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Boiler Replacement

KY_Tom Member Posts: 2
I have an older Weil-McLain Boiler system - 46 years old - that has only had a couple minor repairs.  My heating costs here in the Cincinnati area are an average of $1,300 over the past 4 years.  Due to my systems age, available tax credits and a little saved cash, I am considering a non-emergency replacement.

My first quote is for a W-M Ultra Series 3-UE 155 system to include a new circulator pum and bladder type expansion tank.  The man who did the estimate said it was a very simple, easy install due to the location and pipe layout.  The quote was for $13,200 which I thought was pretty high.  From looking on the internet (PexSupply & Radiant) it would appear that the material costs would be about $5,000 and the rest installation/profit.

Is there something I am missing or are there questions I should be asking?  Do these high-efficiency boilers really cost that much to install?

Thanks in advance for any advice - Tom


  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    Non emergency replacement

    Good that you do not have to do an emergency replacement.

    I am a homeowner, not a contractor, and I have recently had a W-M Ultra 3 80,000 BTU/hr unit installed in my house. It is a bit oversized, but that is the smallest they make in that product line.

    It is important to not oversize these mod|con units as they can modulate down only so far. Ultra units modulate in a 5:1 range. So mine has to get into on-off mode on warm days when only my small (upstairs) zone is the only one calling for heat. I have diddled the controls on the front panel to minimize rapid cycling, and it now cycles less than my old oil burner did.

    Another thing to watch out for is that a mod|con boiler gets its best efficiency when the return water is cool. This means strictly under 130F, and the cooler the better. Luckily for me, the downstairs zone is in-slab radiant heat where I never put water over 120F into the slab (usually less than 110F). But upstairs would have needed 180F water going up there to heat it adequately. To reduce that, I had the contractor put in a 14 foot piece of Slant/Fin baseboard in each of the rooms instead of a 3-foot piece of baseboard that was there previously. Your contractor should have determined if you needed to do something like that as well. Perhaps you do not, but I suspect that if your heat emitters are typically sized, you will have to run water that is too hot to get the full benefit from a mod|con. Did he go over these issues with you in detail?

    Did your contractor conduct a heat loss study to determine the required boiler size? Mine did not; he merely walked around the outside of the house and counted the paces. I already knew better than that,  and calculated my heat loss, and figured a 50,000 BTU/hr unit would be more than enough. So when he proposed the 105,000 BTU/hr unit, I insisted on the 80. And, as I said, it is a little too big. It will easily handle outdoor temperatures down to 0F and the design day around here is only 14F. In other words, how did he decide on the 155,000 BTU/hour unit?

    We are not supposed to talk about price here, but in my limited experience, the design, labor, overhead, permits, and profit, provided he does the job correctly, are such that a price of two to three times the cost of the parts should not surprise you. Overhead is considerable. Employees must be sent to training classes. Trucks need to be insured, maintained, and paid for, as well as equipped with proper test equipment and usual inventory of spare parts on hand.

    Ultra series boilers, according to W-M, must be piped with primary-secondary piping. I have two heating zones and one indirect-fired hot water zone. That is three circulators, and an additional one comes with the boiler for the primary loop, for a total of four. I have heard that primary-secondary is a big deal, but it took my contractor only about 15 minutes to make the closely spaced Ts in 1 1/4 inch copper, so I do not think of it as a big expense item. If his labor cost is extremely high,  he could use a pre-made low loss header instead.
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,399
    edited November 2010
    Internet Pricing and Sales

    Is an attempt to bypass the necessary (and reasonable) markup that a contractor must add to the cost of equipment to cover his overhead and provide warranty service. If he could not make a percentage off the equipment he sells, he would have to double his labor rates.

    Companies that sell hvac equipment over the Internet are doing a dis-service to the consumer and the legitimate contractor. The consumer will not get the warranty, service or support he thinks he's paying for and the contractor will be cut out of a job he could have done and made a fair buck at.

    I come across this often and in fact have a customer in this situation right now. He bought a mod/con off the Internet three years ago, had some "boiler guy" he knew install it. The guy had no licence, no insurance, etc. The installation was a major cob-job: no primary/secondary piping, no isolation valves, pumps on the return with no check valves, leaks on almost every joint, used old fill valve & expansion tank, no pump zoning panel, wired one zone pump to the DHW terminals, no reset because o.d. sensor was not installed, no back flow preventor, wrong size vent and intake piping, gas piping done wrong. The list goes on.

    After three years of frustration, the owner calls me because he has no heat. Don't know how it lasted that long. Two of the leaks have shorted out the supply and return water temp sensors. After replacing them, I inform him that the burner has a design flaw and needs to be retro-fitted or it will miss-fire occasionally. He says it's been doing that all along. The factory has a kit that involves a new burner, ignitor, control module and pressure switches.

    I call the factory rep. who is a friend of mine and explain the situation. His reply: No warranty on anything purchased over the Internet! Every manufacturer states this in their warranty. And I knew this quite well before I asked. Had the customer purchased the boiler through a licenced hvac contractor, there would have been no issue. Everything (parts and labor) would have been covered. Now, this customer will have to pay for everything including fixing all the install problems.

    He is actually glad that he's found someone who he can trust and has given us a larger commercial radiant job to do. But he's having to pay more to fix his Internet boiler than if he'd had an honest pro. to start.with.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Jean-David Beyer
    Jean-David Beyer Member Posts: 2,666
    had some "boiler guy" he knew install it.

    I used to ask myself "Where was the inspector while all this was going on?" But I have friends who always go with the lowest bidder, usually some friend of theirs. Around here you will not get an inspection unless you get the proper permit from the borough hall. Which my friends do not get. They say you do not need a building permit if it is your own house. That was not my understanding and the last time I was at borough hall for a building permit, I asked about that, and they say you always need a building permit for things like new windows, new roofs, remodelling kitchens, vinyl siding. This absolutely includes new boilers, power panels and the like.

     I do not need a permit to change a light bulb, or to plug in a computer. ;-)

    My friends always think they are so clever to get the lowest prices. I am not even a professional, but I cringe at some of the work I see at friends' houses. Even incompetant house painters.
  • KY_Tom
    KY_Tom Member Posts: 2

    I think this thread is going down the wrong path.  I am not looking for the cheapest installation.  The best case scenario is that the local HVAC contractor profits, grows his business and is available for me should my system need service a long time down the road..  That being said, as a homeowner what should I be looking for when trying to evaluate bids to replace an existing gas boiler with a high-efficiency unit.  Is the some special industry certification I should be looking for - should the installers be factory trained on the unit they are installing, etc.  About how long does take to install and test one of these units.  What is a fair labor cost or labor rate... 

    I believe the contractor whose bid I am looking at is a reputable, solid business man.  However, this is the first bid of it's type that I have ever looked and and I want to ensure I make a good decision for my family.

    Thanks in adavnce - Tom
  • rlaggren
    rlaggren Member Posts: 160
    Get more bids

    It's time and trouble. No way around it, depending on how lucky you feel that day... That's the best/only way to sus out your territory and options.

    I'm a plumber not a heating guy and have bid jobs for 20 years; I've general'd a small $300k remodel and I've maintained 3 old houses for the last 40 years. What I've learned a nutshell:

    Get a short list of check points from the guys here, then meet and talk with at least 4 or 5 local guys. You'll get smarter as you go along. Any contractor situation you need to have decent feeling about the people, you need to hear willing and understandable answers to your questions and interests; call and visit a bunch of references. See what paperwork you get back, how specific, how neat and readable and how quickly; note anybody making thoughtful suggestions or pointers; see who calls back promptly. Pick two three for a 2nd conversation and knock it down to 2 right after that; then think about it a bit if it isn't real obvious by then. Often there isn't really any question.

    Try to stay friends with everybody, cuz you might need one of the other guys sooner than you think. To some extent you can trade time for money - learning/deciding gory details of your job takes time, buying somebody's package on trust just takes money.

    The contractor's reality check I've heard over and over from instructors, friends and competitors and found to be true personally: Unless the bid is  at _least_ twice the cost of material something is WRONG. This is just a base line financial safety check, not a way to bid a job. IMHO, a company or person who does What they say, When they say are

    almost always worth their price because bad/wrong work, delays, etc cost you so much. But you need to have some idea what work to

    ask for and that's what you can find here.

    disclaimer - I'm a plumber, not a heating pro.
  • Henry
    Henry Member Posts: 998
    Never the cheapest

    First off, we are normaly NEVER the cheapest! Why? It costs a lot of $ to do a proper job and then be able to afford to have great warranty service!  A lot of times, the manufacturer's recommended pump is wrong! Due to variances in production, it happens. We don't charge for the OOPS! It costs a lot of money to be profitable and handle all the little insignificant questions and so called problems that the customer feels is OUR fault and not HIS ignorance! There are too many DYI that because they have web access know eveything. The DYI market is our most profitable residential market. But it is also our most time consuming due to the poor information passed by the box stores and the internet.

    Instead of providing detailed information to the consumer, we should refer them to professionals in their area. The consumer has NO technical expertisie and interpolates it in a fashion that usualy does not advance the issue. As experts in the field, I would suggest that we reffrain from forwarding TOO much information and refer the consumer to a properly licensed expert in the field.


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