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American Radiator Co No. 1 Ideal Redflash Boiler | Update or Replace? [Photos]

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Comments

  • rberq
    rberq Member Posts: 3
    To find out who has been maintaining the system, how about contacting the prior owner (perhaps through the listing real estate agent)? My guess is that both the owner and the heating tech appreciate old good stuff as much as you do, and will be happy to hear from you.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30
    edited December 2022

    Big picture - your old house is an absolute energy pig made worse with ill considered "upgrades" like the electric heat in the kitchen. This is no different than the other millions of houses that old in the country. You likely have no insulation at all in your walls. You also have a very inefficient heating plant. These things need to be considered together. It doesn't make sense for example to replace the boiler with a more efficient one of the same capacity and then significantly improve your home's energy efficiency so that your boiler is oversized and then rarely working in its efficient zone. And make sure the new boiler size is based on actual need instead of "rule of thumb" or guesstimates.

    You need to take a bigger picture approach. Make sure the boiler is safe and you have someone you can call in an emergency. Then live with things for a while and pay 2x the average for heating that pig this winter. Learn where the comfort problems in the house are, learn more about your options, and make a plan for improvement. I think your biggest and easiest gains will be more about air sealing (especially the attic), insulating the attic, and figuring a way to get hydronic heating back in that kitchen. I think you will eventually want to replace that cool old boiler - your energy savings will be significant and you recoup most of the capital cost on resale for a net overall gain (and helping the environment for decades to come). With that in mind you may not want to replace the gas burners unless there is a 2 year payback on that.

    I own 12 110 year old houses and have done most of this work myself. I have upgraded most of the old boilers but I do the work myself which saves quite a bit. I actually saved my two old gravity fed boilers so that in case of an extended electrical outage my tenants have a place of refuge, but thats me :).

    In addition to this amazing website, I suggest you hang out at greenbuilding advisor.com to learn more about the energy efficiency side of things. They are also a great community. Pay attention to the info about really old houses, you can't just insulate walls for example that depended on the flow of warm air in the cavities to dry them out. Lots of stuff for free but you will likely want to pay for the more in depth access.

    Thanks for all of this, Chris.

    I had recently bookmarked Green Building Advisor, but haven't yet dug in. I'll be sure to do so.

    I'll try not to ramble too much on about it, but I'm doing my best to take a "whole system" or big picture approach to the home's energy usage as it relates to our comfort, safety, and environmental efficiency.

    Finding both the time (new parents, first time home owners) and the technicians has been a real challenge.
    I'm not sure if it's "the times" or where we are geographically, but it's been a struggle finding contractors/technicians to even entertain working on this older home's parts and that's leaving me to worry about our available options moving forward. Coming from the northeast where a c.1915 home isn't considered that old, the folks here in the midwest thinking this thing is an antique is at once funny and frustrating.

    -I'd love to have a home energy audit done, yet haven't been able to find anyone in the area to perform one.
    -All of "the best" boiler techs in the area only work on commercial applications and they had no one to refer to me for residential.
    -The soon-to-be dead man who has taken care of the neighborhood's old boilers for decades is "no longer doing boilers" now that he's approaching retirement.
    -The very reputable HVAC+plumbing company that installed and services the AC equipment the home came with, has no one on staff with hydronic experience, though they sent their most knowledgeable tech out for an inspection and deemed the system safe (no leaked CO detected, components in working order, etc...).
    -I've called a handful of reputable insulation companies requesting assessments and bids for the work I know needs to be done:
    --there's no insulation in the floors/crawl spaces
    --poor insulation on the attic floor and none in the upper attic spaces or rafters
    --the kitchen+addition are frustratingly under insulated
    --figure out where exactly the home has had insulation blown into the walls as stated in the sales contract
    and yet haven't received a call back from any of them (starting to worry that I'm the common denominator😬)

    The house holds its temperature remarkably well considering its age, original windows, and lack of insulation just mentioned both in extreme heat (this summer's 110º+ heat waves) and cold (last month's stretch of nights in the teens ºF). Nor is the home drafty. I've lived in homes older than this where cold would seep through every door jamb and window frame and this house has none of that. So, we're starting from a rather good place all things considered.

    Getting in touch with the previous owners would be comically simple; their adult son lives two houses down from us. I'm not sure why I've been so hesitant to do so, but I will be making an effort to do so this weekend.

    I don't excel in having patience when it comes to knowing something could be working "better", yet, I hear you on biting the bullet this winter and taking the time to better plan than to throw money at the problem haphazardly. On top of all this is the fact that we don't know how long we'll live here. We didn't buy thinking this would be our forever home. We don't love the area where we are and since we bought at the peak of the housing boom in '22, we're trying to be strategic about how much money to put into the home. I'd LOVE to re-renovate that whole kitchen+addition situation, but tossing another $100k atop our purchase price just doesn't make sense.

    I'm the guy that's excited to see early cars retrofitted with electric motors (talk about a heavy Chevy!) because I appreciate the craftsmanship and style yet realize the time for burning large amounts of fossil fuels is coming to a close and I see this boiler in the same light.

    Unless it becomes a safety risk, like you, I'll be leaving the hydronic system in place, just in case, and because I feel it has earned it. I'm sure newer hydronic systems are more efficient, but would they last as long as this hunk of iron? Does it even matter if they would if their materials are so easily scrapped for yet another new model 25 years down the road?

    I'm incredibly appreciative of everyone who has chimed in so far and who continues to do so. Thank you.



  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30
    scott w. said:

    From one home owner to another, I would follow Albany Chris's advice and plan to replace that energy pig in the spring to something way more efficient. In the mean time insulate what places you can before the boiler is replaced. If something fails on that old system in the middle of winter and cannot be replaced you are now in a mad scramble to have a replacement done. Many times the home owner will have regrets with a project done in an emergency. Good luck and hope all goes well for you this winter.

    I'm with you and have been hesitant to think about what could fail on the system, though the reality is it's any number of things in that burner's controls. We have a bit of money set aside in case that does happen, but as you say, I don't have a plan for what that money would go toward should the system fail.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30
    edited December 2022
    We're a month into winter temps and I have a few new questions about this system.

    At one point a 1st floor bathroom was remodeled and the radiator relocated. Whomever did the work installed the Grundfos pump (incorrectly) as seen in the photos earlier in the thread. It seems that pump only moves water from the boiler to that radiator and back. What is the purpose of this and is it causing issues with the system as a whole?

    Being an American Foursquare style home, all of the bedrooms have x2 exterior walls. Unfortunately, our toddler's room (SE corner) is the coldest in the house as the radiator in his room is smaller than those in other, similarly sized rooms. It also doesn't get as hot as other radiators in the home. Is there any way to increase the output of that radiator? It seems like a very obvious "no", but I'd rather not assume, just in case something could be done.

    Should this boiler fail and/or we decide to scrap it for a more efficient unit, would we retain the plumbing and radiators and "simply" attach a new boiler to the rest of the system? Or, would the entire system, plumbing and all need to be pulled and replaced?

    Thanks as always.
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 732
    Globalksp said:

    Unfortunately, our toddler's room (SE corner) is the coldest in the house as the radiator in his room is smaller than those in other, similarly sized rooms. It also doesn't get as hot as other radiators in the home. Is there any way to increase the output of that radiator? It seems like a very obvious "no", but I'd rather not assume, just in case something could be done.

    First thing to check is that it is not half full or air. Does it have an working bleeder valve? Next thing to check is the supply valve. Is it open all the way? Is there an orifice plate or some other restriction? If not either of those, then that room may need a larger radiator, but the current one should get hot top to bottom. Post a picture of the radiator and we may have more suggestions.
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 14,414
    A Redflash 3 pass boiler is NOT a "pig".

    It needs to be set up by someone that knows we're they're doing.
    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
    GlobalkspSuperTech
  • clammy
    clammy Member Posts: 2,912
    I haven’t made any comments as of yet but I have just one , it’s old and was installed when oil and gas where cheap which they are not as of now . All the green improvements in the world will not make that boiler any more fuel eff . It s sear weight of cast iron to be heated is most likely 3 times the weight of a modern cast iron boiler ,so even if you could get the existing burner or install a modern gas burner to burn at 87% your boiler thermal mass still needs to be heated . The bigger issue is when it goes in the dead of the winter you will be stuck w a emergency replacement and unless the installer are the A crew of A cres you will most likely be stuck w crap in hurry install depending greatly on the installer there are emergency miracle workers out there . Everyone spends there money on what people see not on what’s not seen and complain about operating costs of existing heating and cooling equipment . Your are unfortunately stuck between a rock and a hard place the past home owner chose not to replace that ancient boiler which when switched from coal to oil and then gas should have been replaced . Personally you will never drastically reduce your fuel consumption until you replace the boiler . I ve seen jobs w similar old boiler converted to gas w customers pays close to 2 g a month on gas , most likely a new boiler sized properly would have slashed there heating bills by mim 1/3 but the kitchen needed a update so that’s how it goes , kitchen looks great but does nothing for winter fuel bills . Most who brought homes in Covid are in the same boat but the seller got away clean and didn’t have to replace that antique . I wish you the best of luck but to be honest w you is are you driving a horse and buggy shoveling coal I doubt it . It’s your money so waste it as you wish new kitchen new heating system which one has a better return on investment . Being the next home owners wife shall toss your kitchen and baths and up date it all forget about the heating until the gas bill comes oi vey
    Peace and good luck clammy
    R.A. Calmbacher L.L.C. HVAC
    NJ Master HVAC Lic.
    Mahwah, NJ
    Specializing in steam and hydronic heating
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 14,414
    edited December 2022
    @clammy

    I do not believe oil and gas were ever "cheap" nor do I think coal was.  

    $0.35 in 1960 is the same as $3.50 right now

    Or let's go back a few years before the war and shortages.

    $2.40 in 2018 is the same as $0.26 in 1960

    I just talked to my dad and he said 88 octane was $0.30 in 1967 which is the same as $2.68 today.  That's slightly higher than we were pre covid.

    Fuel has never been cheap.

    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
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30
    edited December 2022
    Thanks for the continued replies, everyone. You've all been very helpful.

    It seems that there is a mix of opinions on what should be done with this old boiler. Some are saying get it updated with a new burner, damper, and a bit of TLC. Others are saying to replace it with something newer and more efficient.

    To that end, I (finally) found a plumbing + heating company (https://connellyplumbing.com/) to come out and take a look and hear the suggestions for updating vs upgrading that I've received here.

    For those of you here who are/were professionals in the industry, are there any questions I should be asking of the technician when they come out? Or should I keep my mouth shut and see what they offer?

    Along those same lines, we have 2 insulation companies coming out to give the home a once over and suggest insulation work to make the home more, well, insulated.

    Thanks again.
  • OuterCapeOilguy
    OuterCapeOilguy Member Posts: 39
    All other things being equal, I concur with keeping the boiler, installing baffling to retard the flue gas from zooming out up the chimney, installing a Field MG-1 barometric draft regulator, and replacing the burner with a Carlin EZ-Gas. I replaced the oil burner on a Weil-McLain Gold oil-fired hydronic boiler a few years ago, and I regard the EZ-Gas as an excellent product. Having an electronic ignitor, you won't be paying to run a standing pilot, and the primary/safety control on the Carlin is very quick-acting. Check local codes-you may need to install a "spill switch," a thermally-operated safety switch mounted on the bottom of the draft regulator, sensitive to prolonged backdrafts.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30

    All other things being equal, I concur with keeping the boiler, installing baffling to retard the flue gas from zooming out up the chimney, installing a Field MG-1 barometric draft regulator, and replacing the burner with a Carlin EZ-Gas. I replaced the oil burner on a Weil-McLain Gold oil-fired hydronic boiler a few years ago, and I regard the EZ-Gas as an excellent product. Having an electronic ignitor, you won't be paying to run a standing pilot, and the primary/safety control on the Carlin is very quick-acting. Check local codes-you may need to install a "spill switch," a thermally-operated safety switch mounted on the bottom of the draft regulator, sensitive to prolonged backdrafts.

    Any chance I can fly you out here to do that?

    As crazy as that sounds, I'm starting to think that may be what has to happen. See my next comment for context.
  • Globalksp
    Globalksp Member Posts: 30
    edited December 2022
    Wanted to post an update for those who have been here since the beginning (thank you!).

    A tech from Connelly Plumbing, Heating, and Air (A Waldinger Corp Company) came out yesterday and here's what happened and what I was told.

    The long and short of it is that the company will service the boiler and its components, but not modify/upgrade it. They claim that this would open them up to code violations and potential liabilities should something go wrong down the line.

    Here's what the tech found and discussed:
    • Brief inspection of entire unit while fired and at rest. Technician said of all the boilers of its age that he's seen in town, this is by far the most well maintained.
    • The Sonner Burner and corresponding Minneapolis Honeywell Regulator Co. electric gas valve were inspected and...studied (few have seen things so old and still in operation and they marvel at it).
    • Pilot was inspected and deemed to not have a safety / gas shut off device. The black box that is seen inline with the pilot gas piping was discussed, but couldn't be determined exactly what it was.
    • Swapping out the old Honeywell gas valve for a newer type was discussed. Felt the gas valve was the weak link in the entire system.
    • Expansion tank was very briefly opened to check for water (it had water)
    • Gate valve was attempted to be opened to check water level, but gate valve wouldn't budge. Tech thought the water level may be low in the system. There is no makeup water system in place that he could find.
    • Technician thought he'd like to see the system's pressure around 20 pounds instead of 12 since it's a 2 story home.
    • When asked about the improperly installed pump that seems to only service the bathroom, he said it wasn't doing anything important since this is a gravity system and suggested it be unplugged (it is).
    • No draft measurements were taken. Not sure they knew how to take them.
    • Water temperature setting was reduced from 120ºF to 110ºF (in an effort to reduce gas usage)
    • Gas valve was closed 1/4 turn to reduce gas flow to burner (in an effort to reduce gas usage)
    So after that inspection as well as the nice follow up call from another technician (one described as being a one in a million boiler tech) who was more of a decision maker, it seems I'm left with 4 options:
    1. Leave everything as is, add a combustible gas alarm (one has been ordered - a 5% LEL model with battery backup), have the boiler serviced, and reduce our gas bills by reducing our usage.
    2. Have a new boiler installed (was quoted ballpark $10K plus install)
    3. Have heat pumps added to the current 2-zone AC system and forego using the boiler
    4. Find someone else willing to perform the upgrades all of you have mentioned so far (whether it be someone local or someone we would fly in).
    For the time being, we'll be a little colder and/or pay a higher gas bill until the options get whittled down even further.

    The first of two insulation inspections came back saying that we're about as insulated as we can be considering the age and layout of the home. The only recommendation was adding another 8" of fiberglass in the attic and potentially insulating the concrete foundation.

    The journey continues...