Mom's oil boiler went out, got questions

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Dec 13, 2002
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Mom lives in PA and I'm in NC. My cousins husband just called to tell me that her boiler went out and water flooded the basement. Not sure exactly what is up if the burner box area that the pipe runs through is what broke or what.

Just curious to see if it would be better to change over to a natural gas boiler over her oil fired one, which is over 20 years old? It would get rid of the two 250 gallon oil tanks in her basement, which are half full. Natural gas hook up is there at her house capped off. So it would be just to hook up to it and run a gas line to the furnace, which is litterally on the other side of the wall from where the gas line is located outside.

I don't know what the difference is in cost. To me if they are close to the same and even if the natural gas boiler is a few hundred more, it would be worth it since she wouldn't have to worry about running out of oil. Not to mention it is a little bit cheaper I think then oil.

The basement got flooded, nothing major since the floor drains took care of the water but what little carpet she had down there is soaked. Would her insurance cover any clean up in that area? I would think so but not sure. Sucks that I'm way down here but then lucky to have cousins up there with her that can handle this.
 
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My mom has boiler heat, a system that has pipes buried in the concrete floor in part of the house. Her house was built in 1962. The rest is radiant heat and also firewood. A couple of years ago, she had the boiler replaced and it's been both a maintenance and repair nightmare ever since. The system shuts itself down every 365 days and needs to be reset. The error code says the system needs to be checked by a technician to prove that it is safe. I guess I can understand that part. Going into the menu can clear that. However, just a couple of days ago, the tech had to come out and do a bunch of repairs that should have been under warranty, but she got a bill for. I guess I need to have a visit with them for an explanation because this is the second time they've had to spend several hours there and she's been billed each time.
Getting back to your original question, I suspect a natural gas boiler would be cheaper to operate, but who can predict the utility bill futures?
 
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IMO gas is not as safe as other heating systems, or even cooking! i am too in Pa + gas lines are being installed in many areas, my neighbor + nephew notes rising costs. a properly installed oil furnace should only need a yearly clean at most, although like gizmos in cars modern furnaces may be more complicated than my 40 year old axman anderson that has been flawless. i replaced one circulator pump + upgraded the burner 20 years ago + it was more efficient as most modern stuff is. of course a quick install is needed, check local installers + availability ASAP!! for about 10 years i turn off my oil furnace + use a Harman hand fired COAL stove on the CHEEP about 2 ton for the heating season, i haul my own coal + dump ashes at the local city garage!!
 
Joined
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I live in south central PA and the temperature has dipped the past couple weeks and it appears the cold is here to stay.

The first thing you have to figure out is if the current oil boiler is repairable. If you can repair it, I would do that as a short term solution since we are already into the cold months. If not, convert to gas. We replaced our gas boiler back in 2005. The boiler we replaced was a unit from the 60s, built to last. Also replaced the water heater. That unit was from the mid 70s. We did not get a high efficiency unit and maintenance and repairs have been minimal. We had to replace the ignitor a few years and we get it checked out every other year. That's it in the 16 years we've had the unit. I know gas prices are likely to go up but I would be really upset with the volatility of oil prices.

A couple things I learned when dealing with HVAC systems is the installer is more important than the manufacturer of the unit And the more efficient the gas boiler, the more issues that will pop up. My house is a cape cod style house with a concrete block exterior built in the early 40s. We replaced the original casement windows but this house will never be sealed as well as new houses. It didn't make sense to put in a high efficient boiler.

I would definitely get quotes to convert to gas. Availability of the gas boiler and finding an installer may be an issue. Good luck.
 
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Sounds like the boiler is cracked. One fix til next year is to grab a bottle of boiler liquid.


It's basically a stop leak for cracked boilers, same concept as the stuff for car radiators. Takes a bit of work to put it in though, usually you have to take off the relief valve to get at the boiler to pour the stuff in. Works for a few months then it eventually leaks again. Nursed a bad boiler this way for a couple years, then just got a new one.

It's usually several thousand to convert over to gas. I wouldn't bother with those gas conversion boilers. No one knows how to fix them and they're not as good as new gas boiler. Usually there's some rebates from the gas company when you put in a new one and I think you can get high efficiency gas boilers unless yours was a steam boiler. Cheapest was about 5-7k for the ones I've done/known about. The boiler is something like 2k or more and then it's several hundred for all the pipes, permits and accessories you need for the boiler and then it's another 1-2k for the plumber/electrician to hook it up and then several hundred more to get rid of the old oil tanks.
 
Joined
Apr 27, 2012
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Location
MA
I live in south central PA and the temperature has dipped the past couple weeks and it appears the cold is here to stay.

The first thing you have to figure out is if the current oil boiler is repairable. If you can repair it, I would do that as a short term solution since we are already into the cold months. If not, convert to gas. We replaced our gas boiler back in 2005. The boiler we replaced was a unit from the 60s, built to last. Also replaced the water heater. That unit was from the mid 70s. We did not get a high efficiency unit and maintenance and repairs have been minimal. We had to replace the ignitor a few years and we get it checked out every other year. That's it in the 16 years we've had the unit. I know gas prices are likely to go up but I would be really upset with the volatility of oil prices.

A couple things I learned when dealing with HVAC systems is the installer is more important than the manufacturer of the unit And the more efficient the gas boiler, the more issues that will pop up. My house is a cape cod style house with a concrete block exterior built in the early 40s. We replaced the original casement windows but this house will never be sealed as well as new houses. It didn't make sense to put in a high efficient boiler.

I would definitely get quotes to convert to gas. Availability of the gas boiler and finding an installer may be an issue. Good luck.
Usually high efficiency can pay for themselves. Doesn't make sense if it's a rental though. Usually the rebates are only on the high efficiency boilers and they can go up to 96% or more. A standard one is typically in the 80% range and the high efficiency one means you can use a smaller boiler which are a little cheaper than the bigger ones.
 
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I am in NY and have an oil burner. Burner is on 17 years now. If I could have gotten NG when I built I would have. No NG lines where I am. Over a few decades I believe NG to work out cheaper but it will take many years to equal out the cost of the conversion. Besides the installer labor and equipment, factor in the local town (maybe) fees plus the NG supplier will also have a finger in your rear.

I went with a New Yorker water boiler, 87% efficiency rating as a good friend is a part owner of a plumbing supply store. I originally wanted to go Weil Mclain but he pointed out you'll pay a lot more for the outer shell. He also warned ultra efficient models tend toward increased repairs. According to him the internals of (talking cast iron here not AL) many boilers are the same. His emphasis was on the burner. I went Beckett for the burner. I'm running 5 zones (4 baseboard heating zones and 1 water heater zone) Cleaning every year and to date I've needed a few repairs. Add them up and about $700 in repairs.

Unless you will have the home for extended period time, I'd say replace the unit. A big key is the right installer to correctly size the unit and install the right nozzle. The wrong size nozzel for your needs can lead to constant running and under heated home; conversely, too large a nozzle and you'll blow through much more oil than necessary.
 
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Need to know exactly where the water is leaking from the boiler. They have a pressure relief valve like a water heater that can leak. They also have a pressure reducing valve that feeds water into the boiler and when they go bad can cause the pressure relief to leak. Neither of those things require a boiler replacement.
 
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Need to know exactly where the water is leaking from the boiler. They have a pressure relief valve like a water heater that can leak. They also have a pressure reducing valve that feeds water into the boiler and when they go bad can cause the pressure relief to leak. Neither of those things require a boiler replacement.
While that's true, I don't think that accounts for the boiler being out and water on the floor. Water on the floor and no heat usually means a leak from the boiler and the low water shut off kicked in and shut it off. Of course you would have someone come out to check on the problem, I wouldn't just automatically replace it without seeing what's wrong with it.
 
Joined
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Short answer: it depends on her budget.

Years ago, my parents switched their home over from oil heat to natural gas. The upfront cost was pretty large considering new furnace etc. but their monthly bill went down as the gas was more efficient than the old beast of a furnace that they had.

If it is repairable, then I would be inclined to repair it as oil heat does not dry out the house like burning gas does.
 
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Usually high efficiency can pay for themselves. Doesn't make sense if it's a rental though. Usually the rebates are only on the high efficiency boilers and they can go up to 96% or more. A standard one is typically in the 80% range and the high efficiency one means you can use a smaller boiler which are a little cheaper than the bigger ones.
The challenge with high efficiency is excessively expensive repairs. My in laws are running into this with a 98% efficient natural gas boiler. The savings go out the window when you are paying $200-$900/year in repairs at year 11 of ownership. The simpler boilers are far more reliable.
 
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I would get a diagnosis on the boiler. 20 years is a shorter life but it might be lower quality one. We replaced a working 45 year old Well McClain that was in poor condition. It was condemned 5 years before so we skipped maintaining it and it kept running.

You need to have calculations run if natural gas a better fuel to go with. I like natural gas because you avoid the expensive yearly requires cleanings with natural gas.
 
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IMO gas is not as safe as other heating systems, or even cooking! i am too in Pa + gas lines are being installed in many areas, my neighbor + nephew notes rising costs. a properly installed oil furnace should only need a yearly clean at most, although like gizmos in cars modern furnaces may be more complicated than my 40 year old axman anderson that has been flawless. i replaced one circulator pump + upgraded the burner 20 years ago + it was more efficient as most modern stuff is. of course a quick install is needed, check local installers + availability ASAP!! for about 10 years i turn off my oil furnace + use a Harman hand fired COAL stove on the CHEEP about 2 ton for the heating season, i haul my own coal + dump ashes at the local city garage!!


Our family has run natural gas furnaces in our homes for close to 60 years. Never a issue.
 
Joined
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I would get a diagnosis on the boiler. 20 years is a shorter life but it might be lower quality one. We replaced a working 45 year old Well McClain that was in poor condition. It was condemned 5 years before so we skipped maintaining it and it kept running.

You need to have calculations run if natural gas a better fuel to go with. I like natural gas because you avoid the expensive yearly requires cleanings with natural gas.
Oil boilers can last a long time, I still see some that are 60+ years old. Those we refer to as snowmen as they're usually covered in asbestos.

Also with natural gas, you're supposed to have it serviced every couple of years instead of annually. I've seen a few forced hot systems where the owner bought the place 5-10 years ago and never changed the filter. Talk about filthy!
 

AZjeff

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If it is repairable, then I would be inclined to repair it as oil heat does not dry out the house like burning gas does.
Not sure how a gas boiler would dry house air any more than an oil boiler would?

We had forced air propane, then forced air oil then NG boiler baseboard then electric forced air now NG forced air and I'd never go back to oil. Unless funds just aren't available I'd switch to NG without hesitation.
 

Rat407

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Well, I just found out that the unit was installed back in 1997. It has a hole in the burner and can't be repaired. She had it tuned up every year since they moved into the house back in 2002. The same company that tuned it every year is the same that installed it for the previous owner. She still has 250 gallons of oil in her tanks and has over $800 in credit with the oil company. At 85 years old, it seems going back with the least expensive oil unit would be the best option.

Thanks for all the information. If she was younger and I lived close, I would convert over to NG just for the fact of a lower cost to heat and possibly a better return when selling the house.
 
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Well, I just found out that the unit was installed back in 1997. It has a hole in the burner and can't be repaired. She had it tuned up every year since they moved into the house back in 2002. The same company that tuned it every year is the same that installed it for the previous owner. She still has 250 gallons of oil in her tanks and has over $800 in credit with the oil company. At 85 years old, it seems going back with the least expensive oil unit would be the best option.

Thanks for all the information. If she was younger and I lived close, I would convert over to NG just for the fact of a lower cost to heat and possibly a better return when selling the house.
You mean the boiler is cracked? If the burner is bad, you can replace the burner. Usually it's a 3-5 section boiler that's bolted together but eventually it cracks and leaks. Sometimes you can just tighten up the bolts again or use that boiler liquid I mentioned earlier which is a kind of a stop leak. It's a band aid repair though.
If it is repairable, then I would be inclined to repair it as oil heat does not dry out the house like burning gas does.

Oil and gas are just the fuel types of various heating systems. You can have an oil fired or gas fired hot air furnace, hot water boiler or steam boiler. The fuel type doesn't matter. Forced hot air furnaces tends to dry out as it's very dry air. Hot water boilers don't dry out as much. Some like steam boilers because sometimes you get steam out of the vents and that humidifies the air a little, however hot water is more efficient as water only boils to about 160 and I think steam is like 240 so it has to boil the water to a higher temperature.
 

JHZR2

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My parents run a dual fuel (oil and coal) boiler in their mountain home. It is 38+ years old. Those things can last!

If return temperatures are too low, or something else isn’t right, I guess there could be a crack.

We had gas in our home when we moved in (with oil tank still in the basement). Went modulating condensing natural gas boiler, which is super efficient, and I’ve loved it. We have a peerless.

I think they make mod/con oil boilers too. NG is expensive this year, but I think for the long run it will be the cheaper option.
 
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