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Replacing current steam heating system with a mini split system in 3 family building

cpgacpga Posts: 3Member
edited July 2016 in THE MAIN WALL
Hi everyone,

I recently purchased a condo in a 3-family building and along with the other homeowners, have been trying to figure out what the best heating option would be to replace our current (~15 year old) steam heating system. We have talked to several HVAC professionals who for the most part have suggested we remove the current system and install about 5 mini split units per condo. The suggested condensing unit would be a 42,000 BTU one. We live in Massachusetts so we do experience some very cold winters. Has anyone gone through a similar situation? What do you recommend?
Also, what are the findings in regards to cost efficiency after installation?

Thanks in advance for any advice!
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Comments

  • ratioratio Posts: 1,569Member
    Why does the steam system need replaced?
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member
    edited July 2016
    You need to know the brand and model and how low it will heat down to, Mass has a varied climate and parts of it get as cold as Canada.

    They also need to do a real load calculation and you need to see it done, that includes measuring all exterior doors and windows, not a "yeah we done a few of these, they takes a dis one" type of calculation.

    For instance this product data sheet (below) gives you the specs- Heating Operating Range: -4° - 75° F (w/ Drain Pan Heater)

    if you experience below -4F it's not going to work.

    Steam isn't so bad, you could certainly save energy by having these do the cooling and the heating until below 20 or so.

    http://daikincomfort.com/media/pdfs/spec_sheets/SS-MXS.pdf
  • FredFred Posts: 6,600Member
    Why do away with the steam? It is about the best heat you can have.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 8,535Member
    Removing the steam system will be a very serious mistake, although I'm not surprised that your HVAC professionals recommend doing so -- they don't understand it and they're scared of it. You may want to get someone experienced in steam to tune the system up, however. There are a number of good men working in Massachusetts, depending on where you are.

    There would be no harm, however, to installing the mini-splits in addition to it, to provide air conditioning and some warmth in the shoulder months. They won't be as comfortable, and they won't save you enough to pay for themselves, but that may not matter to you.

    As @GreenGene notes, many of them won't work at all on the nights that it gets below -4F, and they won't work efficiently at much below freezing. It does get a bit chilly in MA from time to time, and you do want to be able to stay warm on those nights...
    Jamie



    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
  • cpgacpga Posts: 3Member
    Fred said:

    Why do away with the steam? It is about the best heat you can have.

    The current system has been giving everyone a hard time, requiring lots of maintenance and tune ups. The first floor unit is usually overheated, while the third floor people do not get enough heat.
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Posts: 774Member
    There are relatively easy and inexpensive ways to balance steam heating distribution. You just need to get a competent steam Pro on board
  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,813Member
    Before you pull the trigger understand what using mini-splits year round will entail when it comes to maintenance. The mini-splits will probably have to be cleaned twice a year and it's not a simple job. The evaporators are very fine finned and they plug up easily if you don't keep them clean the performance drops off rapidly. You have to flush the inside units out with a cleaning solution, vacuuming won't do it.

    If you end up with 15 mini-splits it will cost a LOT because it takes time to take them apart and rig something to catch the solution so it doesn't go all over the place when you flush out the coil and fan unit. Ask that contractor how much he will charge to clean all of those units and get it in writing.

    It sounds like you need a good steam man, I've been in this house for 35 years and only had to pay to get the boiler fixed ONCE. I did have the boiler replaced but I replace air vents and such myself. A properly operating steam system is very reliable.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 3,521Member
    Where are you located? We may be able to recommend a good steam contractor to give you a proper evaluation. It sounds like you are dealing with contractors that don't know what they are doing with your system.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    The mini-split guys want to spend a lot more of your money. Once de-knuckleheaded, steam systems are the best you can get. Don't fall for their sales pitches.

    There are plenty of good Steam Men in MA. Go here to find one:

    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/state/MA
    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.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • cpgacpga Posts: 3Member
    KC_Jones said:

    Where are you located? We may be able to recommend a good steam contractor to give you a proper evaluation. It sounds like you are dealing with contractors that don't know what they are doing with your system.

    I am in the Brookline area.

    Thanks!
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 8,535Member
    Try Charles @Charlie from wmass -- I think he gets that far east on occasion. There's someone else in the area, too, but I can't recall offhand who it is.

    The problems you have been having with the system in the past, though, are all simple fixes, and not at all expensive, even if there are things which need to be replaced.
    Jamie



    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
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 9,059Member
    The only reason they want to remove the system is they have no clue what to do with it and removing it will be highly profitable for them.

    That's my opinion based on the information provided.


    Charles will treat you right, call him.
    If he says it needs to be torn out, only then will I believe it.
    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
  • MikeMike Posts: 85Member
    The company I work for in nj, did a couple of homes with mini splits. The manufacture told us no secondary heat source was needed. The home owner weren't very happy when the outdoor temp dipped into the 20s. And the system went into defrost. The defrost cycle is happens when the the outdoor unit has frost or ice buildup, reverses the flow of refrigerant making the indoor units blow cold air into the areas your trying to heat. The cycle only lasts a few minutes, but can happen fairly frequently. If you're going to convert, have a second source of heat . Or as Jamie said, fix the steam heat making it the primary, and use the mini splits as backup. You won't be disappointed
  • JackJack Posts: 1,029Member
    I've done a couple ten thousand of these types of apt/condo conversions with Rinnai Energysavers. Simple, quick, effective & durable.
    https://rinnai.us/direct-vent-wall-furnace
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 9,059Member
    20,000 conversions is an awful lot.
    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
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    Let's work this out. Say you work in the business for 40 years, as some of us have. Multiply 40 times 365 and you get 14,600 days. Excluding weekends and holidays leaves roughly 8,342 working days in that 40-year period.

    That's nowhere near enough time to do a "couple ten thousand" conversions.
    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.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,587Member
    And when did that appliance come on the market here.....10-15 years ago? That improves your daily installation rate by a large margin.
  • FredFred Posts: 6,600Member
    It makes it easy if you have a crew of at least 2 or 3.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 9,059Member
    Fred said:

    It makes it easy if you have a crew of at least 2 or 3.

    It's easy to do 20,000 conversions with 2 or 3 people in 10 years?

    Fred FredBurger. :)
    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
  • SWEISWEI Posts: 7,356Member
    Could be numerous contractors involved, give that Jack was a Rinnai rep.
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    edited July 2016
    SWEI said:

    Could be numerous contractors involved, give that Jack was a Rinnai rep.

    But that's not what he posted:
    Jack said:

    I've done a couple ten thousand of these types of apt/condo conversions with Rinnai Energysavers.

    "I've" says he did them all himself.

    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.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • FredFred Posts: 6,600Member
    ChrisJ said:

    Fred said:

    It makes it easy if you have a crew of at least 2 or 3.

    It's easy to do 20,000 conversions with 2 or 3 people in 10 years?

    Fred FredBurger. :)
    It was suppose to be sarcasm, @ChrisJ :)
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 4,587Member
    edited July 2016
    Concerning the "Jack Attack", how many Jacks are there here?

    This morning I clicked on his name in the post and found someone who was in the business since 1964 or so. years ago he talked about the reluctance to be the only Rinnai installer on the wall etc.

    This afternoon I do the same thing and get a different person, possibly a homeowner with different postings.

    Did it again on another Jack posting and seem to maybe come up with another????

    How many Jacks are there??

    If he is a Rinnai rep then I guess he could claim that "we" have installed a lot of these. IMO
  • FredFred Posts: 6,600Member
    There's a "Jack" for all Trades, @JUGHNE :)
  • JackJack Posts: 1,029Member
    Steamhead said:

    Let's work this out. Say you work in the business for 40 years, as some of us have. Multiply 40 times 365 and you get 14,600 days. Excluding weekends and holidays leaves roughly 8,342 working days in that 40-year period.

    That's nowhere near enough time to do a "couple ten thousand" conversions.

    :blush: I did not contract those installs. I was the Rep for Rinnai at the time and a tremendous amount of electric conversions and other installs were done across New England beginning in '91 when the Energysavers were introduced. I was closely involved in the design, sizing, etc on many of those projects for 20+ yrs. There are still on average 10,000 units sold per year in that six state area 25 years later, so probably 220-230k units total. It is a great heating product. I've always felt that it is the perfect solution for one or two or five or ten units per year for every contractor and is ideal in the OP circumstances. The fact is, steam heat is great when it is right, but finding the "right" steam guy is becoming more and more difficult. My apologies for misleading you!
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,301Member
    edited July 2016
    Wouldn't be the first time we've called out something that didn't look right.

    One previous time was when someone posted that a certain insurance company charged more to insure a building with steam heat. That was debunked with a 5-minute phone call to said insurance company. When we called him out, he made some personal attacks and Dan deleted the thread, but not before a copy was saved for possible future reference.

    We take the quality of the information on the Wall very, very seriously.
    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.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • JackJack Posts: 1,029Member
    Yeah, I know. I've been here a long time! I just went back and read my post. I'm perfectly comfortable with its accuracy and presentation.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    Please just call me at 413.841.6726
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • Timothy77Timothy77 Posts: 15Member
    I agree 100%. I bought a house awhile ago a old colonial home with a one pipe steam system.The sellers not knowing I knew anything about steam. Said the whole system had to be replaced they had several contractors in the area tell them so. Turned out the system just needed some TLC. I had it running great. Only point I'm trying to make is in my opinion 90% of the steam systems out there have been put to rest for no reason.
  • ChrisJChrisJ Posts: 9,059Member

    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
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member
    This you might enjoy, true story I wrote in Oil Heating mag years ago, just part of it.

    Muddy Waters

    No, I’m not talking about the blues legend McKinley Morganfield, also known as Muddy Waters, I’m talking about a different kind of blues. The “look what they did to my steam boiler blues”.

    I’m talking about the muddy water in your customers steam systems, what it does to efficiency and safety, why it shouldn’t be there and getting rid of it. I want to tell you about one of the worst boilers I have ever seen, one that had been “maintained” yearly and in the last year of it’s life had many service calls for the same problem. It was a crime.

    The Crime

    I was an H.V.A.C.R Instructor at the time and my boss, friend, co-conspirator and Dept. Head Dennis Silvestri and I were cleaning up after the day’s classes, when in walked an old friend of ours who was having trouble with his steam boiler and wanted to pick our brains. “Pick away” we said.

    He said he was becoming concerned because his oil company had been out several times to clean and /or change his Pressuretrol, it kept hanging up in the open position after a cycle, so in desperation he wired a switch around it to get heat. Dennis and I looked at each other like two cats that just saw a dog, “You WHAT?” we cried in unison. “You can’t do that, it’s a safety device to keep the pressure from going too high, you could lose your boiler or your house”. He thought we were exaggerating so rather than argue the point and, being concerned for his safety, we drove to his house to check it out.

    Upon entering the crime scene we could not believe what we were seeing, in fact, we just kept walking around the boiler adding to the list of “discrepancies”. It got so interesting I called my dad, who was also a friend of his and also worked in the HVACR field. I said, “ Dad you have to come here and see this and help us convince him how dangerous this is”, because at this point he still did not believe the two of us.

    The Victim

    The grocery list: A circa 1950 steam boiler dating from when the house was built. It was full of mud, it was so full of mud it was red, the “water” had the consistency of spaghetti sauce, the glass gauge was solid, the mud was going up into the pressuretrol, (which was screwed into the top of the boiler with no pig tail), and jamming it, which now had a switch wired around it. It had no low water cut off, no auto feed, no Hartford Loop, the returns had leaked in the floor so new copper ones were run overhead that sagged in the middle, it had the original pressure relief valve, someone installed a flame retention burner years ago but left the old stack relay which had no safety, oh yeah, and the oil tank was leaking.


    Then I noticed they had a new electric water heater in place of the old aquabooster, which had fed off the steam boilers coil. He said he “got tired of replacing the circulators because the impellers were melting off”. Dennis and I looked at each other again across the dimly lit cellar, more than one crime was committed here. “Melting impellers?????” Then I thought it through for a minute. This steam boiler is so full of mud it’s been super heating the water in a vain attempt to make steam and melted the impellers because cartridge circulators are generally rated for 240°F. So I asked him if it made noises when running. “ Oh yeah, it bangs and shakes but it heats good, upstairs is warm”. “Bangs and shakes you say? Has the company offered to repair or replace this?” I asked.
    “ No, they said steam is “no good” and they want to put in a new boiler with baseboard”. Here we go again, people not properly maintaining customers equipment because they do not understand it so they put it down. Steam isn’t “no good”; the way this boiler was treated was “no good”. So many things are running through my mind at this point like- “why would you keep replacing a mud filled pressuretrol on a boiler filled with mud without cleaning the boiler?” I could not believe this boiler had not leveled the house, I think the mud kept the water from flashing off or they were just lucky. The amount of BTU’s the burner had to add to the mud to get any steam in the radiators must have been staggering, clean water boils at 212°F at sea level, muddy water does not, the temperature will rise and rise trying to get the latent heat to make a change of state; depending on the amount of dirt in the water, heat is a form of energy and it was being stored in the mud. We red tagged it after the three of us finally convinced him of the dangers.
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member
    oh and the company my dad was selling equipment for picked up the account and installed a NEW STEAM BOILER AND OIL TANK AND REPAIRED THE PIPING!!!

    imagine that
  • SWEISWEI Posts: 7,356Member
    What was the oil usage like before and after the replacement?
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member
    edited July 2016
    Honestly don't know but it had to drop, never saw anything like that, I remember standing there looking at a pile of 006's with melted impellers and I mean GONE, not disfigured, completely gone.

    I remember telling him " if you're not worried about it worry about the neighbors, you might kill them too"
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    I never use 00 circs on steam. They cavitate and flash to steam if they do not get piped with a tempering bypass loop.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member
    Never saw that happen off a coil or an indirect, hmm.
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    Never use a cartridge circ on an open system, it is in the manual for the circs. I will find the page if you need me to.
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
  • AMservicesAMservices Posts: 382Member
    I love ductless systems and have installed thousands of them, but any time some asked me to install them as the only heat source I say "NOT happening"
    I flat out refuse because know that as many ductless heads I put inside, the out door units will inevitably fail when the outdoor temperature drops below its operating range.
    Even if you have the best of the best heat pump system installed you will still be in danger and it will hit you when your most venerable.
    But if you take the time to read and learn why steam is the best heating system, you will see what the people here are saying.
    What ever guidance your receiving is miss leading, uneducated in steam heating and is simply following the trend of ripping out old steam systems because it's though to be obsolete and inefficient.
    Don't be a lamb getting dragged into heating hell.
    Go ductless for air conditioning, get the right contractor that can explain how to balance the steam distribution and undo all the wrong that's been done and please, no more talk about replacing the greatest gift that home has to give.

    KEEP STEAM!
  • GreenGeneGreenGene Posts: 290Member

    Never use a cartridge circ on an open system, it is in the manual for the circs. I will find the page if you need me to.

    it's not an open system, boiler had a domestic coil
  • Charlie from wmassCharlie from wmass Posts: 3,967Member
    edited July 2016
    Reading is fundamental. Okay I read it now. Carry on. Lol
    Cost is what you spend , value is what you get.

    cell # 413-841-6726
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/charles-garrity-plumbing-and-heating
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