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Getting rid of the old oil burner in the northeast... is this now feasible in 2024?

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HeatherG
HeatherG Member Posts: 4
Hi! I have a 2500 sq ft 1960's house in CT and it has oil-fired baseboard heating. Natural gas is not in my neighborhood. We were looking for a way to cool the upstairs without using window AC units in our old, not-very-AC-unit-friendly windows and had a large minisplit installed and ducted into each upstairs room (this was about 4 years ago). We just use an AC unit for the downstairs and it's an open design so it (mostly) works out between the cool air from upstairs and the half-cool air from the one AC unit, but on really hot, humid stretches, we have to run a fan to push the air around the downstairs and crank up the AC.

We started turning off the oil heat for the upstairs and using the minisplit system to cool and heat the entire upstairs. It's not 100% evenly distributed (since it's sort of a workaround system and also as my kids love to close their doors, that interferes a bit with the airflow), but it's still comfortable and we are happy with it and the reduced oil use. On crazy cold days (like 0-8F which is fortunately rare), you can tell the system struggles and sometimes doesn't quite get to the set temp at 68F. But I'm guessing due to it being an older system and the initial plan was to use it for cooling, it wasn't one of the ultra-low-temp-efficient ones.

Now we are faced with a decision: Our oil burner is almost 30 years old and the lining on the inside has slipped down and we were warned it could start to wear through any time soon so we should plan to replace it with a new one. But I wonder if this is a great plan, since I would rather get away from oil entirely if I can. I was a little hesitant if a heat pump might struggle in the cold, but after talking with EnergizeCT (my state has this thing to help people make energy-efficient choices where you can meet with someone online to discuss your needs), they say the systems that are installed with their blessing to meet the tax breaks/rebates/etc have to be minimally 100% efficient down to 5F. So it sounds totally feasible. Except then I would also need a HPWH for hot water.. which I know is pricey and I fear might not keep up with our family of four's showers and dishwasher.

Naturally we just replaced our hot water tank a year ago (45 gal indirect water heater storage tank. I'm wondering if I can kill two birds with one stone and still use it with a HPWH somehow...

So before I get sucked into whatever a company might want to sell me that might not actually be a great plan, I wanted to get everyone's take on this (if I'm getting this right or if it makes sense to do):

Get a 2-2.5 ish ton heat pump to put in our (unfinished cement) basement for heating/cooling the ~1000 sq ft first floor and duct it under the floor, or get a few mini-splits for each area (whichever will work and is cheaper) (then the heat gets piped from the outside). The first floor is an open design, the rooms sort of are in a connected circle around the stairwell, the only room that closes separately is a small half bath.

Then get a HPWH (not sure how big), it will be expensive, but I think without paying for oil, and with improved efficiency, in a few-several years I will recoup costs? That would draw air from the basement, which doesn't run that cold. Is it crazy to imagine it could be hooked up somehow to my shiny new indirect storage tank and therefore we won't run low on hot water (which is one of my fears if abandoning the oil burner)?

I can get a heat loan for up to $15K at 1% interest for up to 15 years as part of my state's incentives to pay for all these higher up-front costs, so at least there's that.

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,310
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    Connecticut? Well... you won't save any money running the heat pump, even if it's the best you can get. The electricity rates are too high. You will, perhaps, break even on the energy cost.

    So forget about recovering the costs of tearing out the oil heat system and installing the heat pump. Nice idea and the sales people are very persuasive, but... nope, sorry.

    Will it keep you comfortable on those odd cold days? You must be down near the coast, so a unit designed for running in cold temperatures might. Just barely. We have one, and it doesn't -- but we are up in the northwest corner and it gets quite a bit colder. Fortunately, we still have steam heat.

    As you note, you would also need a nice new heat pump water heater. Unless your family is small, you will need to get the biggest one you can -- or it will engage its electric resistance back up heat, and your energy bills will soar.

    Sorry...
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    HeatherGMikeAmannSuperTechIntplm.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
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    @HeatherG , in most cases a firebox liner can be replaced, for pocket change compared to a heat pump conversion- which would definitely not work well in CT. Post the make and model of your boiler and we can tell you for sure. Also a few pics, showing the boiler and the burner that's on it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    HeatherGSuperTechPRR
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,852
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    Get the heat pumps but keep the oil as back up!
    HeatherGyellowdogSuperTech
  • HeatherG
    HeatherG Member Posts: 4
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    @Jamie Hall
    Thanks for your input. From my calculations, it seems it's been cheaper for me to use the minisplit in lieu of oil for the upstairs from the little bit of comparison values I have. While a new system has an upfront cost, I'll still need a new oil burner which will have its own cost (though less). So while I don't expect to necessarily recoup all costs as the only reason for switching over, I guess I'd be happy just breaking even. With the expected total of $4000 ish in energy-efficiency rebates/incentives and $15K 1% interest CT Heat loan also improves the cost of taking out a "regular" loan for a new oil burner. So when I think "recouping" costs, I'm also including these energy incentives in that calculation. Obviously, if instead of breaking even, the heat pump were to cost way more than oil persistently over the years, or not work to do its job overall, that would be a problem for me!

    I wouldn't want to spring for taking out the baseboard heating, while it's not pretty to look at, it won't hurt anyone just sitting there... But I'll need to spend to take my old burner out, regardless of which I go with, anyway.
  • HeatherG
    HeatherG Member Posts: 4
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    @Steamhead
    The year before last service, the service tech had mentioned a hole is forming in the metal of my burner but it's small enough for now but said I should prepare to replace it due to its age and that it's wearing (rusting?) through and will eventually fail. The last tech for this year had said something about the lining and hole in a way that I think he hadn't read any previous reports about the aging burner, he was explaining it to me as if I hadn't heard anything about it before and he had just observed it and was warning me with similar advice.. that I shouldn't expect it to keep hanging on and need to start planning its replacement. I asked him (as I did the previous guy) if it was patchable or anything that could be repaired instead of replaced. Both had told me no due to whatever it was exactly about it that's going wrong and the age, etc. I don't know enough about it to know if they were both lying, but I have had one of these techs multiple times before and he seemed pretty on the up and up.
  • HeatherG
    HeatherG Member Posts: 4
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    @pecmsg
    While I would like to keep the old as a backup, the maintenance techs were warning me it will die at any time, I'm not sure it's worth keeping it all going and the space that it occupies would be ideal for putting the new system in...
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,850
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    The HP will provide AC, which is often overlooked. So it’s not oil boiler vs HP, it’s oil boiler + AC versus HP. 

    Oil and a HP can play well together, so if you have any doubts you can keep both. Also, you have options for ducted backup heat too - electric, oil, propane, etc. 

    A HPWH isn’t actually required here? You could use straight resistance. But a HPWH will certainly suit your needs. Most all Americans don’t have indirects and get by just fine - the market demand just isn’t there. 

    Best of luck! 
    ethicalpaul
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,310
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    Be very wary of those rebates and incentives. Last I looked -- granted a couple of years ago -- they would have required me to permanently disable my existing heating system. I needed the heat pump for other reasons, so I paid -- handsomely -- for it myself.

    It probably is cheaper to use the heat pump -- when it's warmer outside. But heat pump performance (called the COP) changes with temperature, and you need a COP or at least 3.5 with Connecticut prices (and, by the way, electricity is going up this summer -- in our corner of the state it will be $0.35 per Kwh, as I recall) and that figure you won't get in the winter time.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,529
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    I don't know the rebate system in CT but in some cases to get the rebate the oil system has to be gone.

    Everyone want's heat pumps but then again everyone wants comfortable heat and AC. The utilities and energy savers tout heat pumps.

    Lets start with heat pump water heaters

    First off they are very expensive

    Some have posted on here that love them

    Some have posted that they hate them and they have little capacity and don't work well.

    And who fixes it if they fail? The average plumber that installs it will know nothing about the refrigeration system in a HPWH.

    They seem to be treated like a window ac... not worth fixing and if they fail toss them out

    As far as the heating system goes your stuck between oil and heat pumps as you don't have gas and straight electric is very expensive.

    First thing is to find out if you can keep the oil and still get rebates for the heat pumps and HPWH.

    2d thing is a 30 year old boiler can quit tomorrow or run another 20 years.

    Chances are if the boiler does not leak water it can be fixed and made to run efficiently. Efficiency wise with oil a 30 year old boiler is about the same efficiency as a new boiler.

    Your oil company probably has lousy technicians as there are not many good ones around and they don't want to fix anything just install new.

    2d thing you might want to try is to call your oil company and talk to the service manager and tell them you would like there bet technical person to evaluate the boiler and burner to see what it needs if anything
    SuperTech
  • MikeAmann
    MikeAmann Member Posts: 997
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    Your words
    Obviously, if instead of breaking even, the heat pump were to cost way more than oil persistently over the years, or not work to do its job overall, that would be a problem for me!
    Now you just have to actually believe them because this is exactly what will happen.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,842
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    HeatherG said:

    @Steamhead
    The year before last service, the service tech had mentioned a hole is forming in the metal of my burner but it's small enough for now but said I should prepare to replace it due to its age and that it's wearing (rusting?) through and will eventually fail. The last tech for this year had said something about the lining and hole in a way that I think he hadn't read any previous reports about the aging burner, he was explaining it to me as if I hadn't heard anything about it before and he had just observed it and was warning me with similar advice.. that I shouldn't expect it to keep hanging on and need to start planning its replacement. I asked him (as I did the previous guy) if it was patchable or anything that could be repaired instead of replaced. Both had told me no due to whatever it was exactly about it that's going wrong and the age, etc. I don't know enough about it to know if they were both lying, but I have had one of these techs multiple times before and he seemed pretty on the up and up.

    If we know the boiler model, we can better evaluate this. I've had oil (and gas) guys tell my customers they need new boilers frequently. In some cases this was justified, more often it was not.

    This is why we need to know what boiler you have. If, for example, you have a dry-base steel boiler and a hole was burning through the base, replacement would be justified. But a wet-base cast-iron boiler with a hole in the firebox liner can be easily fixed with a new liner kit, assuming the boiler itself is in good shape.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    EBEBRATT-Ed
  • yellowdog
    yellowdog Member Posts: 157
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    The numbers you stated that you can get a loan for might cover a 50% deposit for a properly designed cold weather heat pump system for your first floor that will not rely on your oil boiler running at all. What a lot of people don't think of is how cold your basement is going to become without the oil burner and piping giving off heat. This leads to a cold floor, and with heat pumps producing a relatively cool air to heat the spaces can lead to uncomfortable drafts circulating on the main floor. Most people in my area do not want the added expense of adding a head in an unfinished basement. Now, with an already cool basement you want to run a HPWH which is going to cool the basement farther which results in cooling the floor even more. With a family of four, especially if the kids are teens or pre-teens, you are not a candidate for a HPWH. It would run on resistance heat most of the time due to your usage. I do think that you are a candidate for a heat pump system for your main floor, but your estimate of cost is very low and I would never get rid of the central heating system. For our company, a failed heat pump is not an emergency call. Most companies do not stock parts for heat pumps and most suppliers do not either (and most installers won't service them anyways at least in my area). It may take a couple of weeks to get a heat pump system back up and running in the middle of winter. If I was you, I would definitely get some more details about what is wrong with your oil burner and boiler and spend the short money to get it repaired and reliable and then start investigating into a heat pump system farther. Do not get hung up on the free money to make a decision. The money really isn't free if you look at where it comes from.
  • Waher
    Waher Member Posts: 251
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    Keep the hydronic system and indirect water heater while switching to a heat pump as the heating element instead of the oil burner.

    https://www.lg.com/global/business/hvac/residential-solutions/air-to-water-heat-pumps

    keep the mini-splits for cooling only.

    maybe keep the oil tank to run a back up generator
  • Long Beach Ed
    Long Beach Ed Member Posts: 1,204
    edited March 6
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    You are being sold a bill of good by a government that wants you to stop burning fuel in your home, regardless of the misery, dollars and reliability it will cost you.

    It has been stated here several times:

    Obviously, if instead of breaking even, the heat pump were to cost way more than oil persistently over the years, or not work to do its job overall, that would be a problem for me!
    Now you just have to actually believe them because this is exactly what will happen.


    Put a new firebox in the boiler for less than the price of a set of good tires, save money, live comfortable and have reliable heat. Doing otherwise requires you to buy into lies from people whose priorities differ from yours.

    Junking your heating system and relying on heat pumps in Connecticut will cost you money, reliability and comfort. Anyone telling you otherwise has motives that completely ignore dependability, equipment and maintenance cost over service life, fuel costs and comfort.

    I'm a professional engineer. This is what I do. Most of the others posting here are the best in their fields, who make heating their professions. People bribing you with tax rebates are political hacks. Did I tell you heat pumps will cost you a lot more money?
    WaherMikeAmannSTEAM DOCTOR
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,702
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    Without getting into the government conspiracy theories, I will say that I was in a similar situation to you in CT where I wanted to replace my oil burner.

    I put in a ground source heat pump with a single vertical well and it worked great. I did use a resistance water heater which was fine (this is not new technology and domestic hot water isn't very expensive to heat even with resistance electrical).

    But I had one advantage over you. My house had an existing forced air oil burning furnace with air ducts, so I was able to just slide in a water-to-air heat pump exactly where my oil furnace was, tie it to the ducting and I was good to go with heat and amazing central AC. That took me (an HVAC amateur) one Saturday afternoon.

    That option might not make sense for you. But my biggest takeaway is don't let the domestic hot water (DHW) issue be your decider, that's the easiest part of your problem.
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
  • MaxMercy
    MaxMercy Member Posts: 508
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    I'm in CT, and man are the electric rates high here. Unless things have changed very recently, heat pumps are not the way to save money. Be aware that if used as your primary heating, they struggle in very cold weather and have a relatively short life compared to a quality CI boiler - so figure in replacement of the heat pumps more often when adding up the costs.


    MikeAmannWaherPRR