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Do I change to gas or stay on oil?

Mathelo
Mathelo Member Posts: 4
I'm sure you've gotten this question a 1,000 times so apologies in advance.

I live in Stamford, CT

My oil tank recently sprung a leak. I’m currently on a temporary tank. I will need to either replace the old tank or, as I’m considering, convert to propane. I’m considering changing over to propane (NG is not an option) for a few reasons:
  • I’d like to install a whole house generator. This will require propane.
  • I’m already using propane for cooking and a fireplace. 120-gallon tank off the back of the house
  • Would be nice to get the oil tank out of the basement. Could improve the utility of the basement
My current system consists of a Weil-McLain Boiler P-WGO-5, BTUs in/out of 182,000/158,000 87% efficiency. This boiler is close to 30 years old. Still seems to be performing okay but I doubt that 87% efficiency. It is serviced annually but invariably we have at least one emergency service call every winter.

I have a separate 1 year old 40 gallons hot water tank heated by the boiler. This has worked well. We always have hot water.

The system is hydro into 2 central air handlers. One upstairs for the bedrooms and another on the first floor. Use to be baseboard heating but we ripped it all out years ago and elected for the hydro in the air handlers. We do still have baseboard heating in the basement, but it is generally off. The heat from the boiler seems sufficient to keep it warm enough for what we use the basement for. So that is 4 zones in total including the water heater on 4 Taco pumps. Oh, and I just had the chimney lined with a SS liner.

I calculated my usage using the formula provided here https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new and I came up with a requirement of about 50,000 BTUs. So my current system would appear to be at least 3 times over size.

I do have a 120-gallon propane tank for cooking and a fireplace.

Other plans for the future:
  • More insulation. Can always use more insulation. We did replace all the windows with 2 pane windows a few years back but there are still areas for improvement.
  • Heat pumps for AC and heat above 35-40 degrees. Our upstairs AC has amazingly kept working for its almost 30-year life. The downstairs unit has been problematic and replaced at least once in the last 30 years. Maybe twice but my memory fails me.
I should note that I’m not likely to be in this house more than another 10 year and that is probably on the optimistic side.

These are my immediate choices as I see them:
  1. Option 1: Switching the boiler to propane. I’ve gotten quotes for both Bosch KBR42-3 and Energy Kinetics System 2000 Accel 1. The EK is considerably more expensive than the Bosch but neither are inexpensive. I also have a quote for buying and burying a 1,000-gallon propane tank in the yard. Getting a 1,000-gallon propane tank buried in the ground will put me into permit hell (Stamford, CT) and no one in my area seems to have 1,000-gallon tanks available until the spring anyway so probably just as well. And I’m on a contract with Hoffman for my oil through August 2022 that has a fee for early cancelation.
    Once all this is done, I’ll be looking at replacing the AC units with heat pumps. I’ll probably do the heat pumps in the spring regardless of what I do with the boiler since the current AC units are not performing well. After that, the whole house generator.
    This option is where I started my thinking but I’m now seriously questioning if this is worthwhile. This is the most expensive path forward and propane fuel cost is easily a 1/3rd more expensive than oil. I probably won’t see a payback in my lifetime if there is a payback. Will it improve the resale value of the home? Probably, but how much?

  2. Option 2: Stay on oil and just replace the tank for now. I’ll lose the benefit of getting the oil tank out of the basement, but it is certainly the least expensive path forward at this point. However, I’m much more interested in the best path forward. I am concerned though that propane is probably going to cost me more than oil. Even with loading the tank up off season, I’m having a hard time seeing propane as an economical solution particularly given the large upfront investment.

  3. Option 3: Also, stay on oil but replace the tank AND the boiler now or soon. The boiler is getting old (30 years) and seems to be way larger than it needs to be. I should be able to gain some performance improvements with a new boiler but hard to tell what the payback will be.
Options 2 and 3 do not support a whole house generator but I understand that I can add 3 additional tanks where my current tank sits and that would more than adequately support a whole house generator (8 days of continuous running). Of course, I’m not thrilled about the aesthetics of those 4 tanks off the back of the house, but it is an option. I could also just go with a portable generator, a manual transfer switch, and just be done with it.

I think that covers most of it. Please help me choose. I do suffer from analysis paralysis. :-/
Ask if you need any further details.

Thanks in advance.

Louis

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,102
    In your area LP is going to be more expensive, and if you plan to heat your house with it you're going to need that 1,000 gallon tank.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Mathelo
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,947
    oil soil and NG over 10 years are about equal. LP is expensive. 
    Stay with oil. 
    kcoppMathelo
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 12,118
    Replace your tank and stay with oil. Run the old boiler and budget for a new one. That boiler could run another 20 years. Do your heat pumps it will give you a back up if the boiler does fail.
    kcoppMathelo
  • Zman
    Zman Member Posts: 7,355
    Are you considering using the heat pumps for heat during shoulder-season days?
    Do you think you will really need to run the Genny for 8 days? Unless you need to what Opra reruns all day, you could probably cycle it to get by.
    "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough"
    Albert Einstein
    Mathelo
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 409
    It is serviced annually but invariably we have at least one emergency service call every winter.


    What is your service company repairing during these emergency service calls? An oil boiler should be very reliable. If your system quits every winter, it is probably time to have someone new take a look at it.

    If you frequently lose power and are unable to manage with a portable generator, I can see the desire for a whole-house unit. Otherwise, I vote for a nice portable generator, and a new oil tank.
    Mathelo
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 19,102
    and furthermore... if your portable generator is installed, as it should be, with a transfer switch on the mains coming into the house, you will be pleasantly surprised at just how much of the house you can power with it. I'd stay with the oil too.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Mathelo
  • Mathelo
    Mathelo Member Posts: 4
    edited October 2021
    Zman said:

    Are you considering using the heat pumps for heat during shoulder-season days?
    Do you think you will really need to run the Genny for 8 days? Unless you need to what Opra reruns all day, you could probably cycle it to get by.

    We've gone a week without power more than once in the last 3-4 years but you are right, we could certainly cycle it as needed. And yes, I was planning to use the the heat pumps when the temp is above 35-40 degrees as I understand that is the optimal cutover temp.
  • Mathelo
    Mathelo Member Posts: 4
    Robert_25 said:

    It is serviced annually but invariably we have at least one emergency service call every winter.


    What is your service company repairing during these emergency service calls? An oil boiler should be very reliable. If your system quits every winter, it is probably time to have someone new take a look at it.

    If you frequently lose power and are unable to manage with a portable generator, I can see the desire for a whole-house unit. Otherwise, I vote for a nice portable generator, and a new oil tank.
    Usually not the boiler itself. Usually dirt in the line.
  • STEVEusaPA
    STEVEusaPA Member Posts: 5,717
    You probably aren’t getting a propane delivery during an ice storm or extended outages. I’d be weary of relying on propane for a gen. But a diesel gen is quite pricey, almost double for a whole house over nat gas.
    steve
    Mathelo
  • GW
    GW Member Posts: 4,555
    87% -these tech are something else. Boiler prolly just started up and low flue gas temps- or—-they’re blatantly misleading you. Anyway even at 84 or maybe 85 it’s all good.

    LP will hammer you on ongoing heating costs  
    Gary Wilson
    Wilson Services, Inc
    Northampton, MA
    [email protected]
    Mathelo
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 605
    And yes, I was planning to use the the heat pumps when the temp is above 35-40 degrees as I understand that is the optimal cutover temp.
    That’s not always true. Your heat loss is low enough the cheapest fuel cost may be to switch to a central heat pump (not ductless mini splits, just reuse the existing ducts). It’d be about the same money as a replacement AC. Oil and propane aren’t that favorable cost wise compared to heat pumps, but it will depend. It gives the benefit of lower emissions. 

     Good job getting the heat loss right, that’s my favorite article!!! 

    The generator will be a separate, expensive decision.  
    Mathelo
  • Mathelo
    Mathelo Member Posts: 4
    Thanks everyone for your guidance. I've decided to stay with oil. My next decision is on the oil tank replacement. I was planning to replace with something similar to what I have, the same old generic style tank. But I've been told I should consider a Roth tank. Are these worth the additional expense? The tank I have lasted almost 60 years. Hard to see what makes the Roth so much better. It's just a storage tank after all.
  • J_Cov
    J_Cov Member Posts: 6
    Hi Louis.

    I'm in the same situation as yourself and the input from the pros on this site is really helpful. I can't thank them enough for taking the time answer our questions.

    Quick info - I'm in Wilton, CT and have an old close to 30year boiler with indirect HW tank and was sniffing around about using an electric boiler. The pros here shot that down for plenty of good reasons so that's out. I'm still on the fence about converting to propane.

    I know the costs for LP are higher than oil but for several reasons I'm still leaning towards using propane. - 1st is that the space the equipment takes up is minimal vs an oil boiler. Much like your oil tank in the basement taking up space the value of gaining more useful sqft can't be ignored. In my situation (and maybe yours) the need for a full chimney goes away since the propane boilers can be vented with PVC somewhere.
    - 2nd I replaced a 20 yr old Trane A/C compressor and air handler with new 20SEER Bosch heat pump system in June. So far (and not to jinx myself here) the A/C was great and cheap to run this summer and I've been using the heat pump since the temps have dipped lower the past couple weeks and it's really performing like a champ. This season will be the first test as to how much heat it can crank out when the temps drop below freezing but as for now I haven't needed to fire up the oil boiler for baseboard heat yet. If I only need a furnace for 2-3 months then propane looks more and more attractive.

    For a couple of your other questions. I don't see the value of adding the full house propane generator. They are pricey and require service to run properly. I had a transfer switch installed and years ago and bought a basic Champion gas generator with a 9000w limit for about $700 and it powers the whole house. It will run for 6-8 hours on a full tank if needed. With the exception of a major storm I find power is restored in a few hours from the random tree falling or transformer blowing.

    I've had a Roth oil tank installed outside of the house for 10 years now and its been great without any problems. I recommend the extra money spent on that. It replaced the previous legacy tank the was buried underground.

    Good Luck!

    Jason
    Mathelo
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,947
    Oil or NG about + over the years.

    then LP.............. expensive

    then electric Insane!

    Stay with oil!
    Mathelo
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,947
    edited November 2021
    J_Cov said:

    Hi Louis.

    I'm in the same situation as yourself and the input from the pros on this site is really helpful. I can't thank them enough for taking the time answer our questions.

    Quick info - I'm in Wilton, CT and have an old close to 30year boiler with indirect HW tank and was sniffing around about using an electric boiler. The pros here shot that down for plenty of good reasons so that's out. I'm still on the fence about converting to propane.

    I know the costs for LP are higher than oil but for several reasons I'm still leaning towards using propane. - 1st is that the space the equipment takes up is minimal vs an oil boiler. Much like your oil tank in the basement taking up space the value of gaining more useful sqft can't be ignored. In my situation (and maybe yours) the need for a full chimney goes away since the propane boilers can be vented with PVC somewhere.
    - 2nd I replaced a 20 yr old Trane A/C compressor and air handler with new 20SEER Bosch heat pump system in June. So far (and not to jinx myself here) the A/C was great and cheap to run this summer and I've been using the heat pump since the temps have dipped lower the past couple weeks and it's really performing like a champ. This season will be the first test as to how much heat it can crank out when the temps drop below freezing but as for now I haven't needed to fire up the oil boiler for baseboard heat yet. If I only need a furnace for 2-3 months then propane looks more and more attractive.

    For a couple of your other questions. I don't see the value of adding the full house propane generator. They are pricey and require service to run properly. I had a transfer switch installed and years ago and bought a basic Champion gas generator with a 9000w limit for about $700 and it powers the whole house. It will run for 6-8 hours on a full tank if needed. With the exception of a major storm I find power is restored in a few hours from the random tree falling or transformer blowing.

    I've had a Roth oil tank installed outside of the house for 10 years now and its been great without any problems. I recommend the extra money spent on that. It replaced the previous legacy tank the was buried underground.

    Good Luck!

    Jason

    That heat pump is a good system IF properly installed and set up!

    Look into the additional repair and maintenance cost of a high efficiency LP furnace. Basic Oil boilers are still relatively cheap and reliable, cant say that about all the bells and whistles in the LP units!

    As far as the chimney, are you removing it later?
  • J_Cov
    J_Cov Member Posts: 6
    @pecmsg

    The Bosch is running like a champ. I didn't get the emergency electric backup with it knowing I have the oil furnace and baseboard as the backup. I also have a wood stove insert which also throws quite a bit of heat. My wife is going to be very happy this year. I'm really curious as to how low temps can go for this unit to still pull heat into the house.

    I do love the oil boiler with indirect HW. Its hard to complain about a system that's runs trouble free for 30 years and cranks out hot water easily for everyone. I really do like it but If I'm able to use the heat pump with success would using oil to heat the hot water be the most efficient? I like to plan ahead before a failure and thinking a newer heat pump hybrid water heater and propane boiler to run the baseboard heat as needed may be a better option. If I went aggressive with insulation that would go even further.

    The other driver of this would be to reclaim usable space in a utility room for a bathroom/laundry room combo and I would take out the chimney to get that space as well.

  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 2,947
    I set the balance point here at 20 - 25°F to switch over to back up heat. If you find your getting cold during defrost periods raise it up, if nor lower it.