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Oil more efficient for Steam Radiators in Boston?

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lenbyker9
lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
A few weeks ago, we moved into a 1890’s Victorian with steam radiators fueled with oil. Being new to both the home and oil, we were told on call to a potential estimator from an oil heating company, that oil is more efficient with a Burnham Megasteam which has 86% AFUE, where gas would only be 80-82%. Is this true?

From what I understand, the fuel type shouldn’t impact a boiler. My interest is in efficiency, reducing carbon footprint, a relatively low cost, and having a simple/long-lasting system... It seems to me that many suggest converting to gas from oil. But I was surprised by this person’s suggestion to stay with oil. (Right now our water is heated by a separate tank fueled with gas).

Also, I was wondering if it would be possible and worth it to use a tankless system for both hot water and heating a steam radiator system?

Thanks so much!

Comments

  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,781
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    Steam doesn't care if you use oil, gas, coal, wood etc.

    I like gas and don't like oil for several reasons.
    That said..... If there's one thing that would make me keep oil it would be a new well tuned Megasteam.
    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
    lenbyker9New England SteamWorksSuperTech
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,433
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    For steam, either gas or oil should be around 85% or so, give or take, provided you have a modern boiler, properly piped, and a competent tech. person who can set up the burner(s) properly.

    The Burnham Megasteam is an excellent boiler. What is in there now?

    All that said... the boiler must be properly sized with relation to the radiation, not the heat loss of the house. It must be piped correctly. It must be controlled properly. And the burner(s) have to be properly adjusted.

    May I suggest you get in touch with Ryan at New England Steam Works if you are looking for top notch service and advice on steam systems?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    Very very helpful @Jamie Hall @ChrisJ - Thank you!
    So it the AFUE % is negligible?

    How can I assure that they will properly pipe it, control it, adjust the burners, and size it according to radiation rather than heat loss of the house?

    If we switched to gas eventually, would it not require the Burnham Megasteam?

    And yes, I will reach out to Ryan at New England Steam Works! Getting all the insight we can at this point... though the actual conversion or burner replacement may not happen until closer to next winter...
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,781
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    > @lenbyker9 said:
    > Very very helpful @Jamie Hall @ChrisJ - Thank you!
    > So it the AFUE % is negligible?
    >
    > How can I assure that they will properly pipe it, control it, adjust the burners, and size it according to radiation rather than heat loss of the house?
    >
    > If we switched to gas eventually, would it not require the Burnham Megasteam?
    >
    > And yes, I will reach out to Ryan at New England Steam Works! Getting all the insight we can at this point... though the actual conversion or burner replacement may not happen until closer to next winter...

    I don't think I know Ryan but if @Charlie from wmass goes that far I know he'd pipe it correctly.
    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
    lenbyker9
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,433
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    Ryan ( @New England SteamWorks ) is sort of the north of Boston version of Charles. Or vice versa. Can't go wrong with either one of them.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    lenbyker9
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,701
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    I’m in mass but don’t travel to Boston. We all kid you not-— 9 out 10 heating plumbing guys can’t pipe a steam boiler properly. The two guys mentioned will gladly explain.

    Gas or oil- we are taking cost per btu? Gas has been cheaper for decades. But oil is just about as cheap right now. Some pros install an oil burner and mount a gas conversion burner. That way would could potentially have two fuel sources (no normal homeowner would ask for this and it’s not a simple process to swap fuels- need a pro)

    Your water heater- are you describing natural gas or LP (propane) ? LP is the bottom of the Barrell- cost per BTU is the highest
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    gary@wilsonph.com
    lenbyker9
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,891
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    Ryan ( @New England SteamWorks ) is sort of the north of Boston version of Charles. Or vice versa. Can't go wrong with either one of them.

    This.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    lenbyker9
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,883
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    Oil or gas over years are about even. You want to lower your carbon foot print…….Tighten the envelope and slow the heat traveling to the outdoors.
    ChrisJlenbyker9Canucker
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,863
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    A tankless or condensing boiler cannot be used for steam heat.

    Who says you need to do anything with the existing boiler? Can you post some pics?

    Does it have a 21st century burner?

    U.S. Boiler, the parent company of Burnham and the Mega Steam does NOT approve gas conversion burners on their boilers. Why? Who knows.

    Like @pecmsg stated, tightening the envelope will be the best way to reduce fuel consumption. And I'm sure an Ole Vic can use some tightening.

    I'll take fuel oil over nat gas or LP any day but you've got gas in the house and you'll do what you think is right for you. You might need an upgraded gas meter and new larger gas piping to handle the extra load of an added appliance.

    If I could only fire my range with oil I could get rid of my LP tanks.
    lenbyker9
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
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    Agreed that Ryan @New England SteamWorks is the Dean of Steam in SE New England.

    If you have Megasteam I believe Burnham will void your warranty if you switch to gas. It was either designed to work at the higher temperature that oil burns at or they have a deal with the heating fuel industry. I switched to gas 15 years ago and still pay less than I did this year and no smell in the basement.
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    You all are so helpful, this is great!

    It sounds like some think oil is good and gas is good. What I didn’t think of is the necessary adjustments to the existing gas pipes and hookups to accommodate a new appliance.

    Was hoping a tankless water heater could work, but sounds impossible - good to know!

    @GW - The hot water is natural gas, not propane.

    @HVACNUT i’ve included pictures of the old Burnham. Looks beyond life expectancy, though it is still working fine.





  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,891
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    Ahh, a V7. That's at least 30 years old, and has earned its retirement.

    We prefer using wet-base boilers (usually sold as oil-fired units) with power gas burners over the usual atmospheric gas boilers since their thermal efficiency can be up to 6% better. However, if that boiler is sized to the radiation, the largest MegaSteam (629 square feet EDR) may be too small. You might want to look at the Weil-McLain SGO series- these units run well with Carlin gas burners. The SGO-6 at 658 square feet is the closest match for what's there.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    lenbyker9
  • retiredguy
    retiredguy Member Posts: 915
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    I agree with just about everything the other guys said about your original question, so I can add only a few ideas of my own. Combustion wise, an oil flame will usually show a greater efficiency due to the higher carbon content of the oil, period. If you are considering changing to gas, you will have to add the cost of the gas line. Also, nat gas usually burns clean requiring less cleaning of the boiler sections. Oil is a usually a dirtier flame requiring more maintenance especially if the service tech is having a bad day.
    lenbyker9HVACNUTSTEVEusaPA
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    Steamhead said:

    Ahh, a V7. That's at least 30 years old, and has earned its retirement.

    We prefer using wet-base boilers (usually sold as oil-fired units) with power gas burners over the usual atmospheric gas boilers since their thermal efficiency can be up to 6% better. However, if that boiler is sized to the radiation, the largest MegaSteam (629 square feet EDR) may be too small. You might want to look at the Weil-McLain SGO series- these units run well with Carlin gas burners. The SGO-6 at 658 square feet is the closest match for what's there.

    Thank you @Steamhead ! What we have theorized is that perhaps this furnace was responsible for the entire building which has now been turned into 3 condos? Our first floor and half the basement that we own, however, consists of ~2100 sq. ft. though the steam radiators are only on the first floor. Could it be that we don't need something that large? We have no way of knowing though if this furnace was working for more than just our condo.
  • Canucker
    Canucker Member Posts: 722
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    If the amount of radiation that the boiler supplies is smaller than in the past, you should be able to downsize the boiler. If you do an EDR calculation of the rads it'll be attached to, that will tell you the size that the new boiler needs to be
    You can have it good, fast or cheap. Pick two
    lenbyker9
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,021
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    Since you just mentioned the building is multi-units with different owners, I ****-u-me it is a conversion. I suggest you do an inspection to find out what heat provided by your system is where, including common areas. The guys who know their stuff will tell you the heating systems for the old houses were designed for much different conditions and if the boiler serves less of the house than originally, your required boiler heating capability will be very different. It seems very likely the boiler is not the original, making the capacity determination that much more of a challenge.

    Once you know your as-is condition, you can duke it out relative to the options. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Do your due diligence and consult with the pros on this website.

    PS: Don't panic, but the way the pigtail is run is prime for clogging because it comes out of the boiler horizontally then goes down to form the loop seal. Personally, I don't like that arrangement, but it seems to be very common.
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
    Options

    Since you just mentioned the building is multi-units with different owners, I ****-u-me it is a conversion. I suggest you do an inspection to find out what heat provided by your system is where, including common areas. The guys who know their stuff will tell you the heating systems for the old houses were designed for much different conditions and if the boiler serves less of the house than originally, your required boiler heating capability will be very different. It seems very likely the boiler is not the original, making the capacity determination that much more of a challenge.

    Once you know your as-is condition, you can duke it out relative to the options. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Do your due diligence and consult with the pros on this website.

    PS: Don't panic, but the way the pigtail is run is prime for clogging because it comes out of the boiler horizontally then goes down to form the loop seal. Personally, I don't like that arrangement, but it seems to be very common.

    @SteamingatMohawk - Thanks for your insight!
    We are pretty certain that this system is only for the radiators on our first floor - the other units either have forced air or a separate system. Hoping that a smaller system will work in the future, and that we get the right system and the eventual gas conversion is a good idea. Will definitely continue to consult!

    Which part is the pigtail? I will be aware of that when the time comes to switch over!
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,781
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    lenbyker9 said:

    Since you just mentioned the building is multi-units with different owners, I ****-u-me it is a conversion. I suggest you do an inspection to find out what heat provided by your system is where, including common areas. The guys who know their stuff will tell you the heating systems for the old houses were designed for much different conditions and if the boiler serves less of the house than originally, your required boiler heating capability will be very different. It seems very likely the boiler is not the original, making the capacity determination that much more of a challenge.

    Once you know your as-is condition, you can duke it out relative to the options. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Do your due diligence and consult with the pros on this website.

    PS: Don't panic, but the way the pigtail is run is prime for clogging because it comes out of the boiler horizontally then goes down to form the loop seal. Personally, I don't like that arrangement, but it seems to be very common.

    @SteamingatMohawk - Thanks for your insight!
    We are pretty certain that this system is only for the radiators on our first floor - the other units either have forced air or a separate system. Hoping that a smaller system will work in the future, and that we get the right system and the eventual gas conversion is a good idea. Will definitely continue to consult!

    Which part is the pigtail? I will be aware of that when the time comes to switch over
    !
    It's the curly pipe under the grey box, all of which will be ripped out and replaced with the new boiler.
    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
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,701
    edited April 2020
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    I did not understand the comment about the tankless water heater, somebody said you cannot do a tankless? Is there a gas moratorium going on?

    Edit- I was under the impression you wanted to do a new fangled tankless, and ditch the old fashion tankless. The same phrase gets to use a different context
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    gary@wilsonph.com
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
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    GW said:

    I did not understand the comment about the tankless water heater, somebody said you cannot do a tankless? Is there a gas moratorium going on?



    Edit- I was under the impression you wanted to do a new fangled tankless, and ditch the old fashion tankless. The same phrase gets to use a different context

    Oh I see!! My initial comment was based on an idea about using a tankless/unlimited hot water system for the steam radiators. I don't know anything about how any of this works, so it was just an idea I was throwing around to see if something like that was possible, beneficial, and efficient.
  • SteamingatMohawk
    SteamingatMohawk Member Posts: 1,021
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    If anyone was bothered by my hyphenated word above, I sincerely apologize. That was not my intention and it won't happen again. I stand corrected.
    lenbyker9
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,701
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    Len ok then I guess I did misunderstand. Generally speaking the coil inside of the boiler is considered very old school- I did one tankless coil on a new boiler install 5 or 6 years ago, and before that it was probably another 5 or 8 years. It was a rental property, so had to be cheap. You may as well stay with your nat gas water heater, or simply update it.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    gary@wilsonph.com
    lenbyker9
  • gfrbrookline
    gfrbrookline Member Posts: 753
    edited April 2020
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    @SteamingatMohawk the issue you raised was real in my building and required some really difficult and tense conversations. It was not with steam but electric. When the building was converted 40 years ago there were several corners cut. As the units were upgraded and the knob and tube was replaced and older units started blowing circuits and couldn't find the right breaker until electricians traced them to other units boxes that is how we discovered the problem.
    lenbyker9
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
    edited April 2020
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    Hey guys! New question!
    We have two oil tanks that were used for the whole apartment before it was turned into condos. We can’t figure out which opening will fill the front tank.

    why does one tank have 3 pipes leading to it? and the front tank has one separate pipe?

    Which should be the fill up point?
    @GW
    @ChrisJ
    @Jamie Hall @Steamhead
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,701
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    That’s the classic “it used to be one fuel bill and now it’s not” trick

    There’s only one oil line leaving those tanks, heading off to the heating equipment though. So, until you correct which oil line is feeding which heating appliance, it really doesn’t matter which tank you’re filling up.

    Two of those pipes are fill pipes, and they simply connected the two vents together.The vent pipe makes a whistling sound so the truck driver knows when to stop filling.

    But to answer your question, if you can’t simply deduce which one is which by position, I would think somebody could go outside and bang on the pipe, you would feel the vibration inside.
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    gary@wilsonph.com
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,863
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    Why the need to know? Just curious or ...?

    If you only want to use one tank then the oil supply valve must be shut off on the tank not used.
    A 2" black cap should replace the Scully fill outside on the tank not used.

    Pictures skew things a little. Are those fresh stains on top of the tanks? Not good if they are.
  • lenbyker9
    lenbyker9 Member Posts: 22
    edited April 2020
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    So the technician came back and put oil in both (but not more gallons than I agreed to pay for thankfully). Not sure why he insisted on putting oil in both, but I had figured out which pipe filled the tank directly connected to our boiler. It is the front one.

    My hope now is that the back tank flows into the other and we don't need to do anything else.

    @GW - Thanks for telling me about the piping and the whistling. I am amazed how little I know.

    @HVACNUT - Can i request that they put a black cap on the outside for the back tank? That would make things simpler in the future. I am not sure how fresh the stains are... Is there a way i can find out? I will go back down and touch them to see if they are wet, but I am sure they are there from before I moved in a month ago. Also, who is responsible for preventing stains like that from happening? Would it be the oil delivery company? And would i be expected to cover costs to fix it if needed?

    You guys are the best.
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,863
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    Yes it can be capped outside. A locking Fill Box might be better just in case.

    Your place, your pipes, your cost to repair if its leaking.
    Use a degreaser and clean the tanks and piping. Poof some Baby Powder around all the pipe joints when dry. Keep an eye on them. If they get wet, then...

    If you only want to use the near tank but both tanks currently have oil on them. Close the tank valve on the near tank. Use the far tank until it runs out. Then close that valve and reopen the near tank valve. By doing this though, the burner fuel pump will need to be primed because the far tank ran dry.

    Both tanks are connected directly to your boiler because the oil lines are twinned together. I don't know what you're trying to accomplish.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,883
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    When oil hit a low fill both tanks.
    lenbyker9
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,701
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    If you fill one, the oil will simply back its way up into the “other” tank- they are connected at the bottom
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    gary@wilsonph.com
    lenbyker9