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considering house with hot water radiator system

I've been thinking about moving to another house in College Park, Md. for a while because of so many parked cars and people blocking my driveway sometimes. One house I found for sale is about a mile away from the house I'm living in now. From the pictures you can see a number of radiators in various rooms in the house. There's no picture of the basement (which might have the boiler in it) in the link and I haven't talked to anyone who is trying to sell it, yet. The system is designed to use oil as the heating fuel and there doesn't appear to be any natural gas going to the house.

link -> https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/9601-51st-Ave_College-Park_MD_20740_M62171-07217

I did a little research on the internet for hot water radiators and was wondering how much trouble they are and if I could do most or all of the maintainance and servicing of the system when it needs it. There appears to be some companies in my area that deliver heating oil. Also, I'm wondering how much heating oil does a typical system like this use in one winter and how often do you have to refill it and if you can get the oil and refill it yourself.

Comments

  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,318
    A hot water system is more comfortable than forced air. The sacrifice is that you'll either need to keep the window shakers in there or add an AC system-ducted or mini-splits.
    Oil heat, depending on your equipment, should receive an annual service/maintenance. You should not perform this yourself as it requires your burner set with combustion instruments-for safety and maximum efficiency.

    My feeling is the best way to proceed would be to find a full service oil company, doesn't have to be a big one, to provide heating oil and service. Even better would be to go on automatic delivery. Let them track your usage to help prevent run-outs.

    As far as usage, that depends on you, and past performance. If the existing homeowner subscribed to the above, the oil company will have all the info you need, and you can probably see what they are offering to retain you as a new customer.
    But shop a few companies for the best prices on oil and service.
    Don't fall for '50 free gallons', sign a long term contract, and pay more for oil all winter and end up paying more overall.

    Also I recommend avoiding the discount oil companies who have no service or 'who have a guy if you need service'.
    You want an oil company who gets their product directly from the refinery/tank farm. Not someone who has their own storage.

    I don't recommend much of any maintenance on your own. Your service provider should explain to you how the system works, how to bleed the system of air if/when needed. Anything else you try to do would most likely only make it worse.

    Also, when making an offer, besides a home inspector, maybe ask the sellers to have the system checked/verified by their service provider.
    steve
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,122
    Hot ware systems are pretty goof proof, if they are set up properly.

    Servicing and maintenance -- these systems operate with a nearly constant low pressure (around 15 psi). It is worthwhile for the homeowner to check now and then that the pressure is being maintained; there is a gauge on the system for that purpose. If it is, there is nothing that needs doing there. Further, the homeowner needs to be aware that the thermostat(s) is (are) controlling the system properly -- that is, the heat responds to the thermostat. If so, there's nothing to do there. If not, the troubleshooting can get more interesting, but is well within the capabilities of many homeowners -- and in any event, the problems are rare.

    The boiler itself should be serviced once a year. This involves cleaning the inside flue passages, replacing fuel filters, and often replacing the ignition electrodes and the nozzle. After that, the air flow is adjusted. This is not work which I would suggest a homeowner would want to do, as to do it properly requires some test equipment --combustion and smoke analysers -- and the training to use them properly. Some, but by no means all, oil dealers have good technicians. Many -- but againg, not all -- heating companies do.

    As to delivery, in my opinion the best option is to locate a known, reliable, well established oil company in your area and arrange for automatic delivery of the oil. Often such a company will also offer a service contract. You may not be getting the lowest possible price on the oil -- such a service is often 5 percent higher than the cut rate spot market dealers -- but you will be getting good quality oil which the company will stand behind.

    Unless you are willing to buy road diesel several times a week, don't even think of buying it somewhere and coming home and filling the tank yourself.

    As to how much oil will be used -- that question is impossible to answer without knowing how warm you like the house, how big it is, and what the heat loss is. A very well insulated small ranch might use as little as a few hundred gallons in a winter. On the other hand, one of the houses I care for (7,000 square feet, no insulation, cold climate) uses over 3000 gallons. You may or may not be able to get reliable figures from the previous owner or the realtor. I would note, however, that the type of fuel used makes no difference at all to the number of BTUs you will need, although differing fuels have widely differing costs per BTU.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Vogelzang
    Vogelzang Member Posts: 4
    edited November 2020
    Thanks for your responses. We're getting close to winter so I'm worried about any possible problems with the system. It looks like there are natural gas heated boilers for hot water radiator systems and if its converted to natural gas then you don't have to worry about oil deliveries and it might run cleaner, too. Ony problem is there doesn't seem to be any natural gas going to the house. The hot water heater is electric. When I was looking around at the house a couple days ago, I didn't see any gas meter there. My furnace (the house I'm in now) and stove uses natural gas and the meter was moved outside a couple years ago. Washington Gas typically does work on their end for free and if you have anything done in your house, you have to pay for that.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,122
    Some boilers can be converted. Some can't. Some work well with conversion burners. Some don't. I'd stick with the oil, at least looking at it from the heating and systems engineering standpoint.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Vogelzang
    Vogelzang Member Posts: 4
    It might be possible to replace the whole boiler unit with a natural gas unit.

    This house also in College Park was sold earlier this year. In some of the pictures, you can see radiators. In the listing details section of the link it says it uses natural gas as the fuel.

    https://www.redfin.com/MD/College-Park/4713-Branchville-Rd-20740/home/11103410
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 17,122
    If there is no existing natural gas service to the house, you need to contact the local gas company to determine first, what their charge for hooking you up would be and, perhaps more important, are they allowing new hookups. Some areas aren't.

    You also need to determine -- for yourself -- whether the change from oil to gas is a reasoned preference, an emotional preference, or an economic consideration -- and act accordingly.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    kcoppSolid_Fuel_Man
  • Vogelzang
    Vogelzang Member Posts: 4
    I rode my bike past the house on 51st st tonight and there are "sold" signs on top of the signs that were there before. I was going to call Monday to see if I could tour the house and look in the basement at the boiler system and see if there is a fuse box or circuit breaker panel.

    https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-detail/9601-51st-Ave_College-Park_MD_20740_M62171-07217