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is it worth replacing our steam boiler?

mbon Member Posts: 7
Our home was built in the 20's & I'm pretty sure our steam boiler (coal burner converted to natural gas) is original.  It heats our home ok, although it's not the most efficient.  We recently smelled a burnt smell, had it looked at by a commercial heating contractor (since no residential contractors in our area know steam) & were told it <strong>definitely</strong> needed to be cleaned.  For the time being, we will have the cleaning done to get us through this heating season.  However, since we bought the home 5yrs ago, we have contemplated replacing the boiler.  of course we know it will save on fuel bills, but since it's expensive to have it serviced by commercial contractors ($100/hr) & they aren't thrilled to do residential work, I'm not sure if we shouldn't just go to hot water or forced air instead.  Unfortunately changing systems will be very expensive because we have a 2 story home so it's not going to be easy to run new lines/ducts.  Since we are planning on selling the home in approx 5ys, we also don't want to tie a lot of money into it. 

I'm looking for any thoughts/suggestions.     


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,901

    it is almost certainly worth replacing the boiler.  No, you won't get it all back when you sell the house -- but you'll get some of it back, and you'll get some of it back in the reduced fuel costs.

    You don't absolutely have to have a real steam pro. do it, provided you find a really reliable contractor who is willing to follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter, and maybe do a little Wall crawling for the odder bits.  It really isn't all that hard to do it right!

    Where are you?  Have you checked Find a Contractor?  Do it by state, not zip, and check nearby states as well.  Depending on where you are, there may well be someone here on the Wall who will travel to do the job -- one way or another, most of the eastern half of the country is pretty well covered.

    You will NOT save money by changing to either hot water or forced air.  Yes it can be done.  No, it is not inexpensive.  As I say, putting in a new boiler isn't all that difficult, and if the rest of the system is running well...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mbon
    mbon Member Posts: 7

    We are in Wisconsin & apparently there aren't too many HVAC contractors who are familiar w/ steam anymore.  As I said, there are commercial contractors who will do the work, but they are pretty expensive.  After calling every resource I could think of, it seems as though they're our only option.  I wish this weren't the case, but it is what it is so we will have to pay a little more to get the work done.  I know replacing it w/ a new steam boiler will be less expensive than a new system, but it's more of a hastle whenever we encounter problems to have it serviced.  I'm also concerned potential buyers will be turned off by a steam system since most people haven't even heard of it. 
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 22,901
    You might try

    David Bunnell at Boiler Professionals, 312-202-0511 or 815-857-2339, in Chicago.  I know he's done work as far north as Madison and Milwaukee on occasion, and he's one of the best...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mbon
    mbon Member Posts: 7

    We are in Green Bay, quite a bit further north.  I would imagine that by the time he would travel this far, it might be just as expensive as a commercial contractor.  I do appreciate the suggestion & I may try contacting him just to see what he has to say or if he might know of someone more local.  Since we aren't having problems w/ our system other than the fact that it burns fuel like no other, we may not need a lot of service.  It might just be the initial replacement & we might be able to maintain things from there....for the most part. LOL!  Our fingers are crossed it won't scare off potential buyers, but I think we stand a lot better chance w/ a new boiler than the old dinosaur we have now. 
  • Charlie from wmass
    Charlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,314
    Buy Dans book

    We got steam! http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Books/5/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence and you can keep it as a gift for the new home owners. The comfort of steam is hard to beat.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • In Green Bay.....

    I wouldn't want anything but steam.  With weather as cold as yours, forced air would be incredibly expensive to operate and would leave you chilled all winter.  Hot water can be a problem due to the potential for freeze ups.  A well installed boiler replacement would be a good idea.  I'd check around to other neighbors and see who they are using.  I would suspect there is probably alot of steam in Green Bay.
    The Steam Whisperer (Formerly Boilerpro)

    Chicago's Steam Heating Expert

    Noisy Radiators are a Cry for Help
  • Rod
    Rod Posts: 2,067
    Learn about Steam

    Hi- Jamie has given you some good advice. The big thing to your benefit is you aren’t in a hurry to replace you boiler so have some time to do some research and can also wait until the spring or summer when the weather is better (warmer). Spring is also when heating pros have more time available and able to do a non rushed job.

    I’m a homeowner who has a old house in rural Maine and several years back was in a similar situation as you are in now.  There weren’t any heating professionals near me that knew anything about steam heating (a few seemed to think they did) and I knew nothing about steam myself. My steam system was just limping along and in obvious need of serious maintenance.  Like you I was considering scrapping the steam system and, though expensive, going to hot water. Luckily I  found this website and with the help of Dan’s excellent steam books and with the help from the steam pros on this board to answer my questions, I was able to get my steam system modernized and running better than it ever had before.

    Steam systems, once you understand them, are very easy to work on. The average homeowner can do pretty well all their own maintenance at least on the steam side of things. As the boilers used for steam are the same boilers that are used for hot water heating, the burners firing them are the same so any good hot water burner man can work on the boiler /burner end of your steam boiler.  I have a local burner man do the annual cleaning of the boiler and any adjustments /maintenance to the burner that is necessary and I take care of the steam end.

    The books you want to get are: “We Got Steam Heat!” and “The Lost Art of Steam Heating”

    Start with “We Got Steam Heat!” as this is a good introduction to steam. These books are written for the homeowner and are easy reading and are packed with pictures /diagrams. In a few evenings of reading you will be light years ahead with your knowledge of residential steam heating. These books are available in the “Shop” at the top of this page. Here’s a link to “We Got Steam Heat !”


    This book along with “The Lost Art of Steam Heating is also available as a package:


    If you have any questions there are lots of people on this board who will help you.

    - Rod
  • haaljo
    haaljo Member Posts: 112
    does it look like a snowman

    like frosty:?
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