Retrofitting electric boiler controls

Old 08-12-13, 09:46 AM
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Retrofitting electric boiler controls

Hi folks
I am in Roanoke VA and have a circa 1962 Electro Pak heat generator. They were out of Reading PA but I can find nothing more about them. Its a 68K BTU unit with 4 -5000Kw electric heating elements. 2 turn on when called for heat then 30 seconds later the others 2 come on until demand is met. Needless to say my electric bills are pretty hi during heating season and AEP just contacted me saying my budget amount is going up another 116.00/month to make up for the deficient incurred thus far during the year. The house was built 1926 and has radiators throughout. Its a 2 story with walk out basement and walk up attic. I am in the process of also air sealing and adding insulation in the attic hopefully before heating season.
Argo makes a unit that looks very similar in design as well as footprint to the Electro Pak. I am an electronics tech by trade so I was thinking I could retrofit a new electronics control system into the old panel.The Argo unit uses a 3Kw, a 4 kw and 2-5 kw elements so I might have to also change out 2 of the original elements. The board is 383.00 and the RTD is another 48.00 so for less than 500.00 I should be able to update the boiler.

Thoughts ,concerns, advice?
Old 08-12-13, 03:05 PM
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Hi Frank,

No chance of converting to a natural gas fired boiler?

5000Kw electric heating elements
Yikes! 5 MILLION watts per element! ... just funnin' witchya, I know that you meant 5 Kw.

Your first approach toward air sealing and insulating is the correct first step. Saving energy is all about just that, SAVING the energy INSIDE the home rather than allowing it to leak out all over the place.

Insulate the attic to at LEAST R40.

Pay particular attention to sealing all the air leaks. Air leaking in causes a BIGGER heat loss than lack of insulation.

Don't allow any slick yankee salesman try to convince you that replacing windows with the newer energy efficient ones will pay for itself in two years. The return on having new windows installed is usually MORE THAN TEN YEARS. If you've still got the old style windows with separate storm sashes, keep them if they are in reasonable condition. You can take steps to reduce the air infiltration on old windows with the many products that are on the market today.

Do you know what type of framing your house has? Is it BALLOON FRAMING? If so, you need to take steps to stop the 'chimney effect' of the air flowing from basement to attic. Balloon framing is also a greater fire hazard because the fire can easily spread inside the walls.

Now that's out of the way...

I don't have a warm fuzzy feeling about 'upgrading' the old boiler. While you might be able to come up with a functional retro-fit, my feeling is that when all is said and done, you won't be saving much money. Not enough to make the effort and expense worthwhile. You'll still have an electric boiler and now instead of 68K BTU you will only have a 58K BTU unit. (17KW X 3410 BTU/KW).

If the Argo control board 'stages' the elements and incorporates OUTDOOR RESET, you MIGHT save a little money because all four elements wouldn't be turned on at the same time.

Understand about INSURANCE though... WHAT IF ... there is a house fire... and the fire inspectors find that you've 'rigged' that boiler with a new control board? EVEN IF the fire can't be pinned on the boiler, trust me that your insurance company is going to give you a VERY hard time about paying off on the claim... if at all.

I presume that the radiators are standing cast iron jobs, and the piping is all like 2" mains and branching to the individual rads?

I'm betting that there was originally a coal-fired boiler and the radiators were 'gravity fed'.

Is there a circulating pump on your system now?
Old 08-12-13, 05:17 PM
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yes sorry 5KW elements

1st thing we did in 2006 was replace the windows. We moved in on Jan 1 and the first 3 months we could sit and watch the curtains move when the wind blew thru the old windows. That being said the basement is insulated with Fiberglass batts although the paper side is to the basement. The walls have been drilled in the basement and blow in added up thru the walls. I went to the attic and just picked a random spot to check, drilled thru the top plate and found insulation again. So it looks like the walls have been insulated but how well remains to be seen.( especially along the top of windows. I am in the process of adding insulation dams along the soffit area and prepping them for soffit vents if later i decide to do that. The attic floor as it were has ~3 inch of Johns Manville Super-felt batt insulation. Again with the paper side the wrong way. Over this is just enough blow in to cover the joists . There is a storage floor built here which is similarly insulated. I have intention of blowing in about 12 inches of cellulose before heating season.

yes this was originally a coal fired plant but the original owner won this heating system in a contest.

As to the gas fired boiler I have natural gas on my street I just thought I could retro the old unit and make it work better by modulating the heaters to match the demand. After all this is a DYI forum I hate paying to have work done that i can do myself. The gas boiler is another option I had briefly began exploring but sidlined it when I found the Argo info. Is gas that much cheaper to heat with?
If I do it I'd also like to fix it so I can valve off the upstairs radiators. \ Oh and yes teh radiators are the old upright cast Iron units with the exception in the kitchen which we removed and added a toe kick under cabinet hydronic heater.
Thanks for the help Tropper.
Old 08-12-13, 05:25 PM
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As to the gas fired boiler I have natural gas on my street
Then ditch the electric heat, and install gas heat ASAP. Little discussion or analysis is necessary, since the conclusion is so obvious.

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