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Converting steam to water boiler

ShannonNE
ShannonNE Member Posts: 4
edited May 25 in Radiant Heating
I live in a 1915 2 story craftsman in Nebraska, 2,500 sf. 4 people, 3 bathrooms. We have an old large steam boiler with very low hanging pipes in the basement. We want to finish out the basement but the pipes would have to be relocated up into the floor joists. We had two quotes and no one is willing to relocate the existing pipes. Both recommended switching to a water boiler to the tune of $. 

1- are we going to see a reduction in heating costs?
2- will the effectiveness of the heating still be good? (It’s extremely cold here in the winter, and the steam boiler kept us toasty warm). We used to live in a house with a forced air furnace and it was miserably cold.
3- we have the option to do a combi boiler Lochinvar NKC 199 and recapture quite a bit of space where the mechanicals currently sit. 

We plan to reuse existing radiators, converted for water usage. 

Comments

  • Big Ed_4
    Big Ed_4 Member Posts: 1,754
    What are you going to do with the radiation or radiators ?
    I have enough experience to know , that I dont know it all
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,665
    You can't get good response here without pictures.
    We need to see your radiators, showing both ends.
    (Not all steam radiators will work with hot water)

    Also show us the boiler and piping, floor to ceiling.
    The pipes, in the way, in the basement should be shown.

    Your questions:
    1.Maybe, 10-15%.

    2. No, it will not be as toasty. Steam radiators will be 200+ degrees....hot water 180 degrees at the most. Put out at least 20% less heat.

    3. I am in Northen Nebraska, probably colder than you, and have that much footage with an 80,000 BTUH Lochinvar that heats (easily overheats) the house and hot water as well.

    Where in NE are you located?
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,747
    First off, we do not discuss pricing on this forum. See https://heatinghelp.com/forum-user-manual . You need to edit your post and take them out.

    Your radiators may not work with hot-water if they're that old. Post some pics and we should be able to tell you. Also, even if they would work with hot-water they may not be big enough to heat the house that way. A hot-water radiator can only give roughly 2/3 the amount of heat that you get from the same size steam radiator.

    I doubt you'd see any better overall system efficiency with hot-water. Remember, steam doesn't need pumps like hot-water does. A newer steam boiler will be more efficient than an old one.

    Sounds to me like those contractors are seeing dollar signs in this job.

    Where are you located?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    Erin Holohan Haskell
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,532
    edited May 25
    As has been said, without seeing the layout -- please see if you can get some photos of the "low hanging pipes" while you are at it, it's a little hard to be really firm.

    However, that said, all the above comments are completely valid. Well, except maybe @JUGHNE 's reply to your question 1. I think his figures are optimistic, and I'd say more like 5 to 10 percent -- but you'd get that with a new steam boiler anyway, at much less cost.

    As to rerouting the pipes, however. First, it is quite possible that the steam pipes can be raised at least enough to provide decent headroom. A competent steam installer may also be able to reroute them to somewhere which isn't as in the way. That's where the pictures are needed. There is another consideration, though: you say " the pipes would have to be relocated up into the floor joists". Do NOT do this without a structural evaluation of the floor joists. I don't mean a casual "yeah, that'll work" look. That may work with a few small holes -- such as for wiring or even a small water supply line, say no more than a 1 inch hole in a 2x8 joist. Anything more than that and, not too put too fine a point on it, you run a very real risk of structural problems unless the affected joists are properly reinforced.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ShannonNE
  • ShannonNE
    ShannonNE Member Posts: 4
    OP here. We live in Omaha. Pictures included.
    To clarify, no one is talking about making any holes through floor joists. Just running pipes between joists ABOVE the main support beam, and parallel/adjacent to the main support beam.

    Both contractors said it would cost more to relocate existing pipes than to replace with a water boiler. 

    Radiators can be converted to water, so I am told. There are 8 radiators total, 4 on main floor and 4 on second floor. 

    Pipes are currently about 5’10” at the lowest point. With the extremely high cost, I want to make sure we are going to be comfortable, content, happy with the results. Thanks!

    Boon
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,665
    Can you tell us if there is any brand name on the radiator inlet valves?
    This looks like a vapor steam system, considered the Cadillac of steam systems then and today. The radiators would work for steam or hot water.
    However if converted to hot water, again they will not put out the heat of steam.

    If your contractor does a room by room heat loss calculation, and then measures the EDR of the radiator in that room he could tell you if it will produce enough heat.
    You may have to run the water boiler at near 180 degrees to get enough heat.
    At that temp the proposed boiler will not reach the advertised efficiency.
    Those ModCon boilers only reach their peak with low temp water returning to them.

    Also that 199 is quite big. They probably over sized it to provide the hot water for the Combi part. IMO, it is better to have a separate indirect fired hot water tank.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 14,747
    That's a Vapor system of some sort. Vapor was the top-of-the-line version of steam heating, and is still one of the best systems out there. Can you see any names or trademarks on the radiator shutoff valves or that round iron thing in the piping above the boiler?

    I think those contractors are pushing the conversion because they don't know anything about steam systems. They must not be aware that hot-water runs at over ten times the operating pressure of steam, so if there are any weak points in the piping or radiators, they WILL leak. This will result in damage to your house and huge liability for them. Also, if any radiator supply and return piping is run in outside walls, and you fill them with water, they stand a good chance of freezing and bursting. Why ask for trouble?

    It looks to me like the main problem is the pipes that go underneath the king beam. By using what's called a "rise and drip", the pipes can be raised above the beam without accumulating water in them. Essentially, you drain the pipes into a "wet return" near floor level, below the boiler's waterline, and run this back to the boiler. I believe somewhere on this site there is a diagram of the rise and drip, I'll link to it when I find it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    ShannonNE
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,532
    Definitely vapour, and I've seen those valves somewhere. @Steamhead will probably beat me to it.

    That piping can be rearranged to work just fine without drilling any holes in anything; it can be done so that no pipe is lower than the middle of that king beam, and almost all of them will be in the joist spaces. The problem is that your contractors have no clue how a steam system works -- never mind a vapour system -- and no clue as to how to do that, and want to charge you a great deal of money to install something that they know something about.

    Something along the lines of "I have no idea how this Cadillac works. Here. Let me sell you this Yugo instead."

    @JUGHNE lives somewhere not too far away. Give him a PM (just click on the name there and send a message) and see if he knows of anyone.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EzzyT
    EzzyT Member Posts: 1,165
    Keep the steam system, don’t switch over to hot water.
    ShannonNE
  • ShannonNE
    ShannonNE Member Posts: 4
    edited May 26

    Is this helpful? It is within the front door of the main unit. 

    What should I ask for when getting a quote then? 

    Both boiler specialists I have talked to said it would cost more to relocate the pipes and less to switch to a hot water boiler with all new copper piping. 

    Thanks for the help. I’d love to know what you would do if it were your home, and given the boiler is almost 50 years old AND we are about to finish the basement off.  I was kind of excited to re-coup that space where the boiler and water heater are sitting. 

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,532
    "Both boiler specialists I have talked to said it would cost more to relocate the pipes and less to switch to a hot water boiler with all new copper piping.

    Thanks for the help. I’d love to know what you would do if it were your home, and given the boiler is almost 50 years old AND we are about to finish the basement off. I was kind of excited to re-coup that space where the boiler and water heater are sitting. "

    The two paragraphs have different comments. For the first paragraph, I will say -- quite firmly -- that both specialists you have talked to are flat out lying. Whether they are lying from greed or lying because they don't know what they are talking about I'd not care to say, since I don't know them.

    I don't know what costs are like in your area, but comparative costs are probably reliable -- and the difference between rerouting the pipes and an nice new boiler with all shiny copper is probably around a factor of 5 to 10 -- with the shiny new being 5 to 10 times the pipe reroute. The pipe reroute could be done in two days by someone with a helper and the right knowledge and equipment.

    "Specialists" of that calibre infuriate me. Sorry. Kick the soapbox back into the corner.

    Now you ask what I would do if this were one of the places which I care for. The answer should be obvious: I'd keep the steam and reroute the pipes. I'd also find someone -- not the bozos mentioned above -- to evaluate the boiler, clean it, and make sure it is running properly. If, and only if, it were actually leaking would I replace it.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ShannonNE
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    Wow, 1974 to today, 47 years. How long will a Lochinvar run?
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    ShannonNE
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 703
    Do not change over to hot water heating.
    The radiators were sized to provide heat at 215 degrees F.
    Hot water supplies 180 degrees F.

    You have an expensive project here but will have the comfort you are accustomed to.
    You have a fine old vapor system that will perform for you into the next millennium.

    You can run your piping over the header and between the floor joists.
    What you really need to look out for is the system air removal.

    Taken from my book Steam The Perfect Fluid for Heating and some of the problems is the method for jump overs on the steam main and the return side piping.

    I did this job in my one family home 50 years ago, but with all the piping in the basement you will need to insulate the steam main piping. Additionally, cover the steam piping between the floor joists to prevent transferring heat to the wood floors in the house, do not need to create a problem with expansion an contraction on old wood floors.

    Hope I helped you out with my suggestion, at 80 years old I still try to keep my brain from becoming addled.

    Jake
    ShannonNE
  • ShannonNE
    ShannonNE Member Posts: 4
    Thank you all! I’ll let you know how this turns out. 
    Boon
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 8,665
    Did you see any brand name info on the rad valves??

    Also there are some large devices above the boiler, are there any names on them?
    And better pictures of how they are piped into the boiler.

    It is possible that some systems may not work if the return pipes are lowered down to the floor.
  • dopey27177
    dopey27177 Member Posts: 703
    If you lower the return pipe to the floor and make it a wet return you will have to install cross over traps tied in from the steam main to the dry return (or the extension of the stem main. The cross over traps will allow the air in the system to travel to the air vent side of the stem system.

    You must deal with air removal or there will be no steam circulation therefore no heat.

    Jake
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,680
    Bet that HB Smith can last another fifty years?