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Gas or oil - I can't decide!

stacie b_2
stacie b_2 Member Posts: 21
We decided to keep oil! Actually the deciding factor in everything was the contractor. I tried to pick the one that I perceived to have the most knowledge, integrity, and passion for steam.
Other factors included a backlog to have gas installed from the street, a good deal on a replacement oil tank, and making peace with our electric stove.
This was a difficult decision, and I guess there isn't a right or wrong answer.
I'm looking forward to posting some before and after pictures in a few weeks.
Thanks again for all the advice!


  • Hi,
    I'm a Boston-area homeowner planning a boiler replacement. I have all my quotes together and it's time to make a decision: gas or oil? We have steam heat.
    Today I'm leaning toward gas. Here are the top reasons:

    1) Cheaper initial cost - the gas company gives $1500 worth of incentives, including discounted boiler and tank removal.
    2) Cheaper supply cost (today) - I fully realize this could easily change. But with oil at over $3.50 per gallon, it's hard to "re-enlist".
    3) The oil tank is gone, and won't need to be replaced. My existing tank needs replacing.
    4) Could hook up gas appliances, especially a stove.

    The reasons that make me re-consider oil:

    1) The boiler is more efficient - 86% vs. 82%.
    2) No carbon monoxide worry
    3) Won't have to have my street/yard dug up to run the pipe.

    The reasons that are a "tie" between gas and oil:

    1) Chimney liner - I need one regardless, because of a crumbling clay flue liner. I do not want a power vent.
    2) Supply competition/service - The oil company would require a 2-year commitment, so I don't see this as too different from KeySpan being the only supplier. And I'm not too worried about finding service for either system in the Boston area.
    3) Source of supply - I think it's not exactly clear where either fuel actually comes from...it's a mix of domestic and international.
    4) Won't run out - For oil, you can just be on automatic delivery.

    Finally, my unaswered questions:

    1) Which one is quieter? Specifically, Burham MegaSteam vs. Burnham Independence. Is it significant?
    2) Does one or the other require more frequent service? Is the ease of service comparable?
    3) I've read about gas explosions. What about oil tanks? Is that also a risk?
    4) Resale value - does anything suggest buyers prefer one to the other?
    5) Electricity - does one require significantly more than the other?
    6) Steam quality - Oil burns hotter,so would the steam be produced noticeably quicker?

    Any comments, clarifications, counter-arguments are appreciated!

    P.S. I think it was Steamhead that suggested installing a dual-fuel boiler like the Smith G-8. I thought it was a great idea, but it ended up being cost prohibitive. If my oil tank was in good condition I would have considered it.

    Thanks in advance!
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  • ed wallace
    ed wallace Member Posts: 1,613
    boiler choice

    Nelson I have to ask you who told you no worrying about carbon monoxide ? got news for you anytime you burn anything you produce carbon monoxide this includes candles
  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Who told you

    the G-8 was that much more expensive?

    We have found it competitive with a good oil-fired steamer. Sounds to me like someone wants to stay in their atmospheric rut.

    As to your other points:

    1- an oil or power gas burner is noticeably louder than an atmospheric burner. But most people wouldn't mind that. I call it "the sound of high efficiency".

    2- EVERY heating system should be serviced yearly, including a digital combustion analysis, regardless of fuel. There's more involved with oil- nozzle, filter and the like.

    3- With the oil company you can use then for 2 years then switch if you want. With Keyspan/National Greed or whatever they call themselves this week, you're stuck.

    4- Yes, a leaking oil tank can be frightfully expensive to clean up. The newer tank designs, for example the Roth, are much less prone to failure and use a secondary containment to keep the oil from spilling if the main tank fails.

    5- Steam quality- no difference whatsoever between the two fuels, assuming good equipment design.

    6- Chimney liner- get one that can handle oil or gas, and you're set.

    7- Power burners do use a bit more electricity to run their motors, but the difference is not nearly what it was before higher-efficiency motors came on the market.

    Hope this helps.....

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  • John@Reliable_14
    John@Reliable_14 Member Posts: 171
    It's all about the service

    I would stay with oil, just for the service. Plenty of oil companies who don't require you to sign any long term contracts. When it's real cold try calling the gas company for service,(only the sales office answers on the second ring)lol. Around here(south shore) if you're not sign up as a "preferred customer" which you pay a premium for good luck. I have heard from customers that were told by the local gas company ,we will be there in a couple of days to fix your no heat call.
  • Paul Pollets
    Paul Pollets Member Posts: 3,656

    I'd be converting to gas with an atmospheric vent and a stainless insulated chimney liner. Less maintainence, although ALL steam boilers require service and regular blow-down of the low water cutoff.

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  • jackchips_2
    jackchips_2 Member Posts: 1,338

    I have gas and a service contract with a very reputable heating contractor-not the gas company.

    I don't see service being an issue as any gas customer can go this route.

  • joe lambert_2
    joe lambert_2 Member Posts: 61
    gas vs oil

    A domestic gas hot water tank is significantly cheaper to purchase than one that is oil fired for your domestic. You could go tankless or indirect but those options are expensive and the actual savings in fuel you might save is minimal. With my 40 gal gas hot water heater I spend less than $25 a month for gas from April through September with three people living in the house and I like to take 20 minute showers sometimes.

    historically gas prices have been more stable without huge sudden price spikes. Oil prices historically are more volatile and the price per a barrel of oil is expected to go as high as $135 per a barrel by the end of the year according to the news.

    An atmospheric boiler requires less maintenance than an oil fired boiler and they are more reliable because there is no motor operated burner to break down on you. If your boiler is relatively small (D.O.E capacity of less than 100k) than the difference between 82% and 85% in AFUE ratings is only a few dollars a month. Use this calculator to help you figure out the differences in AFUE ratings and see for yourself. http://www.energyexperts.org/fuelcalc/default.asp
  • Leo
    Leo Member Posts: 770
    Today (Thur)

    I heard on the radio coming home (in Mass) that National Greed is working to settle a labor issue, one of the items outsourcing. Hopefully when a customer needs service the operator on the phone can speak a language that is understood. I also heard either National greed or Keyspan can't remember which name was used is asking for a 27% rate hike.

  • steve_179
    steve_179 Member Posts: 2

    It's called recovery rate... you'll see... let me now how you like gas so much, when the monthly bills start coming in. it's not just what fuel you should choose it's the type of equiptment you're choosing??? there's poorly designed gas and oil heating systems and then there's amazingly great designed oil and gas heating systems... "good luck" !

  • Thanks Steamhead, you're always helpful! I wanted to clarify about the Smith G-8: it would be cost prohibitive because a) I'd lose the discount from the gas company on the Burnham boiler and b) I'd have to install a new oil tank.
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  • Thanks, Ed. Is it a good idea to get a CO monitor/detector for any heating system?
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  • Yes, I saw that on the news tonight...and I haven't even signed up yet! But oil rose today to $108/barrel so you just can't win.
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  • Steamhead (in transit)
    Steamhead (in transit) Member Posts: 6,688
    Something to think about

    Why do the gas monopolies only discount atmospheric boilers? Because this type of boiler lets the utility sell you more gas. So what is the "discount" really worth over the long term?

    Also, you wouldn't need a new oil tank now if you're not going to burn oil now. You can install a new tank later if you wish.

    We just commissioned a G-8 steamer this evening. Watch for pics.

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  • Frenchie
    Frenchie Member Posts: 113
    Tough decision

    I understand the plight! I don't think the heating system matters so much either way. The hard part would be making peace with the electric stove :) We have gas in the house- yet we still are heating with oil. Either way it's going to be expensive....Gas is up over 30% since December....
  • Roland_13
    Roland_13 Member Posts: 18
    Oil vs Gas

    Hi Nelson, When my wife and I moved into our new home (a first for both of us) we had an old oil-fired beast of a boiler in the basement. It was working fine and seemed to have been serviced on a regular basis. Trouble was, we had concerns about the boilers' future reliability and based on a 750*F stack temperature, it's efficiency was in question. Since we had gas in the house already, it was an easy choice to convert. Also, both of us are sensitive to hydrocarbon vapors and the fuel oil smell was nauseating. OK on your choice to stay with oil heat. The equipment is no doubt better these days. As has been said many times on this board, the installer is the most important part of this project. Get a detailed description of how the system will be configured and ask lots of questions. One thing that needs to be discussed more often is conservation. It matters little what fuel you are burning if the structure is leaky. Better to plug the air leaks in the envelope than lose sleep over rising fuel prices. One last thing, can you post a picture or two of your present system? All the best, Roland
  • stacie b_2
    stacie b_2 Member Posts: 21

    Yes, you're right about a leaky house. We had an energy audit performed and there is a lot to tighten up. My first post to the Wall showed a pic of of our system: How Old is this Boiler?
  • Roland_13
    Roland_13 Member Posts: 18
    Oil vs Gas

    Hi Nelson, Thanks for posting the picture. I remember that post. You may try to contact your heating contractor to find out how he will pipe the new steam boiler. If you have been lurking here for a while, you will know that proper piping is hugely important. Perhaps some of the resident steam experts can chime in to give you some guidance on what to demand of your installer. It's far better to get this right from the beginning rather than trying to patch it up after the job is done and the check is cashed. Had to deal with the patching up myself after the heating contractor cut a few corners and balked at fixing his mistakes. Do your homework, ask lots of questions and scrutinize your heating guys' work. It will be time well spent. Good luck, Roland
  • scrook_2
    scrook_2 Member Posts: 610
    Smells = something wrong!

    "... old oil-fired beast... was working fine... and based on a 750*F stack temperature... efficiency was in question. Since we had gas in the house already, it was an easy choice to convert. Also, both of us are sensitive to hydrocarbon vapors and the fuel oil smell was nauseating.

    If fuel oil (or other) smells/vapors are present (or nauseating), something's NOT right or NOT working right, whether oil, gas, coal, wood or other fuel!

    In any case what you had needed to go, odor or not; Oil vs. Gas for replacement's a whole 'nother question though, there are pros and cons to each. Enjoy your new system & keep tightening up that envelope too!
  • Roland_13
    Roland_13 Member Posts: 18
    OIl vs Gas

    Hi Scrook, When I was a kid, I absolutely loved the smell of raw gasoline and fuel oil. I spent 10 years working in a wood shop finishing furniture. I admit I liked the aroma of solvents and oils. As time went on, however, I developed a keen dislike for all those hydro-carbon vapors. As an adult, I would become physically sick when exposed to those same materials I so loved as a child. It was practically a no-brainer making the switch from oil to gas heat. Whenever we got a delivery, my wife and I would become nauseated by the ODOR of the raw fuel oil . I have nothing at all against heating with oil. In fact, I would have been fine with just swapping out the old boiler for new, more efficient unit. The decision to go with gas was solely based on a health issue. All the best, Roland
  • Frenchie
    Frenchie Member Posts: 113

    You could have a small LP tank set right up against your house to use as cooking fuel and maybe for a dryer. Then you could cook with gas and still have the oil steamer. After cooking on gas I could never go back to electric. same with gas versus electric dryers. Though the oil heat seems better. Just some food for thought. I have a 130 gallon LP tank right behind the garage to heat the garage, It is out of sight and out of the way. Works great and I didn't need to dig a trench to put NG back there. The LP company set the tank and hooked it up for free.
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