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Subsidized gas conversion?

JProbberJProbber Member Posts: 25
My brother, a font of wisdom if ever there was, tells me we should convert from oil to natural gas, because it's the coming thing. And, because our local utility - Con Edison - would subsidize the conversion. They'd be selling us enough gas to fire a 400,000 BTU steam boiler, plus domestic hot water.

Anyone have any experience along these lines?


  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Fonts Of Wisdom:

    Did your font of wisdom brother tell you also that the price of gas will go up soon when the gas suppliers finish their sweetheart deals with the power companies that burn coal and oil to switch to NG? And overpriced fuels come down in price. Under priced fuels go up.

    Your 400,000 BTU oil steam boiler. is it over sized for the radiation? If so, you don't need a 400,000 BTU  NG Steamer to do your house.

    There's more to the equation than the cost of fuel.
  • JProbberJProbber Member Posts: 25
    Bless you.....

    *Exactly* what I hypothesized to my kid brother. I don't know much about what the utilities are up to, but it's inevitable that natural gas will rise as everyone stampedes over to the sexy fuel of the moment. It's also inevitable that oil will come down to compete.

    My boiler might actually be a section undersized, based on a radiation survey done by one of the companies I've solicited a quote from. The only company which so far has taken the time (~hour) to look at anything beyond the sticker on the side of my dead Weil McLain 478.

    I really wonder what the future of all of these energy sources is. Most everyone is jazzed about gas, because we have it here in the States. A lot of people are concerned about fracking, which I completely get. It'll be interesting to see how it all plays out. But it makes it tough on a homeowner who has to roll the dice in the next month or two.

    I really appreciate your feedback, icesailor.
  • meplumbermeplumber Member Posts: 678
    I also do not believe that oil is dead.

    Up here in Maine, aside from Greater Portland and Bangor areas, we have no natural gas.  85% of the state's population relies on LP or Fuel Oil.  The advantages of LP fired boilers do exist and provide new construction customers with a variety of options.  However, there is a bevy of existing homes in this state that were radiated for high temperature and operate at nothing less than 180* F or higher near design conditions.  The only answer is oil.

    I sincerely believe (and hope) that fuel oil does come back to reality.
  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    Have you also done an accurate heat loss for the building?

    Although you must size the boiler to the needs of the radiation if it is a steamer, I'd personally want to know if the house is now over-radiated. A 400,000 BTU boiler and radiation must be one hacienda grande. I put a W-M 478 boiler in a commercial building to replace a boiler and it was way bigger than two houses on two floors. I get the feeling that your building isn't the size that needs that much energy. There are a lot of improvements that can be made to an old building.
  • jonny88jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    a shoutout to icesailor

    i also am facing the same problem and will probably go with gas.but thanks to icesailor i am still trying to master the heatloss process.he told me not to rely on my supply house which take an easy approach to doing this boss just goes with what is there already.taco have a great website available here.
  • James Day_2James Day_2 Member Posts: 191

    To me it depends on the application.  If you already have radiant or old cast iron radiators, switching to a mod/con makes perfect sense.  Also, figure out the cost differences per btu.  Oil has about 138,500 but per gallon.  Natural gas has 100,000 btu per therm.  Factor in efficiencies of the equipment and the cost per unit in your area.
  • jonny88jonny88 Member Posts: 1,139
    good info.

    my current oil bill is 350 p/m plus what ever you go over at the end of the year.last year it was 1,000$.granted house is old with a lot of drafts plus 2 old ladies down stairs who run the heat nearly into the summer doind a renovation,so im really in a quandry.when i seal this house up and insulate it ,i tjhink i can really cut down on that bill.
  • James Day_2James Day_2 Member Posts: 191

    Insulation is the biggest key.  I am replacing a 20 year old weil mclain 6 section boiler in a home next week.  It has an input of 220,000 btu.  The home is 4500 sq ft.  The original home had no insulation in the walls.  The owner just insulated all the walls and attic ceiling.  Heat loss is down to 96,000 btu.  I'm putting in a Viessmann Vitorond 100 with a input of 140,000 btu's.  Insulation and windows are key.  You can really cut back on a homes heat loss with a few simple things. 
  • CMadatMeCMadatMe Member Posts: 3,066
    The Application

    In most hydronics applications a conversion over to gas make sense even with the smaller btu output that a therm of gas gives vs oil. Gas equipment gives us much better flexability in design and control. In a steam application I would stay oil and go with a Burnham MegaSteam. You are not going to get any better AFUE going with gas in this application.

    As for heat losses, I'm on the supply end and don't take shorcuts. I take the same pride in the design side as you the installer take on the installation. Are we not partners on the job. Why wouldn't a installer want to build a relationship with someone at their local supply house? It's having an employee that you don't have to pay for. I take the lack of trust in your supply house as not wanting to build such a relationship. Yes, there are shorcutters out there but if you find mistakes or large fudge factors then you should take your concerns back to them. Installers should share there knowledge just as we on the supply side share with you.

    To the original poster. Can you please define SURVEY. Did they actually calculate the sqft of EDR of the rads or just look at them.
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • JProbberJProbber Member Posts: 25
    The right kind of survey

    Chris: They definitely did a proper survey. Two guys, one calling radiator type, sections and height, another guy writing all down. I look forward to finding out my EDR square footage later this week.


  • JProbberJProbber Member Posts: 25
    Lots of room for improvements

    It's an ~80-year-old tudor which has been poorly maintained and is very, very leaky. Approx. 7,500-8000 sq ft. Have *not* done a heat loss, but if this conversion thing moves ahead, I certainly will.

  • icesailoricesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Conversions/ Supplier Calculations:


    My experience and why I do my own calculations. You know that I work in an isolated place. Everything is freighted in. My old boss who I worked for for 12 years, bought from an outfit that did big commercial boilers and heating. The owner was a Reg. Pro. Engineer, Mechanical Engineer. I installed a lot of H.B. Smith 2000 and 2500 series hot water boilers. I never saw a cold job. When I went in business, there was a supplier that called around. He had great prices on stuff. His stuff was never cold. But you were lucky to have 60% of what you ordered, shipped. I have been dealing with a supplier who has a store where I work and has a trailer come every Tuesday. If I want a Vitodens 100-35 or 28, it is in stock. Whatever I need, they have it. Or it will be there on Tuesday. Supplier "A" supplied all my jobs and I never had a problem. One day, I asked Supplier "B" to give me a price on a job that was the same as many I had done. It was high. I needed a bigger boiler and didn't have enough wall space to do my baseboard. I ask the person how he came to these numbers. He showed me his IBR H-22 heat loss guide. He showed me how he used the numbers his uncle used and taught him. And he never had a problem. He gave me the book. As you know, the IBR H-22 heat loss guide is their course. I did it in an evening and found that his uncle was using uninsulated structures and the related factors to calculate. He wasn't trying to screw me, he was just doing as he was taught.

    I bought all the books from IBR and learned them. I use them always. I purchase 100% of my supplies from this supplier. I've never had a cold house.

    I haven't found a supplier that figures it better than I do. It doesn't matter though. I still buy from only the one I like. They treat me very well and that is more important than price. Service is what I want. If I need information, I know where to get it. My cell phone and laptop are with me always.

    I recently had a complicated problem. I posed it here. I had no replies. My supplier couldn't help me. I went on line and figured it out. I called Taco and they confirmed what I was trying to do.

    It doesn't matter though, I had a customer that I installed a Bock 73E oil fired water heater that recovers 220 gallons per hour, 20 years ago. Feeding a 100 gallon storage tank, the way I do it that doesn't work. Oil is high so someone convinced them that a 80M Munchkin and a 60 gallon superstor would give them more hot water that the oil unit. The oil unit fed a commercial kitchen that would run out of hot water in a heartbeat. 

    It's not what you know, but the line of $hip that someone else has. 
  • CMadatMeCMadatMe Member Posts: 3,066
    I Understand

    Your thoughts and the reason why you trust in yourself. There is nothing wrong with that. Did you correct the supply guy and share your knowledge with him so the next customer doesn't get the same as you did? I would hope you did. None of us, to include Dan and others we read in the trade mags would have the knowledge and expertise in what we do without having someone in this great industry that mentored us. It is great to be self sufficient, I'm the same way. If I have to call a rep or a mfg its more about advice and throwing an idea across them vs asking them how to do something. Having the tool in the bag to touch contractors such as yourself and contacts in the industry that want to teach and share is what benefits all of us and the industry as a whole. Its a great feeling to help a contractor grow his business and be a part of his success without wanting anything in return. 

    By the way, some exciting things coming down the pike with Viessmann. Ask your local rep/supply house for the upcoming news or drop me an e-mail and I'll send you some upcoming changes. 
    "The bitter taste of a poor installation remains much longer than the sweet taste of the lowest price."
  • VictoriaEnergyVictoriaEnergy Member Posts: 126
    Price of oil and other fuels

    Much of the world's highest quality and easiest to extract oil reserves are close to depletion.  The new reservoirs aren't so easy to get at;  we all learned about the Deepwater Horizon engineering issues as one example.   The biggest discovery in the last 20 years for the oil industry is Brazil's offshore"Pre-salt" formations.  The well heads are in 6600 feet of seawater, the wells go a further 16 000 feet to the reserve through a 6000 foot thick salt deposit.  Its all very challenging and risky and only makes business sense for the oil industry at much higher market prices for the oil.

    Tar sands take huge amounts of energy to extract relatively low quality crude oil, which is more expensive to refine.  Much of Canada's huge tar sands companies are owned by the Chinese interests, and they are currently pushing through plans for a pipeline to a planed tanker terminal on Canada's west coast.

    The price of oil may slide back briefly from time to time, but the only long term direction is up.

    On the demand side, transportation is still almost completely reliant on crude oil.  Boeing has no plans to make an electric jet.  Ditto for Mac Trucks.

    The forecasts for Natural gas isn't all that much better.  The fracking process we all hear about, still has a long way to go before it will begin to be effective at fully extracting proven reserves.  It is still a very much hit and miss process as to how effective it will work on a reserve. 

    Electric utilities need more capacity, nuclear is expensive, decades to bring a project to completion and of course, very controversial.  On the other hand, natural gas is currently the cheapest and fastest option.  We know what will that do to the supply/demand equation.

    So ANY fuel or energy source you use to heat your home will likely cost us a lot more down the road.  The good news for our industry is we will see more interest and willingness to invest in higher efficiency installations despite the higher cost that will entail.

    I know I'm ranting, but when I see or hear opinions saying "They're gonna switch us all to gas then jack up the rates" or, "the price of oil will go down after everyone converts to gas" it all implies big oil and gas companies or government have more control over the situation than they really do.
    Home Owners Please Note:

    You are receiving advice from some very skilled pros completely free of charge. One of the reasons I participate is to sharpen my own troubleshooting skills. So; did we get it right? I would be grateful if you extend this courtesy back by posting the final outcome of the issue you are inquiring about. Thanks
  • archibald tuttlearchibald tuttle Member Posts: 682
    edited June 2011
    price of oil/propane/ng etc.

    I'm not jumping on the oil is dead bandwagon, but oil has definitely had its wings clipped. Now I'm no peak oil guy.  When oil is 5 or 6 bucks a gallon, we'll have all we need, because all of the expensive ways of getting it that Victoria is talking about will be economically feasible.


    But I don't think we are in a cycle where oil is going to fallback to be competitive with Natural Gas because of increased production of Natural Gas at significantly lower costs than increased oil production.

    They may not have fracking fracked out perfectly, but they are getting a fracking lot of gas. They are only going to get better at it. And virtually none of the power plant conversions are from oil burning, they are from coal. So you aren't going to see downward pressure on oil prices from that even though you may see a bit of upward pressure on gas prices.  But forward gas is lower at the moment that it has been. Yse some moderation in oil prices due to mass residential conversions away from oil, as well as continuing weak economy. But weak economy, if serviced with the government printing press will make oil more expensive on currency risk since we get so little of it here, whereas much NG production is domestic hence reducing currency risk. 

    I was never of the ilk to suggest folks change back and forth virtually annually depending on short term fuel cost trends, but I think the medium term indicators suggest that anybody who can get Natural Gas will be trending to that fuel both because of the much wider availability of condensing and modulating fire options as well as because the cost per BTU is very likely to stay well this side of oil for the foreseeable future.


    In that vein and hopefully to agitate further discussion, just got lock offers on oil for commerical account that uses about 3000 gallons annually of $3.89 plus a bunch of nuisance fees that add another 20 cents a gallon.


    So, because the marcellus shale is wet, Propane fundamentals may finally outweigh oil as well. I'm being offered summer prices below $2.00 including 3000 gallons of storage, so even with the btu penalty it's looking like a goer even where I can't get piped gas. Given the BTU penalty, I'll have to make one in season purchase of 500 to 1000 gallons and they offer margin pricing so I just try to time that as best I can, but even if I hit the high I won't need that many gallons to make it through the winter.


    I notice that many on this thread (and previous ones) have suggested staying oil with steam systems (which this is). I'm assuming that is because of the additional savings available with gas technologies that are condensing and modulated fire which can't be taken advantage of with steam (albeit see the chapter on vaccuum systems in Dan's book, pretty damn cool, not sure this is quite tight enough to pull that off, but I digress).  At the kind of comparative prices, I can't see where I can afford to stay with oil. Although I'm willing to listen.

    Another indicator, my oil company which has been buying other oil delivery companies for a while just started buying into propane delivery . . .



    PS - I'm assuming that general discussion of fuel costs doesn't violate this stuff about discussing prices. I get that those sponsoring this site don't want people throwing around the names of suppliers and prices if other suppliers might be advertising here, so I'm trying to be circumspect as far as names but it is hard to discuss the relative advantages of different fuel without mentioning their price.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,815
    Most of the reason

    for suggestions to stay with oil on steam come from the Burnham MegaSteam boiler, which is far and away the best residential steamer out there today. Trouble is, they don't offer it with a gas burner option. We've let Burnham's people know we want this, that it would make good business sense to offer it, and at least some of them accept the point.

    Also, 90%+ boiler efficiency IS possible on steam. It's been done elsewhere, but of course not in America where most of the world's steam systems are located. American boiler makers continue to try to out-European the Europeans by introducing mod-cons, leaving a vast American steam market untapped.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • archibald tuttlearchibald tuttle Member Posts: 682

    get the hardware favoritism to Burnham at the moment, but I'm just talking an EZ-Gas in an old coal door conversion. it wasn't meant to burn oil, but it does and so i expect it to take to gas equally well.

    would imagine you could throw a conversion burner in a Mega-Steam although if it supplied with a burner then you are paying twice for the burner and the flame geometry of the conversion may not be as optimized to the application as the supplied oil burner.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,815
    edited June 2011
    It would have to be the right burner

    since the MegaSteam runs with positive pressure over the fire. Traditional conversion burners wouldn't cut it. The EZ-Gas and HeatWise SU burners can fire against positive pressure- we'll see. Riello also has a gas gun out and I would assume it can fire against positive pressure too.

    The EZ-Gas should do fine on a coal-converted boiler, but in order to get decent efficiency you'd have to use some Dead Men's baffling tricks. These could also increase your efficiency on oil. But a completely new boiler would be considerably more efficient.

    Post some pics of your boiler, let's take a look at it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • archibald tuttlearchibald tuttle Member Posts: 682
    baffling vs baffled


    On the 'right burner' question, maybe you can make me understand what makes the Megasteam positive pressure vs. my general understanding that any forced air combustion style burner would be positive pressure as compared to atmospheric boilers. Is this like double super secret probation?

    I'm assuming that we're talking a relativley tight firebox that has serious constriction in flu exit, or internal passages and perhaps higher air pressure delivery in consequence.  Would assume this can be subject to sooting if anything goes wrong, but that they have providence for cleaning access with accesses that seal reasonably well when closed.

    current trick on our locomotive is a few bricks -  I'm sure the pressure is positive but not perhaps but the inches of water you have in mind when speaking about it. I'll get a couple pics. Have considered making adjustable baffles to bolt onto the cleaning doors, but went for the rectangular clay solution as more readily available.

    IF there is a longer discussion of finesse on baffling these older units, I'll take it in.

     Maybe this is the season I can actually get you to take a look at it. When I started my discussion of control and tuning on this unit (, I was thinking oil, but that was before the runup of 33% in oil pricing for next season over last.  So a lot of the control and draft questions are the same but the intended fuel is now propane. But even with cheaper fuel I want to get these control issues sorted out and I think this is the season - strike while the boiler's cold . . .

    As to the obvious boiler-ectomy solution, i.e. why aren't I swinging wrenches instead of typing: Slowly - some might say glacially - converting the whole house to radiant so I can go with modulating fire hydronic in the long run.  So I'm looking to keep the old behemoth running  a few more years rather than swap out.

    All the old rads are low mass convectors and given their minimal sizing, only effective at high temps. As much as I admire the engineering and craftsmanship that went into piping the original system, I just don't see it being a good long term solution. If I did, a new steam boiler would be in the cards.

    I'm also working on pressure control strategy and cycles to get the most out of it for the time being, partly just because I'm fascinated by low/vacuum pressure operation. I mused several years back when I was considering return strategies about justifying a vacuum on the returns. Think that is probably overkill and a half. So it is back to being baffled over cycles.

    I understand I should get more increased efficiency from engineering baffling to the maximum extent possible, but I'm thinking that there probably is still a balance point where cycling could contribute.

    I'm not really sure the extent to which I can cut the percentage going up the chimney and that means balancing inefficiency at start-up from cycling against chimney losses.

    I suppose the other possibility is to baffle the hell out of it and use a

    draft inducer on the chimney side while the chimney is cold.  And push back to longer


    I'm really to the point where I need a consult. Can I e-mail or call you? 

    thanks for following my online rants.

  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,815
    Of course!

    it's steam dot head at verizon dot net. If you send your phone number I can call you. 
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
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