First time living with hot water boiler - info. sought


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Old 05-22-06, 06:03 AM
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First time living with hot water boiler - info. sought

I just purchased a home in Massachusetts built in 1852. It has an oil fired hot water boiler and cast iron radiators. I've had experience with forced hot air and feel competent understanding and working on that kind of system but looking at the boiler and it's mysterious appendages and maze of pipes makes my head spin.
Can someone recommend a good resource for learning about the general design, operation, and maintenance of hot water boilers? I'm doing some rehab and need to move some radiators and their associated supplies and returns.
I'm also considering changing over to gas fired direct vent boiler and switching from a gas hot water tank to a gas tankless also with direct venting - both in interest of saving basement space, fuel expense, and reclaming a chimney for a possible wood/ pellet stove.
Thanks for your input.
 
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Old 05-22-06, 06:22 AM
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Welcome to Massachusetts. Some really good resources for older homes and their heating systems can be found at

http://www.heatinghelp.com/homeowners.cfm

My buddy had/has a system similar to yours: 1830 house, cast iron rads, and formerly an oil-sucking beast of a boiler, recently replaced with a high-efficiency, gas-fired, direct-vent boiler. Soon to add an indirect-fired water heater. He has also recently replaced all the windows and done a huge amount to improve the building envelope (all with the approval of and under the watchful eye of the local historic commission...).

If you are going to replace your boiler, I suggest the following course of action:

1) make a plan for tightening the building envelope. Insulate, reduce infiltration, replace windows, etc.

2) do, or have done, a thorough heat loss calculation for the building. The idea with doing 1) first is that you want to get the heat loss of the structure down as much as you can for best energy savings investment, and also give you a good number for sizing the new boiler. If you were to do a straight BTU for BTU boiler swap, then improve the envelope, you would likely end up with a boiler that's rather oversized (and thus wasting energy). My buddy, for example, has cut his building heat loss nearly in half.

3) get a good contractor to do your boiler swap and any other heating stuff. The above web site has a "find a pro" service that is particularly good for hydronic heating in New England, and I know from experience these guys are generally excellent (at least those I've dealt with).

Good luck.
 
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Old 05-22-06, 12:40 PM
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Hey, thanks for the reply. I've scanned some of the info on the site you suggested. Boy, have I got a lot to learn.
 
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Old 05-22-06, 03:26 PM
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Hot Water Heating

Xiphias mentions important points about getting a heat loss calculation & beefing up the insulation in the exterior walls; also check & replace any drafty or loose-fitting windows, if needed; these things should be done first, so that when a new heating system is ordered, you can order a smaller unit in order to save fuel.

Try to find the identity plate on the boiler with its name brand & serial number, so that you can check with the mfg as to its age; if the boiler is over 25 years old, it is probably wasting oil & operating in the range of 50% to 60% efficiency; all new boilers operate above 85% efficiency & some up to 95% efficiency; this could easily mean a drop of 20% to 30% in oil/gas usage, providing you beef up the insulation.

Boilers must have an annual cleaning & check-up ONCE A YEAR; this is a good time of year to have it done; if you don't have a service tech yet, consult the Yellow Pages under "Oils" or "oil Burner Service"; the tech can tell you lots about the age of the unit & how to shut down the boiler & turn off the water supply & drain a gallon of water from the bottom of the boiler faucet drain, so you can move a radiator.

There are valuable books at the library, numbered in the range of 643.7 that include numerous home improvement books that all have a heating section & illustrate the basics of a hot water system; Time-Life books has also published several books on basic boiler servicing.

Most libraries have "Modern Hydronic Heating", by John Siegenthaler, which is excellent & an easy read; you can click onto the PM magazine site below & enter his last name in their search box to get numerous articles by him on how a HW system works; all his articles have clear diagrams of hydronic heating systems; the symbols he uses for circulators, valves, etc. can be found in his book.

At the Heating Help.com site, at the very top of the home page, click onto "Heating Q & A", then onto "diverter tee hot water heating" and onto "loop hot water heating" to get a basic diagram of a HW heating system.

Google "heating system hydronic oil-fired residential" (without the quotes) to get numerous sites that further explain HW heating.


http://www.pmmag.com
http://www.heatinghelp.com
 

Last edited by jack horner; 05-22-06 at 03:38 PM.
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Old 05-22-06, 04:15 PM
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Welcome to the world of wet heat. All of the information & advice given by the other guys is right on the money. Of all of it, some of the best was from Jack Horner in his advising you to contact a servicer. Most of us are glad to answer questions & help you understand your system. Treat him or her well.
We don't have the most glamorous job in the world but most of us love what we do.
If this boiler replacement is a ways down the road, I suggest you get on an automatic delivery program with a local fuel supplier.
 
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Old 05-23-06, 05:30 AM
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Impressed with the folks here

You know, I'm involved in other forums with a professional side to them (in my own profession) and these are among the most thorough, helpful, and considerate responses I've ever read - anywhere. Good job people. Bravo.
One thing I've noticed around my house is that nowhere are the radiators under the windows, which almost all extend to within less than two feet of the floor. Generally the radiators are on a wall directly adjacent to those windows. I think this is a compromise that will have to remain since I want to stay with the old radiators.
Again, thanks so much. I'm sure I'll have lots of questions in the months/years to come. Keep up the good work everyone.
 
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Old 05-23-06, 11:39 AM
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You're welcome. Did you notice we have matching ties?
 
 

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