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inefficent oil boiler replacement??

starstar Member Posts: 3
my oil service man did routine maintenance on my old Pennco oil boiler and told me it was operating at 68% efficiency. then he said not to worry about it. At $3.79 a gallon i am definitely worried about losing more than 30% to inefficiency!  He said the unit is such heavy cast iron that  i am not really losing as much as the electronic gauge says...i dont get it.

but what should I do? If you tell me to replace it, what should i get? currently i have a tankless water heater as well, so that is an issue...the house is a 2 story cape, about 1650 square feet. i use about 750 gallons a year and freeze all winter (keep heat at 62 evenings)  unless i turn on the electric heaters..


  • inefficient pennco ?

    if that old pennco was installed correctly, with proper-sized radiators, then you should certainly expect warmth and comfort from it. remember, the desire for lower fuel bills is not new!

    why not try to get the system operating a bit better so that some more economy will result. then you can look at a replacement during the summer.

    check on these items and tell us what you have:

    1.operating pressure [should be under 1.5 psi for basic function, and lower than 10 ounces for economy/comfort. you may need a good low pressure gauge [0-3 psi].

    2.main [not radiator] vents. if yours are inadequate, you may have been burning more fuel to squeeeeeze the air out of constipated littlle radiator vents at the start of each cycle.

    3.thermostat set for steam. and well located. honeywell are best, i think.

    4.insulation on the steam pipes/header. --nbc
  • crash2009crash2009 Member Posts: 1,484
    edited December 2011
    Lets have a look

     at your system while we wait for a professional answer.  Can you show us a couple pictures of what you have.  We need to see a couple shots of the radiators, showing how many pipes are connected to it, also a closeup of the adjustment handle if it has one.  We also need a couple shots of the old boiler, stand back as far as you can, so you can get a pic of the pipes in the ceiling and the others close to the floor  and a closeup of any odd looking cast iron things hanging from the ceiling. 

    NBC, we must have been typing at the same time.  I thought no one had responded yet.
  • Don't worry

    Many typing hands make light work!
  • jpf321jpf321 Member Posts: 1,562

    What temp do you turn back up to in the "mornings "
    1-pipe Homeowner - Queens, NYC

    NEW: SlantFin Intrepid TR-30 + Tankless + Riello 40-F5 @ 0.85gph | OLD: Fitzgibbons 402 boiler + Beckett "SR" Oil Gun @ 1.75gph

    installed: 0-20oz/si gauge | vaporstat | hour-meter | gortons on all rads | 1pc G#2 + 1pc G#1 on each of 2 mains

    Connected EDR load: 371 sf venting load: 2.95cfm vent capacity: 4.62cfm
    my NEW system pics | my OLD system pics
  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 11,079

    I'd have to assume the 68% efficiency the guy was talking about had to do with how much heat was going up the chimney.

    Doesn't this mean all of the other things like main vents and pipe insulation will have no effect on it?  No matter how well the steam system works hes still going to have 32% of his heat going up the stack.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,130
    Actually Chris the quick answer is no.

    If you speed up the steam getting to the rooms and drop the pressure this makes for less on time for the burner. This means the beast gets to shut off for a bit while the house is still heating. The reason for low pressure controls on a boiler is also, among many other things, so that an oversized boiler is not alowed to run the pressure up to skies the limit when a few ounces will do the job. Its is like driving a 500 horse power car at 55 miles per hour versus running it a full throttle for an hour. If you are going 55 miles away you are going to waste a lot of fuel.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,130
    Also if the venting is poor

    that is like driving with the E brake on for the whole trip.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,130
    One last point for the original poster

    It is no problem for your oil company as they reap the rewards of that boiler. I have serious doubts as to how well it is tuned if he thinks 68 is ok. If you do not get a new boiler you do need a new service person. It is costing you $6 for 140000 btu's of heat, roughly. Compare this to $4.50 or less for 140000 btu's of heat from a new boiler that is 85% efficient. This is not taking into account other ways to save your oil like using an indirect water heater as opposed to a tankless coil on the boiler.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 11,079

    Didn't think of it that way.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • starstar Member Posts: 3
    your replies

    this feedback is terrific and  i will try to post photos at some point later if i can figure that out.

    A few things you all asked about:

    1. i asked the service guy to make sure the pressure was at 1 or below and he did not seem to think it was an issue, and in fact said he was raising it to 2 if i was having heat issues.  i think i can figure out how to readjust that myself. but does the fact that my upstairs does not get warm have to do with that pressure? the radiators get warm but its significantly colder up there. i do keep my heat low to save $$ but also even if i raise it to 64 (i keep it at 62) i find it too warm downstairs....At night the honeywell programmable tstat goes back to 55...that is fine for sleeping...

    does the fact that the Tstat is in the dining room and it may get warm in there before the rest of the house esp. upstairs gets warm, have anything to do with it? and if so how do i fix that issue?

    one of the guys i  work with (HVAC guy) came over and looked at those main vents in the basement ( the ones that point to the ceiling?? i will take a photo) and said they should be replaced, but he could not get them off and said it would be a bigger job to cut the cast iron pipe etc so we left as is.. We did replace a couple of the radiator vents, but that did not seem to   make a difference. I have these fin type radiators which i don't love..

    my main concern is the 68% efficiency. is it possible to improve on that significantly or just a few points if i do get a new service guy? i have been  using the same oil company for 21 years so hate to do it if its not going to make a big difference. they always come when i call and that means a lot to me. But for a one off  service issue maybe i should get service elsewhere. would someone do that or would i have to get a contract person?  I am in central MA..
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,880
    edited December 2011
    If you're in central or western MA

    call Charlie. Click on the name of his company, Charles Garrity & Son, for contact info. 
    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.
  • "tis the season for..."

    ..for making improvements in an old steam system, but not to do a voluntary boiler replacement [if you can help it]!

    if your combustion is 68%, then i would say that your steam distribution, and control system is at 30%.  i cannot over-emphasize the importance of getting the rest of the system in good shape. of course it is difficult to remove old non-functional main vents, but not impossible. all of the improvements we recommend here can, and should be used on the new system: low-pressure gauge, vaporstat, generous main venting, etc.

    if you can move the thermostat [make sure it is set for steam!!] to a cooler location, which is not so affected by a big radiator, then the boiler would run longer and give some heat to the upstairs.

    the advice of the oil tech is far off the mark, when he advises a raise in pressure to compensate for problems. who will benefit from that advice?????????????? if you can get charlie [who does not sell oil!] to help, so much the better, otherwise we will guide you through the process here, however you must know someone who can do a bit of pipe-work, and not be afraid of "the bigger job"., or learn the routine yourself-not impossible, but rather fun, and so rewarding. to redo the words of david ogilvy." nothing is better for the inside of a man, than the outside of a steam boiler".--nbc
  • starstar Member Posts: 3
    photos of the old behometh

    yes i agree its not the best time to do a replacement so i will happily take advice and try to make necessary adjustments to improve the comfort side at least. Do these radiators work as well (or better) than the coiled type in our old homestead?

    also photo of cut in seems to show pressure is lower than 1.. maybe i was wrong??  and how about those main vents?? 

     now that i figured out how to attach photos i am able to take whatever shots i am told....what fun.  meanwhile i have the electric heater on to keep me warm.
  • Mark NMark N Member Posts: 1,087
    Being Comfortable

    The whole reason for central heating is to be comfortable. You say you keep the tstat at 62 and 55 over night. That doesn't sound like comfortable settings to me. There are things that you can do to make your system run more efficiently without replacing the boiler. The first thing I would do is replace the main vents with at least a Gorton #1. Give this a try yourself, why pay someone to do what you may be able to do yourself. Learn how your system runs. How long does it take to get steam to the end of the mains, how long to the last rad, how long to satisfy the tsat. Every minute you can shave off the run times is money in your pocket. Is the house insulated? If not try to tighten things up. Lessen your heat loss and the boiler will run less often. You state that the location of the tstat is less that optimal. Well then move it to another location. It isn't that hard to do. It looks like you have vent-rite vents on your rads. Have you adjusted them to balance the venting of the rads? If not give it a try you will probably get better heat distribution. Do you have gas available where you live? If so think about converting. Gas is quite a bit cheaper than oil right now. I converted 3 years and am very satisfied. My house is a bit smaller than yours 1350sqft. Since converting I've average $810 a year to heat my house, and I keep it at 70. Lets us know how you make out.
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 5,112
    edited December 2011
    Lots of DIY can be done here

    I agree with Mark that the main vent in the picture should be replaced with at least a Gorton #1 and you might need a couple depending on how long that steam main is. Is there more than one steam main and vent?

    Your photo shows the pressuretrol front setting at 0.5, if you remove that cover what is the white dial inside set to? Your pressure gauge looks like it shows pressure, does it start at zero and then move up? Old gauges often lie so you might want to add a low pressure gauge so you know what the pressure really is - it should never be more than 1.5PSI with that kind of pressuretrol.

    Does the water in the sight glass jump around more than +/- 1/4" ? It looks pretty clean from what I can see in the picture.

    My system is feeding a 1150 sq ft two story house and the boiler gets steam to the main vent in 9-1/2 minutes (from a cold start). A few minutes later all the radiators start to heat; the boiler cycles on and off because it is to large for the radiators it supplies.

    All the steam piping around that boiler should be insulated and all the fittings on the pipes should also be insulated. You want all that heat upstairs.

    All of this has to be done with a new boiler so it's not like your throwing money away to make this old one more efficient.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • AbracadabraAbracadabra Member Posts: 1,948
    near boiler piping missing?

    unless i'm blind, i don't see an equalizer or hartford loop
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 4,130
    Equalizer, Hartford loop??

    The old snow man boiler they replaced never had  one why should they have one? Please note I am being sarcastic. The "main" vent is a 33 which is the same size we use for TRV vents. also the vent is right at the end of the dry return, right at the water hammer cross road. Looking at the boiler I would keep the system repairs simple for this winter and get things lined up for a new boiler when the weather breaks. Do you have natural gas available
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,880

    for now, the Carlin burner on your Pennco should be able to give much better efficiency. Have someone tune it who knows his business, and clean the fire-side of the boiler as well. 
    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.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,959
    And just my $.02...

    a seven degree night setback is too much for a steam system -- both it and you will be a lot happier with a 3 to 4 degree setback.  Seven is fine for scorched air, but not steam.
    Br. Jamie, osb

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

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
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