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Advice on renovating an oil steam heat system

pixelpusherpixelpusher Member Posts: 11
Hi HeatingHelp - New first time homeowner here looking for advice on what our options might be for our home. We have a natural gas water heater that'll be 10 years old this year and may need to be replaced soon - no leaks yet but we've had this recommendation from our home inspector. Our Peerless steam boiler has an oil burner and our inspector also recommended replacing the oil tank as it's patched and showing some rust on the outside. Given that we'll need to replace both the water heater and the oil tank soon we were considering switching from oil to natural gas and possibly replacing the boiler as well. Long story short we're overwhelmed by the options!

Our plumber's recommendation was to convert the system to hot water, but after reading a few posts on here and Dan Holohan's book it seems like that might not be the best option. Can we convert to gas and keep our steam heat? Does it make sense to:
  • install a new water heater and keep keep our boiler while converting the burner,
  • switch to a combi unit
  • or install a new water heater and a separate new boiler
  • replace our oil tank and water heater and keep everything else as is?
An extra complication is that we live in Westchester county, NY which is currently under a moratorium for expanding natural gas so we would need to keep our usage within our current meter limit. Any and all advice is greatly appreciated and please let me know if I should provide any additional info. I've included some photos of our equipment below.








Comments

  • PerryHolzmanPerryHolzman Member Posts: 118
    Replacing a boiler is typically a fairly costly job. We don't discuss prices on here for various reasons so I will say no more. Get a quote for that if you have any doubts.

    A general rule is that there is no reason to replace a boiler until it has real problems. It's rarely economical to do so.

    You might benefit from finding someone who really knows steam to check out your boiler. There are likely some real experts on this forum near enough to you. They might suggest minor repairs or changes to improve its operation.

    I'd suggest that you just replace the oil tank this summer. That will be a fraction of the price of boiler - and it sounds like you will need to stay on oil anyway. So that cost is the same regardless.

    Replace the water heater when its due with another water heater.

    Hopefully years from now (and perhaps not in your time in the house) the boiler will need replacing.

    Perry
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,145
    Stick with steam. Fwiw, boiler is quite poorly piped.
  • STEAM DOCTORSTEAM DOCTOR Member Posts: 1,145
    edited April 7
    You can contact peerless with serial number and they can tell you age of boiler. Just in case you are interested
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 13,775

    Stick with steam. Fwiw, boiler is quite poorly piped.

    This. On both counts.
    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
    mattmia2
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 6,950
    @pixelpusher

    First thing is to check "find a contractor" on this site there are several in NY. Don't let anyone change the boiler without measuring the radiators.....that's the only way to size a steam boiler. You need a steam expert.

    Stay with steam. You may be able to convert you existing boiler to gas. Age and condition will determine this. The fact that it is piped wrong is a strike against keeping it.......is it worth repiping and converting?............probably not.
    ted_p
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,725

    Stick with steam. Fwiw, boiler is quite poorly piped.

    Yup. On several counts. You may indeed need to replace the boiler at some point, but while that is expensive, it's about the same expense as converting to hot water so far as the boiler is concerned (a boiler is a boiler is a boiler...) -- and the expense, difficulty, and practicality of converting the rest of the system to hot water is simply outrageous. Besides which, steam is just as comfortable and, piped and adjusted correctly, just as efficient.

    Replace the oil tank. That's no big deal, provided it hasn't leaked yet. Do not even think of switching to gas -- it will be years, if not decades, before you get enough increased gas supply in Westchester County to do that.

    I'd just replace the water heater with a new one, size for size, if you are happy with the hot water supply. That's no big deal, either.

    As others have said, there are a number of really good steam men who service Westchester County. Check the "Find a Contractor" tab.
    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
  • pecmsgpecmsg Member Posts: 1,393
    Home inspectors are about as Worthless as Building inspectors. If they knew what there doing they'd be in the trade!

    Where is this home located.
    Agreed Keep the steam, & the near boiler piping need attention.
    that boiler properly set up runs about 86% an new boiler runs about the same. Converting to NG is fine but you'll never recoup your investment.
    High efficiency water heater is an option but again will you recover the return on investment?
    mattmia2
  • HVACNUTHVACNUT Member Posts: 3,282
    That Peerless JOT pre 1983 for sure.

    A new Mega Steam (oil fired of course) would be the way to go.

    Normally I would suggest installing an indirect water heater at the same time, but I'm not sure if that's cost effective. Would you save $ by keeping the gas water heater and letting the boiler go cold in the summer? That's too much math for me.
  • pixelpusherpixelpusher Member Posts: 11
    Thanks for all of the helpful comments. I've started reaching out to some contractors listed in NY/NJ - thanks for the tip.

    A few of mentioned the boiler is poorly piped - what are the consequences of that? Is that something I should ask a contractor to evaluate?

    @Jamie Hall - The plumber we'd been speaking to mentioned a gas conversion would be possible as long as we stay within our current load. Does that sound wrong to you? Thinking he might not be the guy to go with...

    @pecmsg - We're in Westchester County, New York.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,725
    No, he's right -- you can stay within your current load. For gas. But -- heating takes fair amount of gas, and I'm not sure just how you would do that. Have to cut back somewhere else, but where?
    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
  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 6,950
    @pixelpusher

    Your gas meter is rated for 250,000 btus/hr so it's large enough for a boiler and a water heater.. Is there is a moritorium that you cannot increase your existing gas usage?? Or is it that they won't install gas service if you do not have it??
    mattmia2
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,725
    The moratorium is he cannot increase his existing gas usage -- regardless of meter size, as I understand it. So if he switches the boiler to gas, it can't exceed the existing water heater, which would have to go.

    Stick with the oil.
    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
    SuperTech
  • Hap_HazzardHap_Hazzard Member Posts: 2,263
    edited April 8

    The moratorium is he cannot increase his existing gas usage -- regardless of meter size, as I understand it. So if he switches the boiler to gas, it can't exceed the existing water heater, which would have to go.

    That's not how I interpreted what he said.

    An extra complication is that we live in Westchester county, NY which is currently under a moratorium for expanding natural gas so we would need to keep our usage within our current meter limit.

    He seems to be saying he can't exceed the current meter limit of 250,000 BTUH. His "existing gas usage" varies from month to month, depending on how many hot showers he and his family take, and drops to next to nothing if they go away on vacation, so it doesn't make sense to say they can't exceed a number that keeps changing.
    Just another DIYer | King of Prussia, PA

    1983(?) Peerless G-561-W-S | 3" drop header, CG400-1090, VXT-24
    ethicalpaul
  • pixelpusherpixelpusher Member Posts: 11
    We've received some conflicting information from plumbers I've spoken with. Some seem to think we'd be ok converting to gas while others think any usage increase might get us in trouble.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,725
    You could well be right, @Hap_Hazzard . For some reason I'm not a bit surprised that there might be differing opinions on what is actually meant... since it really isn't all that clear. Which is also not that surprising...
    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
    ethicalpaul
  • pecmsgpecmsg Member Posts: 1,393

    The moratorium is he cannot increase his existing gas usage -- regardless of meter size, as I understand it. So if he switches the boiler to gas, it can't exceed the existing water heater, which would have to go.

    That's not how I interpreted what he said.

    An extra complication is that we live in Westchester county, NY which is currently under a moratorium for expanding natural gas so we would need to keep our usage within our current meter limit.

    He seems to be saying he can't exceed the current meter limit of 250,000 BTUH. His "existing gas usage" varies from month to month, depending on how many hot showers he and his family take, and drops to next to nothing if they go away on vacation, so it doesn't make sense to say they can't exceed a number that keeps changing.
    They'll know when over a few months in the winter the average usage went up substancelly. When they inspect an lock the meter then what?
  • New England SteamWorksNew England SteamWorks Member Posts: 1,352
    Replace the oil tank and water heater now. Your boiler will not die a sudden death. Eventually it will corrode through and leak steam. When that happens replace it with a MegaSteam. All set. Gas east of PA is going to be perilous until the NIMBY folks relent...


    New England SteamWorks
    Service, Installation, & Restoration of Steam Heating Systems
    newenglandsteamworks.com
  • dopey27177dopey27177 Member Posts: 286
    Gas conversion is doable.

    There gas burners available that will fire the natural gas flame just like an oil burner.

    Call Con ed about the conversion.

    They have a unit that sells boiler and burner insurance. hat unit is fully capable of doing your conversion.

    Jake
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 1,435
    During these unusual times there's hope that higher authority will tell local dictators to put their arbitrary rules you know where. If the gas company lets you install a gas burner then a gas restriction becomes a health problem. Too bad dual fuel is unavailable in domestic sizes.
  • pecmsgpecmsg Member Posts: 1,393

    Gas conversion is doable.

    There gas burners available that will fire the natural gas flame just like an oil burner.

    Call Con ed about the conversion.

    They have a unit that sells boiler and burner insurance. hat unit is fully capable of doing your conversion.

    Jake

    Only if the local supplier allows it!
  • pixelpusherpixelpusher Member Posts: 11
    @dopey27177 Do you have any advice on how to get in touch with the right people at ConEd? I've called a couple times and been told any increase in our gas usage could end up with them turning off our gas access.
  • Jamie HallJamie Hall Member Posts: 12,725

    @dopey27177 Do you have any advice on how to get in touch with the right people at ConEd? I've called a couple times and been told any increase in our gas usage could end up with them turning off our gas access.

    This is New York, right? The ConEd people are telling you a straight story on the gas usage, and talking with them isn't going to do any good. There is a complete moratorium on increasing usage.
    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
  • PerryHolzmanPerryHolzman Member Posts: 118
    Folks: Restrictions like this exist because the existing gas pipelines to supply the area are maxed out. Additional or replacement larger pipelines don't get the needed permits - often because of NIMBY's who protest them being built.

    It can and does cause real issues for homeowners and industry. They cannot expand use of natural gas (or whatever the resource).

    Electric utilities can have similar issues with base transmission and even distribution lines.

    Many years ago an approximate 50 year old degraded 69 kV transmission line to move power to a city replacement project was on hold for years (planned upgrade was to 115 kV) in a south eastern US state. The Utility thought that they finally had approval and ordered all the poles and wire for it - only to be stopped by another lawsuit saying that they had missed a detail in one of their environmental impact statements.

    3 years later (still hung up in court) a hurican took down almost all of the transmission and most of the distribution lines in the area (including over 80% of that 69 kV transmission line as the poles were old and weak).

    Thousands of Utility workers from other states showed up to help rebuild the area (which is typical).

    Since the Utility had the design, poles and wiring in storage for the new 115 kV replacement line... they just used what they had and built the new line and a medium size city had power restored with that new line.

    Another lawsuit was filed about that. At that point the judge dismissed the original lawsuit and the new one as "moot."

    Unfortunately, sometimes that is what it takes to get new larger capacity utility supply lines built.

    My guess is that this area of NY will not get additional or larger gas lines until the existing ones fail (shutting down industry and resulting in cold homes for a month or more).

    Until then, Believe the Utility that you cannot increase the gas usage. Replacing an oil boiler with a gas boiler will only result in the entire house gas service being shut off until you replace the new gas boiler with an fuel boiler.

    Unfortunate; but, there just is not more gas available in the area at this time to allow expanded usage.

    Have a great day,

    Perry
  • pixelpusherpixelpusher Member Posts: 11
    Thanks for the insights @Jamie Hall and @PerryHolzman
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