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Continue with steam or replace?

A little background and this may get long, sorry.

We had a house fire 5 years ago, while the fire did not completely destroy the house we decided to completely gut it and replace everything at this time. We added money we planned on remodeling with to the insurance money.

The house is a 1860's farm house approximately 1500 sq ft. We upgraded it to meet energystar standards including spray foam insulation throughout, all new windows and doors, insulated basement etc... We did retain using a fuel oil boiler and steam heat which kept us from getting a certificate but that wasn't as important as the savings in the long run. The fuel oil boiler was resized and replaced at that time with one that puts out 77,000 btu net.

Right away we learned we did not need to heat the upstairs so those radiators have been off at the valve, for years. Recently I roughly calculated the btu's needed, including the upstairs at it's 73,000 and without it's 55,000.

I believe I have been keeping my system in good operating condition however I've never been able to keep it from "short cycling", it starts and run for a few minutes and then shuts off. Does this 3 or 4 times and then finally it stays on long enough to heat everything up.

With fuel oil prices near $4/gallon and rising here in western NY I'm researching how to (if I can) make my system more efficient. We have been averaging 550-600 gallons of fuel oil for the past 4 heating seasons. When it was just over $2/g that wasn't so bad but now it's costing over $2000 per season. Thats a LOT and I'm at the point where I want to do something about it this summer.

Having said that the house is very comfortable to us with even heat and it retains it for hours. On mild days it only runs 3 or 4 times a day.

So can I make it more efficient or is at as good as it gets? I suppose I could invest in a smaller boiler yet but not sure if that is cost effective. May concider electric radiators based on cost comparison of replacing the whole system and cost to operate over the years. Natural gas is not available to me and Propane seems just as expensive.

Any help and opinions is greatly appreciated.

Thanks! Richard


  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Steam System

    Hi-  We need to know a bit more about your system. Is it one pipe or a two pipe steam system? What is the make and model of the present boiler? What do you have for main vents? At what pressure does your system run at the moment?  You mentioned that you calculated the BTUs needed, is that the total EDR of the connected radiators?

    - Rod
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    Adding to Rod's questions

    What do you have for venting on the steam mains?

    Is this single pipe steam?

    What kinds of venting do you have on the radiators?

    Does the boiler provide your domestic hot water?

    Replacing the boiler with something smaller would be very expensive, maybe it can be downfired so it burns less fuel. Post some pictures of the boiler and the piping around it to see if we can lead you to a solution.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Dave in QCADave in QCA Member Posts: 1,660
    sounds like you have a venting problem

    You indicate that when the boiler starts, it runs for a few minutes, then shuts off.  And then it repeats this for 3-4 more times.  Then, it finally stays on and heats up the system.  Do I have this correct?  If I do, it sounds like you have a big problem with inadequate venting on your mains.  The boiler should not shut off until the whole system is heated up, then if the thermostat is still calling for heat, short cycling on pressure is normal.  It is not normal at the beginning of the cycle. 

    This is not normal operation for a steam boiler and getting it to operate correctly will improve the efficiency and reduce the cost.  You will probably not cut your bill in half, but you should be able to make it better.

    Do you have access to natural gas service?  If you do not, I would stay with oil fired steam.  Electric resistance is also very expensive to operate.  Ground source heat pump might be an option, but you're looking at a huge outlay for installation.
    Dave in Quad Cities, America
    Weil-McLain 680 with Riello 2-stage burner, December 2012. Firing rate=375MBH Low, 690MBH Hi.
    System = Early Dunham 2-pipe Vacuo-Vapor (inlet and outlet both at bottom of radiators) Traps are Dunham #2 rebuilt w. Barnes-Jones Cage Units, Dunham-Bush 1E, Mepco 1E, and Armstrong TS-2. All valves haveTunstall orifices sized at 8 oz.
    Current connected load EDR= 1,259 sq ft, Original system EDR = 2,100 sq ft Vaporstat, 13 oz cutout, 4 oz cutin - Temp. control Tekmar 279.
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    more info

    Peerless boiler model WBV-03-SP installed new in 2007

    Running at .5 psi

    Nameplate info is IBR = .85 gal/hr - DOE = 103 btu/hr - Net IBR = 77,000 btu & 321 sq ft EDR

    It is a single pipe system with 1 main vent half way and each radiator is vented. All vent sound like they are working.

    Calculation was done using Dan's book "we got steam heat". There is a simple formula and instructions in there.

    I have 49 32" sections that look very similar to the picture in the book.

    49 x 4.5 (sq ft each) = 220.5 x 1.33 = 293.2 x 240 (btu/hr) = 70.383 BTU EDR

    Need to subtract 12 sections shut off on the second floor or - 17,236 BTU EDR
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    steam system

    What is the make of the burner? 
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    edited March 2012
    It's to big but there are ways to work with that without breaking the bank

    Forget about BTU's lets concentrate on EDR, your connected EDR should match the boiler EDR in a perfect world - forget about using any multiplier .That WBV-3 boiler is rated at 321 sq ft of steam if its firing at 0.85 GPH. You have atotal of 220.5 sq ft connected and are not presently using 58.5 sq ft because you have it urned off at the radiator valve.That means your boiler is running at around 50% of it's rated load.

    Don't feel bad I've got 210 sq ft of EDR hooked up to a 16 yr old boiler that is rated at 596 sq ft and I am doing just fine till the beast dies and i can replace it with something a lot smaller.

    How long does it take for your main vent to get hot from the time the boiler starts from a cold start? How much longer than that does it take for the radiators to all get hot? My system takes about 9 minutes from a cold start for the main vent to get hot and 17 minutes for the vaporstat (12 oz cut out) to shut the system down. The boiler will then cycle on and off six or seven times till the thermostat is satisfied (1 min on. 1:45 off for the last two cycles). The piping in the cellar is all insulated and Iv'e got the pressure low.

    You said the pressuretrol is set to 0.5PSI what is the white dial under the cover set for, it should be set to one. You might be able to downfire that oil burner and perhaps use it for your domestic hot water with an indirect to use the boiler as the heat source. Your boiler will still be to big but maybe it will lower the bills enough to make them less onerous. That peerless will last a long time; it will take decades to pay off a new steam boiler with saving culled by a new boiler and replacing everything to switch over to hot water or forced air will cost even more.

    Post some pictures so we can see what you have to work with.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    more more info

    The burner is a Beckett

    The white dial (cutout) is set at 1.5 approximately.

    Iteresting info on the timing tho. It took about 4 minutes to heat the main vent too hot to touch but took an additional 10 minutes for the furthest T to get that hot. Before the main vent is 5 downstairs radiators and after it the 2 upstairs and the last T is another downstairs. Do I need a second main vent? Basically the second have of the line is only vented by 1 radiator.

    Also the insulation on the main is very poor. I haven't upgraded it because the basement is insulated and assumed having a warm basement would help reduce whats needed since the first floor floor is kept warm. Should I invest in insulating them better and have a colder basement?

    Pictures are tough for me I am on satellite internet. Nor do I have cell phone signal or natural gas or cable but its private.
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Burner & Insulation

    Hi- Darn! I was hoping it was a Riello burner as that lists a .60 gal per hour setting. I suggest you contact Peerless tech support, giving them the boiler model numbers, burner model numbers and explain to them your present  reduced EDR / BTUs and ask them if your burner could be "down fired" and by how much and if so, what do they suggest as nozzle numbers and burner settings? The Peerless tech dept is sometimes hard to reach so have patience.

    Insulation- I would definitely insulate your steam piping. I left my near boiler piping uninsulated for a long time and when I finally did insulate it, even though it was a small section of the steam piping it made a noticeable difference. Here are a couple of links on insulating steam pipes:

    You may also want to increase your main venting capacity and possibly install another main vent at the far end of the main from the boiler.

    There is an interesting post on the main board on "real world" boiler efficiency.

    What the manufacturers are claiming for efficiency doesn't appear to be very real therefore the cost of a new system would have very questionable payback advantages.

    - Rod
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    Lower is better

    I would try turning that dial down to one, lower pressure means burning less fuel to compress air in the system. It sounds like you could use a second main vent to handle the other end of the main; look and see if there are any fittings where you might be able to add another main vent near the end of the main. Is the main a counterflow (runs uphill from the boiler)? If there is no existing place for a vent you could tap the main and put in a vent a couple of feet before the end of the main - do you have height clearance at that end of the main? What size main do you have (diameter and length) and what make and model is the main vent.

    I used 1" fiberglass pipe insulation (has to be bought at a distributor or online) on the near boiler piping, the main, and any radiator leadout piping I could reach. At a minimum, insulate all the near boiler piping and as mush of the steam main as you can afford to. It was not cheap but it shortened the time the boiler had to run. If the house is at 65 the cellar is at 50, I don't live in the cellar so I'd rather keep the heat upstairs

    My 1918 barn has a short 12 ft two inch steam main that winds around the center chimney with radiator leadouts heading off to the periphery of the building (25X27 ft two story) and I use a Gorton #1 main air vent on the main and Hoffman #1 adjustable vents on the radiators. The Hoffmans are all adjusted fairly low so I'm following the maxim of venting the mains fast and the radiators slowly, the result is the heat comes up in all the radiators at about the same time. I like the VentRite #1 better but they aren't sold around here any more.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    more and more info

    The main line is 2.5" OD has about an 86 ft loop from where it leaves the boiler to where it ties into the Hartford loop. The highest point is where the steam leaves the boiler, as it travels it the slope is down. So there is plenty of clearance at the end but no place to install another vent. Can this be done by installing another T where the last radiator T's off? I removed, cleaned and painted these so I know what a job it is to get the fittings apart.

    The main vent looks like it says Gorton but I can't make out much more. The vents on the radiators are Hoffman 1-A air vents.

    Also the range on the burner is .65 to 1.10 gph would that indicate there is a .65 nozzle available?
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    edited March 2012

    From what you described that is a parallel flow system and the end of that main should turn down towards the floor and head back to the boiler as a dry and then a wet return. Is there anyplace on that return (well above the boilers waterline) where you could place a vent?

    Taking the fitting off and replacing it with a T would work but it ain't easy! I was having a problem with main vents clogging up where they attach to my steam main so I moved it over a foot and up a few inches so no water could get slammed up there. The attached somewhat murky picture shows what I mean. If you did replace that fitting you would have to do something similar - just make sure the vent can easily drain any condensed water back to the boiler.

    That is a Gorton #1 vent that has been boiler in vinegar (that's why the finish looks so bad), it's about 2-1/2" in diameter. With a main as long as yours I'd go with a Gorton #2 at the end of the main (about a 5-1/2" can). 85 ft of 2" (2.5" OD is probably 2" ID) main contains almost 2 cu ft of air and all of that has to be vented for steam to reach the end. A Gorton #2 will vent 1.1 cu ft per minute at 1oz (Gorton #1 = 0.33 cu ft per minute) and that along with the existing vent would probably be fine.

    It might be easier to drill and tap a 1/2" hole in the side of your main, come out with a nipple and an elbow and another nipple to get the vent well up above the main.  Just make sure the vent ends up vertical and the pitch allows any water to flow back to the boiler. I said 1/2" because the Gorton #2 only comes with a 1/2" male thread. If your not comfortable doing that, any competent plumber could do it for you.

    I'd ask your oil burner guy if he can put a 0.65 Nozzle on that burner and adjust it for efficient operation. Between the increased venting and the smaller nozzle you might make a dent in your fuel usage.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Vents & Burners

    I see Bob has given you a lot of info on Gortons so I've erased the first part of this post.

    Main Vent Location- They are usually installed either just past the last radiator on the steam main or at the end of the dry return before it drops back down to the Wet Return.

    As you don't need to evacuate the air past the last radiator it generally makes more sense to put the main vent at this location.

    Burner- Be sure to get the Beckett model number off the oil burner as there are two different models used on that particular sized boiler.  The .65 would suggest that this model burner could be downfired to this level.  However downfiring is tricky. You need to have a really good burner man do it for you and he needs to have (which any good burner man would have) the proper electronic tester to determine gas byproducts and measure efficiency.  You should contact Peerless about downfiring as they may tested this in their lab as to how far you can downfire and still have the boiler operate efficiently.   Hopefully Peerless has the specifications (nozzle manufacturer, size/degree, air setting etc) available as this would give your burner man a starting point to work with.  You might also check with Beckett on this as they may have some information available that would help you. Be sure to state you need the info for your burner man as they may be reluctant to give it to "Joe, the homeowner."

    - Rod
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    Thank You all

    All this information has been great and in 1 day too.

    So my project for the summer is insulate all the pipes, add another vent at the end of the main (drilling and tapping will be easier for me) and see what can be done with downfiring. This may be the trickiest part for me as they are no good "burner guys" I'm aware of. The 2 local hvac guys have not impressed me with there knowledge of steam.

    Thanks Again Richard
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,383
    Where are you located?

    We might know someone. Also, have you tried the Find a Contractor page of this site?
    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.
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16

    I'm in Middlesex, NY 14507

    It's 60 miles south of Rochester, NY and searching in the contractor section none show up unless I go to the 250 mile radious. Which is most likely cost prohibitive to have someone come that far.

    What I may have to do is research and educate myself enough to know what he should be doing.
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    Buy the book

    If you go to the SHOP section of this site you will see they have books on steam heat for sale. Pick up a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heat", that is a good read and after digesting it you will understand steam heat better than a lot of todays generation of techs do. It has been over fifty years since steam boilers went into new construction so the knowledge base in the trades is pretty thin.

    It is a great book to read and will repay you ten times over.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • RodRod Posts: 2,067
    Rochester Steamman

    Hi- Use the Search the Wall function and look up another Wallie, Patrick McGrath, and email him. (Find one of his pots and just click on his name)  He's in the Rochester area. He mentioned that he had found a good steam man and a good supply source

    - Rod
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16

    Hey all thought I would give an update... OK and whine a little too lol

    So this past summer/fall I insulated all the pipes, added the recommended venting, replaced the thermostat and was able to down fire the boiler to .65 gph. The venting and insulation did make a big difference in shortening the heat up time of the radiators.

    However I am still not satisfied with the efficiency at all. I'm on my way to it costing me $2400 (600 gal approximately) to heat this season. If this were an old drafty farm house I wouldn't think about it so much but as you can see from the original post it has just about been brought up to Energy Star standards.

    Am I at the most efficient my system can be? If so what are my alternatives?

  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 6,708
    Overall efficiency

    is a rather difficult item to get a decent handle on without a lot of data.which you may or may not have.  Basically what you need to do is to figure out how much oil you are burning per degree day, and you also need the total area of your outside envelope -- the sum of the areas of the walls and the roof.  The oil you are burning will give you the number of BTUs you putting into the house, and with some algebra -- which isn't complicated, but does get a bit messy -- you can figure from that the overall effective R value of your structure.  This won't be the same as the R value of your nicely insulated walls and new windows and all; it will be less.  How much less is what you are interested in.

    As an example, the truly draughty structure which I superintend has an overall R value of 4.2 -- which is rather poor (it would be nice if it were higher, but there are some factors which make it very difficult to make much of an improvement on that)(my oil company loves me).  Off hand, a nice tight insulated place might be able to reach a value of 10.  I use, on the average, around 3,000 gallons of oil per year -- so a very very rough figure (almost useless!) is slightly less than half a gallon of oil per square foot of floor area per year; translated to your structure that would bee about 700 gallons per year -- but that could be way off, depending on how warm you keep the place and also how cold your climate is -- I suspect that where you are is colder.

    Now there are several variables which affect oil consumption.  As noted above, the biggest is probably the heat loss of the structure.  It does sound as though you've done pretty well on that.  Another is what temperatures you keep the place at -- running at, say 72 in your climate (and mine) rather than say 62 could easily increase the oil use by 20%.  Related is setbacks: a somewhat vexed subject, but the general consensus is that any setback over 3 degrees with steam (or radiant or gravity hot water) is going to cost you more oil than it saves.

    And the last is, of course, the efficiency of the heating system itself.  Here the most important factor -- by far -- is the setup of the oil burner (or gas burner).  It is not at all difficult, with the proper equipment and a reasonably modern boiler to reach overall boiler efficiencies on the order of 85% (for comparison, the best modcon hot water systems can reach 90% when properly set up).  However, it is also very easy to drop that to 70% or lower even just by a poor burner setup.

    I don't know what temperature you keep your house at.  However, it does sound almost as though you still have envelope losses which may not be readily apparent.  You may also not have your oil burner tuned up as well as it might be.

    All that said... are there more efficient alternatives?  Yes.  Is the cost of changing to one of them less than the cost of maintaining and fine tuning what you now have?  Almost certainly not.  The installation cost of electric is low; the running cost is horrendous.  Switching to a high efficiency modcon hot water system might save as much as 30 to 50 gallons of oil, in your setting, per year -- but it might take decades to recover the installation cost, if ever.  Geothermal is lovely, but has all the cost disadvantage of the modcon approach.

    Sorry if I'm rambling, but it's a complicated topic.

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

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-McClain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,457
    Air infiltration

    Have you really looks at air infiltration? It's normal for heat to rise so the upper floor can benefit from heat from below especially if it's an open floor plan. It sounds like the second floor is nice and tight but the first floor has issues.

    Have you had a blower test performed to be sure the house is as tight as you think it is? Where does the combustion air for the oil burner come from? Is the basement ceiling insulated and is the rim joist around the foundation draft sealed? If you can feel air moving at floor level when the boiler is operating you are using heated air for combustion and that heated air is being replaced by outside air.

    If you can identify and stop air infiltration you should be able to trim your fuel usage.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,925
    Can you post photos of your boiler?

    descriptions and such can only go so far. What thickness of insulation did you use? How clean are the insides of your boiler? Was the boiler flushed of sludge lately? Is the pigtail to the pressuretrol clear?
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16

    I did have to have the blower door test done before I could get a C of O because the R-value in roof did not meet code. The existing rafter cavities weren't deep enough and I couldn't fir them out because that would have made the ceiling too low to meet code (Cape/Colonial with no attic). However I did meet overall R-value code as confirmed by the bolwer door test, I do not believe I have those numbers any more. Will have to look.

    We keep the house at 68 constant, no set-back and for the past month temps have been single digits to teens. Typical for this time of year. The floor plan is very open even to the upstairs landing.

    The rim joist cavity at the sill plate is spray foamed as well all the way around the foundation and the walls have insulation blankets. The weak spot to the basement is the Bilco doors to the outside which if I had to guess is where the boiler pulls its air from being the path of least resistance rather than thru the floor which is not insulated btw.

    Also I do have to mechanically (via a blower) do so many air changes per hour. It runs for approximately 10 minutes every hour. We did not have this at first, the house wasn't expected to be that tight but the first heating season we found the table and counters were still wet an hour after you wiped them down because of no air ciculation all shut-up. The people that did the blower test came back and sized it and told me how long it should run per hour. I purchased and I installed it. Its on the first floor main hallway, part of the house is only one level.

    So between the boiler and the blower I must be sucking in more cold air than antisipated.

    And the general consensus is that if I did a blower test again, found where the cold air was being pulled in from and fixed, improve the burner efficiency as best as possible. After that all I would reduce my oil consumption by 50 - 100 gallons a season or $200 - $400.

    Am I wrong in thinking even if all that works that $2000 a season is still a lot to heat this place?

    We love the steam but fuel oil, propane or electric are the only options that I have. The cost of fuel oil now is barely affordable and its only gonna go up.

    Also what is "horrendous" as far as electrical cost, not including installation, any idea? I'm thinking if its $200 a month more during the heating season on top of my normal bill its a 50% savings and if its $300+ per month its the same and not as volatile.

    Just wondering if anyone has a rough idea, know this can be figured out and will do the math before I head down that road as well as look into costs/savings associated with supplementing with electric or a pellet stove.


  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    Missed this

    The pipe insulation is 1" and I did not purchase the expensive elbows and tee's, I just made my own as best I could.

    When it was down fired this fall the burner was cleaned and the fuel oil filter was changed. Not sure about the pig-tail. The person that did the down fire said I did not need to change the water and or clean it out. His reason was the water is clear in the sight glass even while running, which is true and made sense to me. Plus its only on its 5th heating season.

    Should this be done?

    I don't use a lot of water (its manual fill) so its not like its getting replenished often.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Member Posts: 3,925
    Richard where are you located?

    electric heat in western MA can exceed $1,000.00 a month in a cold January for a home your size. The electric company spreads it out over the year so people can afford it.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
  • PMJPMJ Member Posts: 485
    600 gallons for the season

    doesn't look that bad to me for the space depending on your total HDD load. Near Rochester NY - this sounds about right. I think your problem is mostly just the price of the oil. Right now natural gas delivers the same heat for about 1/4 the cost of oil.
  • Clock24Clock24 Member Posts: 4
    Not an expert but...

    If you cannot fix this and are concerned about switching to electric, perhaps think about ductless heat pumps instead. They are cheap to install (less than $10,000) and quite energy efficient.

    However, I am not an expert by any means and if the problem is the house, not the steam heat system, this wouldn't help.
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Member Posts: 1,349
    Not really practical where he lives.

    A heat pump wouldn't be inexpensive in single-digit temperatures.
    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S
    3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • Patrick McGrathPatrick McGrath Member Posts: 54
    That's me

    If you want to contact me, feel free. My guy is in Canandaigua, so that's even closer to you. He may head out that way if you are interested. He replaced my entire boiler, helped me with venting, helped add a couple of removed radiators, and now my whole house is tuned quite well.

    Odd - haven't posted or looked at the site in a long time, posted today, looked around and saw my name referenced!
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    Some improvement

    I have increased the temperature differential a couple of degrees which has seemed to help. We use to maintain 68-67 boiler would come on at 66 and off at 69. I now have it set to come on at 64 anad off at 69 still. Not sure if it's the slightly warming outside temps or the fact that the boiler fires about 2 times less per day but I am using 1.5 to 2 inches of fuel oil less per week.

    Not convinced any drastic changes are going to be financially beneficial, it is what it is.

    Sure do wish there was natural gas, that would be huge but the closet house with it is about 12 miles away.
  • moneypitfeedermoneypitfeeder Member Posts: 231
    Here's another thought

    What thermostat do you have, and what are the "pro" settings, set to? My boiler was doing the same thing when we installed a new thermostat after a knucklehead literally fried our old round dial mercury one. (Don't ask...) The darn boiler kept coming on, and not staying on long, etc, etc, and finally I learned that to get the instructions to enter the pro setup (which was not included in the installation manual from the thermostat bought from a local supply house and NOT a big box store) I had to go to Honeywell's website and download them. The pro menu is the only "menu" on my thermostat that allows you to program for steam. Once I set that up correctly, it doesn't cycle on and off. Just a thought...Good luck!
    steam newbie
  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 8,631
    edited March 2013

    For what its worth I spent $8 less for the month of January on gas than my next door neighbor who has natural gas forced hot air in a similar aged house not including his electric usage running the blower.  Biggest differences are he has fairly new windows and around 700sqft LESS than me which means he should have spent less than me, not more.  My system maintains most of the house between 70-71F.  My bedroom is kept between 66-67F via TRV.

    Steam isn't your problem.

    I have not read through the whole thread and am not sure what others have said, but in my opinion, get your system tuned by someone who knows what they are doing and start insulating and fixing drafts.  It doesn't matter how the heat is delivered to your house, if it keeps leaving you need to keep replacing it and that means burning expensive oil.

    If you have doubts about how your thermostat is working, buy a Honeywell 5000 series and set it to 1CPH and leave the temperature on a comfortable setting. has these for I think less than $50 and this way you will know its working properly.  You shouldn't have to deal with the huge temperature swing you are.
    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

    Steam system pictures
    Central air project pictures
  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 8,631

    This is the thermostat I had a neighbor buy.  It offers 1CPH setting and has the optional larger display.
    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

    Steam system pictures
    Central air project pictures
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16

    In my original post I stated the house is an EnergyStar Home with the exception of the boiler. Spray foam insulation, all new windows and doors, insulated basement etc... The boiler was tuned up this fall (only 4 yrs old) and I insullated all the steam pipes with 1" fiberglass insulation.

    I Have spent a LOT of money to make this place energy efficient as possible, close to $20k hence my disappointment in still having $2000 - 2400 heating bills.

  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 8,631
    Energy Star and tune up

    I can completely understand your disappointment, especially after spending so much money.

    However, I do not know who tuned up the system or what was done. Also I do not know what an energy star home is or who did that work for you or what was done.

    What I can tell you is my other next door neighbor and close friend has a house around the same age as mine (1860s) and little to no insulation and original windows.  He has an 80+ year old converted coal boiler which runs on oil on a single pipe steam system and so far this year he has spent around $1800 on oil to heat his 1500sqft home.

    So the big question would be, why are you spending more than him in a house of the same size which has been completely insulted with new windows and all?  We are in NW New Jersey so maybe you are in a much colder climate?  I think we are in a 6000 heating degree days zone if I recall.
    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

    Steam system pictures
    Central air project pictures
  • Mark NMark N Member Posts: 1,035
    Heating costs


    How many gallons of oil were you using a year before you made all the improvements to your home? How many gallons a year are your neighbors using with homes of a similar size to yours that haven't made the improvements? I think PMJ hit the nail on the head, 600 gallons a year isn't bad for your climate. The problem is the price of heating oil. Do you use your boiler to make hot water? If so how many gallons does that use.
  • PMJPMJ Member Posts: 485
    Oil Price

    Thanks for noticing that Mark.

    Straight up heating cost with oil is currently at least 4 times that of gas. I don't think his dollar figure is bad at all.

    I'm not clear why there isn't more complaint about this especially out East. I was having an annual inspection on a very small Cape Cod home with a hot water oil burner and wondering how coasting at 45 degrees for the winter it cost twice as to heat much as my home which is steam at 70 degrees in Cleveland , totally uninsulated and 4 times the size. Didn't take me long to figure it out when I looked at the btu's purchased/dollar spent on oil vs gas. Get this, the contractor doing the inspection told me I couldn't pay him to run natural gas in his house - he said it was too dangerous. Go figure.

    Gas is not available on that street so we drained the Cape house and shut her down completely this winter.
  • Mark NMark N Member Posts: 1,035

    Most places in the northeast that don't have gas service are rural and at this time it doesn't make any economic sense to put in the infrastructure. Years ago they had rural electrification, now we need rural gasification.
  • Sir_RichardSir_Richard Member Posts: 16
    edited March 2013

    The thermostat is a Honeywell RTH7400D1008 it has a setting for steam and I believe I have programmed it right.

    Hot water heater is electric. Have not asked the neighbors what they use, too many variables to compare in my opinion.

    I only have 2 years of records before all the upgrades, we used 950 gal in 2005 and 900 in 2006. Those are rough estimates tough to calculate much closer than that we didn't fill the tank each time back then, only what we could afford. Basically 4 tanks at a cost of $2.15 a gallon or $1900 a season.

    I just filled last week for the 3rd time this year making 750 gallons purchased. I expect to use most of that between now and the end of the heating season. So say 650 gallons this season at an average of $3.85 a gallon = $2500

    The last 2 seasons it looks like I didn't use much over 500 gallons each but they were definitely milder winters. And the 2 heating seasons before that I used 600 & 700 gallons.

    As you can see after the renovation I use about 25% less fuel oil per heating season but my costs have doubled and they are only going to go up.

    I feel the house is as energy efficient as it's going to get, sure I may be able to "tweak" things here and there but all the major savings have been had. Which is why I am/was concidering changing to another heating source. The only 2 other options are propane or electric and neither of them are worth the investment. Starting to research supplementing options anad starting to feel the same way.

    It is what it is - I've done the best I can with what I have.

  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 8,631
    What about

    Coal, Wood or pellets\corn?

    Might be a good alternative to oil price wise.  Of course it means dumping more money into a stove.
    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

    Steam system pictures
    Central air project pictures
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