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is it worth converting from oil to propane ?

ron Member Posts: 146
i am considering options upgrading by 20+ year old burnham oil boiler.  house is ~1700 sq ft.  (34' x 25' overall floor size). I believe my btu calculation for the house is < 60,000, have new siding and windows, will be doing doors next.  current burner is rated 103k btuh.  house has 2 living floors with baseboard hydronic heat, boiler is in unfinished basement.  I'm not sure what the btu load is of the baseboard heat, but  downstairs and upstairs baseboards are a total of about 40 feet each, and it's 3/4" copper.

all that said, is it worth converting to a propane boiler and propane hot water heater for efficiency to save on fuel costs or stick with oil?

i know the rule is don't discuss prices, but can i ask how much more expensive i should expect a conversion to be versus a direct replacement of an oil boiler?  I mean i already have propane so i get my supplier to give me a larger tank and tee off the existing piping which is already right there.  I don't want to get taken because "it's a conversion".  what else would be involved other than running a propane line to the new boiler?

i currently use propane for kitchen stove and a living room fireplace, have a 120 gal tank outside.  i basically go 2 years before i'm down to 20% on the tank, we don't cook much but we run the fireplace a lot during the winter.  can anyone ball park the size propane tank i would need? 


  • M Lane
    M Lane Member Posts: 123
    edited February 2014
    Propane prices

    I'm sure since you have a tank you know, but it would scare me off.
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    If you

    Have the funds, yes. Getting a direct vented lp boiler releases you from dealing with chimney liner issues in the future and does away with air infiltration your oil boiler likely needs now to support combustion. The lp boiler can be better matched to your heating loadat all times. It can drive a hot water storage tank. There's many good reasons to convert. I would expect that you would need at least one more 120. It wouldn't be fair to gues costs from here since we can't see the site.
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    If you

    Have the funds, yes. Getting a direct vented lp boiler releases you from dealing with chimney liner issues in the future and does away with air infiltration your oil boiler likely needs now to support combustion. The lp boiler can be better matched to your heating loadat all times. It can drive a hot water storage tank. There's many good reasons to convert. I would expect that you would need at least one more 120. It wouldn't be fair to gues costs from here since we can't see the site.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265
    Conversion factors:

    I don't know the cost of oil or propane where you live. It doesn't matter.

    Here's my short bus method I came up with to help customers decide.

    It takes "BTU's" in the fuel to heat the building. "The amount of heat energy required to raise 1 pound of water, one degree Fahrenheit".

    So, lets call a BTU a penny ($.01) or one cent.

    There are 139,000 BTU's in a gallon of #2 heating oil. Or, 139,000 penny's.

    There are 91,000 BTU's in a gallon of Propane (LPG). Or 91,000 Penny's.

    For comparison, lets put the pennies in gallon buckets Two buckets.

    Here's the oil bucket with 139,000 pennies in it.

    Here's the Propane bucket with 91,000 pennies in it.

    Which bucket do you want?

    The efficiencies are about the same. You can rip out what you have and replace it with something more efficient and still have an un-efficient building. Unless your 20+ boiler looks like the one on the old Sanford & Son TV show, if it's running and not leaking, put your money into efficiency home improvements.

    Once the weather warms up, there will be a glut of Propane on the market because the gas providers can't provide product now. The oil companies have been able to do so as they always have. If you were heating with Propane during this cold spell, they would be keeping your tank at 50% full and not topping you off. The oil companies didn't or don't do that unless there is some emergency with transportation to their loading facilities. Like to an Island.

    Take your pick of buckets.
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,325

    Everything you say is true except; "The efficiencies are about the same" A mod/con vs CI oil boiler is no comparison at all
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

    When you play "Fun With Numbers", and you get into efficiencies above 85%, the cost curve goes down the can.

    There was no discussion/question of changing to a beer cooler boiler. In the real world that I worked in, new houses got new gas systems. They were also gas/Hydro-air with AC. Efficiencies of good quality oil boilers are listed at over 85%. There are an awful lot of cheaper CGi type gas boilers going in because some people aren't willing to pay the higher price. So, you're dealing with efficiency numbers that are close. one way or the other. So much so that cost of fuel becomes a major factor to be considered.

    Beer cooler boilers are nice, and if the building is old with radiation calculated for a high heating load, and the building efficiency is improved, they become a better choice.

    When given the opportunity to quote, I always gave three choices from basic/cheap, to expensive with all the trimmings. Chicken McNuggets,

    Chick-Fil-A to a full thanksgiving feast. No one wanted the Early Thanksgiving Feast. They went with the Hydro-Air from a airhead. The potential customer never tells you (or knows) how bad their system is.

    There are a lot more "issues" to the question than what the writer asked. I ask, "How well does your system work now? Do all the rooms and areas work well and are they comfortable? Do you get enough hot water?

    Change the old boiler out to a beer cooler model and don't resolve these question and you might find a very unhappy customer.

    You gotta ask the questions.
  • icesailor
    icesailor Member Posts: 7,265

     "" Have the funds, yes ""

    Right there is my point. "IF" you have the funds.

    "When they call you on the phone, they want to spend money". Whether they spend it with you or someone else is up to us. Its tough to compete with Airheads who install Hydro-Air with a supply in every room and one big return in the hallway floor over the air handler in the basement. When we provide a supply and return in every room with hydronics. The customer never knows what better is. When the HX burns out in 5 years, they don't call us to replace it.

    Why would you put the supply and returns on the floor in a Heat/AC system when the cold doesn't rise and runs across the floor to the return? People think it is normal for doors to open of close (depending on the swing) when the fan comes on because the return is in a hall somewhere and the farthest away rooms don't heat or cool.
  • Bob Bona_4
    Bob Bona_4 Member Posts: 2,083
    how did

    We get off on a hot air tangent? The OP was asking about changing an oil boiler to a gas boiler and the radiation stays. You may be thinking of another post :)
  • archibald tuttle
    archibald tuttle Member Posts: 801
    they do have a transportation problem with propane

    and meting it our parsimoniously is sensible, less efficient from delivery standpoint so they aren't going to do it unless supply is short. I haven't seen this in propane in the last 6 years, but I suspect it has probably been much longer than that. Someone who has been watching energy markets more closely can say whether oil or propane suffers more frequent disruptions or market dislocations of the magnitude propane is seeing this year.

    excess consumption in the upper midwest for crop drying, coupled with recent market expansion ahead of transportation improvements and cold winter have given the propane market a jolt. 

    EIA says likely average $2.41/ gallon midwest $3.43/gal in the NE (what a difference a pipeline or two make).  I'm glad I tanked up and buy 50 to 70% of my gas in the summer depending on the year.  If you do go to propane, I suggest the biggest tank you can fit on the place.

    Oil nationwide is supposed to average $3.82  -- don't know why they don't report that regionally. Maybe the differences have been more ironed out and doesn't seem relevant although we used to have winter chokepoints with delivery to the northeast that spiked prices after oil companies reduced long term storage inventories as a hedge against price swings and pollution liability.

    That is obviously a bad to horrible deal for propane this year in the northeast, unless you've planned around it. A lot of recent switchers won't be very happy although if they got locked contracts then the squeeze comes elsewhere, but the pricing i found for locked contracts wasn't particularly attractive at the inrun.

    My average cost this year is about $2.30 without a locked contract and I'm in the northeast. I am not your typical customer. So I'm still a propane hawk, but I had space for 3 - 1000 gallon tanks ( I use a fair bit heating multiple buildings).

    i was hedging by getting a lot of storage as part of the deal i cut. But the few 500 gallon tail fills i'm getting at $2.75 hurt even if they average out with the $2.00 gas i bought last summer.

    But icesailor is right, with the radiation you are currently using, the efficiency will be the same.  Still, one advantage to propane is it is surer to maintain that efficiency without repeated cleanings on power draft noncondensing applications.

    Before I'd replace the boiler, I'd insulate, tighten envelope, and change radiation. (you can still change fuel for very modest cost with a conversion burner if you have space to get enough storage to hedge on price, but low hanging fruit for actual energy savings ain't there).

    I'm always disappointed to hear people have new siding and they don't have 2" of XPS foam between the sheathing and the new siding. (kind of like the Radiant Heat Association bumper stickers that say: "friends don't let friends pour concrete -- without tubes in it ")

     It ain't cheap but it works and if you are replacing windows you can detail the two installs at the same time reasonably conveniently and you don't have to retrofit flashing details around existing windows. And it moves the condensation plane out of the stud wall even if you have conventional fiberglass in there.

    The buildings i've done like this are saunas by comparison to anything else i've got. Makes me want to go back and redo every exterior/insulation job i've ever done.

    although if you're gutting the inside spray foam will accomplish about the same thing.

  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 6,562
    Do the math

    Use this spreadsheet to get your answer.

    Who knows, maybe electric would be cheaper

    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • ced48
    ced48 Member Posts: 467
    Yes, If You

    can go with a modcon, you have enough baseboard, and your boiler needs replacing anyways. I did this and am using fewer gallons of propane than I was with oil, and I am paying a dollar less per gallon for the propane.
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356

    AFUE numbers do not tell the whole story.  It's the "mod" which works most of the magic here.  Archibald is right on the money with storage.  In our mild climate, it's relatively easy to store a full years' worth of LPG on site.
  • Jack
    Jack Member Posts: 1,045
    Don't change, Add!

    Install a mini-split heat pump. Use it in combination with your oil. I have a friend in a big old VT farmhouse who runs his mshp down to 20* and then turns his oil boiler on below that. He has been doing this for several years and says he sees anywhere from 60-70% $ to$ savings. You also get excellent cooling and dehu.

    If you go LP, the way to do it successfully is to own a 1000gal tank and not have to fill during the season. That carries you thru the issues today.
  • conversiontime
    conversiontime Member Posts: 87
    edited February 2014
    propane now more than heating oil

    in price per btu, at least in NE region, so not worth converting. Suspect conversion on both NG and propane will probably fall way off this next season in my area due to massive spike in prices. 50% increase in NG prices in my area last year vs 20% on henry hub. Dont use propance but believe it has been even greater spike. Other parts of country it probably still makes sense but carefully look at several years of prices in your area before deciding.

    In the end US energy policy is not about self sufficiency and low prices vs simply an excuse to continue selling/exporting our natural resources abroad at highest possible price. Commodities Futures Modernization Act in 2000 mirrors the huge spike in all commodities esp energy.
  • vaporvac
    vaporvac Member Posts: 1,520
    You got that right!

    ...and what a disappointment it is to see.
    Two-pipe Trane vaporvacuum system; 1466 edr
    Twinned, staged Slantfin TR50s piped into 4" header with Riello G400 burners; 240K lead, 200K lag Btus. Controlled by Taco Relay and Honeywell RTH6580WF
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