Click here to Find a Contractor in your area.
Welcome! Here are the website rules, as well as some tips for using this forum.
Need to contact us? Visit https://heatinghelp.com/contact-us/.

Gas vs Oil steam boiler with radiant heat

random12345
random12345 Member Posts: 27
edited June 24 in THE MAIN WALL
Need to replace our old Burnham V74-T steam oil boiler which has a hole in it. Single family house near Boston. We have single pipe steam, 287 sq ft EDR, 2 radiant floor heat zones in a 250 sq ft addition (3 PEX loops). The boiler also handled DHW and radiant up till now with a tankless coil. Would prefer to convert to gas (lower cost of gas vs. oil, getting rid of oil tank frees up space) but am open to staying with oil if it means fewer potential problems and lasts longer. What would be the ideal setup? Thank you.

Comments

  • Ctoilman
    Ctoilman Member Posts: 105
    Do the math on actual fuel costs, as oil has considerably more BTU than gas.  Oil equipment runs nearly as clean as gas too.
    random12345
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,604
    And oil doesn't get cut off when the temps get really cold and the natural gas fueled power plants are needed to keep the lights on...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,848
    edited June 24
    I'm sure I'll get some dislikes from the oil guys but oil equipment tends to require a lot more maintenance than gas and runs "almost as clean" as gas.

    Gas is cleaner, cheaper and simpler. There's also no room required to store the fuel and no worrying about deliveries. No sludge or water problems, no tanks rotting out.

    Both are ultimately good fuels and prices vary but I'd go gas every time even if the cost was higher, which it's not.

    For what it's worth I'm not a contractor but I have lived with both oil and natural gas.



    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    ethicalpaulrandom12345
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 3,089
    edited June 24
    As another homeowner, I'm with @ChrisJ 100%. For me it's a huge no-brainer for all the reasons he said. I've also had both and would gladly pay more for gas but I can't...because it costs less.

    Edit: oh, this: if you want you can then get a gas water heater (probably way more efficient than what you have now, although the best is hybrid), gas stove, gas clothes dryer and hook up a gas grill and even a gas generator if you want.
    1 pipe Peerless 63-03L in Cedar Grove, NJ, coal > oil > NG
    random12345
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,848

    As another homeowner, I'm with @ChrisJ 100%. For me it's a huge no-brainer for all the reasons he said. I've also had both and would gladly pay more for gas but I can't...because it costs less.

    Edit: oh, this: if you want you can then get a gas water heater (probably way more efficient than what you have now unless you have hybrid, which you should consider anyway), gas stove, gas clothes dryer and hook up a gas grill and even a gas generator if you want.

    Don't forget gas tiki torches and gas fireplaces.
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
    ethicalpaul
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 9,696
    @random12345

    Either fuel is fine. Oil requires a technician that knows what he is doing. Gas is a little more forgiving but can be equally problimatic if not serviced correctly. Oil usually need service more often but with a good technician this isn't an issue.

    I wouldn't commit to anything until you have rock solid assurance that the gas company can supply the fuel.

    The Boston area is somewhat overloaded
    random12345
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,604
    "The Boston area is somewhat overloaded"? Uh yeah... and getting more so. I'd be very careful anywhere in eastern Mass, southern NH, Rhode Island that your gas contract doesn't permit the gas company to cut off your gas or reduce you pressure when the natural gas backup generation has to kick in.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 11,848

    "The Boston area is somewhat overloaded"? Uh yeah... and getting more so. I'd be very careful anywhere in eastern Mass, southern NH, Rhode Island that your gas contract doesn't permit the gas company to cut off your gas or reduce you pressure when the natural gas backup generation has to kick in.

    Hi Jamie,

    Have you had natural gas?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,680
    When more electricity comes from sources other than NG will gas become less expensive?
    I suspect that like electricity much of the price we see is transport and distribution.
    Before the oil crisis heating oil companies were researching piping oil to homes.
    And in those days oil delivery guys were paid much less.

    Returning to OP's question, I'm with the gas guys. Less smell; less burner issues; and no worry about truck being able to come.
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,604
    No, @ChrisJ , we don't have natural gas. Perhaps more to the point, the nearest gas line is some 7 miles away and at capacity as it stands, so there's no hope for that.

    I quite agree with all the comments above in favour of natural gas as a fuel. Cleaner burning, much easier to maintain and adjust the burners, no tank in the basement, and on and on. I don't mean to suggest otherwise.

    However.

    @jumper points to the problem: "as more electricity comes from sources other than...". The problem is -- when those other sources are available. There are only two nuclear plants still operating on the New England power grid: Seabrook in New Hampshire and Millstone and Connecticut. Both of them are the targets of ongoing efforts to shut them down. There are no operating coal plants and I believe no operating oil fired plants remaining on the New England grid. There is one power storage facility, a pumped storage plant operating off the Connecticut River in the central Massachusetts. What this means is very simple: if you have a high electricity demand and the sun isn't shining or the wind blowing, the power companies have to fire up the gas turbines. This takes a non-trivial amount of gas from the pipelines serving the Boston and eastern New England area. The pipelines are near capacity anyway, and the possibility of getting more capacity built is somewhere between slim and none.

    And guess who comes up short?
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • jumper
    jumper Member Posts: 1,680
    who will pay for those turbines to stand by? >>if you have a high electricity demand and the sun isn't shining or the wind blowing, the power companies have to fire up the gas turbines.<<
    Biggest part of California's problems early in this century was that Governor and PUC charwoman refused to pay. Now there is no standby and the state is f**ked. Especially when it turns off its last nuke. 10% of state's capacity.
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 27
    Thanks for your comments. We have been consuming at least 1100 gallons of oil a year for the past several years. This is also with 4 radiators completely off (valves closed). Since the boiler consumed over 450 gallons of freshwater since the auto water feeder was installed in May 2018, it seems clear there was a hole in there for a while. Any guess as to how many gallons of oil we wasted burning steam up the chimney annually? Would you guess a few dozen gallons or more likely many hundreds?

  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 27
    jumper said:

    Less smell

    I have heard a few people mention this, but I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean smell when the oil technician comes to change out the oil filter and do annual maintenance? Cause I get that. Or do you mean that you noticed less smell near the boiler and in the house in general vs. gas boilers? Right now, I don't smell anything but maybe I'm just used to it...I know oil in Massachusetts is all ultra low sulfur now. I didn't see any indoor air quality studies about houses that used oil vs gas as a heating fuel.

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,604
    450 gallons of water is a lot... there surely is a leak there somewhere! As to how much oil? Well, 450 gallons is around 3600 pounds, and it takes about 1,000 BTU to boil a pound of water. So 3,600,000 BTU. But even allowing for very low efficiency, relatively speaking, that's only about 25 to 50 gallons of oil.

    Not much, relatively speaking.

    In order of importance to save money (and fuel...): insulation and draught reduction (particularly storm windows). Making sure steam system is operating correctly (that's cheap). Changing to a more efficient boiler (only justified if the old one is leaking).

    Changing fuel from oil to gas will not usually save much money over the long haul. Unless the switch is needed for some other reason, it's not worth it. Likewise, changing from, say, steam to hot water or forced air is a very doubtful investment.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    random12345
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,216
    1100 gals a year that huge.

    Measure all the radiators and get an accurate EDR#. Changing like for like BTU's / EDR is rarely a good idea.

    Tightening the envelope is a much better return on investment.
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 27
    edited June 25

    450 gallons of water is a lot... there surely is a leak there somewhere! As to how much oil? Well, 450 gallons is around 3600 pounds, and it takes about 1,000 BTU to boil a pound of water. So 3,600,000 BTU. But even allowing for very low efficiency, relatively speaking, that's only about 25 to 50 gallons of oil.

    Not much, relatively speaking.

    Brilliant. I'm getting 36.9 gallons wasted given our boiler efficiency of 83.7% from last combustion analysis. Forgot to mention our boiler is also oversized. 488 sq. ft. rating compared to our actual EDR of 287.

    We know there is a hole because somebody did a leak test by adding water and the boiler room flooded. Thankfully we have a sump pump. It also smelled for a few days.
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 27
    pecmsg said:

    Changing like for like BTU's / EDR is rarely a good idea.

    I don't understand. Could you please clarify?

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 16,604
    When one is sizing steam boilers, the boiler manufacturer has always included a steam Sq. Ft. rating or EDR rating. They have already added in the efficiency -- or otherwise! -- of the boiler and they have also included in the rating an allowance for heating all the pipes and what have you up from cold -- sometimes called a pickup factor.

    It's much easier for all concerned to simply compare the EDR -- which is sort of square feet -- of your installed radiation to the EDR rating of the boiler But don't oversize! That pickup factor, as it's called, is likely to be bigger than it needs to be, so if one is comparing two boilers and one is slightly larger than the installed EDR and the other slightly smaller, go with the smaller one.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    random12345
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,216

    450 gallons of water is a lot... there surely is a leak there somewhere! As to how much oil? Well, 450 gallons is around 3600 pounds, and it takes about 1,000 BTU to boil a pound of water. So 3,600,000 BTU. But even allowing for very low efficiency, relatively speaking, that's only about 25 to 50 gallons of oil.

    Not much, relatively speaking.

    Brilliant. I'm getting 36.9 gallons wasted given our boiler efficiency of 83.7% from last combustion analysis. Forgot to mention our boiler is also oversized. 488 sq. ft. rating compared to our actual EDR of 287.

    We know there is a hole because somebody did a leak test by adding water and the boiler room flooded. Thankfully we have a sump pump. It also smelled for a few days.
    Its wasted because the boilers almost twice the capacity needed!
    random12345
  • random12345
    random12345 Member Posts: 27
    pecmsg said:

    Its wasted because the boilers almost twice the capacity needed!

    Got it. Thanks.