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Steam Boiler needs replacement

VarkVark Member Posts: 1
We have a 3 story 100+ yr old Victorian home that was converted to a 5-plex many years ago. Steam boiler recently broke. Plumber says the unit will need to be replaced, Boiler is probably over 50 yrs old, and was used to heat about 3600 sqft . Boiler is located in basement, and runs on natural gas.

We have gotten several bids to replace the unit  ranging from 18K to 34K.

We have also asked to a plumber to give us a bid on changing over from a steam system to hot water. We currently have a 1 pipe system, so he would need to pipe a return line to all the existing radiators. His bib also came in around 18K.

I don't know how bib can be same when all the piping needs to also be installed. Is water heater that much cheaper?

Has any one had any experience with this kind of conversion?

This home is located in Colorado Springs - Does any one know of a contractor in the area familiar with this kind of work?

We currently pay all the utilities for this rental, and have always wanted to some how meter the usage for each tenant, and would think that a water system this would be easier.

Any comments or thoughts would be greatly appreciated



  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,653
    Couple of thoughts...

    Please, please don't think of converting your one pipe steam system to hot water -- while it does work, sometimes, you will wind up with a lot of new plumbing to be done and it is quite likely that a good bit of the radiation will have to be replaced as well.  Steam runs on a pound or two of pressure, max. -- hot water runs on anywhere from 5 to 10 as an absolute minimum on the highest radiation to a good bit more than that lower down, so leaks are inevitable.  Get Dan's books and educate yourself as to how steam works.  Then you will be able to help your contractor.

    As to contractors in the Colorado Springs area -- try "find a professional", only use the State search, not the zip code search.

    On price.  Well... we don't talk price here on the wall, for a whole bunch of very good reasons.  But two comments might be made: first, one tends to get what one pays for, and second, hot water and steam boilers themselves tend to be more or less the same cost...

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • Dave in QCADave in QCA Member Posts: 1,660
    Cast Iron Steam and Water about the same price...

    Jamie, I thought I would clarify that cast iron boilers for water or steam are about the same price.  When one is speaking of a modulating condensing, 90%+ boiler for hot water only, that would run higher.  And of course, what they often don't tell you is that the system has to run at cool temps to achieve that effeciency.
    Dave in Quad Cities, America
    Weil-McLain 680 with Riello 2-stage burner, December 2012. Firing rate=375MBH Low, 690MBH Hi.
    System = Early Dunham 2-pipe Vacuo-Vapor (inlet and outlet both at bottom of radiators) Traps are Dunham #2 rebuilt w. Barnes-Jones Cage Units, Dunham-Bush 1E, Mepco 1E, and Armstrong TS-2. All valves haveTunstall orifices sized at 8 oz.
    Current connected load EDR= 1,259 sq ft, Original system EDR = 2,100 sq ft Vaporstat, 13 oz cutout, 4 oz cutin - Temp. control Tekmar 279.
  • nicholas bonham-carternicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 6,535
    broken steam in colorado

    if you find a real steam expert to replace this boiler, you will probably find that the gas company is changing your meter out, as a result of your much lower gas consumption.

    this is the time for you to know a little more about steam heating by getting some of the excellent books here, such as "the lost art of steam heating".

    in your case the pressure needed to run hot water heat up 3 floors could be as much as 25 psi, where the steam pressure should only be ounces, giving a good chance of leaks in the old piping.

    why not do a search on this site for "colorado", and i am sure someones name will come up.

    alternatively, if you decide to switch, all new piping could be run, with new, bigger radiators [sized for hot water], with a smaller boiler.--nbc 
  • TomMTomM Posts: 233

    We have gotten several bids to replace the unit  ranging from 18K to 34K.


    Holy .......


    Looks like all the steam guys in new england will be deciding to move out to colorado! 
    beautiful Conshohocken PA
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Boiler Replacement

    Hi- All the above answers to your post have given you good advice. As mentioned the board rules forbid mentioning pricing. However I will say that your analysis in "right on the money!"

    As others have mentioned converting a steam system to hot water while it can be done, has a lot of pitfalls. Most knowledgeable pros avoid doing conversions as they know the chances are high that the conversion will be plagued with problems and they will be called back many times.  As for your thoughts on  being able to access each apartment for the amount of heat used, with the old piping this would be very hard to do as I imagine each of the steam main heats a vertical section of the house rather than individual apartments.

    From what I can see you have two options. You can stick with the present steam system or rip everything out and go to mod con boilers.

    Modcon Boilers - Each apartment would need to have a individual mod con  boiler with a separate gas line and meter. Each apartment would have to have new radiators and piping leading to the modcon boiler in the basement plus each would have to have individual controls. The initial expense would be quite high but would possibly be off set by the fact that each apartment would now be responsible for their heating bill.

    Steam Boiler-  Steam boilers, like other heating systems, have improved. For gas the consensus on this site is you want to go with a wet based boiler with a power gas burner as these are more efficient that the standard gas fired boiler. Wet based means the boiler water surrounds the fire box. Wet based boilers are normally found on oil fired systems but Smith and Slantfin are two boiler manufacturers that have wet based boilers approved for gas power burners.

    With either steam or mod con you want to find a professional heating person that is knowledgable in the type of system they are installing. This isn't a case of just hooking up a few pipes. The whole systems need to be planned out by someone who understands them and can do the necessary engineering so I would take your time, and do your homework, do some inquires and go take a look at installations the pro had done and talk to the people who own them.

    Another consideration - I'm also not sure what your situation is, present system and weather wise. A modcon full install would be best left to the summer months as it takes a lot of time. The steam boiler installation, with the new parts on site, should only take a couple of days.

    There are some very good books offered on this site in the "Shop" section above both on mod con and steam.  There is a new book there "Greening Steam" which discusses how you can make your steam system more efficient which I would read if I was putting in a new boiler.  Let us know if you have more questions and we'll do our best to answer them.

    - Rod
  • Steam

    Definitely read Greening Steam.  It's an easy and informative read for the professional and non-professional alike, and it's worth it's weight in gold.  It will give you information necessary to understand how and why your steam heating system works and how tweak it for maximum efficiency.

    I agree that converting to hot water is risky, but since you've already got 1-pipe steam, why mess with it?  1-pipe steam should be silent, no banging, no clanking, and no hissing.  If your system is loud, you need to do some maintenance and repairs so it will quiet down and save you money.

    Follow the guidelines in Greening Steam regarding sizing the boiler (your installer should size the boiler based on the radiators on the system, and NEVER based on the capacity of the old boiler).  Also follow the guidelines on venting.  If you do these things, your old 1-pipe steam system should be silent and considerably more efficient than it likely is now.

    You may also consider TRVs (Thermostatic Radiator Vents) so tenants can regulate the output of individual radiators if there are some rooms that tend to get too hot.  Partially closing the valve on a 1-pipe radiator does no work and only causes trouble.

    Having tenants pay their own utilities is nice, but what's the payback period and will you have to do any meter readings?  If heat included is worth higher rent, you may actually make more money by providing heat via a high efficiency system that is relatively inexpensive to run.

    Someone here has the quote on their posts that "cost is what you pay and value is what you get" and I believe that's certainly apt here.

    Steam can be the best bang for your buck and a very cost effective system to run and maintain.

    I'd stick with steam (Bear in mind, I'm an amateur, not a pro.)

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