Oil, Electric or Propane - which is best?

Hello all, First time post for this guy... I am in need of some advice. I live in the Northeast and am pondering the idea of re-tooling the mechanicals in the house. I now have an oil fired furnace for hot-water base board heat and domestic hot water. I go through roughly 1,200 gallons of heating oil in a 12 month period (2,600 sq ft home). I have done some research on the "point of use" HW heaters and am considering an electric type. I'd need to upgrade the electric service to 200 amp in order to do this ($1,500 - $2,000) plus the cost of the unit (approx. $650 for one sized to accommodate the whole house). Or should I switch to propane across the board? I have ample room for a couple of gas tanks/bottles in the back yard and it would be nice to cook with gas again. Does anyone have any experience with a switch from oil to propane? Am I headed in the wrong direction $$-wise? I've heard that some propane suppliers in the area will subsidize the cost of the equipment in order to get the gas sales - has anyone else heard of such a thing? Thank you all for any help you can give frank.orlando
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FrankO wrote:

way to compare costs is to find out how much it costs for each type of fuel to heat the same volume of water 1 degree. That will tell which one is the most expensive to use. Add in conversion costs and replacement units from time to time (i.e. electric water heaters every x years) and you will have an idea of what you are going to be paying over the long run. Most fuel costs follow oil sooner or later, especially propane, so don't expect a miracle price anywhere. If, by a "point of use" HW heater, you are referring to an in-line type that heats the water as it is being drawn, I have been told that they don't work all that well if the incoming water temperature is below a certain temperature (maybe 50-55 deg F.) which may be the case for you in the NE (US, I presume) at least in the winter. I'm in Quebec and my plumber said to stay away from them and I think that my brother in Nova Scotia had one years ago and he took it out. Things may have changed so ask lots of questions.
Bob
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Greetings,
A) Install a $220 electric hot water heater -- leave the old oil heater in as well but turn it off. B) Buy half a dozen $10 15A electric space heaters from Wal*Mart.
Your total equipment cost is only $280 or so. Only heat the rooms you are using when you are in them. If oil prices ever go back down, or electric shoots up, switch back to your oil fired unit.
Hope this helps, William
PS: If you are determined to spend a lot of money and embark on a large project look into a geothermal heat pump. The up-front cost is high but the incremental cost per BTU is less than Electric resistance heat, Oil, or Propane.
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Hi Frank,
In addition to the responses you've received here, you might also want to check out the following discussion on the alt.energy.homepower forum.
See: http://groups.google.com/group/alt.energy.homepower/browse_thread/thread/4349427689e7a538/ee80be6869f9af82#ee80be6869f9af82
And as others have indicated, a tankless electric water heater is unlikely to provide you with good performance when your inlet temperature is just this side of freezing. From my own first-hand experience, I think they're a horrible idea.
Cheers, Paul
On Sat, 13 May 2006 12:53:23 GMT, "FrankO"

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Calculate your cost per Btu of each. For me in the midwest electric is 50% or so more than Ng. Your local price delivered will be different for each. I would expect electric to cost you the most probably rulling it out. You can get higher efficiency gas boilers and tankless water heaters then oil will provide, you like gas cooking, I would expect a gas dryer and all apliances to save you the most.
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Thanks all for the responses. BTW - Northeast US - Connecticut, USA to be exact. Sorry for being so ethnocentric as to think that the whole world know what I meant. I'm a dumb American.
Has anyone converted from oil to propane? I guess I'm just wondering if, let's say someone has already done a conversion - did their bottom line heat bill increased or decreased from the switch. Also, thanks for the feed back in "point of use" HW heaters. I've always suspected the electric models because of the thermal transfer characteristics of the electric heating elements to the actual potable water supply. Has anyone used the gas models? I understand the thermal transfer rates are better with gas fired unit (that's what THEY say anyhow).
Again, thanks for all the responses. Best Regards, FrankO
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Greetings Frank,
I didn't really want to get into the point-of-use hot water heater debate but now I feel compelled. The truth is that electric point-of-use hot water heaters work GREAT! but everyone purchases undersized units with not enough degrees of temp rise so they are all unhappy. The manufactures are probably partly to blame because they know an appropriately sized unit may be cost prohibitive for many buyers so they try to make believe that you can get away with less. Don't shy away from them because they don't work --- they do work quite well, shy away from them because of the cost and if you do buy them don't skimp on the specs.
Hope this helps, William
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HW point of use will REQUIRE large electric supply upgrade, a electric unit to supply just one fixture at a time like a single shower with cold incoming water requires 200 amps just for the heater. So figure 2 brand new breaker boxes one for everything else and one just for heating water.:( With new meter can and service drop:( cost probably 2 or 3 thousand.
Electrical point of use CANT support more than ONE fixture at a time...
I have a friend like you. He has oil for home heat and recently upgraded to a brand new oil furnace. he added propane for cooking. oil heat has one major advantage, you can get a couple huge tanks and buy at off seasons lower price and your fuel supply is secure for the year.
with low conneticut winter temps a electric heat pump isnt a good idea, when its really cold you will be electrical resistance heat... thats terribly expensive
unless you go to a ground source heat pump, payback will be a long time..
I would investigate a NEW oil furnace go propane for cooking. the oil hot water supply has great recovery a electric hot water heater will never match. propane hot water tank is a option.
Have you completely insulated your home and had it tested for air leaks?
if your current furnace vents to a chimney its like having a window open 24/7
a high efficenvcy oil furnace is likely your best option..
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I'm going to throw some in here. A customer recently had a tankless gas WH installed in her house. (We didn't do it) The installed cost of the unit was about $3,500 USD. Now, I have no clue what the life expectancy of that tankless is but I think you can buy AND run a lot of tank types for the same money for the time period.
Another thought is to remind you that you have to have a minimum flow (3/4 GPM?) to activate that burner.
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Call the police concerning the tresspass/vandalism.

Same as above. But, you *are* talking about your driveway - not the road in front of your house, righit?

Pursue that with the town planning/zoning board.
Calm down and deal with the problems as they occur.
Banty
--


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Hi Frank,
I would be surprised if you saved any money converting from oil to propane, unless your existing oil-fired boiler is an older, less efficient model and due for replacement. Do you happen to know its efficiency rating by chance?
I use propane for my dryer, range, fireplaces and BBQ by way of a quick-disconnect hook-up. It would have been simple (and in many ways preferable) to run my boiler on propane as well, except that the cost of propane here in Nova Scotia is almost double that of oil on a BTU basis. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but if I had the panel capacity, I would be inclined to install a small electric boiler as backup to the heat pump and be done with it; my heat load is so modest now the extra premium is hardly worth worrying about and I could eliminate the need for one more fuel storage tank.
Cheers, Paul
On Sat, 13 May 2006 23:40:34 GMT, "FrankO"

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You don't have a furnace, you have a boiler. Not to be picky, but when you are talking to the pros and suppliers you want to be correct.

Cooking with propane is good. Maybe eventhe hbot water, but for heating, it will be expensive. Propane is an oil derivative and usually more expensive than oil.

Many utilities will subsidize at times, but you still pay in the end. Do some careful cost comparisons for the heat content of the 1200 gallons of oil at whatever efficiency your boiler is now. Most are in the 75% to 80% range. If you had it cleaned, the service tech may have left a slip on the heater with that information on it.
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wrote in message

Yes, propane heating can be expensive, but when the winter storms knock out the power, I really appreciate my direct vent propane furnace that doesn't require electrical power.
Bob
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A single shower Bosch electric tankless needs 120a, so think it through with gallon per minute and temp rise needed.
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-snip-

First- Have a survey done and see how much you can reduce that consumption by tightening up your house. [that doesn't sound too bad- but there are bound to be improvements you can make that will have a quicker payback than new heating equipment] Windows, insulation, storm doors, passive solar. It's a good year to do this as there are federal rebates for a lot of energy related improvements. [check your state, too]

I haven't looked at electric heaters- but the feasability of them depends entirely on who you are buying electricity from. Also-- If I were paying that much to upgrade my electric service, I'd go to a 300 amp service.

I haven't switched, but 8yrs or so ago I began to supplement my oil & hot air furnace with a propane ventless stove. [my water, dryer, and range are LP, too] This year the oil cost more than the propane per gallon-- but the propane is usually a bit more. I use about 4-500 gallons of each. If propane got too high my oil furnace is sized big enough to take care of the whole house. If oil gets too high, I could probably make the space heater work harder-- or add another. In 6-7 yrs, though, they have stayed pretty close.
Also, at the beginning of the winter, electricity was looking real good- but Niagara Mohawk was taken over by National Grid. The 'price per KWh' reported on the bill has gone down each month-- but the 'delivery costs' and assorted fees has gone up more than enough to make up for it. So now, electricity with a *real cost* of about 11cents last fall is now 16.

I had a company *give* me a domestic water heater provided I bought from them for 2 yrs. When they let me run out of propane twice, I called another supplier & found out I was paying *way* too much from the old supplier. [that was several years ago & though the original guys came and got their tank, they still haven't asked for their heater back.]
Jim
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I hear ads running all the time from the oil heat companies, claiming that it has been the most cost effective over the last decade compared to gas. That may have changed now that oil has spiked up, but gas has gone way up too. A web search should be able to turn up some historical cost data for both. I'd also ask neighbors what their experience has been.
My gut feel is there is not enough operating cost advantage or certainty in this to switch from one to the other. If you have an old inefficient boiler, then replacing it might make sense, but you have to do the math to see the payback.
As for the on demand electric hot water heater, forget it. Someone earlier said that they are frequently undersized because manufacturers don't make it clear how large of a unit they need. And someone else pointed out why. To support a decent flow rate or multiple simultaneous uses would require the entire electric service capacity of most homes. Figure out how much it cost to upgrade and you can forget it for general use. They can make sense for special apps.
If you like gas to cook, one possiblity would be to go with it for that. And you might want to consider gas for hot water. Not sure of the efficiencies of using a boiler for hot water vs a std gas water heater, but the water heater might win, especially in months when the boiler would not otherwise be used. Or you could also go with an on demand gas water heater.
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You cannot justify the cost of upgrading your service just for a point-of-use water heater. You need to find other reasons. When I upgraded to 200A many years ago it was for a heat pump with natural gas suppliment. In this tread someone mentioned a geothermal unit. You might be a candidate since you have some land. The capital cost is high but operating is cheap. You probably should still consider a backup heat source though.
I had a look at my electric bill. It says generation charges at .03835 per KWH. With the rest of the charges which are a combination of fixed and variable brings the rate to about .07.
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I have no idea of the size of your house, but a $650 electric HW heater does not strike me as being large enough unless you are paying wholesale.
I like propane for spot uses, but it costs more than both electricity and NG to heat a house. My preference is oil.
Dick
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On Sat, 13 May 2006 12:53:23 GMT, "FrankO"

If you go electric, and have variable rates, then you're better off with a storage tank than an on-demand heater, because you gain more in off-peak energy costs than you loose to cooling in the tank.
Esp. if the tank is inside the heated building envelope.
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