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Am I probably looking at a new boiler?

Flyboy015 Member Posts: 4
Hello! I just found out that my natural gas bill for the month of March was absolutely atrocious. December, January and February weren't far behind. The gas services a larger hot water heater as well, and a range. We cook a fair bit between my wife and I.

The boiler system that came with the house when we bought it 3 years ago is a Burnham Holiday; from what I've read it's a reliable and durable boiler. The panel has a Water BTU/Hr rating of 120,000 and Input and Output BTU/Hr of 200,000 and 160,000 respectively. There's two circulator pumps, one for each zone. An expansion tank that's nearly rotted out (going to replace very soon), a much older gas valve that seems ok. I recently installed a new thermocouple myself because the pilot wouldn't stay lit- and that has been fine since. I also removed the lower tray and cleaned out the cast iron gas jets last summer- a lot of dirt/rust/debris was in there! In addition, as I can see the entire collection of gas jets, I adjust the main line every so often to get a soft, blue flame. But to be honest, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with the air vents for each burner. I have them open a little less than mid-way.

I don't think the system has been professionally inspected/serviced in a very long time. That’s where I’m headed at this point with it- but I’d like to know what to expect going into it as well.

Functionally, the loop for our first floor doesn’t seem all that good. I have the “aquastat” set for nominal 180 degrees and the overtemp at 200 degrees, but in the several times this winter I peeked at the temp gage, it registered around 145-160, never above that. The boiler must run constantly to maintain our drafty old house at a balmy 67- I don’t think the system is currently able to heat it to 68 unless outside temperature is 40 degrees or greater. The upstairs loop seems fine; but we hardly ever run it. It seems the downstairs more or less heats the whole house. However- I think I should mention that our upstairs is carpeted, and also has siding installed on the exterior. The first floor is brick exterior with horsehair plaster interior walls- and nothing in between- and hardwood flooring. Newly installed windows (white plastic-type frame) throughout the house, but I think a lot of the rest is working against me.

I’m trying to get myself more comfortable with the idea of having to buy a new boiler/furnace. In the meantime, I’ll have a professional inspect the entire system.

Could my boiler be scaled up inside, and this is preventing it from working efficiently? Could my rotted expansion tank be contributing to my problem? (That’s probably a stupid question). The house was originally built with a fireplace and chimney which may have been functional when the boiler and baseboard radiators were installed (but aren’t now)…would that factor into the size of the boiler? Or should it have been sized as the only source of heat for the whole house regardless of any other heating sources?

Your advice, tips, help or general anecdotes are greatly appreciated.


  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,443
    edited April 2019
    Having the boiler and system looked at professionally is a good start.
    You don't say how old the boiler is. You mention the windows are new. Are they energy efficient? Have you considered insulating your drafty home as you call it?
    If the boiler and system is not that old you should first look into insulating your home and look into how efficient the windows are.

    When the contractor comes over to look over the system. Ask to have a heat loss calculation done. With the results of the heat loss calculation you will be more educated as how to make your decisions.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 21,105
    The very first thing to do is to get a really competent technician out there, with the necessary test instruments and the knowledge to use them, to thoroughly clean the boiler and adjust the burners. You boiler has a nominal efficiency of 80% -- but I'd be surprised if, as a lack of service and the adjustment of the burners it was running at much better than 60%.

    Then... you or the same tech. can evaluate how much radiation you have installed and running, and from that what the heat output will be at various water temperatures and flow rates. It may be that some changes to flow rate and temperature settings can improve the ability to heat the place a lot.

    On insulation and such. It will help, of course, if you can. But insulating brick/plaster cavity walls is very difficult to do right. Draughts, however, are another matter, and you should work on sealing them where and as you can. The white plastic frame type windows are, frankly, no better than the original windows in a house of that style --- and quite possibly worse. You should evaluate how bad they really are, and investigate storm windows for them.

    I wouldn't think of a new boiler until you get the one you have working well. Then you can determine the actual heating load (there are a number of calculators for that -- Slant/Fin has a good one) and compare that to what the boiler -- and radiation -- can do.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Flyboy015
    Flyboy015 Member Posts: 4
    Intplm. said:

    Having the boiler and system looked at professionally is a good start.
    You don't say how old the boiler is.

    The only indication I have for a date is an old service sticker on the front panel, dated July 1976.

    Lots of good info, though, thank you both!
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,988
    @Flyboy015 , where are you located? We might know someone in your area.

    Whoever you get must have a digital combustion analyzer, and use it to tune the burners. You cannot do it by eye and expect proper combustion- even if the flame is blue. Oh, the stories I could tell about that.................
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Flyboy015
    Flyboy015 Member Posts: 4
    Steamhead said:

    @Flyboy015 , where are you located? We might know someone in your area.

    Whoever you get must have a digital combustion analyzer, and use it to tune the burners. You cannot do it by eye and expect proper combustion- even if the flame is blue. Oh, the stories I could tell about that.................

    I'm located in North-Central Pennsylvania, near Williamsport. And I have read elsewhere on the forum here about combustion analyzers, and why they are as important as you say.

    Does anyone think the 180-degree setpoint and 160-ish boiler temp is a red flag? The temperature gage would be on the water out (supply to the system) not the return side, right?

    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,025
    I believe the Burnham Holiday was last made 50+ years ago.
  • Jon_blaney
    Jon_blaney Member Posts: 304
    I think you need to turn on the second floor zone and leave it on. If the thermostat is set low, push it up. The second floor is sucking off a lot of the heat delivered to the first floor. You are only using half of your system. You have to get all of the house mass warm and keep it that way.
  • Flyboy015
    Flyboy015 Member Posts: 4
    I appreciate everyone's help. If you're ready to travel through time...the more I read/see, the more I believe this may be the most ancient home heating system in Pennsylvania!

    Two zone pumps, one obviously much older, which supplies the upstairs loop, and has a tiny leak of either lubricating oil or water...


    What I'm sure is an ancient, but hopefully fairly safe gas valve:

    The boiler panel housing all circuitry...two right most boxes contain old, large relays for either zone pump;

    These old "Thrush" Flow Control Valves which I'm still not fully understanding the function(s) of; nor why one was capped off (a branch off for a third seasonal zone?

    And that brings us to the rotted 'n rusted expansion tank, which as I said earlier, I will be replacing soon.

  • Intplm.
    Intplm. Member Posts: 1,443
    Try not to wait for the next heating season to come. Get a competent service company there to help with this soon.
    And I agree with @Jon_blaney about turning the second floor on. That should help with some of your issues.