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stick w/ oil or switch to propane?

zimv20ca
zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
my wife and i bought a house in Oct 2020 and our heating costs are higher than i would like. this is our first experience with heating oil, our previous house was GFA w/ NG. note that NG is not available here.

year built: 2003
size: 3400 sqft
location: Atlantic Canada
current system: 2003-era NTI C-series heating oil boiler w/ indirect tank for DHW
distribution: hot water radiators (about 60%) and in-floor (40%, some in-slab and some in-joist)
oil tank: inside basement, fiberglass, brand new (supplied by seller), 796L capacity

i believe the boiler is original. we had it cleaned and serviced when we moved in (i think it had been some years since anyone did that), but i reckon it's time to replace.

the company that did the servicing recommended we move to propane to save money. that would have the additional benefit of allowing me to add 1) a standby generator, and 2) a propane stove for the kitchen to replace the electric range.

but when i start pricing out oil vs propane and look at relative efficiencies, i don't see savings. my goal is to see what i'm missing.

since moving in, i had an energy assessment done. here is some info from that:



per that report, we are planning on adding some additional attic insulation. upgrading windows is probably a ways off. i suspect there are some areas that are lacking sufficient insulation, so we'll be addressing those in time.

in December, i had a Daikin minisplit installed (FVXS15NVJU/RXL15QMVJU). that unit, set at 69F, keeps the kitchen and dining rooms @ 22C, and also keeps the upstairs hall @18-20C depending on outside temps. that hall leads to the bedrooms. i typically leave that thermostat set @ 19C, and that calls for heat only occasionally. the master bedroom is a little cooler than i'd like, but i reckon i can turn the upstairs to 20C if we can get our overall costs down.

post mini-split install, i believe most of the oil usage is going to the living room (a mix of in-joist and in-slab radiant heating) and my office above it (hot water rads). i'm currently getting quotes for a 2-head minisplit to help take the load off the boiler.

but i still have to replace the boiler. here are some of the fuel prices i've captured in the short months since living here:

- electricity $0.1492 CAD / kwh
- heating oil, ranges from $0.774 - $0.896 CAD / liter ($2.31 - $2.67 USD / gallon)
- propane, ranges from $0.764 - $0.868 CAD / liter ($2.28 - $2.59 USD / gallon)

i captured those prices between Dec 2020 and now; i don't know what summer pricing looks like.

when i multiply out the costs and expected efficiencies of new oil vs propane boilers, and the BTU of the fuels, it still looks like i get more BTU per liter of heating oil. and those prices per liter are comparable.

BUT, am i missing anything? should i be thinking about cycle times, or condensing/modulating, or pump efficiencies, or anything else? i also don't yet have a handle on who would own the propane tank here, and if that does indeed limit me to that supplier. what if i get such a large propane tank that i can buy only during the summer? does that change the equation? what else am i not thinking about?

note that i do have enough property for an above-ground propane tank.

i can always add propane separately, of course, to get the genie and stove.

in the spring, i plan on having at least 3 companies out here to quote new systems, but the more i learn now, the better.

i'll finish w/ some photos of my current setup.








Comments

  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,306
    edited March 7
    I agree with Jamie. That is an ugly looking installation. If it makes you feel better about it, heating oil is being replaced by renewable alternatives, not really possible for propane
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
    STEVEusaPA
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1

    I'd stay with the oil and replace the boiler -- when it actually dies -- with the best matching small boiler available in your area.

    i'll admit i hadn't given much thought to waiting for it to fail. it's probably 18 years old at this point; is there a rule of thumb for the life expectancy of a boiler like this?

    and fair point about getting near the limits of efficiency w/ the minisplits in the mix.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 4,917
    Stick with the oil, as the others mentioned. There's been more than once where propane supplies were a huge problem. At least with heating oil, when supplies get tight, you can get it trucked in.
    If you get a boiler like an EK, you'll find it to be super efficient, quiet, etc.
    The added benefit is most of them can be converted to nat gas, or in your case, propane if the market flip flops.
    Keep the generator a separate issue. It would need it's own, massive tank to do whole house. But if you went with diesel, now your adding a good 30% to a whole house gen.
    steve
    zimv20ca
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 295
    30-40 years is a common life expectancy.of cast iron boilers.  Mine was 42 years old when I removed it and it was still running fine.  I would run the one you have for at least another decade.  

    The minisplits will save you some oil in the spring and fall.
    MaxMercy
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    Robert_25 said:

    30-40 years is a common life expectancy.of cast iron boilers.  Mine was 42 years old when I removed it and it was still running fine.

    my googling has implied that mine is stainless; is the life expectancy of SS comparable to that of cast iron?
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,698
    Is that a Direct/ Balanced flue oil boiler? They can be a bit of a pain to get to run right... Prone to sooting up.
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    kcopp said:

    Is that a Direct/ Balanced flue oil boiler?

    i don't know, i have much to learn about these systems. i'm happy to take some more detailed pics; is there a part i should focus on?

    i believe it's a Caprice model from NTI, in New Brunswick, if that helps.
  • Robert O'Brien
    Robert O'Brien Member Posts: 3,306
    It's a steel single pass firetube boiler DV, although it is wetleg.
    To learn more about this professional, click here to visit their ad in Find A Contractor.
  • kcopp
    kcopp Member Posts: 3,698
    edited March 8
    I would focus of getting your homes envelope squared away. Air seal and insulation. IF I am seeing the pix right I see daylight coming from under your basement door...in the oil tank picture.
    DZorobucksnort
  • EdTheHeaterMan
    EdTheHeaterMan Member Posts: 2,078
    zimv20ca said:



    and i took a photo of its good side :-)




    Edward Young
    Retired HVAC Contractor from So. Jersey Shore.
    Cleaned & services first oil heating system at age 16
    zimv20cabucksnort
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    kcopp said:

    I would focus of getting your homes envelope squared away. Air seal and insulation. IF I am seeing the pix right I see daylight coming from under your basement door...in the oil tank picture.

    that's an interior door to the finished part of the basement.

    from the blower test, the house is sealed moderately well. i've identified a couple windows, plus both sliding glass doors, that are leaky in high winds. the plan is to delete one of those sliding glass doors and swap out the other for something more efficient.

    this summer, i'll be adding more blown-in cellulose into the attic, bringing it to R35. as we do reno's, we'll be assessing the current insulation and addressing any deficiencies we find. we already have a handful of spots that were shown deficient in the FLIR, though they were all somewhat minor.
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    btw i forgot to mention this house has nine (!!!) thermostats. i reckon some of the spaghetti is due to that.
  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 3,906
    Not sure if that's a wet leg boiler. It looks like the return comes in above the chamber. 
    It is block steel and will lose efficiency over time. With all the expansion and contraction, the steel can absorb the heat better over time, but can't hold it. 
    It's definitely fugly but a decent setup with the diverter valve.
    There are plenty of 3 pass oil boilers or an EK Frontier that will be more efficient than what's there now. And most of them can be converted to an LP power burner if desired. 
    IMO, you have time to do research and planning. It doesn't need replacing, yet. 
  • TAG
    TAG Member Posts: 487
    Think you will find that the oil/propane debate has no "one" answer .... have bought many old houses and switching to propane was typically done when I had a forced air furnace. Propane allowed for not only more efficient equipment -- it gave you better control comfort (modulation) and eliminated most of the service. The fuel was/is a flip flop .... but, over time they don't offer huge savings one way or another. Propane can change quickly over shorter periods.

    With a boiler it's more of a math problem ... you could switch to a condensing boiler using propane and gain some efficiencies ....but, my guess is you will not see the payback and gain no additional comfort doing the switch. I never did the switch w/ boiler unless NG was available.

    Minisplits work -- again it's math to determine when to use. There is also a comfort factor -- typically you can't match the comfort of hot water piped through a home in cold weather.

    You may look into seeing if there are any HP water heater rebates -- often they are nice with oil boilers. The area around the boiler provides some free heat for the water heater and they keep the boiler off in the summer -- plus you get some dehumidification in the summer. I know people who only use them in the summer ....it's all about the rebate
  • DZoro
    DZoro Member Posts: 1,049
    Admit the boiler install is not pretty. But if it were me I'd address all the insulation and sealing possibilities. Basement foundation is a big one, attics in WI we are at R50+,keeping the heat inside will be your key to heating efficiency. It's not always the boilers fault, and one can do a combustion analysis to find out the current boiler efficiency.
    D
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,955
    Explore ground-source water-to-water heat pump possibilities in your area. Look for any engineers who can help with sizing/specifying and/or any drill contractors who can do the loop well. The upfront cost is higher (but there may be incentives available), but the operating cost is at or below NG in my experience.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1

    Explore ground-source water-to-water heat pump possibilities in your area.

    my understanding is that geothermal doesn't work well w/ my hot water baseboards because of temperature constraints. i.e. my current system was designed for heating oil temps. if that's incorrect, please let me know.
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 1,963
    Cost of fuel in and BTU's out Oil wins!
    zimv20caSTEVEusaPASuperTech
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,734
    zimv20ca said:

    Explore ground-source water-to-water heat pump possibilities in your area.

    my understanding is that geothermal doesn't work well w/ my hot water baseboards because of temperature constraints. i.e. my current system was designed for heating oil temps. if that's incorrect, please let me know.
    That's correct. You will need to evaluate the capability of your baseboards to meet the heating load required at various water temperatures.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    zimv20ca
  • bucksnort
    bucksnort Member Posts: 109
    How long do you plan on staying in the house? Most home buyers only care as to how old the furnace is.
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    bucksnort said:

    How long do you plan on staying in the house? Most home buyers only care as to how old the furnace is.

    5-10 years. of course, the last house i bought, i thought it'd be 3 years. ended up being 20.
    ethicalpaul
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 2,955
    zimv20ca said:

    Explore ground-source water-to-water heat pump possibilities in your area.

    my understanding is that geothermal doesn't work well w/ my hot water baseboards because of temperature constraints. i.e. my current system was designed for heating oil temps. if that's incorrect, please let me know.
    A great opportunity to size your radiation to the house as it exists today, and to explore options such as radiant flooring. I mean, unless those are like designer baseboards that are beautiful and architecturally significant like most of them are...
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    DZoro said:

    attics in WI we are at R50+

    thanks for mentioning that. i re-read my quote to get the attic topped-off and they're *adding* R35, to bring it to R50 or over. (my sales guy said they shoot for R60 to ensure we get the rebate for having R50).
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 14,753
    After the energy upgrades rerun the load clc.
    Then do a heat emitter assessment.
    See if what you have can meet the heating load at lower SWT.
    Lower SWT opens you up to more heat generator options, now and down the road.

    The modulating features on a mod con boiler can bring a lot of efficiency and reduced cycling, properly installed and dialed in.

    https://www.caleffi.com/sites/default/files/file/idronics_25_na.pdf
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 14,753
    This is a good calculator to enter all the parameters, like boiler efficiency, energy costs, etc..
    Even has wood should you need to start burning your IKEA, like some Texans did recently :)

    https://coalpail.com/fuel-comparison-calculator-home-heating
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    hot_rod said:


    See if what you have can meet the heating load at lower SWT.
    Lower SWT opens you up to more heat generator options, now and down the road.

    sorry, what is SWT?

    just a partially-clued-in homeowner here...
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 15,734
    SWT -- source water temperature. The temperature of the water leaving the boiler.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    MaxMercyzimv20ca
  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 14,753
    AKA supply water temperature

    LP is a fickle fuel, prices can vary quite a bit. In areas where it is the predominate fuel it stays fairly affordable. In the lower mid west for example I filled last fall at .99/ gallon, you could lock in for 1.25 for the season.
    I didn't as we were selling the home. I had to top off before we left and it was 2.45 a few weeks ago.

    If you do go LP, purchase your own tank, pre-buy in August or Sept, or lock in to one of the fixed price deals. The dealers around me understand folks may be on fixed incomes and they always have programs available to avoid pricing people out of heat.

    Another tip is to shop LP in early summer, if small dealers pre-bought too much they tend to drop prices instead of paying storage fees at the bulk plants.

    When "big oil" gets greedy as they did in 2014, not much the small local dealers can do about that.
    There seems to be a lot of consolidation in LP dealers now also, the small mom and pop shops are being swallowed up and the local friendly service and pricing deals often goes away also.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
    zimv20ca
  • zimv20ca
    zimv20ca Member Posts: 1
    update: i've decided to stick w/ oil and replace the boiler, probably this spring.

    i got a quote for a "DK2-4 CALISTO 4 SECTION CAST BOILER", which is apparently a cast iron, direct-vent (which i have now), cold start boiler. it's rated at 87% AFUE, which is enough (barely) to qualify for a $500 CAD rebate from the provincial gov't here.

    i found this information sheet online:
    https://kerrcontrols.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Calisto-2019.pdf

    they spec'ed out this burner:
    "RIELLO BURNER 22/27"

    tbh, i don't know these systems and don't feel i know enough to know if this is good. i asked about sizing it smaller, and was told he "had to" size it for the coldest day, when it's too cold for the (soon to be) 3 minisplit heat pumps. i inquired about sizing it smaller such that it can keep the house steady at a lower temp; i'm still waiting on the answer there.
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