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Replacement Boiler

Roscoe57 Member Posts: 2
edited October 2018 in THE MAIN WALL
In buying an old new-to-us home, we're buying in to a boiler replacement for radiator heat. I've been a gas furnace guy for 40 plus years, so this is will be a first time thing and it seems more complicated from the outside. Accordingly, I'm hoping to learn somewhere (here?) how to understand and evaluate what to look for in assessing proposals.

Current unit looks to be a standard WeilMclain iron from 15 to 20 years ago and has a number of issues requiring non-incidental maintenance, but the chimney vent will especially need repair and upgrade. Seems worth a look at the whole thing as a replacement 'cause it is a fix-or-replace decision.

Number one, I'm very impressed that no matter what, a professional installation is essential to satisfaction and wonder on the "review" sites where negatives mostly dominate, whether the issue is DIY (and limited to zero prior experience) rather than the unit receiving the complaints. FWIW, folks with positive experiences don't seem to write these things because they're not upset enough to look for information they can act on. So my guess is that self-selection is key, and instead of looking at the negatives, I look to see if there are any positives. Ain't many, but more than zero is good.

Number two, since a number of the higher efficiency units currently made seem to have some expensive replacement parts, I'm wondering whether higher efficiency tech is really worth the squeeze? Over-all economics for lower cost may not be driven by fuel so much as the rest of the system's design. As an example, current building codes required recent replacement of a gas water heater with electric (vent requirements) and despite prejudices, frankly the annual difference in fuel cost is negligible. So the bloom is off the rose for one dimensional view of these things.

Number three I'll admit to confusion between the boiler tech of iron, steel and aluminum. Do I care? Should I care? And what is the durability? Combustion boilers? Wall hung? Whatever. Folks seem to complain about everything - especially the control panels and their burnouts. I'm also confused as to whether or not combustion boilers are worth the squeeze. Frankly, I don't care as much about AFUE and all the rest (oh I do mentally) as I do about the over-all average annual operating cost over a 10-year future period. Combine a boiler and a water heater, you ought to have a decent package.

All I want is a care free, reliable unit that will be cleanly installed and serve us for a long time with low to reasonable cost and easy control, easy service, etc. I'm willing to look at anything. But having had a tankless water heater only to discover no one will service it, I don't want to find myself stuck up another backwater with a sort of unit that suppliers and service folks run from. Though settlement is still a few weeks away on the new place, I've spoken with one well-regarded contractor about Utica and Energy Kinetics (lines he carries). Don't know much about either though I've looked at their websites. Will talk to a few others, and am hoping to learn here, too. Open to any and all advice. Thank you!


  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,377
    You really didn't give much info about what you currently have. Is it oil, propane or natural gas? What kind of radiators do you have: baseboards, cast iron or convectors?

    The best thing that you can do is find a COMPETENT hydronic contractor and follow his advice. The contractor is 98% of the equation and good hydronic ones are few and far between.

    Click on the contractor locator above and see if there's one near you.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
  • Roscoe57
    Roscoe57 Member Posts: 2
    Thank you. I have natural gas with cast iron radiators. Yes I agree with the vital importance of a good installer/contractor. The hard part is listening to determine whether you've really got a live one, or just manny-moe-and-jack.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,415
    Roscoe57 said:

    ...The hard part is listening to determine whether you've really got a live one, or just manny-moe-and-jack.

    So true. But most of the folks who are on here in the "Find a Contractor" tab are at least very competent, and the majority are excellent -- and they all know what they don't know, which is often rather important.

    On the boiler choice -- the modern high end mod/con boilers are very reliable (fortunately -- when something breaks, it's not cheap). However, they may not be worth the extra money over a modern, but non-condensing cast iron boiler (the difference is in the peak efficiency they can achieve). A competent installer can evaluate your house and radiation, and give you a very good idea as to whether a mod/con really will be able to condense enough of the time to give the higher efficiency that condensing can provide. That is really the key to the thing, because if they can't condense their efficiency is no better than a good quality cast iron boiler, so you'd not be helping either the environment -- or your wallet.

    There are ways to combine a heating boiler and domestic hot water. A "combi" unit, however, is rarely the best approach, as they are often oversized for the heating load in order to provide adequate hot water. Again, a competent contractor can help with that.

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • nicholas bonham-carter
    nicholas bonham-carter Member Posts: 8,578
    In preparation for this, download the SlantFin heatloss app, and get your room by room heatloss-btu needs in hand for the sizing of the boiler, no matter which make/type you will eventually choose.
    The advantage of the mod-con boiler is:
    1. Built in outdoor reset, which adjusts the loop temperature to the needs of the structure for the outdoor temperature at the moment.
    2. The ability of the burner system to modulate down when only a small amount of heat is needed.
    Cast iron boilers can have the ODR added, but not usually the modulation.—NBC