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Stay with oil or go to condensing propane?

TomTA Member Posts: 20
I'm still trying to work through the best solution for replacing my 20+ year old oil HW boiler (this saga started towards the end of last summer). I also think it's getting close to time to replace the dual oil tanks of about the same age. (those things were all old when we moved in 15 years ago). On top of that, the 208 year old chimney (about 40' from flue pipe to peak) is going to present some challenges if I try to go to an efficient triple pass oil boiler. We squeaked through this past mild winter, and I often lay awake at night listening to it run, hoping that it would hang in there.

The combination of factors has me thinking that perhaps I should go to a condensing propane boiler (natural gas not available here). That would eliminate the need for opening the can of worms that is my chimney since I can just vent it through the sidewall, and I can avoid the cost of two new oil tanks (although I still have to get rid of the old ones of course).

Is there any compelling reason to stay away from the condensing propane boiler?

I've gotten completely discouraged trying to find a contractor I can trust. The only one within a reasonable distance that's listed on this site is not taking new customers. The larger local firms send out guys who aren't techs; their sole job is to quote jobs, based entirely on what's already installed. Not a single one of them has expressed the least curiosity about the size of house, ceiling heights, insulation, windows, etc.; all those things that go into the heat loss calculation. I swear one guy was 18 years old, and he quoted me a price on the spot based solely on the size of the existing boiler. I think all they have in mind is using a sawzall to cut out the existing unit, and replacing it in exactly the same configuration. I don't mind paying good money for competent work, but after seeing horror stories of some professional installations you realize you can't assume that everyone is able to do good work, even if they charge top dollar. (an experienced person can do a far better job in far less time than I could, and I could use my time doing what I do best; it's that whole division of labor thing).


  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,270
    It's basically a money thing. There's much to be said for both a good oil boiler -- and a good propane boiler.


    You are going to have to sit down and do your sums. The cost variables for the two are quite different, and involve both capital costs (the boiler itself, the chimney if you go with oil -- although that may not be as much of a nightmare as you might think), replacing the oil tanks or the cost of the new propane tanks -- etc. And then running costs -- mostly the actual cost of the fuel and maintenance costs.

    You'll need to get reliable numbers -- or at least good estimates -- on all of those, and then see where you land.

    Then do try to find someone competent to do the job, even if you have to pay to have someone come from some distance.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,569
    This spreadsheet will help sort out the energy costs.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,821
    Is anything wrong with the chimney that a stainless-steel liner won't fix?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 3,110
    edited June 2020
    Why condensing why not get the chimney lined and go w a low maintance cast iron boiler that will not eat up its fuel saving w maintaince costs and a most likely replacement in 13 to 15 years on boiler that is installed properly set up and maintained yearly. There s nothing wrong w staying low tech ,lower maintance systems . Find yourself a contractor who will evaluate your existing heat system and emitter to see if there is anything to gain w a condensing boiler or will you be running it at non condensing temps which only gains you modulation on a new condensing boiler . There is a lot to consider when the time comes to replacing a water based heating system w either a new condensing modulating boiler over a standard cast iron boiler . Another thing to consider is that you will need a propane tank large enough to to supply proper operation for your new system some suppliers will only double up on small tanks and anything as large as a 300 gallon tanks usually have to be purchased and not leased through the propane co which means your not totally tied into one supplier but u may be on your own for service . What type of heat emitter does your home have and has anyone done a heat lose or a edr on the radiators you have . Your best bet is is weight it all out and do as much research on what you have and what your looking to accomplish . If you not apt to go to deep you could get another wet based oil fired boiler and just do a oil to gas gun conversion at a later date and get rid of the oil tanks ,a big plus in my book is that a wet based gun fired boiler can be tuned better then a atmospheric boiler just food for thought as there’s always more then one way to skin a cat or as applies to you update a heating plant . Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,270
    I'm with @clammy and @Steamhead on this one...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,057
    IMO, the type of emitters your house has should be a consideration, as stated above.
    If baseboard and you have to run at higher temps then the condensing advantage of the LP Mod Con boiler will not be fully utilized......it will not achieve the high 90%+ claimed.

    If cast iron, and extra radiation was originally installed, as is often the case, then you can run at lower temps and the Mod Con is more favorable.

    But a not so major repair on a Mod Con will wipe out any efficiency savings quickly.
    And is there someone close who is familiar with those?

    What are the neighbors doing for heat?
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,510
    I agree with @JUGHNE

    What have your neighbors done/doing? Where are you located?

    You can call a propane Co and ask them for a price on a tank install for starters. Typically they will install the tanks and pipe them to the outside wall of the building. You heating contractor can take if from their.

    As far as a heat loss you can do your own using the Slant Fin app. It's a good idea anyhow you can use it to double check a contractor if you can find one that does a heat loss.
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 7,818
    Sometimes there are fuel suppliers that provide both heating oil and LP gas. If you are lucky, that company also provides installation and service. Caution though, The provider of both fuels in my area is not that good at Hydronics. We needed to resolve several poor designs of theirs. Their service department is needed for emergency gas leaks. Not up on the latest and greatest of this site.
    Edward F Young. Retired HVAC ContractorSpecialized in Residential Oil Burner and Hydronics
  • BDR529
    BDR529 Member Posts: 285
    Proprietary conrols on Mod-Con wall hungs either LP or NG are usually phased out in a short amount of time. Munchkin boiler come to mind..

    Parts availabilty and access to heating supply houses with this Covid, you should think simple cast iron and honeywell controls.

    Efficiency, should not be a deciding factor for everything is nowadays. But older construction homes may not be. Splitin'-hairs.

    If you got a generator.The printed circuit boards on Mod-Cons like a clean sine wave.

    Home Depot Generac will make it nice and cranky and probably smoke the board.

  • The Steam Whisperer
    The Steam Whisperer Member Posts: 1,215
    I used to install mod cons ( triangle tube) but not anymore. They are just not worth the extra servicing and repair costs. I would try to stay away from Honeywell controls ( extremely poor quality) , but most manufacturers are still using thier components, though more and more are using using others like Hydrolevel.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • PRR
    PRR Member Posts: 121
    > call a propane Co and ask them for a price on a tank install

    FWIW: in my area I get my tank from my gas supplier. "Rent" is built into the price I pay. When I converted I looked very seriously at owning my tank. THAT year it almost could have paid-off, the price jumped way high late winter. Except by giving my supplier a monopoly on my business, he contracts a flat price for the year. I really think he can manage his business better than I would.