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Need thoughts regarding propane boiler install

thebordella Member Posts: 4
Apologies in advance for too much information. I feel like I need more opinions about a difficult situation.

I need to replace our boiler, a 20+ year old oil-fired model which has many problems. We live in a cold winter climate and the boiler is used for both baseboard heat and the hot water, so it gets a lot of use in this 2500 sqft open floor plan house. The boiler currently lives in the garage, which is both large (2+ car) and unheated. This house was not built with the intent of housing a boiler -- it was built in the 1970's with electric heat, and a previous owner retrofit the house with the oil burner.

The current garage location is not ideal both because it is an unheated space and because you have to be careful when parking the car to leave space not to bang into the boiler.

For various reasons I wanted to take the opportunity of a new boiler to switch to propane fuel. I consulted with someone who I believe to be an experienced HVAC guy and he said that the replacement should be fairly simple, basically cutting out the oil boiler and cutting in the propane boiler, maintaining most of the existing infrastructure. He sold us a Peerless propane boiler and quoted us a seemingly low price for the install; but he never did the install. Instead, he disappeared, and stopped returning calls.

Meanwhile, the propane company set their tank and ran a supply line in anticipation. After months of frustration not hearing back from the HVAC guy to complete the install, I finally went elsewhere, to a company contracted by the propane supplier (the propane supplier is a full service supplier so they are not wedded to promoting propane, they also sell oil).

When the new guy came to assess the situation, he found a number of problems with the "simple swap" plan. These include:

- The oil boiler is set on the floor, but he says a new boiler needs to be at least 2 feet off the ground (concrete).

- The unheated garage is a poor environment for a propane boiler. Supposedly the condensation produced by combustion is liable to freeze and cause ignition problems. Note that it is often below freezing in the garage during the deep winter, and sometimes even below 0F.

- The unobstructed location of the oil boiler would be a code violation for a propane boiler, because it could be struck by the car. He says that the propane boiler would either need to be separated from the car area by a wall (such as a room-within-a-room), or by pillars 4 feet from the boiler, which would effectively prevent parking in the garage.

For these reasons (and more), he feels that a direct swap is not only not a good idea, but would not be a legal install. Among the options he suggested for an "ideal" install, albeit costly, would be constructing a little room within the garage that could be insulated and the propane boiler relocated to that room. Another idea is to build a small shed/extension off the garage, again insulated, and move the boiler into there.

A third possibility is to give up and replace the oil boiler with a new oil boiler. In this case, he says he would be in a better position to swap in, although there are still some issues like the height off the floor, and heat loss running in the unheated garage.

There are other factors, too; for example, he says that right now we have a lot of anti-freeze in the line (due to pipes running through the unheated garage) and that this reduces the heat carrying capacity of the baseboards. He says that if the boiler (either propane or oil) were in an insulated mini-room then he could reduce the amount of anti-freeze in the system and improve heating efficiency.

So many factors to consider. Of course it is not cheap to build a room, and building the little room within the garage would require significant re-routing of the existing zone pipes, which he says would add up to a total install cost around $5K. Believe it or not, the original guy who disappeared wanted $750 for the "swap" install.

I don't know how useful this is, but attached is a photo of the old installed boiler beside the new propane boiler.

I am interested in any and all opinions on my situation. Do the issues flagged by the new guy sound reasonable? Or is he looking for extra cash? Was the original guy's swap idea indeed naive and/or downright illegal? Should I ditch the propane plan (which would mean trying to unload the $3K boiler we already bought) and instead just get a new oil boiler? Any other thoughts I'm not considering?

Thanks for everyone's time and again I apologize for going on so long. I would be happy to provide any more information if it would help advise.


  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    The origonal install was very nice. Swapping out the oil boiler you have with the LP one there will not save you a dime. In fact, will cost you more money to run than if you left it alone. You do have a lot of issues. Too many to resolve here.

    Sadly, what a mess.
  • jonny88
    jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    minimum 18" of floor

    a code class i took a year ago said that in a garage a water heater or boiler must be 18" above finished floor.the reason was is that car fumes rise 12" above the floor which can be cause for ignition.you found a good site though,when icesailor and others respond listen to what they say,they are very knowledgable and have helped me out on a number of ocasions.good luck
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Oil to Propane install:

    Some thoughts.

    You said that the garage is oversize. Like 2+ car size. If so, you should be able to place a boiler on the side if width, side to side is the issue and you have more room. Reconfigure who parks where and put the boiler on a pad. The pad only needs to be 18" off the floor. Leave the piping where it is and move the boiler. Pipe the boiler to the existing piping. The garage must back up to the house. If the garage backs up to the house, it must be sheet rocked with 5/8" 'rock to meet code. Sheetrock the rest of the garage. Insulate it while you are at it. I have a two car garage that is finished, Sheetrock. I doubt it is insulated on the outside walls. The doors are weatherstripped. In 12 years, I have never seen any soda or bottled water come close to freezing in the garage. It was three degrees last week. And the doors face the North.

    You know how many gallons of oil you have used in years past. Take last year. You will burn more Propane than oil for the same use if you do nothing but change the boiler. Take your oil cost per gallon. Take your oil cost per gallon. Which is higher?

    Oil contains 139,000 BTU's per gallon. Propane contains 91,000 BTU's per gallon. Do the math. Figure out how many BTU's in oil you used. Compare that to Propane. Will you save money with the conversion?

    I always explain choices. And I point code problems because I know that I will have an inspection and "I just replaced what was there before" doesn't cut it. If it didn't meet code then, and it wasn't inspected, it isn't "grandfathered" in just because it is there. If you made me move the boiler because it didn't meet code, what could I say? You hire "pro's" that are supposed to know what they are doing. It isn't always the case.

    There's a fix for this and it is simpler than you may think.

    Oil and Propane (Liquefied Petroleum) gas come from the same products. Their prices will always be related. The Banksters and Specucrooks are manipulating the market to their gain and our pain. You might want to rethink your conversion in light of other problems.

    Anti-freeze just plain sucks. Don't use it unless you absolutely must. Just because you have heat pipes going through an unheated crawl space doesn't mean you need antifreeze. Just insulation on the pipes. And keep the garage doors closed in the winter.

    I've brought my iceboat home from sailing up North, It was in the 20's and there was ice and snow all over the boat, trailer and covering tarp. I wheel it in the garage, and the next morning, the ice and snow has all melted. And it is 20 degrees outside and had been in the teens over night. So much for freezing up in the garage.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    Wouldn't A Condensing

    Propane boiler wall hung on the wall eliminate most of your problems? They have freeze proctection build in them, would be hung on the wall away from the cars and would provide you the fuel savings your looking for if installed and set up properly.

    I also noticed there is a piece of baseboard next to that boiler so it looks like the garage is heated to a point. I agree with alot of what ice is saying too. Insulate the garage
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • Mark Eatherton
    Mark Eatherton Member Posts: 5,840
    All but one...

    What to do with the condensate...

    Had that discussion here no less than a few thousand times.

    It's not so much a case of "You got what you paid for", as it is a matter of "You DIDN'T get what you DIDN'T pay for, and you're NOT going to get what you thought you were in the way of comfort". Borrowed from Heatboy.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    Your On Point

    With that Mark. It's funny how sometimes we forget the simplest of things though important.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • thebordella
    thebordella Member Posts: 4
    Exterior shed?

    Thanks for everyone's input so far, it is helpful.

    A concern about insulating the garage itself is that the garage space is very large. It is about 2.5 car garage that is open to about 1.75 stories high with part of that also unfinished/uninsulated loft. Insulating this entire space for the relatively small footprint of the boiler seems like it could be costly.

    An idea floated by one of the heating guys who looked at the situation is to purchase a small pre-built shed. Insulate the shed and site the shed against the exterior side of the wall against which the boiler is currently located. In this scenario, the boiler would essentially be inside its own little room up against the side of the house. The existing copper would need to be extended to punch through to the shed of course, but this is much less re-piping than relocating the boiler to a far flung spot inside the garage. Since the shed would exist solely to house the boiler, the installer can make any cuts necessary to support proper venting, combustion air, etc.

    As a homeowner I like the idea of moving the boiler out of the garage into its own little space, and those sheds don't seem terribly expensive. Am I missing something that would make this idea troublesome?
  • Tim McElwain
    Tim McElwain Member Posts: 4,588
    That boiler looks like it is in

    pretty good shape. Why not a Carlin EZ or Midco EC200 gas conversion burner. Both of them can operate on propane. You are however still stuck with the 18" rule for gas and oil by the way they have to be 18" off the floor when in a garage. I recommend partitioning the garage off and only loose one parking space. Probably the cheapest way to go.
  • Tim McElwain
    Tim McElwain Member Posts: 4,588
    That boiler looks like it is in

    pretty good shape. Why not a Carlin EZ or Midco EC200 gas conversion burner. Both of them can operate on propane. You are however still stuck with the 18" rule for gas and oil by the way they have to be 18" off the floor when in a garage. I recommend partitioning the garage off and only loose one parking space. Probably the cheapest way to go.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    I'm a Bit Confused

    What is the cost of the pre-built shed? What building codes might you have to meet such as fire codes etc to attach this to the existing dwelling. In the end it's going to cost you more then it would to go to HD and spend a Saturday sticking some insulation into the place. Plus your really not going to save much fuel going with a 80% boiler.

    You should atleast get a quote on a condensing boiler that can hang on the wall. It eliminates all the problems your having and will provide the fuel savings your looking for. We are at the tail end of the heating season so put some money aside and then insulate the garage over the summer.

    As Mark stated above you would need a place to dump the condensate. This option is worth the look.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • thebordella
    thebordella Member Posts: 4
    About propane

    Thanks again for everyone's replies.

    A lot of people are saying that the propane boiler won't save money over the oil boiler. Let me share my point of view, and please weigh in with your thoughts.

    I understand the BTU difference between oil and propane and that, at least where I live, the cost per BTU between oil and propane works out to be about the same when taking into account the differences in cost (propane is cheaper per gallon) and differences in usage (you use more of it).

    A major factor that originally pushed me toward propane has been our terrible experiences with chronic maintenance issues on the oil-fired system. We have not lived through a single winter out of eight years where we have not lost heat. There have been many service calls and many reasons cited. We have lost heat for reasons including but not limited to:

    -- air in the line

    -- gelled fuel

    -- ignitor burned out (twice)

    -- blower burned out

    -- fire box in boiler clogged with carbon deposits

    -- prematurely clogged fuel filter due to sludge in tank (repeat times)

    -- plus countless nozzle replacements, spark prong cleanings, etc.

    In short, this oil-based system has cost us probably thousands of dollars in chronic maintenance. I hate it. I hate losing heat on the coldest days because invariably some part of this system breaks down. Numerous service people have worked on parts of this system and we still have never had a trouble-free winter.

    So why was I attracted to propane? Because it seemed like, even if we don't save one damn penny on fuel, the system SHOULD be a hell of a lot more reliable. Maybe I'm wrong. It's just been my experience that burning oil is a big pain in the rear and needs so much care and feeding. Burning gas seems so much less troublesome.

    I feel like I am putting some service tech's kids through college with this oil system. Meanwhile I have friends with gas-fired furnaces who haven't had them serviced in six years with nary a problem.

    Now, go ahead and tell me I'm crazy. Seriously, I want to hear your honest opinions. But keep in mind, this has been my experience, and what has given me such a bad taste for oil.
  • CMadatMe
    CMadatMe Member Posts: 3,086
    I'm Not Against the LP

    I am though against an 83% boiler that by the time you make the necessary changes to the garage or add the shed you spoke about would end up costing you more then the cost of a 95% boiler that can hang on the wall and fit the solution to all the problems you have to overcome. It is a solution you should look at.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • thebordella
    thebordella Member Posts: 4
    Fair point

    You make a fair point about the existing propane boiler. I will take your advice under consideration. Unfortunately, I wish I had this information before we were talked into buying the 83% propane boiler.

    Because now the problem I have to deal with is how to recoup that cost. I will first try to seek remedy from the contractor who sold it to me, but consider he stopped returning calls even before he installed it, I am not sure how successful that will be. So there may be the sunk cost issue to take into account as well.
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