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Old Boiler (probably 1980’s)(oil) VS New Central Air

Help... not sure what to do. First we have an old house that is somewhat “leaky,” and we are working on that.

Trying to figure out if we should keep the old boiler until it breaks, or upgrade to central air.

The boiler is old and it does both heat and hot water. My house is crazy dusty all the time, and a lot of the time, the air in the house feels the same as the outside. We are using over 900 gallons of oil a year. We use window air conditioners in the summer. Our electric bill is anywhere between 140-180 a month.

I need to figure out a more cost effective way to heat and cool this house.

We got some estimates for central air, and they are anywhere from 12,000-19,000. We don’t have any duct work.
My husband is thinking he can do it hisself... but I’m not sure I want him to.
We need to make sure it’s right. He does a lot of great things for us, but it doesn’t come without trial and error a lot of time for us. I really don’t want to go through that with such an investment.

We have an old rancher, approx 1600sq ft. With a full basement and an attic. The estimates we got are all for putting the system in the attic.

Thoughts, suggestions??

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,977
    As a quick first comment -- we don't talk price here; it is simply too widely variable for the various regions we come from and work in...

    That said. Is your present heat hot water or steam? Not that it makes all that much difference. Assuming here that the present heating is at least vaguely even -- no outrageously cold or warm rooms -- the biggest bang for your buck on heating is going to be two fold: first, upgrade the envelope as much as practical. Good storm windows, for instance (if, by chance, you decide you have to have new windows, keep in mind that only the very top of the line modern windows -- pricey -- will equal good storm windows and fixed up older windows). Insulation -- particularly roof or attic and around the sills in the basement. That sort of thing. Then, the second step will be a new boiler, whether it's steam or hot water. You will almost certainly gain efficiency and lower fuel use; if you have hot water heat and get the new boiler sized and installed correctly (a big if) the gain could be quite substantial.

    Now... central air. A well designed central air system is nice to have. This is not as easy as it sounds, however, particularly if there is some thought of using a reversible system which can provide both heat and cooling. The system has to be carefully sized to the loads (tighten up your envelope first, as above) and the duct work has to be well thought out. In your situation, with both an accessible basement and an accessible attic, installing the necessary ducting won't be too disruptive, but honestly unless your husband is experienced in installing duct work, it isn't what I would regard as a do-it-yourself project, nor is selecting and sizing the appropriate unit or units to do the cooling and heating. Pure air conditioning is somewhat less difficult -- but still not in what I think of as a do-it-yourself project.

    Regarding the dust, simply tightening the envelope may help considerably. A central air conditioning system can do wonders -- but again only if it, and its filters, are carefully designed and installed with dust removal in mind. Further, the filters in particular do require faithful maintenance.

    Bottom line -- I would suggest that you tighten up the envelope, replace the boiler with a modern unit properly sized to the structure (sizing is different for steam and hot water), and consider central air only, rather than forced air (heat pump) heating and cooling.

    But that's me. Others may differ...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    charlenebareErin Holohan HaskellGrallert
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,350

    As a quick first comment -- we don't talk price here; it is simply too widely variable for the various regions we come from and work in...

    That said. Is your present heat hot water or steam? Not that it makes all that much difference. Assuming here that the present heating is at least vaguely even -- no outrageously cold or warm rooms -- the biggest bang for your buck on heating is going to be two fold: first, upgrade the envelope as much as practical. Good storm windows, for instance (if, by chance, you decide you have to have new windows, keep in mind that only the very top of the line modern windows -- pricey -- will equal good storm windows and fixed up older windows). Insulation -- particularly roof or attic and around the sills in the basement. That sort of thing. Then, the second step will be a new boiler, whether it's steam or hot water. You will almost certainly gain efficiency and lower fuel use; if you have hot water heat and get the new boiler sized and installed correctly (a big if) the gain could be quite substantial.

    Now... central air. A well designed central air system is nice to have. This is not as easy as it sounds, however, particularly if there is some thought of using a reversible system which can provide both heat and cooling. The system has to be carefully sized to the loads (tighten up your envelope first, as above) and the duct work has to be well thought out. In your situation, with both an accessible basement and an accessible attic, installing the necessary ducting won't be too disruptive, but honestly unless your husband is experienced in installing duct work, it isn't what I would regard as a do-it-yourself project, nor is selecting and sizing the appropriate unit or units to do the cooling and heating. Pure air conditioning is somewhat less difficult -- but still not in what I think of as a do-it-yourself project.

    Regarding the dust, simply tightening the envelope may help considerably. A central air conditioning system can do wonders -- but again only if it, and its filters, are carefully designed and installed with dust removal in mind. Further, the filters in particular do require faithful maintenance.

    Bottom line -- I would suggest that you tighten up the envelope, replace the boiler with a modern unit properly sized to the structure (sizing is different for steam and hot water), and consider central air only, rather than forced air (heat pump) heating and cooling.

    But that's me. Others may differ...

    This.

    @charlenebare , where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,597
    @Jamie Hall gives excellent advise. Can you post some pics of the existing boiler and the connected piping? Not too close.
    If the basement is unfinished, its possible the A/C air handler can be installed there rather than the attic.
    If budget is a big concern, (I'm gonna catch hell for even mentioning this) you can look into a high efficiency oil warm air furnace with A/C attached. It's kind of killing 2 birds. With a high SEER/EER heat pump you also have the option of 2 stage heating. Stage 1 with be the heat pump (basically the A/C system running backwards to provide heat). Stage 2 will be the furnace. An outdoor sensor or differential in the thermostat will make the change between stages 1 and 2 automatic. I would highly recommend a quality steam humidifier and air cleaner as warm air heat can be very dry.
    A UV light or ionization generator will decrease dust and allergens substantially.
    With that approach, the water heater needs to be addressed. An oil fired, electric, or wall hung tankless electric water heater are options.
    Is natural gas available?
    charlenebare
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,024
    I agree with @Jamie Hall

    1st step is tighten up the house. Your husband can probably do some of this. Insulation, windows, doors etc.

    Check with your state and local government and utilities for rebates and home energy audits.

    2d step After that is done an accurate heat loss and heat gain (not a guess by some contractor). With the house tightened up you boiler and AC can be smaller which will save $ and with a tight house energy bills will drop.

    3d step is a new boiler. Depending on where you are located the boiler runs 9 months a year the AC only a couple of months. Do the boiler first and

    4th step is AC. Window units are ok but Central air is more efficient.

    Ductless Splits are a good option for some homes and require no ductwork
  • charlenebare
    charlenebare Member Posts: 6
    @Steamhead

    We are in Gettysburg, pa.
  • charlenebare
    charlenebare Member Posts: 6
    @Jamie Hall

    Thank you for the information. I certainly agree with you on the DIY part of this. We’ve take on a lot to save money, but this is one project I think we should leave to the professionals.

    I don’t really think we can afford to replace all of our windows right now. As much as I’d love to, we can’t afford that. We are going to have spray insulation put in the attic, as we currently have like R8 or something close to it. (House was built in 1979) And we need to seal around some windows and the doors. That’s the best we can do as far as tightening up the envelope for now.

    I realize prices are all different everywhere. I’m not looking for prices. Just trying to figure out the best way to reduce my costs.
  • charlenebare
    charlenebare Member Posts: 6
    So, curious... no one thinks getting rid of the boiler all together is a good idea?
  • charlenebare
    charlenebare Member Posts: 6
    @HVACNUT

    The reason for the install in the attic, is we were told we’d save money that way.

    Plus we hope to one day finish the basement. The basement ceiling isn’t very tall. With putting the duct work in the basement, it would create bulk heads and a much lower ceiling. My husband is 5’8”, he would bump his head on the bulk heads. Not the most ideal situation.

    Gas is not an option in our area. I wish it was.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 18,977

    So, curious... no one thinks getting rid of the boiler all together is a good idea?

    Probably not. The reasoning is this: you already have a perfectly good heating system -- pipes and radiation and all of that. That's a pretty big investment. Your boiler, however, though I'm sure it's served well, is getting on for forty years old, and boilers are much more efficient now than they were then. You haven't clarified whether this is steam or hot water. If it's steam heat, you can -- easily -- get up to 85% efficiency from the boiler, if it is properly sized and installed. With hot water, you can get up to 95% most of the year -- again, if it is properly sized and installed. While a new boiler isn't cheap, it's nowhere near the expense of a heat pump and the associated ducting plus the disruption of installation and tearing out the old system. With a very good -- and pricey -- heat pump, you might reduce your overall energy bill below a properly done new boiler. A little. But not, in general, enough, to pay for the difference in purchase and installation.

    Central air -- or better, as has been suggested, minisplits -- can easily be installed in the attic; the heat pump only option would need basement ducting as well, to really do the job comfortably.

    On windows. As I mentioned, I'm not a big fan of replacing windows. I am a big fan of making sure the existing windows are reasonably tight and close properly -- and purchasing quality storm windows. It's cheaper and does just as good a job, unless you go with absolutely top end replacement windows.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    charlenebare
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 12,882
    I installed Central air in my house and have steam for heat.

    Id never consider using the forced air system for heat. That's simply uncivilized.
    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
    charlenebareErin Holohan Haskell
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 4,597
    edited May 2019
    That boiler is not from the 80's. It's a Burnham V8, cast iron, wet base boiler. It needs some TLC but it's not something you need to rush to replace. It's not the greatest boiler in the world but it will hold you over for a while. If it hasn't been done recently, a complete tune up and vacuum should be done along with a combustion analysis and smoke test. The Tech should leave a printout of the results with you.
    On top of the jacket near the flue pipe (careful, hot) the labels should show model and manufacture date.
    So, a nice new high efficiency A/C system in the attic for now and sock away for new windows, insulation, and down the road, a new heating system.
    When you're shopping A/C contractors, pay attention to the SEER rating. The higher the rating, the more energy efficient. The more efficient systems are more $$.
    And of course if you have any concerns regarding the A/C equipment options, or any other questions, check back here and we can help any way we can.
    Grallert
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,451
    A nice efficient oil system,an EK or triple pass and mini-split heat pumps
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    STEVEusaPA
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 15,350

    So, curious... no one thinks getting rid of the boiler all together is a good idea?

    That is correct. What you have is a hot-water system. No forced-air system can ever match the comfort a hot-water system offers.

    If someone tells you to tear out that hot-water system, throw them out of your house.

    What I'd do first is change the method of producing your domestic (faucet) hot water. The present tankless coil requires the boiler to stay hot all the time, which is horribly inefficient. An indirect tank is the solution here, and can be used with your present boiler. This way, the burner only fires when something is actually calling for heat.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    GrallertSTEVEusaPA
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,024
    @charlenebare

    What @Robert O'Brien said is the correct approach. You will not be happy with warm air heat. Keep the boiler for now. Get some prices and budget for it's eventual replacement.

    It looks like some rust and corrosion around the tankless hot water heater or the operating aquastat. I would have this addressed before it turns into a big deal....certainly befor next winter. Have a COMPETANT technician take care of this and adjust and clean the boiler....continue on tightening up the house.