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When to replace residential boiler?

RobRob Member Posts: 2
How do I know when to replace my boiler?

I have a small house (my mother's home, not mine) on
Cape Cod with an oil-fired forced hot water heating
system. The boiler, installed in 1983, is a Burnham Model RS 111 (manufactured from 1981 until 1998)
which provides both heat and hot water...

When I bought this 2-bedroom Cape-style house in
1997, I put a new roof on and insulated the attic for the
first time (with proper ventilation, to prevent ice dams).
I also checked to ensure that the walls were adequately
insulated (they were). Then I had a local oil service
guy come around and give the heating system a
thorough inspection. He told me I had a fairly cheap
boiler which, because it is steel (not cast iron) only has
a lifespan of 15-20 years. As a result, I've been thinking
I should replace it this Fall (or next Spring, at the latest).

But I just spoke with Burnham and they told me these
units have a lifspan of 20-25 years! Since my unit is
only 19 years old, and its still working well, I now think
I may not need to replace it for a few more years.

Since my elderly mother lives there, I don't want to wait
until it stops working altogether on some cold wintry
day. How will I know when its time has come?

Furthermore, the oil tank (which dates back to when the
house was constructed in 1949) is not in very good
shape... rust is taking its toll and I worry that I could
have a major leak in 5-10 more years. So I was
thinking of removing the oil tank and having natural gas
piping installed... using gas heat and hot water would
also allow me to install a gas kitchen stove... which I
prefer to electric.

Questions are:

1. How do I know when I need to replace the boiler?

2. Should I get cast iron for longevity?

3. Should I switch to a traditional tank-style gas hot
water heater or what?

4. What other points should I consider?


All my years in college haven't prepared me for
life as a homeowner!


  • John@ReliableJohn@Reliable Member Posts: 379
    When to replace?

    Rob, That unit you have was pretty good.I have found that the biggest drawback was the tankless water heater gasket.Which in time will leak and if not repaired can cause boiler failure from rot. If boiler has no signs of this happening I would keep it in.I would also keep the tankless water heater which needs to have boiler on year round,this will help the boiler last longer esp. on cape.When you do replace it cast is the way to go.As far as the oil tank I would consider replacement it's served the house well for over 50 yrs. I live in Middleboro Ma.(exit 3) and gas is higher here and I'm pretty sure even more on cape than oil. Hope This Helps! P.S. Check out post:Another Michigan Tragedy
  • RobRob Member Posts: 2
    re: When to replace?


    Thanks for the reply. (Couldn't locate the post you mention.)

    With automotive tires, one doesn't wait for a blow-out
    to buy new tires. (Well, most of us don't.) We look at
    the tread and, if there isn't much tread left, we replace.

    Is there something akin to "tread" that the service guy
    can look at to see if my boiler needs replacement?
    Or do I simply replace it based on the number of
    years in use?

    There's a gas line running down the street, right in
    front of my house. Yes, gas will probably cost a little
    more (hopefully not a lot more)... but I like the idea
    of gas for cooking and I don't like the oil tank. I'll
    reconsider the decision though - I might be able to
    live with a new oil tank and get gas into the house
    for cooking only.

    There seem to be two schools of thought on tankless
    water heaters vs the traditional tank style:

    1) Tankless keeps the boiler in use all summer and
    thereby extends its life.

    2) Tankless keeps the boiler in use all summer and
    thereby costs more to run.

    I'm not sure what to think about this issue. I've heard
    folks argue strongly for the traditional tank style -
    regardless of whether my boiler is gas-fired or oil-fired.

    Oh... yes, I will get cast iron when the time comes.

    More comments... please!
  • keithkeith Member Posts: 224
    have the combustion chamber

    checked out. My Inlaws had a 23 year old New Yorker (same basic boiler as yours)in their house. If I had caught the chamber replacement in time it would probably still be running. So much depends on wether the unit was taken care of over the years. A Corvette is a piece of junk with the wrong service people working on the car.See my point? The oil tank must be replaced ASAP. You dont want that mess in the house to deal with. I personally would stick with the oil instead of gas.
  • Bob BonaBob Bona Member Posts: 2,081
    Hi Rob

    The RS series was my favorite boiler to clean. Like John said, make sure the coil gasket on top stays good. Over time the chambers like to drop, and that in turn drops efficincy somewhat, at worst the back of the tub starts to burn up.If those 2 things are in good shape, it would be reasonable to expect a few more yrs out of it.You will get better heat recovery with oil, and I would look at a cast iron unit with an indirect for hot water at replacement time. Might want to do the ground work now!

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  • I had a Burnham

    RS109 in my house for 5 years - I got it used from a customer who switched to gas . I never had troubles with it till my copper radiant leaked and I used a sealant that fixed the leak , but coated the hot water coil also .

    We used to install the RS series quite often for customers who didnt want cast iron . To tell you the truth , I havent taken out a leaker yet - not even mine after the floor leak , and many gallons of makeup water .

    Today we use the Burnham RSA series - the newer version of the RS , and its a good piece of equipment . But for a little bit more money , I would go for the cast iron V8 line by Burnham . With the internal coil , it should be plenty of hot water for one person . I have 5 people in my house and our coil is workin fine . You always have the option of adding an indirect later on if needed .

    And youre better off changing it when the weather is on your side - nothing lasts forever . Good luck .
  • Oh yea - brings up a question with Burnham

    Can the V8 line be retrofitted with a gas burner ? How is the efficiency after the conversion ?
  • Just about any boiler

    can be fitted with a conversion gas burner Ron. Because we have so many dedicated gas boilers, however, we do not offer, test or certify our residential oil boilers with gas burners. Provided all of the necessary safety devices are installed and the overfire and breech draft are correct, they will probably work well. There will not be a third party certification from us though because we have not tested and certified as such. If anything should happen with the boiler set up with the conversion burner, we can bear no responsibility. Our larger commercial pressure-fire boilers are available with oil, gas and gas/oil burners and are certified as such. Hope this helps Ron.

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