Talk to me about Oil heat

Messages
1,075
Location
Md, USA
I'm in the process of buying an older home, built in 1971. It's a rancher, with a basement, total of 2200 Square ft. It has oil baseboard heat, and a hot water oil boiler. It's a rancher, so half of the 2200 sq. ft. are all on the walk in level. It may need a new boiler, which could run into several thousands, just wondering what's involved in switching to some other way of heating the water, something doesn't sit right with me having to buy oil year round just to take a hot shower.

I've only lived in homes that have everything electric, and my current home, is about 1300 sq feet on main level and upstairs, basement probably another 700 sq. feet. I've never had an electric bill more than $200 in the coldest months, and since I had all the windows replaced, the bill was in the $140 range. Just 2 adults, no kids.

I know oil heat is expensive, but I have been told it "feels" much better. It's also supposedly more efficient. All I hear are bad things, and all the local HVAC companies do nothing but bad mouth it.......

Main concern now, is heating the water. This boiler has some malfunction, where the water is at 210 degrees constantly, and you can feel heat radiating off of the unit. I don't know if certain components can get replaced, or if usually they just fail. The current unit is about 25 years old, and it has a lot of corrosion on the outside.


This is similar to what is in place now:
13082-159919-thickbox.jpg
 
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Messages
331
Location
Litchfield, Ohio
So the way you are describing it your boiler has whats called a domestic coil that heats your tap water. This coil separates the water in the heating side of the boiler from your tap water. Domestic coils are great during the heating season because you are killing two birds with one stone.

During the off season though you are burning oil to maintain that boiler temperature for just your hot water. Its not a good setup as far as that goes. The boiler must stay hot 24/7 just to heat tap water even if your not using the heat.

My recommendation would be to get an electric hot water heater and use that for your tap water. It will save you on your oil bill and save wear and tear on your boiler.

Also find a company that does a lot of oil work to service your boiler. This is what I do daily. Around here if you call a company and they bad mouth oil its most likely because they don't know what they are doing. Its kind of a niche thing in the HVAC world anymore even though in places oil is still very common. Talk to your fuel oil supplier and see who they recommend.
 
Messages
142
Location
Virginia
You 'feel' the distribution method, not the fuel source. Keep the distribution method for comfort.

It sounds like you're cycling off by the high safety limit. This is a problem, TODAY. That should be only a backup.
 
Messages
7,553
Location
North America
I grew up in an oil heated home. The radiators do a great job of heatng, without taking the humidity out like a forced air system. So the feel IS much better. If I ever build my own home it will have a radiator-type system.

Oil can be an expensive way to heat nowadays though; when it was time for a new boiler, my parents had their system switched over to natural gas. Their house was built in '58 and the furnace didn't need to be replaced until the late '90s. So if your system is still functioning well then keeping it for a few years while saving up the $5k+ is certainly a viable option.

Agree with having an electric (or gas) water heater installed
 
Messages
6,696
Location
New England
Can you clarify, heating the water? Do you mean the water inside the boiler itself or the domestic hot water used at tap?

If you mean the boiler inside that is typically simple repair called an Aquastat. Basically a low and high temp are set for your boiler to turn on/off. You can adjust that down by pulling cover.

If you mean the hot water off a coil inside then you abandon that setup and typically:
* Use electric or other energy source hot water heater
* Add another zone to boiler and something called an indirect Hot Water Heater which are quite efficient. Basically a highly insulated low loss hot water tank that heats water using a hot water supplied from boiler.

Oil price currently is around $1.50/gallon which is low compared to $3.50 in past. If you have access to natural gas then that is well worth looking into. If propane nurse this thing along as ROI is not great with those. Better efficiency but less heat output at same time per unit of fuel.
 
Messages
10,783
Location
Jupiter, Florida
It's good to remember that burning anything for heat (BTU) , whether it's propane, natural gas or oil will be somewhat less than 100% efficient, generally around 90%. Most modern units made in the last 3 decades are efficient enough that replacement with a hyper-efficient unit won't consume significantly less energy. There really is little magic in combustion efficiency and modern burners do a good job.

Cost is another matter. Natural gas is often the cheapest option, as it's cost per BTU is generally lowest. Right now, NG wholesale price is quite low. But just like other forms of energy, it's subject to 300% market fluctuations! Also, "IF" a fracking ban happens, expect higher prices. NY already has a fracking ban and must import it's NG from PA and other locations, driving prices up.

Clearly your oil burner needs service. That's generally not a big deal, and I suspect that if you resist the push for an expensive "new unit upgrade" it will be easily repairable. It will provide endless hot water, something that is very pleasing.

Electric heat is nearly always the most expensive. Electric hot water is always an option, and with today's heat pump/hybrid water heaters, they can be reasonably energy efficient and not too expensive to run.

EDIT: If you keep your oil water heater, you won't use much oil during summer. Oil contains 138,000 BTU per gallon and will heat at about 90% efficiency. Put another way, heating 50 gallons from tap water temperature to 140 degrees takes about 25,000 BTU. And of course, you don't generally use 140 degree water, but dilute it with cold water. You might use one gallon every few days. A conventional electric water heater will not save you money, as 1KWH = 3412 BTU. Meaning that same 50 gallons will cost you about $1.40 to heat.
 
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Astro14

$100 Site Donor
Staff member
Messages
13,243
Location
Virginia Beach
When I lived in Stowe, VT, I built a house with oil heat. 5 heat zones, and an 80 gallon hot water storage tank as a 6th circuit off the boiler.

The oil was so much more efficient than electric for hot water, that, with a wash and hot water load of three kids (daily baths, tons of laundry) and an Irish Wolfhound, my oil usage in the summer months was just a few dollars per month.

Put another way, oil-heated hot water and electricity for a family of five in Vermont, cost me less than electric hot water and electricity for my wife and I now. Oil heat for hot water is THAT much more efficient.

Gasoline hit $4/gallon while I was there, so the price of heating oil was near an historic high, about $2.80. Still, even with that, a properly designed oil heat system is incredibly efficient, both from a BTU and a $$ perspective. Even at those prices, oil hot water was far cheaper than electric.

One other point, I was able to purchase oil, on contract, at a fixed price, in the summer, before heating oil prices went up in the winter. Again, for a family of five, in one of the coldest parts of the country, where we saw -25F for days on end, our heating cost (home and hot water) was low. Remarkably low.

During the highest oil prices in decades, I was heating that 3500 sq ft home, and providing hot water for a family of five, in the dead of Vermont winter for less than $200/month. At today’s oil prices, it would be $100/month. Contrast that with your cost for electric, in a house half the size, during comparatively mild winters, with just two people.

Oil is a great way to heat. It’s expensive to install, but cheap to run. Electric is cheap to install, crazy expensive to use.
 
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Messages
3,082
When I lived in Stowe, VT, I built a house with oil heat. 5 heat zones, and an 80 gallon hot water storage tank as a 6th circuit off the boiler.

The oil was so much more efficient than electric for hot water, that, with a wash and hot water load of three kids (daily baths, tons of laundry) and an Irish Wolfhound, my oil usage in the summer months was just a few dollars per month.

Put another way, oil-heated hot water and electricity for a family of five in Vermont, cost me less than electric hot water and electricity for my wife and I now. Oil heat for hot water is THAT much more efficient.

Gasoline hit $4/gallon while I was there, so the price of heating oil was near an historic high, about $2.80. Still, even with that, a properly designed oil heat system is incredibly efficient, both from a BTU and a $$ perspective. Even at those prices, oil hot water was far cheaper than electric.

One other point, I was able to purchase oil, on contract, at a fixed price, in the summer, before heating oil prices went up in the winter. Again, for a family of five, in one of the coldest parts of the country, where we saw -25F for days on end, our heating cost (home and hot water) was low. Remarkably low.

During the highest oil prices in decades, I was heating that 3500 sq ft home, and providing hot water for a family of five, in the dead of Vermont winter for less than $200/month. At today’s oil prices, it would be $100/month. Contrast that with your cost for electric, in a house half the size, during comparatively mild winters, with just two people.

Oil is a great way to heat. It’s expensive to install, but cheap to run. Electric is cheap to install, crazy expensive to use.

Well said. I'm in NY and the fracking ban has NG at a pricepoint much higher than say neighboring PA. Electric is way up their on cost. I went oil when I built my home16 years ago. I also went with a TOP PERFORMER 80gal water heater. Me, 3 kids, and a dog. The water heater is a heavy stone that holds heat well. Worth the cost IMHO.

I installed many IC highhat lights in the 4 bedrooms on the top floor. I insulated my attic with R30. I was loosing heat to my attic. Solution was an alternating layer of R19 on top of the R30. That made a huge difference in heat retention. Something to think about.
 

Astro14

$100 Site Donor
Staff member
Messages
13,243
Location
Virginia Beach
Well said. I'm in NY and the fracking ban has NG at a pricepoint much higher than say neighboring PA. Electric is way up their on cost. I went oil when I built my home16 years ago. I also went with a TOP PERFORMER 80gal water heater. Me, 3 kids, and a dog. The water heater is a heavy stone that holds heat well. Worth the cost IMHO.

I installed many IC highhat lights in the 4 bedrooms on the top floor. I insulated my attic with R30. I was loosing heat to my attic. Solution was an alternating layer of R19 on top of the R30. That made a huge difference in heat retention. Something to think about.

BISCUT - I didn’t compare house size or insulation when I contrasted costs. I just don’t have a way to quantify them accurately enough.

My house in Stowe, 3500 sq ft plus a basement. 2x6 framing. Pella windows. Very well insulated. In VB, 2500 sq ft. Average windows, framing and insulation.

That’s why I contrasted only hot water cost. That’s easily compared, apples to apples.

But, that house in Stowe was cheaper to heat, given the size and climate, and we have relatively cheap NG here that we use for heat in the winter.
 
Messages
25,978
Location
Upstate NY
+1 on indirect water heater. You can add it to any oil boiler. Basically endless hot water even if 2 people taking showers at same time.

Some go to propane when its time for a boiler replacement.

Hope your oil tank is in basement and not buried in ground.

Best new boiler is a Buderus boiler with an Rielo burner gun.

If you have a choice, multiple circulator pump installation better than zone valves.

Best to have shutoff before/after every circulator pump.

I have a little micro computer control that senses boiler temp and outside temp to help with efficiency.

A domestic hot water coil in boiler needs to be acid cleaned every few years to remove hard water deposits.

Any baseboard heat is more even (but slower) than hot air.

Does the house have central air? If so maybe a heat pump and ditch the baseboard. MD is warm enough for a heat pump to make sense.
 
Messages
18,174
Location
NH
Sounds like it needs service. They do need regular upkeep. The companies will push yearly, and nothing wrong with but, after watching at my old house, I got the feeling it was only really needed every 2 years.

Hot water off the boiler is a good thing, not bad. Furnace kicks on once an hour or so. Keeps the system alive--and if nothing else, will alert you to a heating problem during the cooling season--not during the season where you need it the most!

I'd rather have propane than oil, get the oil tanks out of my basement. Tanks don't last forever, they can rust out and leave you with a big mess in the basement. If I were to build I'd go gas.

Only issue I really had was the expansion tank on mine never lasted more than about 5 years. No big cost to replace. The air vents like to go too. I've had zero desire to mess with the system so that stuff gets taken care of during service (usually). In my new house I have 4 zones, one for hot water, and the zone control thing can go. Dirt simple to change, kinda pricey, but I bought a spare and keep it next to the furnace for the next time one goes out.
 
Messages
630
Location
New Jersey
So the way you are describing it your boiler has whats called a domestic coil that heats your tap water. This coil separates the water in the heating side of the boiler from your tap water. Domestic coils are great during the heating season because you are killing two birds with one stone.

During the off season though you are burning oil to maintain that boiler temperature for just your hot water. Its not a good setup as far as that goes. The boiler must stay hot 24/7 just to heat tap water even if your not using the heat.

My recommendation would be to get an electric hot water heater and use that for your tap water. It will save you on your oil bill and save wear and tear on your boiler.

Also find a company that does a lot of oil work to service your boiler. This is what I do daily. Around here if you call a company and they bad mouth oil its most likely because they don't know what they are doing. Its kind of a niche thing in the HVAC world anymore even though in places oil is still very common. Talk to your fuel oil supplier and see who they recommend.
Hey CDX if you haven’t done so yet check out Steven Lavimoniere on you tube. He’s a old school oil burner tech who records his service calls. Very interesting and most of the time quite funny
 
Messages
10,938
Location
MA
Sounds like you have a tankless loop running off the oil burner. I didn't notice anything being mentioned in the OP initial post about short cycling, it's just on all the time due to the tankless coil. A storage tank might reduce the amount of time it's running.

It's also a good idea to get it serviced once a year, primarily so you have someone to call if you have a problem with it in the middle of the winter. The company will service their customers first before responding to random people with boiler problems that call out of the blue. Part of the tune up should tell you about the efficiency of the boiler, they're typically in the 80% range. Those can last 40-60 years or more. I still see older snowman boilers out there, those are the ones covered in asbestos and must be 60+ years old. Check the oil tank though, those are usually only good for 40-60 years, if it has a handle, it's probably a newer tank, the old ones didn't have a handle. Also in the colder northeast, you can go through a tank of oil a month or more in the winter which could run $1000 or more when oil was high. New homes have better insulation so the oil use is much lower. Further south probably not as bad. States usually run energy efficiently programs so getting additional insulation might help.

As others said, either a storage tank or an electric hot water tank would allow you to shut off the boiler in the summer, but those have their own costs. You need to figure out how much you're using during the summer and see if the savings is worth it. Those that still run oil for a hot water tank just let it go in the summer, it's only a few months and oil is cheap in the summer. Storage tank or electric tank will probably cost you $1000+. After you do the math, it might not save you any money. There's also a shut off switch on the boiler, you could also just shut it off til you need hot water in the evening.
 
Messages
18,174
Location
NH
Yeah, that does remind me, the service guy did recommend to flip the burner off during the day in summer. I didn't think it'd save that much, since it was just heating a small loop back up.

FWIW my old house was tankless and this new one has a hot water tank. I almost think the furnace kicks on just as often in summer, either one, no real savings. But the tank does hold a lot more water and it seems the furnace kicks on less when someone takes a shower. Also, unlike in the old house, we can now have two showers going at once, and I think the only time I noticed a loss of hot water was when someone was doing dishes. In a small house, with a single bath, maybe tankless is fine, bigger house and the tank may be wiser. Not sure.

One thing I do run into is humidity in winter. Forced hot air houses tend to run dry, hot water houses can run humid. Old house had to have a dehumidifier in winter time to control things (new house is bigger and must have more drafts, have not had the issue). Then again, the wife likes to cook and we use gas for the stove, so those will add moisture too. YMMV.

Outside of replacing a tempering valve in the old house we never did anything to service the hot water. Just had the boiler cleaned of soot every 2 years. New house with its tank, I'm not sure it needs anything...? Hadn't thought about it, I thought the anode in regular hot water tanks was to do with the heater.
 
Messages
10,938
Location
MA
New house with its tank, I'm not sure it needs anything...? Hadn't thought about it, I thought the anode in regular hot water tanks was to do with the heater.
I'm not sure what your question is and if you're saying things correctly. If you have a storage tank off a tankless coil, that may not have an anode rod, but it might, never really looked. The anode rod is so that instead of the tank rusting, the rod is the sacrificial anode and that will rust first. Once that's gone, the tank starts to rust. Some old tanks used to be cooper and I think some storage tanks are higher quality and use stainless steel so they last longer. Regular hot water tanks are usually just steel lined with fiberglass but water gets through eventually and the tank will rust out. I think a storage tank doesn't rust as quickly as a hot water heater where it's fired all the time.
 
Messages
18,174
Location
NH
I'm not sure what your question is and if you're saying things correctly. If you have a storage tank off a tankless coil, that may not have an anode rod, but it might, never really looked. The anode rod is so that instead of the tank rusting, the rod is the sacrificial anode and that will rust first. Once that's gone, the tank starts to rust. Some old tanks used to be cooper and I think some storage tanks are higher quality and use stainless steel so they last longer. Regular hot water tanks are usually just steel lined with fiberglass but water gets through eventually and the tank will rust out. I think a storage tank doesn't rust as quickly as a hot water heater where it's fired all the time.
Nah, I was musing out loud, when I should have just gone and looked. Amtrol Boilermate. No metal involved, so no anode for me to worry about. Win!
 
Messages
6,564
Location
San Francisco Bay Area
I grew up in an oil heated home. The radiators do a great job of heatng, without taking the humidity out like a forced air system. So the feel IS much better. If I ever build my own home it will have a radiator-type system.
I don't have too much experience with radiators. I've seen old ones before, but the only time I've actually lived with them was when I stayed with a friend in NYC at an old apartment building. It was unbearable. It was in the middle of winter with 40ºF temps outside and it was ridiculously hot without any way to control the radiator. The windows were completely open just to keep the temps down to about 78ºF. I don't know what their boilers used, but I don't think it really mattered.
 
Messages
36,516
Location
ME
Have it. Oil's great. I assume you can't get piped natural gas, though.

Most boilers need to be left running/ idle as it's not good for them to cool off. Condensation and corrosion forms if you let them go.

You can do the math on BTUs between oil and electricity. For me oil is about 1/4 the cost. I go through 100 gallons of oil from May-Nov with the heat off, just running domestic hot water.

Servicing is expensive. Used to go years with a guy that was $99-129. Including a cleaning, nozzle, filter. Now we've got some father and son grifters that always find something plausible sounding and make the bill $450. Wife deals with them so unless I take a day off from work I just have to deal with it.
 

montero1

Thread starter
Messages
1,075
Location
Md, USA
Thanks for all the replies. Service guy came out and gave me a thorough explanation on how the system worked, and alternatives for replacing when needed. Turns out the unit is functioning properly, but the gauges were not. It was reading 0 pressure, and the temp gauge was 30 degrees off. It was also set too high, so other than replacing the gauge everything else is is decent shape. I could go to an electric heater for the water, but I think the house may need an electrical upgrade to run that (according to the inspector).....the house does have central AC, but the furnace isn't one that can do AC and heat- the condenser is R412, and can also run heat. Both of those units are 10 years old. I may deal with changing things once something fails. I really like the wall or floor mounted units from Mitsubishi that heat and cool, just not sure how big of an area they handle.

I have them at work in several offices.
 
Messages
17,871
Location
Silicon Valley
Oil is a lot more expensive to distribute, and in the US natural gas is in a surplus right now. If you can convert to natural gas heating it would be way more efficient.

People bad mouth oil heat because burning oil usually comes with residual deposit (or something like that) that is hard to clean out and will foul things over time (like how gas engine has piston and intake valve deposits), natural gas is much cleaner.

If you are rural and cannot get gas line installed, you might want to look at the heat pump water heater these days or electric water heater. I'd do anything to stay away from oil unless you have high electric rate and no way to install gas line.
 
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