod/cons are a good investment in most instances, even with baseboard systems where conventional wisdom for cast iron boilers says the fluid temperature may be out of the condensing range. Mod/cons are a completely different appliance from a conventional boiler.
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
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    Another thing to consider

    is that there are boilers out there that can use either gas or oil. This would let you switch fuels without buying a new boiler if the gas utility gets too greedy.

    "Steamhead"

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  • Al Letellier_9
    Al Letellier_9 Member Posts: 929
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    decisions

    Not to play favorites (we all have them) but Williamson and Weil are one and the same (same owner) and they make great boilers. I agree with Steamhead to consider a boiler that can be fired with either fuel...who knows what is going to happen to the fuel prices and source in the future. When doing a steam job, I always use the Weil SGO and fire it with whatever fuel the owner requests.
  • Bob Gagnon plumbing and heating
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    I like Utica/Dunkirk

    I have been putting the cast iorn Utica's for years and I have a couple of the UB95M-200 mod-cons in and they are a great product. You hardly have any problems with a Utica/Dunkirk. There are a lot of Utica boilers up here in the Northeast, ask your neighbors. What brand boiler do you have in there now? Bob Gagnon

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  • Steve_155
    Steve_155 Member Posts: 4
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    Thanks! We have a Basmor-Little (?)

    Thanks for all the responses. Buying a boiler is not something I do everyday so I appreciate all the comments. It appears that we currently have a Basmor-Little 100 Series. Does this sound right? Several of the HVAC contractors we've had in have said the unit is very old (the house is 1964 so this is probably original), difficult to find parts for, and not efficient. The burner itself seems to be OK and might go for a few more years, but all the accessories are wearing out - zone valves are stuck open, the auto fill mechanism is shot, and the expansion tank wore out and apparently replaced incorrectly (they left the old one in place). It's somewhat of a "you might as well" situation - if we are going to correct all the problems with the zone valves etc... then we might as well also replace the boiler for not that much more $.
  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
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    The Viessmann Vitola........

    ....would be an excellent choice with a house full of CI. It can fired gas or oil and is impervious to condensation. I have them running in the upper 80%'s without the complications of condensing equipment.

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  • Mitch_5
    Mitch_5 Member Posts: 102
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    I have had good luck with Weil Mclain

    depending on the size of your house you could go with the basic CGA for a conventional draft or the Ultra for modulation I have had good luck with both. The local rep has been great with support when needed, not always so with some of the other brands.

    Side question how many bids are you getting and did you specify 90+ or conventional equipment.

    Mitch s.

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  • Steve_155
    Steve_155 Member Posts: 4
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    3 bids - asking to bid both regular and high efficiency

    Thank you for your response!

    We plan to get 3 bids. We have one in hand, another is supposed to be in the mail, and we are still trying to decide who to get the third bid from. We have asked each contractor to bid the job both ways (regular and 90+) and so far they all have. So in that respect I guess you could say we are technically getting 6 bids. I really want to run the numbers and figure out how long it would take to make back the higher up-front cost of the 90+ unit before making a final decision. Given the age of our current unit I'm sure even a new conventional unit would yield a noticeable cost/fuel savings.

    We have also asked the contractors to keep in mind that we want to add up to three future radiant in-floor zones (kitchen + 2 baths). The house is just about 2,000 square feet.
  • jalcoplumb_7
    jalcoplumb_7 Member Posts: 62
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    Keep in mind.

    First you should have each contractor do a heat-loss to determine the proper size of the boiler. Insist on seeing the results with the quotes. Keep in mind if you are going to do improvements like adding insulation and installing better doors and windows in the future then your heat-loss will decrease and your boiler size will get smaller. Try to match your boiler size to the heat-loss as close as you can.

    One more thing, unless you are adding an addition with the radiant heat, your boiler should be no larger. Do not increase the boiler size for the radiant heat unless you are adding an addition. The heat-loss is the heat-loss.

    On the boiler side I like a mod/con with a stainless heat exchanger. The Knight, Munchkin, or Trinity are all nice. Best to find a company that has good support in your area.

    Good Luck.
  • Mitch_5
    Mitch_5 Member Posts: 102
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    I think you should pick the best one firs then

    "pay" for the heat loss. Or better yet pay an independent for the loss if you feel it is that critical.

    In the case of most mod con boilers they fit a wider range so as long as you are close a detailed loss is not that critical.

    Mitch S.

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  • Steve_155
    Steve_155 Member Posts: 4
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    Doing a direct replacement - hadn't considered heat loss

    Since we are just replacing an existing unit I hadn't even considered doing a heat loss calculation, so that has not been mentioned in any of the conversations I've had with contractors. We don't plan on changing insulation etc... significantly over the next 10 years. The only changes we might make in the near future would be some new entry doors (1 front and 1 side). Eventually we will replace the windows, but probably not for another 5-10 years. Given that we are making so few changes do we really need a heat loss calculation? This sounds expensive so I wouldn't expect it to be done as part of the bid process, however should we ask for it once we choose our contractor?

    Actually, our local gas utility will do a "home energy audit" for $85. The description says:

    "The audit includes a detailed on-site inspection of your home by a certified home energy rater. A complete audit report with valuable recommendations on how you can save energy is provided. Audits include the review of dwelling energy consumption patterns, air infiltration characteristics, the number of inhabitants and other variables affecting energy usage."

    Is this the same as a heat loss calculation?

    Steve
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
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    Steve, you MUST do the heat-loss

    otherwise you may end up getting a bigger boiler than you need. This wastes money when you purchase the boiler and wastes fuel day after day.

    Most boilers in service today are oversized to some degree. I think the worst case of oversizing I've run into is a job where we reduced the total BTU input to the house by two-thirds, and still had plenty of heat when the outside temp approached design- go here:

    http://forums.invision.net/Thread.cfm?CFApp=2&Thread_ID=39995&mc=16

    This was made possible precisely because we did a heat-loss calculation.

    If you wish, click on the "Heat Loss Calcs" button on the lower orange bar at the top of the page. This will link you to the Slant/Fin site where they offer a free, easy-to-use calc program that will run on any Windows computer from 98 to XP (and maybe Vista as well but I'm not sure). If you still use dial-up, I'd suggest ordering the CD rather than downloading it.

    Once you know the house's heat loss, you'll know what size boiler you really need.

    Not sure what your gas utility actually does on their audits, but if they're anything like the ones in this area, don't waste your money.

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  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
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    That was made by Bastian-Morley

    and sold by the H.C. Little company. Both companies are long since out of business as far as I know.

    In those days, fuel was cheap so few people paid much attention to proper boiler sizing or operating efficiency. Those days of cheap fuel are long gone, but we still find that surprisingly few people pay any attention to proper boiler sizing or operating efficiency.

    You can't afford not to pay attention to proper boiler sizing or operating efficiency.



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  • jalcoplumb_7
    jalcoplumb_7 Member Posts: 62
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    It is possible….

    It is possible that a heat loss was never done on your house and a rule of thumb method was used to size the current boiler. Better to have the right size.

    You can click on the heading at the top of the browser that says “Heat Loss Calcs” and try to do it yourself.

    Not sure what your utility will give you. You can call and ask. I don't think it will be a heat loss.

    Not sure what your contractors will charge for a heat loss.

    It is a tough subject to discuss. Do you really want to pay three guys to do the same heat loss? That is your call. Which one are you more comfortable with? Might want to ask them what program they use for the heat loss. If they give you a blank stare then move on to the next one.

    Would you buy a suit from a guy with out sizing it first?

    You might find that the boiler will be a size or two smaller with a proper heat loss. That is how important it is. It can effect your fuel bills for a very long time.





  • heatboy
    heatboy Member Posts: 1,468
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    I have yet to...........

    .......... upgrade a heating system that didn't require a smaller boiler (hot water, not steam) than the one being replaced. Without a heat loss, how would you know? There is no room for the "boiler plate replacement" any longer with the price of fuel and efficiencies of modern equipment.

    hb

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  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
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    "Would you buy a suit from a guy without sizing it first?"

    I like this! Can we use it too?

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  • J.C.A._3
    J.C.A._3 Member Posts: 2,981
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    I happily quote.....

    Our host...

    The drive to oversize boilers is stronger than the "sex drive".

    Have a heatloss calc. done and get the right size boiler in there. Bigger ISN'T necessarily better when YOU are paying the bills. Nuff said? Chris
  • jalcoplumb_7
    jalcoplumb_7 Member Posts: 62
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    Epiphany

    It just came to me. It is all yours.
  • Glenn Sossin_2
    Glenn Sossin_2 Member Posts: 592
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    Did you consider

    that the newer boiler regardless of type, will deliver more useable heat than their older counterpart? Todays boiler, depending on the type can deliver 10%-25% or more heat than a boiler from the 60's. Get a heatloss & size your existing radiation - know the conditions/loads your dealing with. Then your not as likely to pay for capacity you don't need, your not cycling your equiptment as often, and you'll burn less fuel.

    Did you (or the prior owner) add more insulation and new windows over the years to this home? This again, will further decrease your heating load. Don't go by the size of the boiler that's there now - a big mistake!!

    Another common oversizing issue comes from the supply house that supplied your boiler originally. Sometimes the plumber says he wants a "150,000 btu boiler". The supply house is out stock on that size/model but will give him a break on the next size up so they don't lose the sale - so that's what ends up in your house, a bigger boiler - oversized even more. You think you got a deal because they gave you an even bigger boiler for the same price. It actually cost you money because it's less efficient. When it comes to heating systems - bigger is not necessarily better.

    As far as which one is best, I'd place a higher weighting on the reputation/quality of the contractor, and the ability to get parts if service is required. Virtually every product will have a service issue at some point in it's life cycle, - will your contractor be there? Will he be able to get support and parts to service your equiptment?

    Since your going with hydronic heating, I would suggest a mod con (modulating condensing) boiler w/ indoor/outdoor reset. Think of the "modulating" as a gas pedal for the boiler - how high to fire it, and the "condensing" simply means very low exhaust temperatures. More heat energy is kept in the house where you want it, rather than sent up the chimney. The flue gas temperatures can be so low, that they condense and form a mild acid, hence "condensing". The reset means that the high temperature the boiler fires to is controlled by feedback from an outdoor sensor in an effort to not create any more heat energy than is necessary to heat your home.

    An ideal heating system is one where the system creates/delivers exactly the amount of heat your house loses (heatloss) through its cold surfaces - windows, doors, ceilngs etc. A mod con boiler is best suited for this scenario.

    For mod cons, I would suggest using a S/S version and avoid aluminum blocks. In my opinion, over the next few years, you will start to see some issues with a significant amount of the aluminum modcons already installed.

    The aluminum blocks are more prone to oxidize (cake up) overtime if they are not serviced/cleaned properly. It would look like the white crusty stuff you see on your car battery termnimals. This results in lower heat transfer and narrower flueway passages.

    Mod con boilers have multiple sensors throughout the boiler to detect water and air temperatures in the boiler to control the fan/gas input through an on board computer. If the exhanger is not properly cleaned, as the passage ways start to cake up. The fan motor, because of sensor readings via the computer, will be told to spin at higher rpms to compensate until it simply can't push enough air through the block. This will lead to pre-mature fan failure - now you have no heat. How readily available is the fan assembly for the boiler you choose? Thats one thing I'd be looking at.

    I like the heat exchanger in the Triangle Tube Prestige boiler, it is self cleaning. You couldn't get into it if you wanted to, nor should you ever have the need. There are definetly improvents/features I'd like to see on the boiler, but overall I think this is amongst the top units out there. If you wanted to use an aluminum block, I would use the Dunkirk/Utica version. Well designed, low head loss, and very efficient.

    Keep asking questions - the more you know, the better the decision you are likely to make.
  • Tony_23
    Tony_23 Member Posts: 1,033
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    As for me

    I usually do a heat loss to do my quote. Then again, over 90 % of my quotes are to existing or highly referred customers. I query as to the number of "bids" being solicited, then ask if price is the issue. The other option being getting it right. I decide whether or not to quote the job at that point and either move forward or move on.

    This approach may sound arrogant, but I prefer not to waste my time calculating the right job to be underbid by someone who doesn't care about the end result as much as he does his pocketbook.

    e.g. I just got a signed contract for a simple boiler replacement. I did a thorough heat loss. One other guy didn't do one, the 3rd guy measured only the floor area. The load figured out to 60,000 BTUH. The existing boiler was 140,000 input. I wanted to install an Ultra 80, they secided on CI so I'm installing a Bryant branded Dunkirk 105. I'd go smaller yet, but the water heater needs the input.
  • Mitch_5
    Mitch_5 Member Posts: 102
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    Existing customers are one thing,

    Cold calls and some referrals are another. Every one of them says price is "not" an issue but when we ask why we did not get the job we find out price was the issue.

    We have even been called to jobs we did not get. We ask what about the guy that did the boiler. The answer ye he was cheaper but we like you better.

    Mitch S.

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  • Tony_23
    Tony_23 Member Posts: 1,033
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    Well

    I guess my intuition is exceptional, or I'm just lucky :)

    Of course, 25 years in an area like mine makes a difference as well.
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