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Heating Boiler Suggestions - Oil vs Propane

JME81
JME81 Member Posts: 3
I know that this question is asked a lot but I still struggle with the decision.

We have an oil boiler (hot water baseboard) right now; it will need to be replaced in the near future (I'm assuming, let's just assume that it's a new install for now). I live in Maine, spend anywhere from $2,000 - $2,500 annually on oil and while I'm looking to take shorter showers and improve on other areas, I'd LIKE to get that down even more. We have a gas range and dryer.

I've been reading pro's and con's of both oil and propane (no natural gas available) and they both have their pros. I know that oil has more BTU per gallon but the furnace is less efficient.

What I'm looking for:
  • Lower or the same annual heating cost
  • Long lasting furnace
  • Efficient
I've talked with people that swear by oil and then some that swear by propane. I've always had oil but if there's a better option I am willing to use it.

Let's assume that I am starting with a new house with no boiler... :smile:

Thank you in advance for your insight,

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,439
    It's more complicated than you might think.

    First off, yes oil has more BTU per gallon that LP. Thus, to make any kind of useful comparison you need to be considering the cost per BTU, not the cost per gallon.

    Second, on efficiency. There are "high efficiency" LP boilers -- but they need to be part of a system which can use them. This means that you need to have a reasonably accurate heat loss calculation for each room as well as the whole house, and also the amount of baseboard, to determine the temperature at which the boiler will be able to operate. If there isn't enough baseboard to operate at low temperatures, then the efficiency of a "high efficiency" boiler is no better than a conventional boiler, either oil or gas.

    By far the most cost-efficient way to lower the heating bill is to make sure that your house is as well insulated as possible -- good windows (and storms), insulation if and where possible, draughts sealed up -- that sort of thing.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    STEVEusaPASolid_Fuel_Manvibert_cCanucker
  • JME81
    JME81 Member Posts: 3
    I agree, the home needs to be buttoned up. It's a Canadian built modular home with good windows and good insulation from what I can tell. It's just an old oil boiler, about 26 years old.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,439
    Almost anything will be an improvement... 26 is getting on for a boiler!

    The worst place for infiltration in a modular is where the foundation and the building join. Sometimes good draught stops were put in there. Sometimes not so much... worth checking.

    Perhaps the biggest consideration -- since it probably doesn't really have enough baseboard -- is, oddly, the fuel tank. Is your oil tank in a basement? If it isn't, then really cold weather can be a problem, unless the oil is treated to flow in the cold. It's also a problem for LP -- but if you have a big enough tank, you should be alright on that.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,969
    edited March 2019
    I wouldn't switch to propane...ever. Modern non-condensing oil boilers in the 87-90% range, and ease of troubleshooting/repairing, vs. a mod/con with propane for a few more percentage points (if you keep it condensing), also needs annual maintenance, plus the wilder price swings and availability issues of propane...not for me
    steve
    SuperTech
  • bob eck
    bob eck Member Posts: 930
    Take a look at the Trio cast iron boiler from F W Webb.
    This boiler can be fired with a oil burner or LP gas burner.
    Put the Trio cast iron boiler with a good indirect water heater and with proper maintenance the Trio boiler will last 25 - 40 years.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gaD_Nz2dGY&feature=share

    http://www.pureproproducts.com/htg/trio_boilers.html


  • SuperTech
    SuperTech Member Posts: 1,854
    I have a customer who has replaced a cast iron oil fired boiler with a LP condensing Buderus boiler and she said she never spent so much money to heat her house then she did after she switched to LP. It's all about the cost of fuel.

    I wouldn't switch from oil unless it was for natural gas.

    Mod cons don't have the lifespan of traditional boilers and can be expensive to maintain in comparison.

    Energy kinetics system 2000 can be switched from oil to gas by changing the burners as well. I would definitely go with that or a well designed three pass boiler.
    HVACNUT
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,542
    edited March 2019
    I too live in Maine. I work on all sorts of boilers oil and LP.

    I bought my own propane tank, now I am not tied to one supplier (who's name is on the tank). I bought LP for 60% less PER BTU than oil could be purchased. I too have a gas dryer and range and thu use around 50gals per year in my personal household. I also like that I got some heated space back when I removed my oil tank.

    FWIW: ASME propane tanks are essentially forever tanks. There are many still in service that were made in the 1960s. I bought a 500 gallon tank made in 1980. Blasted it and triple epoxy painted it (my labor) and had last than 1/2 the cost of a new tank. I would have bought a 1000 gallon tank if I could have found one used.

    Maine has a $500 rabate on high efficiency boilers and that paid for my first tank of propane and some.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • Keifer301
    Keifer301 Member Posts: 7
    Definitely high efficiently propane for me, especially since you already have propane fired equipment in your house now but do a fuel cost comparison first.
    You could install a combination boiler/water heater and do both your house heating and domestic hot water in one vessel. Saves you having to purchase a water heater in a few years.
    My recommendations would be to make sure you find the best & most reputable "open minded" heating contractor in your area and listen to their advice as they will be servicing your boiler in years to come.
    IBC is impressing me!
    http://www.usa.ibcboiler.com/ibc-products/dc-series/
    Loving the fact to be known as an old timer and seeing the changes I have seen.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,439
    Ah... well, some folks aren't really keen on combis, as it is rare to find a situation where the size required for the domestic hot water side is reasonably close to the size for the heating. Sometimes you get lucky. There's a good deal to be said for a properly installed indirect tank for domestic hot water.

    That said it is pointless to do any speculating about which boiler or which fuel to use until you get an accurate heat loss done.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • Keifer301
    Keifer301 Member Posts: 7
    Sorry, no harm intended but disagree on your comments for sizing combi boilers.
    Modulating gas valves have changed the heating industry, especially in residential needs and especially if used with outdoor sensors. No more "where the size required for the domestic hot water side is reasonably close to the size for the heating".
    Domestic hot water btu needed is easy to calculate for combo sizing.
    Or if your needs warrant, modulating fired boiler with an indirect water heater for storage.
    Loving the fact to be known as an old timer and seeing the changes I have seen.
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 18,195
    Keifer301 said:

    Sorry, no harm intended but disagree on your comments for sizing combi boilers.
    Modulating gas valves have changed the heating industry, especially in residential needs and especially if used with outdoor sensors. No more "where the size required for the domestic hot water side is reasonably close to the size for the heating".
    Domestic hot water btu needed is easy to calculate for combo sizing.
    Or if your needs warrant, modulating fired boiler with an indirect water heater for storage.

    Agree with this!

    I have 3 combi boilers on my property, one is going on 16 years old. It is all about how you apply them, like any other product. Avoid micro zoning, use all the control functions like ramp delay, output limiting, etc. Add a small buffer if you must.

    Actually the WH side of Combis does a lot more on/ off cycling than the heating side, my experience shows they can handle that condition for many years.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Alan Welch
    Alan Welch Member Posts: 255
    I second the opinion of getting an estimate for installing a System 2000. They typically cut your oil consumption by at least 1/3, will be noticeably quieter , give you plenty of hot water,and they have a proven track record.
  • TAG
    TAG Member Posts: 738
    edited March 2019
    Being a serial remodeler of old buildings and living mostly in the mid-atlantic --- old buildings years ago w/ radiators and oil seemed to go together. None survived after my work when NG was available -- First on my list was a quality CI boiler fired with NG. But, when NG was not a possible I normally did go with another oil fired boiler.

    My current project in PA is a gut rehab and addition to an old stone building. I'm doing a propane condensing for many reasons -- obviously no NG. Also, no space for an oil burner or flue .. and the house will not have any high temp radiation. It's also spray foamed with 52K heat load.

    I can't see how a propane switch is going to save you much on fuel with only around 1k gallons of oil used a year. NG would be a different matter. Also, the cost of installing a larger tank and the boiler is going to be much more expensive vs a simple switch out of your current boiler -- indirect DHW w/ boiler is a no brainer.

    There will be the ongoing cost of service to the oil burner -- but the condensing boilers are nothing like the "no maintenance" atmospheric NG boilers of past times.

    On demand and combi boilers I guess work when the house is properly planned out ... but they always seem to be "so so" when retrofitted. I have an "on demand" at my beach house for the outdoor shower ... works great in that application.

    I did twin Buderus oil boilers at my place in Chestnut Hill PA -- no NG on my street -- I used ODR and it was old style radiators and baseboard in the newer addition .... ODR worked great on those boilers.
  • DZoro
    DZoro Member Posts: 1,048
    I have nothing against oil, 80% gas, condensing boilers, or combi's. Every system needs maintenance, period. Oil must be done annually. Every region is different pricing on fuels. In my area gas will save people a ton compared to oil. There is a online calculator that is awesome. You can put in your costs, efficiency of each fuel and see for yourself what is best for you.

    Combis on this site seem to get a bad rap about maintenance. I understand that, but when installed and set up properly they are a great machine. I have been installing combi's for 19 years. First ones were horrible, I believe it was about 2004 Triangle Tube came out with a fire tube design, and has changed the industry. I know I have some out there that I haven't touched since and are operating perfectly. Although not recommended. It's a good proven design, but needs to be treated/installed properly or you will have a piece of junk. That can be said with anything, but these are a very precise machine and needs to be treated so.
    Nowadays we install Lochinvar Noble boilers, or combi's. fantastic products.
    Everyone's situation is different, your installer is the key to this. He must know his boiler and flue analyzer very well. That is the key to any proper boiler installation.
    Good luck
    Denny

  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,542
    What part of Maine are you located? I'm in Northern Maine and have only 2 real suppliers of propane, but 4 companies who deliver it. Owning my LP tank has opened me up to all 4 companies and I can shop. The real cost of LP is cents a gallon....the dollars they charge are to cover their tanks and install costs.

    Oil is much more competitive, meaning there is not a lot of margin in the price. Everyone owns their own oil tanks so the markup isn't there.

    All of this makes for LP having the ability to be MUCH cheaper than oil, but only if you hold some cards other than annual consumption. The tank is your big card in that game.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
  • Gordy
    Gordy Member Posts: 9,537
    Biggest thing when choosing fuels is market volatility. NG, and electric is most stable. Oil, and LP is the least stable.

    Some are strapped to delivered, and stored fossil fuels because infrastructure is not in place for NG.

    Use this link, and plug into the calculator the fuel cost in your region.

    https://www.efficiencymaine.com/at-home/home-energy-savings-program/heating-cost-comparison/

    Electricity rates can be effected by fossil fuel costs depending on what the grid is using to generate electricity in your region.
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,116
    I have herd the same thing about propane. You have to own your own tank.
    Solid_Fuel_Man
  • Leonard
    Leonard Member Posts: 903
    edited March 2019
    FUEL COSTS ---PROPANE

    My cousin heated with propane, told me what he paid per gallon. I ran BTU numbers and calculated he was paying equivalent of ~ $4.25/gallon for oil. I paid $2.65 /gal for oil last week. And he price shopped . (He now heats with wood furnace in garage, likes it)

    With propane you must own your tank or only propane company that owns it will fill it. That basically means they can charge anything they want.

    In practice if you want to buy from another propane supplier they will buy tank from original company, but as was said there are not many competitors, so not much downward pricing pressure. And I doubt they will be interested if you want to swap suppliers on next fillup when price increases.

    --------------------------
    BTW my drier died and I found I can easily dry clothes outside year round, takes 24 hours in winter. Relative humidity wants to be lower than ~ 85%, 50-60 % is great, 0 degs is better than 30degs.

    Drier likely doesn't consume much fuel , but it does pump a LOT of warm $$conditioned air outside as you run it for an hour a load. House always seemed to be cool and too dry after drier ran.

    I use NOAA forecast for upcoming relative humidity. https://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=42.995&lon=-71.455&unit=0&lg=english&FcstType=graphical
  • JME81
    JME81 Member Posts: 3
    edited March 2019
    I live in central Maine, near Bangor. I appreciate the replies here and am going to re-read all the make sure that I take it all in.

    The house has hot water baseboard heaters and the current furnace is venting up through a chimney. It also has a boilermate blue tank.

    Our current oil supplier also services our boiler, we've known him personally for 20 years and do trust him. As far as as installing a new oil burner he had suggested Buderus if I did want to go with Oil. He doesn't have much experience with Propane but does sell the gas.

    How would I buy a tank?
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,116
    Google "Maine Heating Solutions" South Portland. They can install and own tank or you can own tank.
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,542
    Talk to him about propane and the pricing of it if they own the tank, and if you buy the tank from them. Also what it would cost to buy the tank from them. Most companies will set a new tank for you and sell it to you, then you can make an informed decision of how long it will take to pay off the tank with lower pricing. Also ask if they sell used tanks.
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!