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Howdy folks! And a few questions...

Drewser Member Posts: 34
Long time lurker and reader, first time poster...

First, let me say that this site is fantastic. I thought I knew quite a bit about hot water heat (even just as a hobbyist/homeowner) but the Wall and Resources have taught me so much more. That said...

I live in NW Wisconsin, literally at the arrowhead of Lake Superior. This winter has been a bruiser, so far 65 days at or below zero. And a LOT of snow. I bought this house (1914 American Foursquare) 3 years ago. It has a heating system typical for this type and age of home, hot water, cast iron radiators, natural gas fired Weil-McLain VHE boiler (about 20 years old?)

This winter we've had some issues with the boiler. Now, I'm generally pretty handy, as I'm a heavy equipment mechanic for the city I live in, and love mechanical and electronic things. I've been able to get it running again every time within a few hours thanks to a local heating company that keeps a 'boiler graveyard' of sorts in the back of their shop.

So far I've had to replace the ignition relight, the flame sensor (mercury switch), high limit, and thermal fuse. The circulator isn't sounding wonderful anymore...the list goes on. So I'm working on a plan for a new boiler. I did perform a heat loss using SlantFins iPhone app, and arrived at approximately 82000 btu with a design day temp of -20f. And this winter we've been seeing that quite a bit.

This measurement includes the renovated 3rd floor which at this point is both unoccupied and thus unheated...there are two bedrooms up there, each with an electric baseboard. We have only turned them on to verify that they do indeed work.

I am missing one radiator -- the bathroom. Typical old house tiny bathroom, they removed it to regain some floor space. I do have a radiator that should fit (from a friends renovation), and the pipes are there, just capped off.

I guess I'm curious...what are the better -- and cost conscious -- boilers out there? Ideally I would like to use an indirect hot water tank as well. Or at least have the option to add it in the future. Initially I wanted to do a PEX home run system to each rad, but that won't be possible for now. The pipes seem to be in good shape, and are all exposed in the house. The main trunks in the basement start at 3" and neck down a size at each takeoff. All the rads are then fed in the end by either 3/4" or 1" pipe (I think it's steel? Iron?)

I know that the boiler itself is a minor part of the equation compared to the actual installation. I know of a few companies in town, and having seen boilers installed by most of them, am a little leery...I have yet to see a boiler bypass installed on a single 80-85% boiler in this town. Including my own. And I have never seen a boiler piped primary/secondary (after reading about this, it just seems brilliant!). So knowing that makes me very nervous about hiring any of them.

So what shall I do? Triangle Tube? WM Ultra? Not worry about ultra high efficiency and stick with a cast iron heat exchanger? Outdoor reset? I just don't want to have someone come give me an estimate and say "we've installed a BILLION of these" as their justification. Ideally I'd love to do it myself but I don't know how realistic that is given the scope of the work. The person(s) that installed my current boiler did it on the cheap, as there are NO shutoff valves, isolation valves, gauges, etc...I'm shocked that they spent the effort to cut and thread pipe for the new supply and return to the boiler and didn't just use copper.

Sorry for the extremely long post and open-ended questions...you folks know your stuff and I have the utmost respect for the folks that have been doing this for so long. Knowing what I know now, I may have chosen a different career path 15 years ago. Any ideas, experiences, knowledge, or advice offered will be extremely appreciated.

Thanks in advance....



  • Weezbo
    Weezbo Member Posts: 6,232
    i have time to recall seeing you here ,

    so , i suppose you know the drill lol

    Any Pics of the near boiler piping as is..

    because with what you have said,

    you would like to get the basic H down one time clearly .

    *~//: )
  • SWEI
    SWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    You are smart

    to take the bull by the horns.  Have you made any envelope improvements?  Do you plan to?  With -20ºF design temps the ROI should be very attractive.

    With existing cast iron radiation, I would lean strongly towards a properly sized and installed fire-tube mod/con running on outdoor reset.
  • Drewser
    Drewser Member Posts: 34
    Envelope etc

    Weezbo: I shall work on the pictures for you this evening, should I get a few minutes away from the kids (mom's working this evening so dad's on duty).

    SWEI: Slowly working on envelope improvements. I have restored all the storm windows on the smaller leaded glass windows (I'd like to keep them), and all the larger windows have been replaced with vinyl inserts with the counterweight hollows insulated. My 3rd floor acts as a wonderful 'buffer' zone as we don't heat it (no ice dams since we've lived here, all the neighbors have them). When the previous owners finished the 3rd floor they insulated very well.

    As for the exterior walls, I have no idea. I suspect there is blown in insulation in them....the house had lap siding originally, and there are areas which show the trademark 2" plugged holes. However, that siding has now been covered over with fiber-cement siding (in decent shape). They are still the original plaster/lath on the interior, about 3/4" thick and in decent shape. I had a hard time figuring an R value for them.

    All the rooms on the first and second floors have 9 foot ceilings, plaster that has been covered over with furring strips and some type of 12"x12" tiles.

    I will re-run the heat loss calculation with different info as many times as I need to, as I find it interesting to see what affects what, and how much.

    Honestly, the house doesn't seem drafty or overly cold, and the heating bills are lower than our previous home (that we rented for 5 years with forced air). I have a special place in my heart for these old places. I grew up across town in an 1886 house that still had its coal boiler (albeit with oil burner) until 2001. My mother still lives there. Gorgeous house.

    Interesting I have yet to find a residential steam system in town. I'd love to see one in person. Though we do have district steam heat for the university and business district.