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Conversion oil to gas, but should we keep steam?


We have two requirements - one, our heat bills are 850+ a month and we can't afford it for a one-zone 1600 sf two-floor house. Second, I want the basement to be redone and be one open space. Currently, there is an oil tank in one corner and the boiler/burner in the center of basement, with some pitched steam pipes also in the center. We've had contractors tell us forced hot air on one system, hydro air on two systems (basement and attic) and steam for first floor and electric system in the attic vented down for second floor.

I have no problem with steam but I don't want to throw $$$ away and also want my basement opened up.

Any ideas? I really feel like I don't know anything so how can I decide between contractors?

Thx thx


  • Many choices so little space!

    I would advise you to keep the steam, but make it gas-fired.

    First of all make the system as efficient as possible, which it is not now. This means undoing years of misapplied changes, and perhaps catching up with deferred maintenance, such as:

    1: making sure the pressure is low-think ounces!

    2:putting on a good low-pressure gauge (0-3 psi, graduated in ounces of pressure). This will show you when you are wasting fuel.

    3:increasing the main (not radiator) venting.

    4:buying a good steam book at the shop here, which will explain many of the simple principles of steam heating-a wonderful heating method..

    Post some pictures of your boiler and it's piping so we can further advise, before you make your decision.-NBC
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668

    Steam is the most efficient and comfortable system that money can buy. You'll never be happy with anything else. You can do a lot of things to the sytem to make it as efficient as possible, inluding converting to natural gas.

    Any contractor who recommends an air system over steam doesn't understand system-efficiency. They usually just have a quota to book big ticket jobs.
    - Joe Starosielec
    [email protected]
  • Marjan12Marjan12 Member Posts: 3
    Pics of pipes and burner/boiler

    Hi all

    Here are some pics of the unit and the pipes....I can't come up with any way to refinish the basement and somehow work "around" the heating system; does anyone have any ideas?

    Thx thx
  • Gathering information

    First step would be to find a good steam man, who can evaluate any problems with the system as it currently stands. Use the find a contractor button above, and search by state. Next evaluate the conversion from oil to gas. That conversion by itself will save money on fuel, however it must be done in conjunction with a general system improvement along the lines I previously described. What is your location?

    Are there 2 pipes for each radiator, or just 1?--NBC
  • Marjan12Marjan12 Member Posts: 3
    There is one pipe per radiator

    Not one of the contractors suggested hot water heat you know why? I've looked at these radiators from a company called runtal and they seem great, and so I could avoid baseboard and keep radiators... It seems converting steam radiators to function with water is one of those "only if done well" situations.

    Thx again for all the input!
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668

    If you don't like steam pipes, just wait until you see ductwork! Talk about a space-hog.

    You could potentially reconfigure the steam piping to only take up a small amount of space on one side of the basement, or around the perimeter. It will really depend on the radiator placement.
    - Joe Starosielec
    [email protected]
  • 1 - pipe rads

    1-pipe radiators can be converted to hot water. A two-pipe valve is made for this purpose.

    First step is a room by room heat loss followed by comparison to each room's radiator to determine if it will be able to meet the heat loss, which also determines what the hottest water temp required will be on the coldest day.
  • continued....

    Had an emergency call. To continue where I left off:

    Steam boilers are sized to the connected load, which is the volume of all radiators and then adding as much as 30% for the piping, which needs to be brought up to full temp - acting like a rather extended radiator.

    Hot water systems are sized to the actual heat loss. If you make the switch, a modcon boiler with its reset curve adjusted to meet the hottest water temp on the coldest day will ensure comfort while offering a large ECV (Energy Conservation Value).

    The contractor must judge the existing piping and radiators condition to determine if conversion is suitable. Not all steam systems can be converted, but darn few fall into that category and we have converted dozens - including our own office/apartment building that was installed as a vapor/vacuum system in 1903.
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668
    Steam vs. Hot Water

    My house is 900 square feet. My hot water boiler is 40,000 BTUH. Sized exactly to the heat loss. Operating on outdoor reset. I pay $150 in the coldest months of the year.

    One of my customers has a 2,000 square foot home. His steam system is 120,000 BTUH. He pays $150 in the coldest moths of the year.

    No comparison.
    - Joe Starosielec
    [email protected]
  • Dave Yates (GrandPAH)Dave Yates (GrandPAH) Member Posts: 269
    edited September 2013
    and so on...


    Don't want your original questions to get lost in the steam or hot water issues. As you may have gathered, there are contractors who are passionate in their beliefs regarding one or the other! My personal wish is for you to have hydronics and it's not vital it be steam or hot water. The reality is hydronic heating, be it steam or hot water, is simply more comfortable than air-based heating systems. And, potentially more economical to operate. Comfort and economy! I've lived with virtually every form of heating and cooling available and there's no way I'd give up my hydronic low-temp radiant heating. For A/C we use inverter mini-splits and we allow them to provide a portion of our heating needs in a blended hydronic/inverter mode for both the comfort of conditioned floors and to squeeze operational economy till blood drips from the turnips.

    jstar, your passion is understood. I love steam too & we're in the middle of numerous steam-to-steam boiler installations at the moment - because that was the appropriate choice. If you have the opportunity to be at Comfortech in Philly in two weeks, I'd welcome your presence in my class on converting steam to gently warmed water. You might find the info usefull and, judging by your profile on your web site, you have a vibrant thirst for hydronic knowledge.

    However, Marjan wants to remodel and having a steam boiler squatting in the center of her new living space and overhead asbestos-covered head-bangers isn't what she wants. The customer is always right, right? Solid credible information to answer her questions is warranted or she might end up with scorched air!
  • SteamheadSteamhead Member Posts: 11,373
    Dave, ya know I love ya

    but there's really no need to convert that system. Or any steam system. BTW, did they ever find Tickles?

    Marjan, there are a bunch of ways we can deal with the piping issues. For example, there is a way to mount the steam mains tight to the ceiling and have every radiator runout (branch line) serve as a drip, so water will never collect in the mains and cause banging. We almost never see this setup, but it appears in at least one Dead Man's Book, so apparently they had to deal with piping in finished spaces too. 

    There have been more threads on the subject of converting steam to hot-water than I can remember. I have some of them bookmarked. In this one:

    it is revealed that our company achieved the same fuel savings by fixing a steam system that someone else achieved by ripping out the steam and installing a completely new hot-water system- for an exponentially greater cost. It is true that the buildings were different, but the only variable I know of was the work that was done.

    This is as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as I've ever seen. I don't know of anything closer, and believe me when I say I've looked. All of the ones I've seen so far compare a broken-down steam system on the verge of total failure to a brand-new hot-water system. I'm sure their writers had a specific agenda.

    There are still millions of steam systems out there, more than enough for steam specialists like Gordo and me to base a successful business on steam. Your steam system will outlast everyone in this thread if you take proper care of it.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • jumperjumper Member Posts: 990
    heat loss = cost ?

    I have no data but it seems to me that a properly functioning heating system uses about the same fuel no matter if it's steam or hot water. I like that steam needs no pump.

    >>Steam vs. Hot Water

    My house is 900 square feet. My hot water boiler is 40,000 BTUH. Sized exactly to the heat loss. Operating on outdoor reset. I pay $150 in the coldest months of the year.

    One of my customers has a 2,000 square foot home. His steam system is 120,000 BTUH. He pays $150 in the coldest moths of the year.

    No comparison.
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668

    I have data. It all says that steam costs a lot less to operate than hot-water. One day, I'll compile it all into some sort of fancy list.
    - Joe Starosielec
    [email protected]
  • SWEISWEI Member Posts: 7,356
    Fancy list

    should ultimately compare something meaningful like BTUs per square foot per degree-day (in my book.)
  • JStarJStar Member Posts: 2,668

    ...and my book, too. There's no use comparing anything without looking at degree days, therms, and house details. There will always be a margin of error due to lifestyles and comfort-habits, but there's just no way for me to conduct anything more ellaborate or precise without building a 10 home complex and testing it for ten years.
    - Joe Starosielec
    [email protected]
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