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honest question, steam or furnace?

pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
so long story short, the installer of my boiler was an idiot, and now I'm paying for his stupidness.

the boiler I have is 238,000 BTUs, and my house in all honesty is like 112,000 BTUs. so my understanding is that i am just wasting gas and possibly short cycling.

so I'm in an impasse where I need to make a decision.

I'll be honest, I love steam heat. i would love to keep it but i need to replace my boiler, change the piping (since its like 50 years old and tons of rust everywhere) and i need to solve the air conditioning situation, (mini split/spacepak)

so i have the option to change it to a good old fashion furnace, which would have the AC and heat part.

the main question I have for you guys, would you recommend continuing with steam heat and replace all the pipes? (my house is mostly in studs now, so I have the chance to do this) (I have a few radiators that are in bad shape that needs replacing as well)

or do you recommend just go with furnace?

the issue is 1.) boiler install, replace pipe + space pak or mini split = 2 new furnace.

going with furnace just means any cookie cutter furnace guy can take a look and possibly fix, and since its so popular it will make the house "modern" or whatever. and 10 year warranty.

going with steam, I would need to replace the pipes and get a new boiler and get a space pak or a mini split air conditioning system. (the knock on steam is simple, finding good boiler guys are hard to find, the real good ones are all dead.) maybe a few years of warranty.

can i get an honest answer as to which i should go with? PS the steam system is the best when it comes to comfortable heat. i love it, but since my first installer was such a douche, now I have to rethink about what i should be doing.

any help would be appreciated. i know you all love steam, but i need to know what u guys think one should do. thanks

Comments

  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 13,564Member
    Keep the steam and use mini-duct or mini-split for A/C. Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/all-steamed-up-inc
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    im in chicago, so you still believe in steam still, are there options for radiators? cause i have like a few that are just in bad shape and none of them are the same.

    as far as I understand, the boilers will lost for a long long time but it all depends on who the installers are.

    (is the mini duct the space pak?)
  • mattmia2mattmia2 Posts: 817Member
    There are lots of people doing a poor job of installing forced air as well. Poorly installed forced air usually sort of works, but it won't be even or comfortable.

    Mini split AC with heat pump and hot water is an option if your steam is so bad it all needs to be repiped, but i doubt it is actually that bad.
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    edited February 9
    i live in chicago, so mini split with heat pump wont work, since chicago can get ridiculously cold (see polar vortex last year)

    its just the piping is all rusting and the previous owner never took care of anything, so i was thinking repiping would be a good idea. rather go through that now, while the walls are all open rather than wait until dry wall is done and then i see a leak coming from one of the pipes in the future due to the rust.
  • CanuckerCanucker Posts: 580Member
    I don't think @mattmia2 is suggesting that you only use a heat pump, just that a heat pump for shoulder season and a hot water boiler for anything colder would be the way to go, IF your steam system is in that bad a shape. Which I doubt that the supply pipe and radiators are bad enough to replace. The boiler and the wet returns, maybe. Can you post some pictures so we can get eyes on what you're looking at?
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
  • gerrytheoilmangerrytheoilman Posts: 8Member
    I agree improper install of warm air is worse, very difficult to balance 1 and 2 floors with one system then zoning it gets expensive. The only perk to warm air is you get a/c at same time I guess. If your house is down to studs and you have plenty of life left in your oversize boiler why not convert to hot water boiler? There is lots of options that way, hydro air, 80 gallon storage tank for water, radiant floor heat (which is the greatest thing since steam) and could zone every room if you got the cash flow. Look for a nerdy contractor that with talk to you about all these options get a nice heat load done. I would imagine replacing steam lines would get pretty labor intensive, but maybe make sure they do it with some good steel pipe from Us or even Canada.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 12,104Member
    There really is no good reason why the steam lines above the boiler water level should be in such bad shape that they need to be replaced. Can you post a picture or two to so we can see?

    That said, in regard to @gerrytheoilman 's comment, usually they are not reusable for hot water heat.
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • SuperTechSuperTech Posts: 1,126Member
    I think ditching the steam boiler will lower the value of the house and ruin it's historical significance. It's probably the worst thing you can do, as you already know that the cast iron radiators provide the best possible comfort.
    Forced air systems are all cheaply made for the most part. Boilers almost always last much longer. Why don't you try the find a contractor tool available on this site? Get the boiler squared away and install a mini split for the spring and fall and A/C in the summer.
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    I don't know if the people who've installed every forced air system I've seen were all idiots, but I've never seen one where it didn't require certain doors to be open and others to be closed in order to work correctly. Take for example the guest bedroom I stayed in recently at a friend's house. I woke up in the morning to find the temperature had dropped into the 50s. As I wondered what had happened, I looked around and realized that there was a single heating register, but no cold air return. The cold air return for all the rooms in this part of the house was out in the hallway, so none of these rooms get heat unless their doors are left open. I know it's hard, and requires a lot of ductwork, to put a register and a cold air return in every single room, including bathrooms, but it seems to me that doors have too many other important functions—like privacy, for instance—to be considered part of the heating system.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    BTW, my house is heated with steam, and has no air conditioning. It does have a swimming pool though, so I never really missed it. When my wife went through "the change," she insisted on getting an AC unit for the bedroom, so I got a small window unit that we only run on unusually hot nights, maybe five to seven times a year. I know not everyone has a pool or even wants one, but most houses these days are equipped with showers and/or bathtubs, which are also very effective for cooling off, and if you really need to escape the heat, cooling one room with a small AC unit is all you really need.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 6,508Member
    @pookie

    You answered your own question "PS the steam system is the best when it comes to comfortable heat. i love it"

    There are some of the best steam guys in Chicago. Check "find a contractor" on this site

  • mattmia2mattmia2 Posts: 817Member

    I know it's hard, and requires a lot of ductwork, to put a register and a cold air return in every single room, including bathrooms, but it seems to me that doors have too many other important functions—like privacy, for instance—to be considered part of the heating system.

    The code forbids returns in bathrooms and kitchens. The ones missing elsewhere was just the contractors being cheap.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Posts: 12,104Member
    mattmia2 said:

    I know it's hard, and requires a lot of ductwork, to put a register and a cold air return in every single room, including bathrooms, but it seems to me that doors have too many other important functions—like privacy, for instance—to be considered part of the heating system.

    The code forbids returns in bathrooms and kitchens. The ones missing elsewhere was just the contractors being cheap.
    Or simply practical. It is amazingly difficult to route a big enough duct to everywhere it needs to go to make an evenly balanced, quiet system. Ducts are a bit bigger than pipes...
    Br. Jamie, osb

    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England.

    Hoffman Equipped System (all original except boiler), Weil-Mclain 580, 2.75 gph Carlin, Vapourstat 0.5 -- 6.0 ounces per square inch
  • JUGHNEJUGHNE Posts: 6,522Member
    All of us here who touch steam systems deal with piping that is on average 100 years old. For me the only rotted pipe I come across is wet returns below water lines and pipes that have not been sloped to drain back to the boiler.

    You should be able to find good tear out cast iron radiators in your city. As landlords "modernize/hack" apartment buildings for separate gas metering.

    Do you have a 1 or 2 pipe system?
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member


    Or simply practical. It is amazingly difficult to route a big enough duct to everywhere it needs to go to make an evenly balanced, quiet system. Ducts are a bit bigger than pipes...

    In other words, forced air is just impractical.
    mattmia2 said:


    The code forbids returns in bathrooms and kitchens. The ones missing elsewhere was just the contractors being cheap.

    So if you don't want a cold bathroom you need to leave the door open. That sounds great.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    edited February 9
    here is the piping situation.

    https://us.v-cdn.net/5021738/uploads/editor/p5/6e4oovm01yki.jpeg

    the initial issue i had was stated here
    https://forum.heatinghelp.com/discussion/178026/steam-boiler-help-needed/p1

    piping on this unit is horrid per the comments in the above thread, i had the original guy just fix my low water cutoff and never called him again. since he literally didnt know anything and he was getting his friend to help him, who also didnt know ****. so it was clear i hired the wrong guys. but i was in a bind and they got me out of it, although horribly.
    (anyways)

    the boiler is at 238,000 BTUs and its oversized for the pipes that exists in my house.

    so now i either get a correct boiler with the correct output BTU, and the piping per thread was so bad that I was thinking maybe its worth just changing the piping to ensure it can last another 30 years and a mini duct system, or just get a new furnace.

    i believe mine is a 1 pipe system.

  • mattmia2mattmia2 Posts: 817Member
    Or undercut the door.
  • Steve MinnichSteve Minnich Posts: 2,514Member
    Keep the steam and use high velocity AC.
    PHC News Columnist
    Minnich Hydronic Consulting & Design, LLC
    https://heatinghelp.com/find-a-contractor/detail/minnich-hydronic-consulting-and-design
  • ch4manch4man Posts: 203Member


    Or simply practical. It is amazingly difficult to route a big enough duct to everywhere it needs to go to make an evenly balanced, quiet system. Ducts are a bit bigger than pipes...

    In other words, forced air is just impractical.
    mattmia2 said:


    The code forbids returns in bathrooms and kitchens. The ones missing elsewhere was just the contractors being cheap.

    So if you don't want a cold bathroom you need to leave the door open. That sounds great.
    not allowed in the kitchen due to cooking odors drawn in the return and circulated through the house.
    what odors do you think will be circulated through the house that come from a bathroom?????
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    ch4man said:


    not allowed in the kitchen due to cooking odors drawn in the return and circulated through the house.
    what odors do you think will be circulated through the house that come from a bathroom?????

    With steam, not a damn thing.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • SlamDunkSlamDunk Posts: 718Member
    Honest answer.

    Mothball the steam and put in forced air with furnace. The furnace part is inexpensive. Time and money permitting, replace boiler and near boiler pipes later.

    It is what I did.
  • gerrytheoilmangerrytheoilman Posts: 8Member
    Wonder why they didn't use a drop header its like a perfect setup for it, and I am almost positive you can covert that boiler to hot water, but I would keep the steam. You can do anything with enough money, around here its a shame but we chop out a ton of steam and replace with warm air with a/c. Even baseboard is not that popular I wish it was I find steam and radiant heat to be far superior to warm air, I got cheap when I built my house and did hydro air and its one of my many regrets I warn all customers that saving money on mechanicals is such a dumb idea.
  • gfrbrooklinegfrbrookline Posts: 601Member
    I had one section of dry return that developed a pin hole leak after 100 years, the only way I found it was a brown stain on the insulation. I think it was caused by a belly in the unsupported pipe.

    Keep the steam and go with mini split units for AC. Only use the mini split with a heat pump during buffer periods if your electric cost is less than your gas cost.
  • gfrbrooklinegfrbrookline Posts: 601Member
    Forced air give a nice burst of hot air but once it stops blowing the unit begins cooling off. With steam the radiator continues to deliver heat to the room until the cast iron cools down making it more even and comfortable.

    I also think radiators add a nice practicality as you have a place to dry your hat and gloves quickly after you are done shoveling the snow.
  • PrecaudPrecaud Posts: 162Member

    I also think radiators add a nice practicality as you have a place to dry your hat and gloves quickly after you are done shoveling the snow.

    And warm dinner plates, thaw frozen food, etc etc
    1950's Bryant boiler in a 1-pipe steam system at 7,000 ft in northern NM, where basements are rare.
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    Precaud said:

    I also think radiators add a nice practicality as you have a place to dry your hat and gloves quickly after you are done shoveling the snow.

    And warm dinner plates, thaw frozen food, etc etc
    And cats love them.

    Seriously, my older cat has taken to sleeping with her face right up against the bare radiator in our bathroom. I don't know how she can stand it.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    well I'm leaning towards steam that is for sure, but what boiler manufacturer do you recommend? my guy is offering Crown, and possibly dunkirk. what do you guys recommend? i heard slant fin galaxy? but maybe not.
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    @gfrbrookline why do you recommend mini split vs spacepak?
  • SuperTechSuperTech Posts: 1,126Member
    I recommend Peerless or Weil McLain.
  • BobCBobC Posts: 5,070Member
    @Hap_Hazzard I worked the evening shif at the post office for my last 8 years before retiring. The thermostat would go down at 1PM in the afternoon and go back up at 6AM on work days. As a result the house would be pretty chilly when I came in from work at 11:30 at night. Rather than try and bring the heat up I'd just use the old quartz heater and aim it at my chair for the hour before hitting the sack.

    As soon as I walked in the house I'd hear a thump as the old cat jumped off the bed upstairs. I'd feed the cats and settle in with a libation and watch some late night TV. After eating that 17 year old cat would sit infront of the heater with her face between the guards (prevented close placement to combustibles). After 10-15 minutes she should jump into my lap and her forehead would be burning hot - it was a wonder the fur wasn't singed.

    Bob
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • CanuckerCanucker Posts: 580Member
    > @pookeye said:
    > well I'm leaning towards steam that is for sure, but what boiler manufacturer do you recommend? my guy is offering Crown, and possibly dunkirk. what do you guys recommend? i heard slant fin galaxy? but maybe not.

    Why aren't you getting the boiler repiped properly? I would think that it would be cheaper than replacing everything, no? There's absolutely nothing wrong with the boiler you have, the installer just needs to look in the manual and follow the instructions for the piping. Even if it is oversized, there's no reason to get rid of it as the proper piping and controls can go a long way towards mitigating that.
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
  • dopey27177dopey27177 Posts: 178Member
    When you have a ducted house with no return air ducts in each room and the return is in the hallway you need to cut the bottom of the door about 11/2". The space below the door and threshold will allow circulation and privacy.
    Jake
  • ethicalpaulethicalpaul Posts: 1,441Member
    Circulation, yes. Privacy? Maybe :lol:
    1 pipe Utica 112 in Cedar Grove, NJ, 1913 coal > oil > NG
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    Aside from allowing sound to escape, it also allows light into the room if the hall light is left on for some reason. It's just foolish to make doors a part of your heating system.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
  • pookeyepookeye Posts: 14Member
    @Canucker thanks for this response, that is exactly what I plan on doing, the worst case is i pay for a more gas than i want to. the question I have is, should I change all the piping in my system, while my house is in studs? and also fix up all the piping spaghetti that I have? I have someone who will be repiping per manufacturer specs.
  • PrecaudPrecaud Posts: 162Member

    It's just foolish to make doors a part of your heating system.

    If you have a heat source in every room, perhaps it's foolish.

    But if you have one heat source, say, a woodburning stove, and want it to heat adjacent rooms, the best way to do it is to distribute it at the ceiling, and have small doors or openings up there. That's why some older homes had transoms above the doors.

    1950's Bryant boiler in a 1-pipe steam system at 7,000 ft in northern NM, where basements are rare.
  • KC_JonesKC_Jones Posts: 4,367Member
    pookeye said:

    @Canucker thanks for this response, that is exactly what I plan on doing, the worst case is i pay for a more gas than i want to. the question I have is, should I change all the piping in my system, while my house is in studs? and also fix up all the piping spaghetti that I have? I have someone who will be repiping per manufacturer specs.

    There shouldn't be any reason to replace all the pipes. Steam pipes get steam cleaned every time the boiler fires. Having seen the inside of my own 100+ year old pipes I can tell you they look like new. A very faint and light coating of rust, but nothing I would even consider worry.

    Wet returns below the boiler water line would be a different discussion, but those are all in the basement and should remain accessible in case they are ever an issue IMHO.

    Now that said, if you have sags, poor boiler piping or some combination then you may want to evaluate. First would be fix any sagging pipes and make sure pitch is good on system. Next would be fixing the boiler piping, that can cause wet steam which can cause issues in the long term.
    2014 Weil Mclain EG-40
    EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Boiler Control
    Boiler pictures updated 2/21/15
    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202744301871904.1073741828.1330391881&type=1&l=c34ad6ee78
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Posts: 2,054Member
    Precaud said:


    But if you have one heat source, say, a woodburning stove, and want it to heat adjacent rooms, the best way to do it is to distribute it at the ceiling, and have small doors or openings up there. That's why some older homes had transoms above the doors.

    That also might explain why people started keeping dogs as pets, so they could keep them warm at night without the risk of fire. Thank God steam heat made all that unnecessary. :D
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
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