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(newbie) direct/power vent question

Glad that I found this site. I am a homeowner/former carpenter with *just* barely enough knowledge and 50/50 mix of good and bad ideas to be dangerous!

I am going to ask this question as a "concept" first and then if I get a green light on the concepts, I can gather more specifics.

I have an 1897 two family home outside of Boston. This question applies to the heating system for the first floor.

In 2007 I replaced a circa 1911 coal-to-oil-to-gas beast with a Burnham steam boiler, retaining the existing pipe and radiator infrastructure. It works just fine and heats the first floor unit as well as can be expected.

My goal is to remove the chimney and therefore I face some decisions. I am not sure if all of the options that I list below are even possible, ergo this post! My goal is not to get the "perfect" system as I will be here for less than five years but rather to make the most "cost effective" choice....

OPTIONS (not sure if they are all even possible...):

1. Power or direct vent the existing boiler out the side of the house (?)

2. Convert the existing steam to hot water/baseboard and vent as above (?)

3. Install an entirely new hot water/baseboard system that will power vent out the side of the house.

Essentially I know that #3 will work but will be more costly. So my question is, are #s 1 and 2 even possible?

Thanks and I do apologize if this is an odd question. In the end, I am hoping to save money...



  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,914
    Seems to me that

    your option 1 direct vent might possibly be feasible (I'm really hoping someone more expert comes on this thread!) -- but it will depend on three things: getting the correct draught for the Burnham, making sure that the installation complies with Burnham's requirements, and, perhaps most important, complying with your local codes for the exhaust stack for the Burnham (insulation, clearances, distance from outlet to various objects, etc.).

    Option 2 is not really a good idea.  While some people have had good luck with converting steam to hot water, it usually causes troubles of one kind or another.  If you can get the Burnham properly vented without a chimney, why bother?

    Option 3, as you point out, will work -- but it's going to cost you.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Chris_in_Boston
    Chris_in_Boston Member Posts: 4
    Door #2...

    Thanks for your response...

    How do I determine if option #2 is viable? This would be the simplest and least disruptive so it has a lot of appeal. Thanks in advance...

  • Chris_in_Boston
    Chris_in_Boston Member Posts: 4
    Correction.... I meant option #1

    I meant to ask how do I determine if option #1 is viable?
  • Unknown
    edited April 2010
    Option #1

    Hi-  How do you check whether Option # 1 is viable?  I'd check with Burnham to see if your present model boiler is approved for this type of installation and I would also check with your local building department as to whether from a building code standpoint, Option #1 is feasible.   While it maybe possible to "mickey mouse" some sort of installation, it's much better to make any changes to "Code" for your own safety, for insurance coverage, and if you plan to sell the house. In most localities you'll have a hard time selling it until it is brought up to code.

    In your original message you mentioned that the present steam system "heats the first floor unit as well as can be expected" which sounds as though the system isn't working as well as it should.  Economically it would probably be better to concentrate your resources on `getting the present system up to par. If you aren't familiar with steam, there are several good steam books available in the Shop section of this website. Take a look at these books. "We Got Steam Heat", "The Lost Art of Steam Heating" and "Greening Steam".  Most steam systems haven't been properly maintained and /or are not properly configured and with a little bit of "tweeking" can be made to operate much more economically and comfortably.

    - Rod
  • Chris_in_Boston
    Chris_in_Boston Member Posts: 4
    Thanks Rod

    Thanks Rod. Just to clarify, what I mean by it "heats the first floor unit as well as can be expected" has more to do with the age of the house and the uninsulated basement and not really the heating system itself. Also, as a result of getting rid of the old behemoth in there, we discovered that the basement was no longer the "warmest room in the house" and as a result the first floor has a cooler floor than it did prior to modernizing the boiler...

    That said, I will tap into the resources that you mention. If I can, I will retrofit and if not, I will have to install a new system. Thanks again...

  • Cooler Basement.

    I had a similar situation with a cooler basement/floors when my "old steam kettle" finally had to be retired and I switched to a modern steam boiler. Insulating the basement ceiling and the steam pipes made a BIG difference and now the heat goes to where it is really needed.

     Here's an article that might be of interest to you. http://www.heatinghelp.com/article/11/Hot-Tech-Tips/300/Why-you-should-insulate-steam-pipes

    - Rod
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
    edited April 2010
    If you're going to remove the chimney

    and vent out the side of the house, you need to come out at least a foot above the highest recorded snow accumulation for your area. Here in Baltimore, that means four feet. In Boston it would probably be higher. The reasoning is obvious. Local Codes may impose further restrictions on where you can vent.

    With that said, power-venters do exist that can be used with pretty much any modern boiler if properly installed. But they do add moving parts to the system, which will increase your maintenance cost and risk of failure.

    Converting a steam system to hot-water is risky at best. At worst, leaks can severely damage your house, and the system may not heat well. Fixing the existing steam system is the way to go.

    Why do you want to remove the chimney? It's the simplest way to get rid of exhaust gases that's ever been invented.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • TomM
    TomM Posts: 233
    tjerlund ?

    I'm sure that burnham will not recommend that you install an aftermarket powervent to an atmospheric model. 

    -But i've seen it done quite often in my town with older houses with bad chimneys.

    See:   http://www.tjernlund.com/gassidewall.htm


    make sure that you buy a backup fan motor though.


    What's wrong with the chimney anyway? 
    beautiful Conshohocken PA
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