Converting oil to gas?

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Old 02-16-14, 12:05 PM
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Converting oil to gas?

I tried searching around here, the most recent post I saw on this topic was from 2008, so maybe things have changed.

My house was built in 1974, I've lived here since 1999. We have baseboard hot water heat with an oil boiler. We also have the 250 gallon oil tank in the basement. Oh and we do have a hot water heater and we can turn the oil burner off and just use the hot water heater, but we virtually never do because it's so much nicer with the reliable, unlimited hot water.

The house is what I know as a split foyer, but I've also heard it called a raised ranch. You walk in the front door and can either go up a half flight of stairs to the main living area, or down a half flight to the basement and two finished rooms (that we don't use very much). The main living floor is about 1500 square feet and probably 850 of the basement is finished, the 'back' is not. this is where the oil burner, tank, etc live.

Last time the oil guy was here for the annual cleaning, he said our tank is getting thin in places and we will need to replace it soon. The boiler is original to 1974 and the hot water heater was installed soon after we moved here, call it 2000.

For the past 2 years, we've spend $2850 and $2800 on oil. We did recently put blown in insulation in the attic. We also wrapped the house in tyvek in about 2008 when replacing the siding and replaced the windows with more energy efficient windows.

I was wondering if we might do better to change to an electric powered boiler when the time comes rather than continuing with the oil? We are also discussing adding a pellet stove to one of the finished rooms in the basement where there is a freestanding wood burning fire place currently. We've also discussed adding solar panels to the roof if that matters.

Also, I saw the recommendation that I take the time to do the calculations to size the boiler, which I am totally willing to do, but I didn't see any guidance on how to do that - can someone share a link or other instruction. I assume the addition of the pellet stove might affect the calculations? Total novice here, but not stupid and willing to learn! Any input appreciated.

Thank you!
Kitty
 
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Old 02-16-14, 12:12 PM
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Hello and welcome.....

I read your post and seems confusing in the fact you only mention gas in your header...

Do you have natural gas in your area?

If so the switch from oil is a no brainer... And to install electric would be going backwards..

A pellet stove is a whole other issue.. You size the boiler to the heat loss of the home...

Once you have the heat loss we can go from there...

To do a rough estimite how many sq ft is the home?

Also read the sticky posts at the top of this forum . The slant fin heat loss calculator is there also to download...
 
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Old 02-16-14, 12:12 PM
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I have seen many energy comparison tools on the web. One is from the US Energy Information Administration - eia.gov. It's a spreadsheet that looks rather comprehensive.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 12:26 PM
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Oops, sorry. I meant oil to electric. There is gas in the area, but not to our home. We did some research on bringing gas in years ago and it was really, really expensive. But maybe worth it if replacing the boiler? At the time, we were looking only at the stove/oven and possibly drier as well. Both of those appliances were replaced fairly recently and I'm not interested in replacing again. The cooktop is induction, so my frustration with an electric stove is no more.

I saw the sticky for the heat loss calculator after I posted, thanks for pointing it out. It's taking quite a while to download, but that's okay.

Main living area on 'second floor' is less than 1500 sq feet, probably more like 1300. Same for the 'basement' - even though only part is finished, it's all connected to the same system - though the upstairs and downstairs each have their own thermostat.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 01:50 PM
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Here in Canada we pay $1.30 per liter so $2800 is not much oil and would not be able to buy an oil boiler that would not be too big , no need to do a heat loss calculation . If you cant get natural gas may be the best option is to make sure boiler control is set for cold start , and the burner has the smallest nozzle . A 0.40 nozzle with a suitable firing chamber , making sure to having no more than # 1 smoke , a Co2 of 10 to 12.5 and a stack temperature of 350f . The service guy who said the oil tank is getting thin must have done a test with special instrument. Where I am insurance companies allow about 15 years of use after date of manufactory .
 
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Old 02-16-14, 02:46 PM
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he said our tank is getting thin in places and we will need to replace it soon.
Really? By what method did he determine that? Was it the 'something extra in my paycheck if I sell stuff to customers that they may or may not need' method?

wondering if we might do better to change to an electric powered boiler when the time comes rather than continuing with the oil?
Better do some careful energy cost calculations!

Unless your electricity is really cheap, you might end up spending more...

For the past 2 years, we've spend $2850 and $2800 on oil
Sounds like a lot.

Last year I burned 450 gallons, at about what... say 3.75 / gallon that's around $1700. 2000 sq/ft home, 2 floors, probably close to same weather conditions as you.

I just got my third delivery of 150 gallons on 2/11 and this was a bit earlier than last years 3rd delivery due to the extra cold weather this year. I expect to burn maybe 500-550 gallons this year.

You may be able to cut your fuel use considerably by just going to a new more efficient oil fired boiler.

But in the long run, gas is a no-brainer.

I just did a quick and dirty comparison of oil vs electric for my home.

Using last year as an example, 450 gallons of oil at 140,000 BTU / Gallon is 63000000 BTU.

Let's say that 80% of those BTU actually went into heating the home and not up the chimney.

So the BTU to heat my home last winter was 50400000 BTU

Electricity is 100% efficient and there are 3410 BTU per Kilowatt Hour.

50400000 divided by 3410 is 14780 KWH.

I pay about 13 cents / KWH so if I had an electric boiler I might expect to pay $1921 for the same season. Electricity would cost me about $200 more.

Granted oil will probably increase faster than electricity so in a few years the comparison might be a 'break even'... maybe... life is a gamble.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 02:59 PM
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Here in Canada we pay $1.30 per liter so $2800 is not much oil and would not be able to buy an oil boiler that would not be too big , no need to do a heat loss calculation
What are you saying saves? $2800 is a LOT of oil ... like 750 gallons.

That's about 9 BTU per Degree Day per Square Foot. Using 5000 Degree Days and 2300 square feet.

My home ran about 6.3 BTU / DD / SF ...

So yes, it's a lot of oil.

What? No need to do a heat loss estimate? Why on earth not?

A 0.40 nozzle with a suitable firing chamber , making sure to having no more than # 1 smoke , a Co2 of 10 to 12.5 and a stack temperature of 350f
I'm SURE this is total Greek to Kitty.

First off, the existing boiler is without a doubt at LEAST twice as big as needed. That's how they rolled in the olden days of the last century.

Kitty, what make/model IS the existing boiler, and tell us the numbers on the data plate...

It's true that one would be hard pressed to find an OIL FIRED boiler as small as would be needed for that home (which is probably around a heat loss of 60K BTUH) but why suggest to NOT do the estimate at all? What are you saying? Just buy the smallest boiler possible and be done?

No, do the heat loss estimate and THEN buy the smallest boiler you can find.

If you stay with oil, my recommendation would be to replace with Burnham MPO, the smallest one, which is what I did before last heating season. (which runs a 0.5 nozzle by the way... sorry Kitty if it's a foreign language!)
 
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Old 02-16-14, 03:11 PM
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"We are also discussing adding a pellet stove to one of the finished rooms in the basement where there is a freestanding wood burning fire place currently."

I have a small size pellet stove rated for 1300 sq. feet of heating area. My home is a ranch of 1700 square feet. On the coldest of days after about 3 hours on a low fan setting my home is 75 degrees. Using a small fan to move the air across the house the far side stays at 67 degrees. I believe that if you put a pellet stove in your downstairs it could provide a lot of heat for the upstairs. So far this winter I have averaged about 1 1/2 gallons of oil per day and have used 35 bags of pellets at a cost of $4.20 a bag. I love my pellet stove.
I am talking about a wood pellet stove
 
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Old 02-16-14, 03:24 PM
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I wish I had a place in my home for a stove, I sure would have one if I did.

One caution though... when using 'alternate' heat sources during very cold weather, it is COMMON for the heating pipes to freeze up in the outer extremities and crawlspaces of the home.

If I had a pellet stove I would probably set up a timer to run the heating system maybe once an hour or so... if not the burner, at LEAST the circulator.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 06:39 PM
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Wow, a lot of info, thanks everyone.

I hadn't thought about the pipes in the heating system freezing, but literally everything is within the house, nothing is in the wall, it's all within the home so I can't imagine it freezing. Am I wrong?

Yes, it was 740 gal one year and 760 the other. I suspect you're completely right that the boiler is oversized.

A fireplace store opened up down the street and they cost of the pellet stove, wood I believe, is much less than I thought it would be and the pellets were about $4 a bag if you buy a pallet at a time - which would be fine for us, we have the space if needed.

The data tag I could find says its a Weil McClain, many of the fields on the data tag aren't filled in, but of the ones I could read, 1.3 GPH, Boiler size P-466, Max water 30 PSI (then is said Steam 15 PSI). Not sure if that tells you something. But gosh if that thing is really burning 1.3 GPH, that's over $4 per HOUR. From what they said at the fire place store is correct, the pellet stove would consume $4 per DAY!

I think I answered all the questions asked... Thank you for all the responses.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 06:47 PM
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Oh, the tech who said the tank was getting thin had some kind of instrument that was supposed to be checking the thickness of the tank wall. The same company that installed the system originally is still maintaining it and we mostly trust the techs. They have been measuring the tank each annual visit and the measurements have gone down over time. It is 40 years old after all. I sure hope they haven't been lying to us about that for all these years!

Thanks again for all the replies.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 07:22 PM
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I just replaced my outside underground tank that has been in the ground since 1977. Installed one outside above ground. My homeowners insurance asked me over the summer if I still had the underground tank so I figured I would replace it before they required me to. A local homeowners tank leaked and contaminated their neighbors basement. Lawyers asking over a million.
 
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Old 02-16-14, 07:46 PM
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nothing is in the wall, it's all within the home so I can't imagine it freezing. Am I wrong?
Maybe... there are a lot of factors. One recent poster had a freeze on the INSIDE, in the corner of a room. Granted there was a piece of furniture in front of it, and there were a lot of windows in the room, and the door was closed... but still, it can and has happened.

But gosh if that thing is really burning 1.3 GPH, that's over $4 per HOUR.
Of course you do realize that it doesn't burn that constantly...

Oh yeah, that boiler is HUGE compared to what you need. At 1.3 GPH, it's rating is around 182,000 BTUH. My ballpark estimate of 60,000 BTUH says that it's THREE times as big as needed.

I'm pretty sure that with a properly installed, correctly sized new oil boiler you could probably expect at least a 25% savings on your fuel bill...

some kind of instrument that was supposed to be checking the thickness of the tank wall
OK then, as long as he wasn't just selling you a 'scare tactic line of poop'... probably legit, there are still SOME reputable companies out there.

A local homeowners tank leaked and contaminated their neighbors basement. Lawyers asking over a million.
Leaking underground tanks are a nightmare that won't end. I could tell you LONG stories about mine... let's just say that the tank was removed in 2006... and found to be leaking. Fast forward to 2014 and the environmental contractors have FINALLY got it 'done', to the tune of $460,000 US Dollars... more than the home is worth. Wanna see some pictures?

Oil Tank Remediation Photos

IN SITU Remediation July 2012 Photos b
 
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Old 02-16-14, 08:37 PM
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Kitty,
Your house style might be called a bi-level...same style of house I grew up in.
If the front bedrooms overhang the lower level or you possibly have a garage below one of the bedrooms, you may have an issue with pipes freezing in those areas during very cold weather. Take NJs advice and at least run the circulator once every hour when it's really cold out.

I run a wood stove in my basement and I am lucky to have water running thru the wood stove that circulates thru the hot water baseboard. Burning wood is a lot of work, but I got my first oil delivery since may 2012, at a whopping 151.1 gallons (sorry NJ...just bragging!). My wife loves how the heat generated by the basement wood stove radiates up thru the floor of the living room. If you get a pellet stove, I'm sure you will love it just as much.
 
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Old 02-17-14, 08:15 AM
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Sorry, May 2013...
My system is not that good!
 
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Old 02-17-14, 05:17 PM
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How much was it to get gas to run to your house? I'm paying about $1.02 per therm for natural gas right now. That would be equivalent to $1.40 per gallon of oil. That would save you about $1,000 per year in fuel.
 
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Old 02-17-14, 06:13 PM
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Wow, thanks for all the replies and advice.

When we looked into getting gas in the house, it was probably 8 or 10 years ago, it was over $5,000. I can't recall all the details, but I think that we stopped adding it up at $5K, so it may have been more.

I'm completely amazed at how oversized NJT estimated my burner. It doesn't surprise me, really. The dude who built this house did some really weird stuff, why not oversize the heating system ridiculously. Bigger is better, right?

I do realize it doesn't burn that constantly, but just the fact that it CAN is disturbing. I think I will love the pellet stove as well. I'm sure we can figure out how to circulate the water at an interval. The pipes do tend to be on the outside walls, but none overhand the lower level. But two of the bedrooms have closets that back up to each other with the side wall being an external wall. If the closet doors are all closed, it gets very chilly in those closets!

Oh my and NJT, your oil tank! No wonder you know so much about that this stuff, you've had to learn the painful way. Unfortunately, that is when I learn the most and learn the lesson really well. I appreciate you trying to steer me in the right direction. Our tank in the basement. It doesn't bother me at all, but I sure wouldn't mind it not being there.

We don't have an immediate pressing need to do anything, but we got to talking about the heat, adding the pellet stove, all that. And the question came up about maybe getting ride of the oil. I bet with a modern, properly sized system, we'd save a substantial amount on oil, but we are going to look into bringing gas into the house again. Maybe things are different, maybe we didn't ask the right questions last time or of the right people. We're a fair bit smarter these days. One of the only benefits of getting older.

Thank you!
Kitty
 
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Old 02-17-14, 07:24 PM
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I'm completely amazed at how oversized NJT estimated my burner.
Thing is, I would have to say that probably up until the last decade or so nearly EVERY boiler installed was too big. 2X is common, I bet 90% are oversized. Believe it or not, the reason for this can be traced back to the flu epidemic of 1917 ...

This is a great article! (thanks Bob!)

Constructiondeal.com − Contractor Blogs | America's Oversized Problem: Is your heating system properly sized?
 
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Old 02-17-14, 08:22 PM
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It isn't just boilers but forced air furnaces are also routinely oversized and while there is a good deal of truth in the flu story another aspect is that heating contractors NEVER want to get a call that the new system they installed can't keep the house warm.

My house was originally built with a 60,000 BTU/hr. furnace. When I wanted to have it replaced I wanted a two-stage unit with a variable speed blower. The SMALLEST Lennox unit available was rated at 66,000 BTU/hr. on the second stage with the first stage rated at 33,000. After the installers left I looked over the unit and found out they had installed the next larger size, rated at almost 90,000 BTU/hr. on the second stage. Since I KNEW the original furnace was significantly oversized I was quite upset and called the salesman. He told me that he had upped the size at no extra charge to ensure that the furnace would never go into the high-fire second stage. I demanded that he send his crew back to install the furnace that I had contracted for and remove this huge beast.

I later discovered the "reason" why the larger unit had been installed. My original furnace was in what is called a "B" cabinet. The new furnace was in an "A" cabinet. These designations have to do with the width of the cabinet and installing the hugely oversized furnace meant a much easier install. To install the correct (A cabinet) furnace meant configuring a blocking plate on the bottom and tapering the return air duct. Of course since I demanded it be done they had to eat the cost of the first replacement and then still had to do the modifications to fit the proper furnace. They didn't make any money off of this job.

Now to put it in perspective. A couple of weeks ago we had unusually cold weather where the daytime temperatures didn't rise above freezing with the nights dropping into the teens. (Normal temperatures rarely drop below freezing in my area.) Even with a severely plugged air filter I had no problem in maintaining my normal 70 degrees inside temperature with the furnace cycling on the first stage only.
 
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Old 02-17-14, 08:56 PM
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another aspect is that heating contractors NEVER want to get a call that the new system they installed can't keep the house warm.
Very true. Every call back eats into the profit margin and they're not the ones paying for the fuel!
 
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Old 02-27-14, 12:14 PM
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he said our tank is getting thin in places and we will need to replace it soon.
Your oil company is right about the tank needing to be replaced. The age certainly puts it in the "time to do something soon" category. The thickness test he did is not very accurate because home heating tanks are difficult to measure. There's not a lot of metal there to begin with so the device can be fooled by flaking metal and paint coatings. It's still a good idea to upgrade the tank to a newer model because indoor oil leaks can make a big mess too.
 
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