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When did natural gas start getting common for home heating systems ?

Chapstick Member Posts: 64
Hey guys, bought a new house a couple months back and when we did the inspection the inspector said he was confident the house never had oil so he suggested I save the money and forgo the tank sweep. I agreed and that was that. Well after I moved in it dawned on me that the place had an electric dryer, double oven, and rangetop. The boiler is gas and so is the hot water heater but everything else is electric. So I really started looking around for evidence of oil usage in the past and came across 2 holes in the foundation right in back of the boiler. They’re about 12” apart vertically and looked to be around a 1/2” in diameter and they’ve been patched over recently. But they are above grade oddly enough. The house was built in the mid 60’s and is located a semi rural area that used to be all farm land. Back then, I’m sure it was much more rural. Prior to my closing the house last switched hands in 2006. I ordered the OPRA and there were never any permits pulled for a fuel conversion of any kind or a tank removal/installation. I want to say I’m good but man it’s got me a little nervous. Any thoughts ?


  • sallaberry
    sallaberry Member Posts: 19
    The only thing that would worry me is if the tank wasn’t slurried. As far as a conversion not sure why you’d worry about it, you bought the home in that condition?
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    Yeah just me being a worry wart as usual. I’ve heard horror stories about leaking tanks and I really regret not having the tank sweep done. If their was oil it was certainly an above ground tank because the holes in the foundation are above grade. I have a couple elderly neighbors here that would know.
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    edited January 2019
    Oh my god those pics make me want to vomit. I repiped it and it works very well now. The install manual had several different install diagrams and I went with one that didn’t have a Hartford loop. I do regret not putting one in because it’s dumping all the sludge right into the boiler so I’m going to tear it apart and add them primarily to act as a mud leg. It looks real nice though and I’ll get some pics next time I’m over there. As far as tools, I rented the big dog 4” threader. It weighed a good 500 lbs so we didn’t even take it off the truck. I actually repiped and reconfigured an entire 2pipe steam system after I did this job. I got pretty good with steam piping. All thanks to the book and help from the forum.
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,640
    Why did you choose to not install a Hartford loop?
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    SuperTech said:

    Why did you choose to not install a Hartford loop?

    I have to assume all of his returns were dry returns and they drop to the boiler well above where a leak at that connection would completely empty the boiler. (at least that's my hope)
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,018
    Mid 60s house in a rural area would lead me to oil but it depends where your located.

    And I certainly could be and probably am wrong.

    I would search the foundation walls for patches looking for 2" diameter holes for an inside tank fill and vent or 1/2" holes through the wall to an underground tank. Also look in the floor for 1/2" or 3/8 od copper oil lines

    Perhaps you can find somebody with a metal detector to put your mind at ease

    If it's natural gas the utility company would know when gas was installed (at least they should)

    Also ask neighbors
  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    edited January 2019
    I’ll wind up hiring somebody to come by with a ground penetrating radar rig. That’s the best way to check. OPRA has no record but the house has an addition on it and there’s no record of that either so I assume they have poor record keeping here. Checked directly with the city too and they have no record either. They assume the place had gas from the beginning. There’s 2 holes that are about 1/2” diameter right at the boiler but they’re above grade. Maybe an above ground outside tank ?

  • Chapstick
    Chapstick Member Posts: 64
    And yes, all returns were a good 3 foot above the boiler so I didn’t see the purpose of the loop. Now I wish I put one in for the mud legs though.
  • Fred
    Fred Member Posts: 8,518
    @Chapstick any out buildings that may have had buried electric, maybe even in conduit, from the house box? Are you on a well? It seems strange that well lines would enter the house above grade but stranger things have happened, especially if you are in a milder climate. Maybe lines from an abandoned well?
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,640
    Those two holes sound exactly like what I usually see when a homeowner has abandoned an underground or outdoor oil tank. Definitely get it checked out, I hope for your sake that it was an above ground outdoor tank that was removed a long time ago.
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,318
    Also, I have seen in the country and in that time frame, 2 separate 1/2" copper lines brought in for LP gas.
    One for boiler/furnace and one for water heater.
    Small copper, easy to run, tees outside under regulator.
    Soft copper and flare fittings jump a lot in price once you go above the 1/2 or 5/8 OD size.

    What is the make up of the chimney?
    Clean out door might reveal evidence of oil burning in the past.
    Some oil stains on the floor might never go away.

    Buried tank would have a fill pipe that would have been unscrewed. A vent pipe also perhaps unscrewed.
    Sometimes these were brought up along the house and the 90 might be just below the grade.
    I thought one reason to bury a tank was to be able to use #2 oil.
    If lines came in above grade it seems #2 might gel?
  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,640
    The #2 does gel in the extreme cold, especially when water is in the tank. It's recommended to switch to kerosene like the mobile home units use. Outdoor tanks and#2 should be against code, so many problems...
  • Gilmorrie
    Gilmorrie Member Posts: 137
    Gas heating became common as soon as it became available in a particular area. As soon as it became available, people very quickly switched from oil or coal. Many towns in the Midwest got gas in the early or mid 1950s. Your gas company can certainly tell you when gas first came available - they keep an eye on the age of their pipes.
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,623
    Mid sixties home with steam heat? Cool.
  • VAsparky
    VAsparky Member Posts: 23
    Of historical interest, as many of you probably know: before natural gas became widely available, many utilities supplied "manufactured gas". It came in various compositions, with a variety of names - city/town gas, coal gas, producer gas, water gas - but was generally made by the distillation of coal, and had carbon monoxide as its major combustible component. Sometimes a petroleum-derived vapor was added to increase the illuminating value.

    Somewhere I have an Connecticut gas company in-house magazine from the 1950s, with an article describing how a town was converted from manufactured gas to natural gas. The cutover was done in one night, with service men going from house to house changing burner orifices and re-lighting pilots.

    When it was time to shut off the manufactured gas supply to the main and open the natural gas valve, a standpipe was attached to the far end of the main and lit to flare off the remaining manufactured gas. A change in the flame showed that the natural gas had filled the main.

    Must have been quite an interesting experience!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,476
    Depends on where you're talking about. Baltimore was one of the earliest American cities to use gas for lighting. The various utilities, which were eventually consolidated into what is now BGE, started promoting gas for cooking and heating in the 1920s as electric lighting replaced gas, but for a long time oil was cheaper per BTU than gas for heating. That changed with the Arab oil embargoes of the early 1970s.

    Since then, gas has been king. One would think the oil companies would have responded with better service, but that most definitely has not happened. With the four biggest oil suppliers in the area under the Star Gas umbrella, proper oilheat servicing has all but disappeared- unless our company services your equipment.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,018
    Before the advent of condensing gas appliances oil was more efficient than gas due to the water vapor content of gas that used btus to boil off the water vapor. New England when I started in the 70s was 80% fuel oil

    As @Steamhead mentioned the oil embargo fixed that. The early 80s was gas crazy here. If you took a pc of pipe and drilled a bunch of holes in it and called it a gas burner you could sell it

    Now condensing appliances with modulation have made gas more efficient. The new oil equipment is much better than the 1970 stuff.

    Oil was so cheap for years before the embargo that you couldn't sell new oil burners or boilers customers had no incentive to replace there old sootmakers

    When the Carlin 100crd and Beckett AF came out around 1970 we thought we had died and gone to heaven (although there were a few decent slow speed burners available)

    I started in 73 @ an oil company it was very common to work on oil burners installed in the 20s &30s

    I have been old Boston still has wooden underground gas piping still in use from the 1880s
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,257
    It is crazy to think of those old sootmakers and the huge passages and pots of mercury stack switches. The huge amounts of stack loss and inefficient combustion, but who knew? I guess when its pennies a gallon no one really cared.

    Maybe it's just my Scottish roots, but the conservative nature in me would go crazy thinking about that! But no one knew any different.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • Bob Harper
    Bob Harper Member Posts: 865
    You can thank the Arabs for all our energy consciousness. When we supported Israel during the Yom Kippur or "October War" the Arabs retaliated with OPEC choking off our oil. That lead to shortages, lines at gas pumps (odd/even days), weatherization taking off, an article in Mother Earth News instructing you how to construct a woodstove out of a 55 gal. drum, which lead to the woodstove craze and the founding the National Chimney Sweep Guild by Eva Horton to support her woodstove sales out of her B&B, which all lead to problems with homes such as condensation on windows and smoking fireplaces. Egg heads at Princeton developed the blower door to put numbers on bldg. tightness and ventilation. Soon a new discipline arose of the building scientist. We began to figure out what worked and what didn't. Congress began mandating higher efficiencies and finding new ways to control our lives. The hippies pulled out their bongos calling to save the planet and the UN saw another opportunity to take over the world in the name of "sustainability". We're now exporting fuel to the world and rice to China. All that in 45 years. Peace.
    Larry Weingarten
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