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Converting a steam heat system to forced hot water

A friend of mine recently bought an old two family house in Mattapan, Mass. She wants to take advantage of a program offered by KeySpan Gas where they'll provide the boilers if you switch from oil to gas. The paperwork has to be in by the end of this month. Unfortunately I won't be able to see the job until next month. They basically just want a heat loss done on the place to size the boilers...no big deal.

The problem is this: While I've seen some houses that have been converted from steam to forced hot water, I've never actually done it myself. I'm hoping to use the old radiators, and as much of the old piping as possible. What are the common pitfalls I need to be concerned with? Can I get away with changing just the bleeders on each radiator, or will I have to change more? What about steam traps? Can I just leave them alone, or would they have to be removed? Without having seen the place, I have no idea if it's a one-pipe or a two-pipe system, but let's assume it's two-pipe for the sake of discussion. Finally, how economical will the conversion be if the boiler has to heat all that water (big radiators and over-sized pipes)?

Comments

  • DaveGateway
    DaveGateway Member Posts: 568
    think about it!!

    On a steam system how long does it take to heat 5-8 gallons of water to make steam for heat.
    On a water system your heating most times over 100 gallons to 180 degrees. How long does that take compared to boiling that 5-8 gallons of water to make steam.
    The cost of the conversion will most times never be recouped. Your house will probably be colder. Steam radiators are smaller than hot water. I had a vapor system that was converted to hot water. It never worked well. I converted it back.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
    I will never understand

    why, when some people see a steam system they assume they have to convert it to hot-water.

    Hot water runs at least 10 times the pressure of steam. If there are weak spots in the pipes or radiators they will leak.

    Some steam radiators will not work at all with hot water.

    In a one-pipe system you have to run all new return lines.

    If the system is two-pipe the returns are probably too small to work with hot water, so you have to replace them.

    Sound complicated? You bet it is, and the economics are doubtful at best. It is much easier and cheaper to fix a steam system than convert it.

    I have a serious problem with Keyspan dumping boilers to try to put oil suppliers out of business. If they are pushing a steam to hot-water conversion I think that's another reason to stay away from them.

    Rich, do yourself and your customer a favor: Get a good replacement steam boiler and a copy of "The Lost Art of Steam Heating". You'll both be glad you did.



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    All Steamed Up, Inc.
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    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • chuck shaw
    chuck shaw Member Posts: 584
    Keyspan will give you a steam boiler

    Having said this, why does she want to change from oil in the first place? That free boiler is not free. It will show up as increased rates. Keyspan is looking out for Keyspan. They are not in buisness to anyone any favors. I compare them to the story of the herion dealer, they get you will a little bit for free, and then you are locked in, and once she is tied to the umbilical cord to a bill. She is cooked, you cant convert that gas boiler back to oil.

    A quick example,to heat a home using a 100,000 btu boiler, you would use 2448 gallons of oil, and 3378 therms of gas. Use these numbers for comparison, you actual usage may vary depending on the home. Check the per gallon cost, and the cost of a therm of gas. I think you will find out who is more cost effictive to run.

    JMO

    Chuck Shaw

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  • HeavyP
    HeavyP Member Posts: 52
    Oil or gas

    You are doing the correct thing by switching to gas. Oil is messy, smelly , there is more maintanence on an oil burning boiler i.e. filters nozzles. you run the risk of a leaky underground tank that can cost THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. Gas is the way to go, although I would not change it to a hot water system, A properly installed steam boiler with run soundless and efficient, but please stay away from stinky, smelly, costly , dirty oil. Gas is the only way to go. What you save in cost of oil is nothing compared to annual maintenance costs, repair parts etc.
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
    Now, Now

    HeavyP, you must see a lot of poorly maintained oil-fired boilers. Properly maintained, oil is as clean and reliable as gas. The fact that a professional visits the installation each year is a good thing, since he or she can catch potential problems before they get serious. It's true that underground tanks can be a problem, but that's the only drawback I can think of.

    Look how clean this 20-year-young Burnham is!

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    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Al Letellier
    Al Letellier Member Posts: 781
    hector at heavy p

    Every man is entitled to his option, Hector, but as to your opinion about oil.......mama always taught me that if I didn't have something nice to say, don't. So..............

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  • RC
    RC Member Posts: 35
    Steam sells...... but who's buying

    Just a quick note:
    There is absolutely nothing wrong with steam heat. If you're worried about efficiency change out the the air vents
    (main & radiator)to ensure proper venting, and add thermostatic radiator valves. Tekmar also makes a reset control for steam heating. #262,I believe. Take care!
  • Mad Dog
    Mad Dog Member Posts: 2,595
    Don't do it bro!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Stay with the steam

    it will be much more economical to rehab it - and more fun...keep the lost art alive!!!!!!!! Mad Dog

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  • Heavy P_2
    Heavy P_2 Member Posts: 1
    Sorry

    but I can not agree with you guys, gas is the only way to go in my book. When it comes to reliability, comfort(quietness) annual maintenance costs and space taken up. HP
  • kf_2
    kf_2 Member Posts: 118
    Hector

    I have always believed that there are good and bad points of both oil and gas. Having said that, it has been my experience that, because gas APPEARS to be easy to install and problem free, that some plumbing contractors (NOT ALL) fail to set up gas boilers properly. For instance; do you own a manometer to check gas pressures, how about a draft gauge to test proper chimmney drafts, do you use a combustion analyser to insure that the combustion is proper or do you wait for the Carbon Monoxide detectors in the house to go off.

    Most contractors, unfortunately, believe like you, that gas equipment requires NO maintenance and therfore it never gets any. Burner tubes get filthy which causes sooting, raised levels of C0, and decreases in efficiency.

    Sorry if that sounded spitefull, but it happens too frequently. For the most part, service techs that service oil equipment (again, not all) tend to be more thourogh and small problems don't become large, dangerous, problems.

    Also, by the way, both fuels in the proper boilers set-up and maintained properly can be just as quiet, clean, and trouble free for years. Oil will however, always be less costly to operate than gas AFUE for AFUE.


    kf
  • Bob_19
    Bob_19 Member Posts: 94
    You will

    95% of the time get more btu's for your buck with oil than gas, taking into consideration all the charges.

    I'm not sure what oil is costing at this time in my location( I'm on gas ), but I spend 3.80 for a therm of gas with all charges included.
    #2 oil will give you approx 141,000 btu's per/gal and I bet it's probably going to be cheaper overall.
    At 1,740,000 btu's of use for me it would take about 12.5 gal of oil to get the same btu rating.
    Maintenance, delivery charges, etc, all need to be taken into account.


    Now commercial/industrial, that's a different story, maintenance/storage/heating on oil fired boilers will eat away at any savings very quickly.
  • I agree

    Most installers that don't test and adjust burners at start-up choose gas.
    I get a LOT of calls about gas equipment that doesn't run properly, right out of the crate.

    When I ask what the incoming gas pressure is with the burner running, half the time I get a long silence.

    Refering to the set-up instructions in the installation instructions, and pointing out that the burner will likely run well after it is set up, I get most commonly, "Who is going to come out and do THAT? I NEVER adjust gas equipment! This burner is defective!"

    What would you like me to tell this installer? I have gas in the house I built, and it is adjusted, efficient, and costs more to run than oil. I have oil in the house I live in now, and it, too, is clean and efficient. Both need the safety controls checked every year. I think there is a place for both.

    I don't buy the arguement that gas is cleaner. I've vacuumed more than enough soot from gas boilers and furnaces to know that set-up is the key to clean burning in either case.

    Bottom line, FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS. TEST AND ADJUST BURNERS BY THE MANUAL. Gas and oil. No exceptions. The customer deserves it.

    OK, whose turn is it on the soapbox?....

    Noel
  • Floyd_3
    Floyd_3 Member Posts: 32
    What do you guy's make of this?????

    http://www.pmmag.com/CDA/ArticleInformation/features/BNP__Features__Item/0,2379,101202,00.html

    Why has Europe done away with steam??????

    A boiler @ 99%???? on gas???? is that more eff. than oil at say 85%?????

    Just wanted to open another can of worms......:-)

    Floyd
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,723
    I remember reading

    in one of Dan's articles that "we don't have power failures in Europe" or something like that. Well, what if they're wrong?

    One of the advantages of steam heat is it won't freeze like hot water will. Sure, you can put antifreeze in a hot-water system but that may be outlawed at some point due to environmental concerns.

    Remember the situation in California a few years ago, where there wasn't enough electricity to go around? Don't think it can't happen where you live. Corporate malfeasance is alive and well in America.

    There is still a market for steam heating. Most of this is replacement of boilers and other system upgrades right now. But under the right circumstances, steam could make a comeback.

    I recently spoke with a representative of a well-known boiler manufacturer who said there is little or no research being done to improve the efficiency of steam boilers. Come on guys, there's plenty of room for improvement here. The manufacturer who gets there first with a more-efficient boiler will sell a lot of them.

    Steam isn't dead. Not as long as Dan H, Noel, Mad Dog, Ed Bratton, Dan Foley, Boilerpro and myself are alive!

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    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
  • Mad Dog
    Mad Dog Member Posts: 2,595
    From my cold dead hands......they will have to remove the

    big wrenches...and Mad dog don't use them aluminum ones neither......The Deadmen are alive and well and living in the back of my head, and I'm not kicking them out they are living rent-free forever.

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  • HeavyP
    HeavyP Member Posts: 52


    I have yet to hear an oil burner quieter then a gas one, plus you sill havent addressed the concerns about in ground oil tanks or the space that inside oil tanks take up, or the lovely copper lines running accross the basement. For the 2% efficiency advantage of oil I say no thanks, Im going with quiet gas.
  • HeavyP
    HeavyP Member Posts: 52


    I have yet to hear an oil burner quieter then a gas one, plus you sill havent addressed the concerns about in ground oil tanks or the space that inside oil tanks take up, or the lovely copper lines running accross the basement. For the 2% efficiency advantage of oil I say no thanks, Im going with quiet gas. plus compare the tune -up for oil compared to gas. Yes I do own a manometer, and yes I do check the pressure.HP
  • Mark Hunt
    Mark Hunt Member Posts: 4,909
    I believe


    that WWII took care of many of the steam systems in Europe.

    A few allied raids here and a few buzz bombs there and pretty soon there wasn't much left.

    I am sure there were other reasons, but the "Big Bang" phenomenon sure accounted for quite a few.


    Mark H

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  • Scott Toenniessen_2
    Scott Toenniessen_2 Member Posts: 14
    Stay with oil


    I live south of Boston so fuel pricing should be similar to Mattapan - last winter I figured oil would have been 15% cheaper than gas. This winter I'll bet the spread will be much wider with the gas shortage now being widely reported (to set our expectations).

    Also, you don't need to convert from steam to switch to gas. I think your friend will like the steam system so long as any problems are addressed. This would be much cheaper than switching to forced water (I'm sure the gas company wouldn't pay for the forced water conversion). Steam has many advantages.
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