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Gas or Oil?


I'm looking at replacing my oil fired steam boiler -- a Burnham 7-series from the late 90's -- and since I have natural gas to my hot water heater, I'm inclined to go with a gas-fired boiler. Is that a good idea? I spoke to a salesman from an Oil company and (might want to sit down before you fall over from shock) he said that gas powered steam is less efficient because the most efficient gas boiler is about 80 or 802% efficient whereas the top of the line Burnham Oil powered boiler is 85 or 86% efficient.

It seems to me that gas is so much less expensive per BTU that the efficiency loss will be made up, but I have no way to even calculate that or make a reasonable guess. Am I off base here?




  • Dave in QCADave in QCA Member Posts: 1,660
    You've got it correct

    You are absolutely correct.  Here is a cost comparison tool that you can use.  Put in the cost per unit of fuel and the corresponding efficiency.  It will estimate your total cost and compare various fuels. 
    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.
  • BobCBobC Member Posts: 4,406
    It's worth changing over

    I just replaced a v75 because the oil tank was on it's way out and I know these boilers are not known for long life. I'm using a Smith 8-3 with a carlin EZ-Gas and not only is it more efficient than the v75 was but the cost of gas (per btu) is 40+% less expensive than oil. The savings are dramatic and it will pay for itself over time.

    Most gas steam boilers are atmospheric and not as efficient as boiler where the water jacket surrounds the burner. If you want to use the moreefficient type boiler the installer buys a boiler without an oilgun and then buys a gas gun from Carlin or Midco. Both companies have liusts of which boilers have been tested with their burners, Smith used to sell the boiler with the EZ-Gas but now the boiler and gas gun have to be bought separately. If the world ever got turned on it's ear and oil became cheap again you could just put an oill gun on one of these. Right now the cost of one gallons equivelent in natural gas is $2.06 vs $3.499 for oil 9in the Boston area) if you search for a good price.

    If you decide to switch just make sure the installer understands steam and the gas guns.

    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • ToymotorheadToymotorhead Member Posts: 54
    Btu/$ vs Btu/$

    A couple of things to think about.

    1) Natural gas currently has a lower cost per Btu of heat than home heating oil. You need to use X number of Btu's of heat to keep your house warm this winter. 3-4% efficiency either way is not going to wipe out the 30-40% Cost/Btu difference.

    2) Remember the oil guy is trying to sell oil.

    3) Remember the gas company is trying to sell gas.

    4) The cost of the equipment is similar, when looked at in the long term.

    5) Cost per Btu of energy x 10 years, is the bottom line.

    6) Proper installation on a steam system is absolutely necessary to get the claimed efficiency. You could pay huge money for a 100% efficiency steam boiler full of pixie dust and magical happy thoughts. But if the installer screws up the piping, or does make sure it is firing correctly, all that efficiency goes away, as does your moneys worth. If they really screw it up, you will be less efficient then when you started. Then it does not matter what fuel you use or how much it costs.

    7) Personally I really always dreaded and loathed the "Oh my god we are almost out of oil" panic attack. Or the "Crap the oil company delivered automatically" now I need a to find $800.00 and I will be eating Ramen Noodles for the next month outcome.

    8) The gas bill does vary quite a bit, in the summer mine is $16 dollars (I have stand alone gas hot water) and in the winters its as high as $250 on a really really cold month. But at least its monthly, and a much easier hit to absorb.

    9) Insulate your boiler piping. You are burning $/Btu in your basement to get heat, make sure it gets to where you spend your time.

    10) Drafts in an old house will cost you more money then a 3% bump in boiler efficiency will ever save you. Hours spent with a caulking gun, save you money, and make you more comfortable. Honestly, ruthless hunting of little cracks and gaps, air sealing light fixture boxes, the little foam things you put behind switch plates, caulking around the trim on every window, along the baseboards, can make a huge difference. Not only in how much you save in fuel, but in how comfortable you are.

    That is just my $.02 You mileage may vary.


    If you can't be good, at least be good at it.
  • Paul48Paul48 Member Posts: 4,228

    It makes sense to switch. Now the challenge is to find a steam pro. They will ensure that the new boiler is sized, and installed correctly. When they walk away, your new boiler, and system will be right. Where are you located? Maybe you'll get lucky and have one of the pros that frequent this site, near you.
  • TomMTomM Posts: 233
    nice post man

    steam boiler full of pixie dust and magical happy thoughts.


    isn't every steam boiler full of pixie dust and magical happy thoughts? 


    i went with a oil boiler and power gas burner simply because of the rates of failures of gas steam atmospherics.  I'd like to see more discussion about that, but it seems to be kind of hush hush throughout the industry.  Not many pros are keen on pointing out which manufacturers have/had problems and warranty issues, which is understandable, (maintaining a level of professionalism on heatinghelp.)


    gas prices are low now, but who knows what the future will bring.  If i knew future prices, i'd be running a hedge fund, not tinkering on my steam boiler.  I think that the level of drilling that we're seeing in the US and in the Northeast will keep supply high and maybe keep prices low.  Either way, i just thought about the horror of oil prices being $7.00 and dropping $1400 on 200 gal. But shrimp Ramen noodles, mmm, they're my favorite.
    beautiful Conshohocken PA
  • Mark NMark N Member Posts: 1,035
    Failure rate?

    What is the failure rate that your talking about with an atmospheric boiler? Is it rotting out because of to much feed water? I think you will find that wet base boilers also rot out if they get to much feed water. The Megasteam might be the only exception to that rule. But Burham hasn't approved it for use with as gas burner.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Member Posts: 8,610
    edited December 2012

    Switching to gas should be a no brainer at this point.  Sure, gas may go up in price but so will oil for sure.  In my area gas would have to double in price to even match the price of oil at this time not to mention gas is less maintaince and cleaner burning.  The Weil-Mclain EG-45 I installed is rated 82.9% I believe though as you said, the slight difference between even 80 and 86% isn't that much when you look at the cost of gas vs oil.

    When we bought this house in 2011 it had a Burnham V8 series boiler.  This was a wetbase oil fired boiler.  That boiler had its block rott out in only 3 years and then a second time in only 5 years thanks to a semi-low PH and an automatic water feeder.

    I replaced it with a Weil-Mclain EG series atmospheric boiler which I am using Rectorseal Steamaster tablets for water treatment and I have no signs of rust in my boiler water.  My PH is around 9 and I check it occasionally as well as keep leaks and makeup water to a minimum.

    In my opinion an atmospheric boiler treated well will last as long as a wet base boiler, and a wet base boiler abused will have just as short of a life as an abused atmospheric.

    The link in my signature has pictures of the rotted out 5 year old Burnham V8 block.  If you constantly add makeup water due to leaks combined with no corrosion inhibitor and a low PH it doesn't matter what boiler you buy, it will rott.
    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
  • TomMTomM Posts: 233

    could be pin type design, excess feed water, chlorides or salts in the water.  Who knows.  I saw about 250 complaints on about leaks in atmospherics after 10.5 years, with 10 year warranties.  Maybe a lot of the manufacturers get their castings at the same foundry?  I know burnham had that class action lawsuit on the V series, so maybe it is the foundry, but that's an oil boiler.

    google 'rotted atmospheric steamer' and see some evidence.  Maybe its few and far between, and i could be wrong, i don't replace boilers on the daily, but i've seen quite a bit of postings on here with replacements of late model atmospherics.  Seems like they're all scratching their heads and installing three pass w/ gas guns instead.  I'll follow the crowd on that one.
    beautiful Conshohocken PA
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