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25 Year Old Hydro Therm - Proactive Replacement??

ajw222
ajw222 Member Posts: 19
Question for the pros...

I have a 25 year old Hydro Therm boiler model R-250C-PV, 250,000 BTU natural gas, providing baseboard heating to a 6500 sq ft house. House has 7 thermostat controlled heating zones. Zone valves were replaced last year. Boiler works well and has never let us down. Boiler gets annual professional service in the fall and small parts have been replaced as necessary.

For the last few years the service guys have waved a carbon monoxide reader around the heater and commented that they can measure some leakage and if it gets "too high" they are required to shut it down. I never pressed them on what values they are measuring. I just nod and say ok, we will keep an eye on it.

The utility room has a carbon monoxide sensor connected to the Honeywell alarm system and it has never alarmed. I also have a battery operated carbon monoxide alarm outside the vented utility room door that never alarmed. I have figured that my carbon monoxide sensors will alarm before the heater hits any mandatory shutdown leakage level.

I understand seals wear and eventually the boiler will need replacement so I wanted to get a sense of what it will be. I got proposals for:
  • Weil McLain CGA-7 200,000 BTU 84% AFUE natural gas-fired hot water boiler
  • Utica UH15BK 205,000 BTU 84% AFUE natural gas-fired hot water boiler
The Weil McLain cost is about 10% more than the Utica. And the contractor said in their experience the Weil McLain is better quality and they have less problems with it. They also said the units are in stock and can be installed next week. So now I know the approximate cost and that they are readily available and can quickly replace my existing boiler when necessary.

My belief is they don't make things the way they used to. And I wonder if I should be replacing my war horse boiler that is working fine or keep it going until the carbon monoxide leakage gets to unacceptable levels?

What say the pros? Be proactive and replace it now? Or let it run for maybe many more years?

Appreciate everyone's advice.
«1

Comments

  • GGross
    GGross Member Posts: 404
    If you are keeping the boiler and it truly spills CO, do yourself a favor and pick up a low level CO monitor, a personal use one that you can carry with you and at least keep in your bedrooms.

    That being said it is generally not a bad idea to be proactive on equipment replacement. I am however a bit hesitant to suggest that given that you have said the boiler never let you down in 25 years, and it has had annual maintenance every year.

    As to the quality of new boilers. You will likely get a plethora of discussion on this topic. My opinion is that in general the quality of cast iron boilers hasn't gone down in the last 25 years, When a guy says "they don't make them like they used to" in regards to boilers they are generally talking about some really old boilers, like 1960s or even earlier, they all said "they don't make em like they used to" at the time your current boiler was built as well, that was as common a saying 25 years ago as it is today. New condensing boilers will likely not last you an entire 25 years, but well maintained they certainly could

    On a related note, it is my opinion (based on seeing a whole lot of equipment roll through the warehouse) that manufacturers quality control does not seem as tight the last year or so. Many long term workers at manufacturing facilities either retired or changed job fields during Covid. Personally If I had a choice in the matter I would not want a boiler or a car that was made in the last 18 months. we are still tracking our own rate of defect for this time period, but the gut reaction is that I have been called about far more "out of the box" defects and damage than ever before



    VA_Bear
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 20,499
    Well... you don't want it to fail at oh dark hundred some January morning. However, it isn't likely to. What you might do, however -- and you can do this yourself -- is get one of the low level CO meters which @GGross mentioned (if you travel at all, take it with you. Some hotels are a bit iffish) and wander around the boiler and especially the breaching (the pipes going to the chimney) and the chimney itself, and see if it reads a little high somewhere -- and then see if you can figure out what might be leaking (if anything). Chances are very good that if it is a small leak somewhere, it is in one of the gaskets around the service openings or a crack in any cement used in the breaching or chimney -- all of which is repairable.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 7,207
    It is possible, in fact even more likely that the vent isn't drafting well. Replacing the unit won't fix that. I guess the one thing that could be happening here is it could need a good cleaning since it has a heat excahnger that is more intricate than most so more prone to plugging.
    JimPIronman
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 13,149
    2 things.

    First I agree with the above advise about getting a better Co detector for your safety. The detectors in the house will not alarm at a low enough rate.

    If it was my boiler (and isn't producing external C0) I would run it until is gives out.

    2d. Don't replace the boiler based on the size of the old boiler. Download the Slant Fin app and do your own heat loss if the contractors haven't done one.

    Not good practice to replace a boiler with one of the same size without checking first
    GGrossIronmanAlan (California Radiant) ForbesAlbany Chris
  • JimP
    JimP Member Posts: 55
    Cleaning is a great idea. You’ll also be able to check for sheet metal corrosion under the top cover.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    edited July 2022
    GGross said:

    If you are keeping the boiler and it truly spills CO, do yourself a favor and pick up a low level CO monitor, a personal use one that you can carry with you and at least keep in your bedrooms.

    Thanks for pointing out the low level CO monitors. I didn't know they existed and will get one.

    I was using a First Alert monitor that triggers at 150 ppm.
    GGross said:

    On a related note, it is my opinion (based on seeing a whole lot of equipment roll through the warehouse) that manufacturers quality control does not seem as tight the last year or so. Many long term workers at manufacturing facilities either retired or changed job fields during Covid. Personally If I had a choice in the matter I would not want a boiler or a car that was made in the last 18 months. we are still tracking our own rate of defect for this time period, but the gut reaction is that I have been called about far more "out of the box" defects and damage than ever before.

    Yeah, I have been involved in some home rehabs in the last 18 months and have seen the QC issues. Many things are not correct out of the box.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    Well... you don't want it to fail at oh dark hundred some January morning. However, it isn't likely to.

    That is always a risk regardless of age.

    I'd like to think the fall before heating season checkups will keep it going for another winter.

    What you might do, however -- and you can do this yourself -- is get one of the low level CO meters which @GGross mentioned (if you travel at all, take it with you. Some hotels are a bit iffish) and wander around the boiler and especially the breaching (the pipes going to the chimney) and the chimney itself, and see if it reads a little high somewhere -- and then see if you can figure out what might be leaking (if anything). Chances are very good that if it is a small leak somewhere, it is in one of the gaskets around the service openings or a crack in any cement used in the breaching or chimney -- all of which is repairable.

    Excellent suggestion and I intend to do that.

    I may be back to you guys with what I find.

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    mattmia2 said:

    It is possible, in fact even more likely that the vent isn't drafting well. Replacing the unit won't fix that. I guess the one thing that could be happening here is it could need a good cleaning since it has a heat excahnger that is more intricate than most so more prone to plugging.

    Hmm, I never saw anyone dig into cleaning the heat exchanger or checking vent drafting when doing annual service checks.

    How complex is it to get into the heat exchanger in the Hydro Therm boiler to clean it?

    The boiler is connected to a metal vent pipe running up a 2 story chimney. What is involved with checking the venting?

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    2 things.

    First I agree with the above advise about getting a better Co detector for your safety. The detectors in the house will not alarm at a low enough rate.

    That will get done.

    If it was my boiler (and isn't producing external C0) I would run it until is gives out.

    Thanks for the confirmation.

    2d. Don't replace the boiler based on the size of the old boiler. Download the Slant Fin app and do your own heat loss if the contractors haven't done one.

    Not good practice to replace a boiler with one of the same size without checking first

    That the IOS app? I didn't know about it but got it now. I may be back to you with questions about it once I dig into the detail it requires.

    Glad I am starting this now in the summer and 90+ degrees out. I have a few weeks to figure this out.

  • Tom51
    Tom51 Member Posts: 6
    I'd love to know more about "waved the co reader around" comment.
    Do you have any images that you'd share of the boiler and the space available?
    There are many great remarks on the post you shared.
    YES do get a plug in battery backup co detector.
    On replacement, (that is a nice sized home), I might consider doing a hybrid system if you have the space...but... not in a emergency situation.
    Todays issues are more supply chain oriented than anything else.
    Lead times for boilers can be extreme.
    All that being said... ultimately it is a decision that is yours.... but I'd plan for that eventuality regardless of how far into the future that is.
  • Dave338
    Dave338 Member Posts: 2
    edited August 2022
    My first question would be WHY it's making CO. I don't have allot of experience with atmospheric burners as I work mostly on forced draft burners, but even directly in the venting you shouldn't have dangerous levels of CO. So a leak somewhere shouldn't cause an issue with high ppm CO. I'd look at the venting for restrictions. Disconnect the flue pipe and visually inspect it. if, for some reason, it has some build up or debris in it you can run a chimney brush down through it. Also make sure the seal around the canopy is good. Ensure that the gas pressure is adjusted correctly. I'd also look at the burners themselves to see if they are rusted or clogged and that they are adjusted properly.
  • Voyager
    Voyager Member Posts: 378
    I am in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it camp.” I agree with the other suggestions about getting your own CO meter. Not that expensive compared to a new boiler and has a multitude of uses. I also agree that if you are seeing CO, then the issue may be the flue or just a boiler that needs to be cleaned, although both of these should have been caught during the annual maintenance you have paid for.
  • fbartol21
    fbartol21 Member Posts: 7
    I recently advised a neighbor that if you get 3 contractors to bid a project you will get 3 different answers. This applies not only to the decision to replace now but also to the decision for what to install 25 years ago. An excellent idea to recalculate the load. Replacement windows, added insulation may have been added and the "safety factor" could be 10-50%.
    Full disclosure, I an a warm air contractor and have done just a little with wet heat. That being said I believe the reliability of the existing boiler in this application can't be ignored. We also know that the boiler is composed of parts and pieces that fit together and can be replaced meaning the boiler can be repaired. For my money that would be one option even if you just purchase the parts now and hold off on the work.
    The second comment is that as to supply we are dealing only with the here and now. It is a bad idea to be forced to purchase your second or third choice due to lack of supply when you "need" a product.
    Last I would suggest the owner consider his warranty. I mean HIS WARRANTY as in how old is he? Does he expect to live beyond another 20-25 years in this house? He may have a choice to get 5 years from his new boiler if he waits or 20 if he replaces now. Now you're back to "They don't make 'em like they used to". But, hey, it's cast iron.
  • fbartol21
    fbartol21 Member Posts: 7
    Forgot to say if the boiler is oversized and you decide to repair it could be de-rated a bit. Would like comments from the wet heat guys.
  • Ifollowinstructions
    Ifollowinstructions Member Posts: 26
    I would clean the heat exchanger. Masss save fails boilers all the time for high CO levels, when cleaned it will drop the PPMS below 100 as required. Install Digital carbon monoxide alarms 10 feet from the boiler, you can read the co levels, then make your decision. Leaking CO is like drinking water from a lead pipe everyday, wont kill you; not good for you either. Make up air for a boiler that size should be a room 25 feet by 25 feet minimum.
  • thegreatcornholio
    thegreatcornholio Member Posts: 25
    This sounds a little shady to me. It’s not going to hurt to get a second opinion. Call a different company and have a cleaning and inspection done on your boiler see what they find/have to say.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    To get some accurate data I bought a Sensorcon Inspector Industrial Pro carbon monoxide detector meter. It has a digital display that reads from 1 ppm and up.

    I cranked up the boiler and waited a while and then ran the sensor all around the seams and edges of the boiler and flue. All I saw was readings of 1 - 2 ppm with occasional brief readings up to 5 ppm. This seems to be much ado about nothing.

    To further test out my new toy I started a car in my garage with the garage door closed and the meter quickly read 25-30 ppm until I opened the garage door.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    Tom51 said:

    I'd love to know more about "waved the co reader around" comment.

    I don't have more to say about that. I did not pay a lot of attention to the device used or the readings. I will the next time a tech does it.
    Tom51 said:

    Do you have any images that you'd share of the boiler and the space available?


    Tom51 said:

    YES do get a plug in battery backup co detector.

    I have a First Alert CO Monitor outside the door to the utility room. However looking at the stickers on the back it says it alerts at 150 ppm after 15 minutes. It seems that is nota dequate for an earlyw arning of a problem.
    Tom51 said:

    All that being said... ultimately it is a decision that is yours.... but I'd plan for that eventuality regardless of how far into the future that is.

    Based on the CO readings with the meter I bought I am going to keep the Hydrotherms and check the CO occasionally.

    jose7
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    fbartol21 said:


    Last I would suggest the owner consider his warranty. I mean HIS WARRANTY as in how old is he? Does he expect to live beyond another 20-25 years in this house? He may have a choice to get 5 years from his new boiler if he waits or 20 if he replaces now. Now you're back to "They don't make 'em like they used to". But, hey, it's cast iron.

    The house is 25 years old and I have been in it for 18 years. Maybe will be here for another 10. Taking it year to year at this point.

    At 25 years old the warranty has worn off of everything in the house and we are into the repair/replace cycle for major components - roof, AC, etc. So the boiler is just one more thing on the list to keep an eye on. Maintenance comes with home ownership.

  • mikespipe
    mikespipe Member Posts: 28
    I'm with the if it ain't broke don't fix it crowd. there is no reason that a hot water boiler cannot run for many more years. Parts are replaceable and catastrophic failure is rare. the one thing I did not see in comments is the make up air. You should have ducted in make up air that comes close to the boiler. the duct should be larger than the exhaust chimney and close to the floor that traps heat in the room and gives the furnace the air it needs. You might also want to put some insulation on your pipes. every pipe is a radiator, and you don't need to add heat to your furnace room.
  • Adk1guy
    Adk1guy Member Posts: 47
    edited August 2022
    Sounds like a sales job. Almost all natural gas boilers put some exhaust into the building upon light off. Light off is a small controlled explosion when the air\gas vapor mix ignites and expands rapidly. But the velocity of the flue gases up the chimney is low at that moment. Then the heat hopefully gets the flue gases drawing up the the chimney and that varies a lot from chimney to chimney.
    If there are no other problems I would run this one and solicit quotes on condensing boilers or at least force draft boilers and compare the cost and efficiency.
    When considering a high tech condensing boiler, you need to look carefully at the payback. They are loaded with printed circuit boards, chips, and proprietary parts. The local repair guy no longer has the parts on hand and you should plan on a short 15 year lifespan. So will you recoup the cost of the boiler in saved fuel in 15 years? Or do you want to stay low tech. If low tech is the choice you have that and can probably run your boiler for the foreseeable future unless the magician waving his wand actually finds a leak and that leak isn't repairable. My 1978 steel tube boiler still runs great.

    Albany Chris
  • FrankB101
    FrankB101 Member Posts: 15
    I would go with a Weil McClain Evergreen. I have installed over 100 of these boilers and I am convinced that they are the best. As a matter of fact it will be the last boiler you will ever have to buy. That's not to say you wont have to repair it 20 years from installation. But the Stainless Steel heat exchanger will never fail under normal conditions.
  • Alan (California Radiant) Forbes
    Alan (California Radiant) Forbes Member Posts: 3,509
    edited August 2022
    Hydrotherm made great boilers. We installed a lot of them in the 80's and 90's that are still going strong. One was a R-300R-PV that we installed in a candle factory in 1997 melting wax and it's still in use.

    I have a customer in Piedmont whose boiler was spewing CO. We took it apart and cleaned the HX which restored the numbers back down to low ppm.

    I don't like giving up on boilers when I know the quality is there.






    8.33 lbs./gal. x 60 min./hr. x 20°ΔT = 10,000 BTU's/hour
    GGrossAlbany Chris
  • maddog1950
    maddog1950 Member Posts: 3
    If you have high co levels the issue is combustion, have your heat exchanger and burners cleaned then adjusted for proper gas air ratio...also when is he checking for co, there will be a certain amount of spillage on atmospheric burners until the flue is warm enough to create a proper draft, dont check for co until at least 5 minutes after the boiler has been operating
  • where about is this located? Possibly an expert or two on this site is around your area and could give a more definitive 2nd opinion for a much lower cost than a proactive replacement job.
  • wspsOnline
    wspsOnline Member Posts: 1
    "If it ain't broke don't fix it"
    A hot water boiler can last 50 or more years if well maintained.
    I would like to know if your service techs work on commission
    If so, it might be time to shop for a new service company.
    Trying to scare you with the threat of co2 seems like a ploy to get you spend money.
    250,000 btus sounds big even for your large home. That is good for about 300 feet of baseboard which is based on 600 btus per foot. Easy enough to see what size you really need just measure the baseboard and pick a boiler with that net rating or more. Any bigger boiler just burns money.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    "If it ain't broke don't fix it"
    250,000 btus sounds big even for your large home. That is good for about 300 feet of baseboard which is based on 600 btus per foot. Easy enough to see what size you really need just measure the baseboard and pick a boiler with that net rating or more. Any bigger boiler just burns money.

    Thanks for that rule of thumb. I just walked the house measuring.

    I have 122' on the 1st floor + 93' on the 2nd floor + 40' in the basement = 255' plus four toe kick heaters with thermostat controlled blowers. So I think I am close to your 300'.

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    mikespipe said:

    the one thing I did not see in comments is the make up air. You should have ducted in make up air that comes close to the boiler. the duct should be larger than the exhaust chimney and close to the floor that traps heat in the room and gives the furnace the air it needs.

    The utility room the boiler is in is 13"x8".

    There is a slatted door for ventilation.




    The other room is a 55'x46' finished basement area.

    I think airflow to the boiler is adequate. And in the winter we usually leave the door open so it heats the basement area.
    mikespipe said:

    You might also want to put some insulation on your pipes. every pipe is a radiator, and you don't need to add heat to your furnace room.

    The heat in the furnace room heats the adjoining finished basement.

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    where about is this located? Possibly an expert or two on this site is around your area and could give a more definitive 2nd opinion for a much lower cost than a proactive replacement job.

    Bergen County New Jersey.

    I think I am good right now but am always looking to know quality contractors.

    plumbworker
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    FrankB101 said:

    I would go with a Weil McClain Evergreen. I have installed over 100 of these boilers and I am convinced that they are the best. As a matter of fact it will be the last boiler you will ever have to buy. That's not to say you wont have to repair it 20 years from installation. But the Stainless Steel heat exchanger will never fail under normal conditions.

    Thanks. I will need to see how that pencils out in cost and energy saving versus the Weil Mclain CGA-7 200K boiler that I got a proposal for,

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    Adk1guy said:


    When considering a high tech condensing boiler, you need to look carefully at the payback. They are loaded with printed circuit boards, chips, and proprietary parts. The local repair guy no longer has the parts on hand and you should plan on a short 15 year lifespan. So will you recoup the cost of the boiler in saved fuel in 15 years? Or do you want to stay low tech. If low tech is the choice you have that and can probably run your boiler for the foreseeable future unless the magician waving his wand actually finds a leak and that leak isn't repairable. My 1978 steel tube boiler still runs great.

    I prefer simple.

    Just today I had an AC unit fail to run. Neither air handler or condenser would run.

    Tech first found the 120V to 24V 40A transformer in the air handler was fried and not putting our 24V. He needed to make a run to a local supply house to get a new one. He installed the new one and it quickly fried itself while blowing three fuses.

    He thought the air handler control board was shorting out but called a more senior guy and was instructed to disconnect the condenser control wire. After installing a second transformer the air handler started running.

    He then changed the contactor in the condenser and the AC was running again.

    It took 3 hours of diagnostics but the parts were readily available and things were operational.

    I am not interested in high efficiency when there is more electronic complexity and parts are not available locally.

    BennyV
  • SKYPAINTER
    SKYPAINTER Member Posts: 2
    Before dropping loads of coin on a new unit, I would investigate the venting of the unit. Has your tech removed the top of the boiler heat exchanger and given it a good brushing? I'm frugal and will squeeze all I can out of a product before scrapping it, I have a 24 year old Weil-McLain WGO oil boiler and I keep it clean and the area around it clean and service it every year, it still looks and works great. I would only replace it if the utility company would run a gas pipe down my road.
  • 109A_5
    109A_5 Member Posts: 484
    edited August 2022
    ajw222 said:

    I prefer simple.

    Just today I had an AC unit fail to run. Neither air handler or condenser would run.

    Tech first found the 120V to 24V 40A transformer in the air handler was fried and not putting our 24V. He needed to make a run to a local supply house to get a new one. He installed the new one and it quickly fried itself while blowing three fuses.

    He thought the air handler control board was shorting out but called a more senior guy and was instructed to disconnect the condenser control wire. After installing a second transformer the air handler started running.

    He then changed the contactor in the condenser and the AC was running again.

    It took 3 hours of diagnostics but the parts were readily available and things were operational.

    I am not interested in high efficiency when there is more electronic complexity and parts are not available locally.


    @ajw222, To me that should have been a 30 Minute repair (it takes time to walk to the truck). The transformer, fuse(s) and contactor should have been on the truck. AND if he used the Dim Bulb test he would not have fried the FIRST new transformer or blew any fuses. Poor troubleshooting skills waste time, money and parts.

    Did you get a discount for his lack of troubleshooting skills or did you pay for the full 3 hours ?

    National - U.S. Gas Boiler 45+ Years Old
    Steam 300 SQ. FT. - EDR 347
    One Pipe System
  • markdelzell
    markdelzell Member Posts: 10
    get a second or third co detector.
  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    get a second or third co detector.

    I have two.

    One connected to my Honeywell alarm system in the utility room and the First Alert outside the door.

    Plus I now have the Sensorcon inspector to do periodic checks.

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19
    109A_5 said:


    @ajw222, To me that should have been a 30 Minute repair (it takes time to walk to the truck). The transformer, fuse(s) and contactor should have been on the truck. AND if he used the Dim Bulb test he would not have fried the FIRST new transformer or blew any fuses. Poor troubleshooting skills waste time, money and parts.

    Did you get a discount for his lack of troubleshooting skills or did you pay for the full 3 hours ?

    Nah, I paid for the 3 hours but only one transformer and the one he put in was a higher wattage model with a builtin CB while I paid for the basic 24V 40VA one.

    I was happy we called the problem in last night and the tech was here at 9AM.

    Caught them on a slow day I guess.

  • ajw222
    ajw222 Member Posts: 19

    Before dropping loads of coin on a new unit, I would investigate the venting of the unit. Has your tech removed the top of the boiler heat exchanger and given it a good brushing?

    I have it one the list for the fall service checkup of the unit.

    Thanks for the suggestion.

  • BennyV
    BennyV Member Posts: 48
    It sounds like you may be able to keep the existing boiler. But if you get a new boiler, it should be a 95% efficient mod/con. No one should be selling/quoting old cast iron designs in the year 2022. With baseboard heat and outdoor reset, you should be able to get a significantly more efficient boiler that doesn't have to cycle nearly as much when only one or two zones are on.

    You need to have a heat loss calc done, and if it hasn't already been done, an energy audit and insulation upgrades would be the first step. From there, getting a boiler with a high TDR should pretty much eliminate cycling except in the warmest part of the shoulder season.
  • watermover
    watermover Member Posts: 2
    I'm a big fan of Lochivars (assuming it's hot water and not steam). You have a decent sized home and can do a modular boiler (2 communicating boilers). They get a 10:1 turn down ratio by themselves, but two get a 20:1 turndown. They also get equal run times in lead lag (taking turns). Not a big fan of Weil McLain since they moved to rubber o-rings on the sectionals (garbage).
  • JoeEngineer
    JoeEngineer Member Posts: 7
    keep it, locate and fix the source of the CO. I have seen boilers, with no more maintenance than oiling the circulators annually, on 60 yrs still going strong; yours should be good for at least that!