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Replacing oil hot water boiler and alternatives

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woodyb
woodyb Member Posts: 2
We have a 2 story well insulated home in eastern PA with an almost 40 year old EFM PK450 oil boiler and baseboards. The 1st and 2nd floor are separate zones controlled by zone valves. The basement also has a baseboard on the same zone as the 1st floor. The boiler has a tankless coil which also supplies our hot water. The oil tank is in the basement with the boiler and the tank is in good shape. We also have 10 year old central AC with ducts leading from the air handler in the attic to the 1st and 2nd floor ceilings and one thermostat on the 2nd floor. We have been happy with both the heating and cooling comfort and performance and are also satisfied with the supply of hot water. We plan on living in this home for another 10-15 years.

After a recent boiler cleaning the technician said that the rear target wall, electrodes, oil burner and motor and combustion chamber are in critical shape and should be replaced soon. He also said the chamber and tubes are rusty and heavily concreted with combustion byproducts. The boiler drain and two other valves are starting to leak, but the boiler itself is not leaking. Despite not replacing any of these items I was told that it is operating at 86% efficiency after the cleaning and nozzle replacement. I was given an estimate to replace all of these items vs replacing the boiler. Since the repair estimate was > 50% of the replacement estimate I decided to get two other replacement estimates.

One firm recommended a properly sized replacement oil boiler after a brief discussion of the drawbacks of switching to either propane or a heat pump. The other firm suggested replacing the oil boiler with a propane boiler or replacing the AC with a heat pump. The existing baseboards would be used with the propane option and the existing ductwork would be used with the heat pump option. He said both of these options would be cheaper to operate without giving any detailed evidence. We do not have access to natural gas.

I'm not thrilled about the propane suggestion due to the cost of removing the oil tank and installing a propane tank. Also since the current cost of propane is ~ 70% the cost of oil there doesn't appear to be much of a cost benefit according to several online calculators I've used.

The online calculators do indicate more significant savings for a heat pump, but I'm concerned that we wouldn't be happy with the heating comfort with the vents in the ceiling and the thermostat on the 2nd floor. I would also have to install a separate hot water heater of some sort with the heat pump option when the existing boiler is decommissioned and remove the oil tank and baseboards along with the boiler which are all added expenses.

I'm also considering having another contractor review the health of the current boiler to determine if the original analysis of our current oil boiler is as dire, but at close to 40 years old I'm not sure band aids are the best option. Again we are happy with the comfort of both our existing heating and cooling although not with the current price of oil or electricity for that matter. We would like to make the best choice for comfort while considering the return on our investment given that we will likely only be in this home for another 10 to 15 years.

Have I overlooked anything?
Are my concerns valid?
Anyone want to share what was done in a similar situation and if enough time has elapsed to determine if the choice was favorable?

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,438
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    Sounds to me as though you have done a pretty good job of thinking this through.

    A few comments.

    You would NOT be happy... at all... with the heat provided by just an air to air heat pump replacing the AC. In fact, you'd be chilly and miserable. However, since an air to air heat pump is not that much more expensive to purchase than a central AC, when it comes time to retire your existing AC it would be a bit useful on chilly early autumn days and the like.

    You do need to stay warm, however, in the winter. So... I'd look very carefully at the price difference between a nice new hot water boiler -- on oil -- and refurbishing the one you have, and also on the availability of parts for the one you have. I realise to some people 40 years sounds like forever, but it isn't really, and if the block is in good shape and the other parts are available, it may well be the better option to refurbish.

    You mention that LP is about 70% of the cost of oil where you are. Is that per gallon? If so, remember that LP also provides only 70% of the heat per gallon... I would not consider switching.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,883
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    Get a properly sized boiler as a replacement. 
    Heat-pumps are good but still have limitations. You need a back up. 
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,884
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    I have lived with furnaces, heat pumps, and boilers. The comfort level of a boiler is not any greater in my opinion. An easy solution would be replacing the AC with a heat pump and you can also add an oil furnace too. Or just go straight heat pump. Heat pumps usually come in much cheaper than oil on energy costs, but of course it depends on your specific rates. 
    ethicalpaul
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,438
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    It also depends on where you are, geographically, and how cold it gets. Central Pennsylvania/Oho/Indiana? A heat pump, properly ducted (which yours isn't -- you are looking at all new duct work), probably will work. North of that... it may work, 90 percent of the time. That other 10 percent you are going to be cold unless you have backup heat. Some heat pumps do have electric resistance backup heat, and that does work. It's also horrendously expensive, unless your electric rates are very low.

    To be a bit bunt: you have a good, efficient, working heating system. You may need a new oil boiler, if that one you have is really failing. Keep your present system with a new boiler if needed, and keep warm and happy.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 530
    edited November 2023
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    At 40 years old that boiler owes you nothing, but that doesn't automatically mean it is ready for the scrap yard. EFM still makes your boiler and likely has all parts available. Is your current oil service company an EFM dealer? If not I suggest contacting EFM to see if they have a dealer in your area and see what their thoughts are.

    https://efmheating.com/index.php/efm-contact-us

    Central AC converted to provide heating will probably not provide the same level of comfort you are accustomed to, and propane likely won't cost you any less than oil. If you decide to go with a new oil boiler, make sure it is properly sized for your house and consider an indirect water heater than than a tankless coil.



  • woodyb
    woodyb Member Posts: 2
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    I appreciate everyone for taking the time to read my concerns and give suggestions. I plan on replacing my current hot water oil boiler with a new appropriately sized one. When the AC dies I will consider replacing it with a heat pump or ductless minis for the bridge seasons and adding either an indirect or other dedicated source for hot water. Thank you again for the time you have taken to help those of us who are not pros.