Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

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DVMResident
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Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by DVMResident »

We moved from a warm-weather climate to the Boston area ('South Shore'). I'm a complete novice related to heating systems. The oil boiler cracked, needs to be replaced, and I'm getting estimates for $8k~$10k for a replacement. The tank is in good shape.

I am considering alternatives as oil is (1) expensive and (2) environmentally dirty. Single-family home, two-stories totaling ~1400 sq ft plus a 700 sq ft basement, 3 bed/2 baths.

What are the alternatives?
Any contractor recommendations?

Mini-splitters are on my shortlist, but I've heard conflicting opinions about having them as the only heating system.
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whodidntante
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by whodidntante »

If you have natural gas service it's the absolute cheapest way to heat, unless you get other forms of fuel for free.
Small Savanna
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by Small Savanna »

Sounds like a great time to switch to natural gas.
Wellfleet
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by Wellfleet »

It’s just wacky that we are still using home heating oil in New England but that’s the current political situation.

Convert to gas if possible and I might suggest geothermal with all of the state incentives as a second choice.

I have minisplits and they are OK. Certainly cost effective but a bit fickle, need to turn off in ice and snow storms, not great heat distribution, frankly unsightly.
jwasilko
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by jwasilko »

DVMResident wrote: Fri Feb 28, 2020 10:43 pm We moved from a warm-weather climate to the Boston area ('South Shore'). I'm a complete novice related to heating systems. The oil boiler cracked, needs to be replaced, and I'm getting estimates for $8k~$10k for a replacement. The tank is in good shape.

What are the alternatives?
Any contractor recommendations?

Mini-splitters are on my shortlist, but I've heard conflicting opinions about having them as the only heating system.
Is natural gas available in your town?

If oil is your only choice, then heat pumps may make sense.

What utility provides your electricity? If you're on a town utility, you likely have very low electric rates compared to Eversource/National Grid. That would make you a good candidate for heat pumps as a primary heat source.

Do you have solar panels, or could you add them?

We just finished a major project with Boucher Energy Systems. https://boucherenergy.com/
We added a Mitsubishi heat pump and use it as our primary heating. We switch back to natural gas at 15F as it's cheaper than the heat pump at that point.
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DVMResident
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by DVMResident »

Thanks for all the responses.
jwasilko wrote: Fri Feb 28, 2020 11:58 pm Is natural gas available in your town? Yes, I'll look into it.

If oil is your only choice, then heat pumps may make sense.

What utility provides your electricity? If you're on a town utility, you likely have very low electric rates compared to Eversource/National Grid. That would make you a good candidate for heat pumps as a primary heat source. Town, current rates are $0.107/kWh with a special heating rate of $0.08 kWh if there are no other fuels in the house (including natural gas? I'll need to double-check) that is monitored on a separate meter.

Do you have solar panels, or could you add them? We do not currently have them. It's possible but probably more expensive than I'm willing to spend right now.

We just finished a major project with Boucher Energy Systems. https://boucherenergy.com/ Great, thanks for the reference.
We added a Mitsubishi heat pump and use it as our primary heating. We switch back to natural gas at 15F as it's cheaper than the heat pump at that point.
Spirit Rider
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by Spirit Rider »

jwasilko wrote: Fri Feb 28, 2020 11:58 pm If oil is your only choice, then heat pumps may make sense.
Very unlikely. The operational average COP of a heat pump in MA coupled with the electric rates rarely make an all electric heat pump cost effective. Not to mention, if they currently have a boiler they might very well have a forced hot water delivery system with no duct work. A reason why only about MA 20% of households have central air.
We added a Mitsubishi heat pump and use it as our primary heating. We switch back to natural gas at 15F as it's cheaper than the heat pump at that point.
There is a big difference in cost effectiveness in New England between a heat pump with electric auxiliary heat and a heat pump with gas auxiliary heat.

In MA, only about 50% of homes have natural gas heating. Unless you are in urban/suburban areas you are unlikely to have natural gas available. Even in suburban towns, natural gas availability tends to be only in the compact area of suburban towns. Even in MA households with natural gas heating, the majority are still boilers with forced hot water delivery systems.
mancich
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by mancich »

If natural gas is a choice, go with that. If not, you may want to consider propane. That said, we have oil here in the Northeast and have no issues. I replaced the oil boiler back in 2013 with a Buderus boiler, and am very happy with it. It was $6,000 total with labor. We have it cleaned every year as part of our service contract. No issues.
GeoffD
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by GeoffD »

I don’t think the people responding to this thread understand the pipeline capacity problem that makes natural gas wildly expensive in Massachusetts. Ditto electric.

Personally, I’d be looking for a dual fuel boiler or one that can be quickly converted between oil and natural gas if oil prices shoot back up. Today in Massachusetts, oil is cheaper.

A mini-split heat pump makes a great backup to the boiler and would probably be cheaper in the shoulder seasons where you often only want to heat one or two rooms. In small new construction with a really good thermal envelope, you could probably get away with a Mitsubishi mini split. I’m right on Buzards Bay so a bit warmer than the South Shore. Growing zone 7a. I pretty much never see 0F.
andypanda
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by andypanda »

"I don’t think the people responding to this thread understand the pipeline capacity problem that makes natural gas wildly expensive in Massachusetts."

It's a topic that makes for interesting reading. Ignoring for the moment the energy politics of each New England state, I'll just mention that New York isn't interested letting any new pipelines cross their state, or maybe even into their state.

A year ago, "ConEdison, the New York utility, announced last month that it would put an indefinite halt to all future natural gas hook-ups in Westchester County, north of New York City, on March 15, on the grounds that demand has outpaced supply."

www.rstreet.org/2019/03/08/new-england- ... undhog-day
FRANK2009
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by FRANK2009 »

I think you're going to have to bite the bullet on this one. I live in an oil or propane heating area. No other choices except maybe over priced electric heating. That said, I replaced my ancient boiler with a Buderus brand boiler recommended by my HVAC man. One positive is the new boiler saved about 25% in oil costs.

As far as a recommendation, probably best to ask your neighbors for a good service/install person.
suemarkp
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by suemarkp »

Because of your relatively cheap electricity, especially the lower heating rate, raw electric resistance heat may be an option. Its one pro is that each room can be independently zoned whereas with a boiler or forced air it isn't good to close off too many zones. You'll have to fish wires to each each wall heater and thermostat location which may be easy or hard (do you have attic access and/or basement or crawl space access?). I'd go with a fan type of forced air wall heater, not baseboard as it doesn't feel as warm and reduces a lot of wall space from having furniture. A radiant panel can also work, but they don't feel warm if they can't directly see you. Another other potential problem is how large is your electrical service (you will need a 200A service to use electric heat minimum).

Heat pumps (mini splits) can work, but end up needing more electrical infrastructure because they have both resistance heat or the compressor to run (or sometimes both run). They are more costly to install (and I thiik many look ugly) and I have a bad taste in my mouth for all of the failed heat pump installs I've experienced. Refrigerant is expensive, and seems to have to be totally evacuated and changed whenever there is a problem. Electric resistance heat is low maintenance, but I would buy a few spare heaters for when the fan motors die or get real noisy in 10 years, and you may not be able to get the same unit to replace it (so replacement will look odd or be larger or smaller).

If you have too many shortcomings to do electric, then you'll need to revisit the boiler. A newer one will be more efficient, so it may reduce the burden of timing oil refills. You could change from oil to propane, but price the fuel in your area to see if it makes sense. As much as I dislike oil tanks and oil heating, the northeast seems to have a lot of it so the alternatives other than electricity may not exist or be cost effective. Another question to ask is what is the condition of your oil tank and is it buried or exposed so you can see any leaks.
Mark | Somewhere in WA State
shunkman
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by shunkman »

How old is the boiler? Is it cast iron? Often the cracked section can be replaced instead of complete system replacement.
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DVMResident
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by DVMResident »

suemarkp wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 2:28 pm Another question to ask is what is the condition of your oil tank and is it buried or exposed so you can see any leaks.
The tank is in great shape per the service tech. It's above ground, below-grade basement tank.
shunkman wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 4:22 pm How old is the boiler? Is it cast iron? Often the cracked section can be replaced instead of complete system replacement.
It's a 1998 WTGO-3 boiler that is described as an "oil-fired water boiler with cast iron sections." The oil servicer recommended a full replacement and didn't mention the option of a section replacement and told me 'no' when I asked if can be repaired. I'll press the question on Monday when the office opens on Monday. Thanks!
Millennial
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by Millennial »

DVMResident wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 12:07 am Thanks for all the responses.
jwasilko wrote: Fri Feb 28, 2020 11:58 pm Is natural gas available in your town? Yes, I'll look into it.

If oil is your only choice, then heat pumps may make sense.

What utility provides your electricity? If you're on a town utility, you likely have very low electric rates compared to Eversource/National Grid. That would make you a good candidate for heat pumps as a primary heat source. Town, current rates are $0.107/kWh with a special heating rate of $0.08 kWh if there are no other fuels in the house (including natural gas? I'll need to double-check) that is monitored on a separate meter.

Do you have solar panels, or could you add them? We do not currently have them. It's possible but probably more expensive than I'm willing to spend right now.

We just finished a major project with Boucher Energy Systems. https://boucherenergy.com/ Great, thanks for the reference.
We added a Mitsubishi heat pump and use it as our primary heating. We switch back to natural gas at 15F as it's cheaper than the heat pump at that point.
Can you double check your electricity rate to make sure it includes both generation and transmission? If so, heat pumps will be your cheapest option even if you need to use the backup (resistance) hear a few times a year.

We installed mini split heat pumps in Boston a few years ago and I have nothing but good things to say. They significantly lowered our winter energy bills (though our gas heat was a steam system, which is not as efficient as forced hot water) - that is to say the rise in electric bill was $30-50 less than the decrease in gas bill. And that was at $0.21 per KWH!
shunkman
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by shunkman »

DVMResident wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 5:21 pm
shunkman wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 4:22 pm How old is the boiler? Is it cast iron? Often the cracked section can be replaced instead of complete system replacement.
It's a 1998 WTGO-3 boiler that is described as an "oil-fired water boiler with cast iron sections." The oil servicer recommended a full replacement and didn't mention the option of a section replacement and told me 'no' when I asked if can be repaired. I'll press the question on Monday when the office opens on Monday. Thanks!
Of course they want to sell you a new system. I have seen well-maintained Weil Mclain boilers last 30-40 years. Parts should be readily available.
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by DVMResident »

Millennial wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 5:27 pm
DVMResident wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 12:07 am Thanks for all the responses.
jwasilko wrote: Fri Feb 28, 2020 11:58 pm Is natural gas available in your town? Yes, I'll look into it.

If oil is your only choice, then heat pumps may make sense.

What utility provides your electricity? If you're on a town utility, you likely have very low electric rates compared to Eversource/National Grid. That would make you a good candidate for heat pumps as a primary heat source. Town, current rates are $0.107/kWh with a special heating rate of $0.08 kWh if there are no other fuels in the house (including natural gas? I'll need to double-check) that is monitored on a separate meter.

Do you have solar panels, or could you add them? We do not currently have them. It's possible but probably more expensive than I'm willing to spend right now.

We just finished a major project with Boucher Energy Systems. https://boucherenergy.com/ Great, thanks for the reference.
We added a Mitsubishi heat pump and use it as our primary heating. We switch back to natural gas at 15F as it's cheaper than the heat pump at that point.
Can you double check your electricity rate to make sure it includes both generation and transmission? If so, heat pumps will be your cheapest option even if you need to use the backup (resistance) hear a few times a year.

We installed mini split heat pumps in Boston a few years ago and I have nothing but good things to say. They significantly lowered our winter energy bills (though our gas heat was a steam system, which is not as efficient as forced hot water) - that is to say the rise in electric bill was $30-50 less than the decrease in gas bill. And that was at $0.21 per KWH!
Very helpful! Thanks. I confirmed the rate on my bills (technically there is also a flat fee per month plus the kWh rate, but I pay flat rate either way). The prices reset 3 years ago and previously were $0.147; so there was a big decrease.
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DVMResident
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by DVMResident »

shunkman wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 6:34 pm
DVMResident wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 5:21 pm
shunkman wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 4:22 pm How old is the boiler? Is it cast iron? Often the cracked section can be replaced instead of complete system replacement.
It's a 1998 WTGO-3 boiler that is described as an "oil-fired water boiler with cast iron sections." The oil servicer recommended a full replacement and didn't mention the option of a section replacement and told me 'no' when I asked if can be repaired. I'll press the question on Monday when the office opens on Monday. Thanks!
Of course they want to sell you a new system. I have seen well-maintained Weil Mclain boilers last 30-40 years. Parts should be readily available.
:oops: Oy, I hope I'm not being oversold on a new system.

I've trusted them so far and they've had good service, open communication, etc. I'd like to keep working with them, but this calls for a second opinion if they decline a repair option (and now I'm seriously tempted by the minisplits from Millennial posted).
Wellfleet
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by Wellfleet »

I always recommend three quotes. The market is a beautiful thing.
dknightd
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by dknightd »

DVMResident wrote: Sat Feb 29, 2020 8:16 pm

:oops: Oy, I hope I'm not being oversold on a new system.

I've trusted them so far and they've had good service, open communication, etc. I'd like to keep working with them, but this calls for a second opinion if they decline a repair option (and now I'm seriously tempted by the minisplits from Millennial posted).
Talk to them. If gas is available in your area they might suggest replacing your oil burner with a gas burner.
Likely they will haul away the tank for the oil it contains. Assuming you have some oil in the tank. That is likely a quick easy fix.

We have gas fired single pipe steam for heat. Frankly I would have been reluctant to buy the house if it still had oil heat.

A few years ago I got tired of moving window AC units in and out, and the noise they made. I bought and air to air minisplit system, mostly for the cooling. I'll never make my money back on energy savings for cooling (the system was expensive, about $10k) but is much much better than using window units. The installer suggested I could also use it to heat my house, and it would be cheaper than gas if the temperature outside was above freezing. That seems to be correct based on a couple of winters use. Now we only fire up the gas furnace when it is below freezing.

I think if your lot allows it, and you will be there for awhile, a geothermal heat pump might be something to consider. They are expensive to install. But long term might be a better solution since they do not care about air temperature.

I suggest visiting https://heatinghelp.com/ They have forgotten more than we will ever know. But you can't talk about install costs there, unless you do it carefully.

No matter what you do, I suggest 3 opinions. This is a big expense. On the other hand it is winter, and you'd probably like to have heat soon.
If you value a bird in the hand, pay off the loan. If you are willing to risk getting two birds (or none) from the market, invest the funds. Retired 9/19. Still working on mortgage payoff.
pshonore
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by pshonore »

If you truly have a cracked boiler in your burner, its probably time for a brand new unit. Taking apart an entire burner to replace the boiler is a very labor intensive process, assuming parts are available. $8-10K does sound on the high side though. Also how do your heat hot water for domestic use? That should factor into the decision as well. If natural gas is available, that probably is the easiest choice. However if a trench has to be dug to connect up the gas in the street, the cost goes up. If you go the Propane route you're going to need another large tank. If the propane dealer "rents" you the tank you'll be at his mercy for pricing and you can't shop around for lower pricing. If you buy the tank, there's additional cost. If you're really paying 10 cents per kW, that is really cheap. Most folks in Mass and CT are paying over 20 cents per kW for generation and "delivery"
.
bikesandbeers
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by bikesandbeers »

Triple check with your electric utility that you have all the right information on the rate structure for electric heat. As others have mentioned make sure you are reading the generation and distribution charges etc. They might have a specific person you can take to about electric heat.

But you've mentioned the environment, so consider that you might be willing to pay a little more to not be burning oil. and not worry about the future liability of the tank, even if it is in good shape now.

Ground-source heat pumps (if feasible for your property) are more expensive up front, but don't have the limitations in below freezing weather.
I am a big proponent for full electrification, but I live in a more mild climate.
One other consideration is if you live in a area with frequently power interruptions, do you have a wood burning fireplace? would you want a generator if power goes out for a long time?
mpnret
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Re: Boiler cracked - heating alternatives?

Post by mpnret »

If natural gas isn't an option for you, your best option is a new efficient oil fired boiler. Some of the other options like electric resistance heat make me cringe even if your .10KWH price is correct. It does sound very low. Are you sure it's not just the generation charge then you have to add in the delivery charge?
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