Oil vs. gas heat in this scenario?

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Hi there,
Just bought a house in CT and am navigating options (my first house). The house has an oil tank (which I find hard to wrap my head around, I'm from CA and we didnt have oil tanks) which works fine, though it has been patched and the inspector told me it could not be insured as a result. So it got my mind to thinking about the options and I realized I had no experience to even begin to have an opinion, so here I am. Here are the facts:
-- Stamford, CT house built in 1925 -- gas lines run into basement but not used -- oil tank and boiler (not sure of boiler age, I'm thinking not that new but not too old) -- radiators in each room -- electric appliances (but would love gas one day) -- no central a/c (would love that one day too)
I'd like to know what scenario would make the most sense if I want to be economical in the long run. Here are my questions if anyone is interested / can help:
-- If we put in central air, would it require gas or is electric possible? -- if C/A requres gas, does that mean the heat should be gas as well? I prefer radiator heat, but is it lame to have a sep. system for cooling and heating? (oil heat and gas a/c) -- can you run radiators with gas (vs. oil)? seems inefficient -- given that we dont like it too warm (60-65) and are happy to heat only those rooms as we need them, is there an electric-based option that saves money (short of portable space heaters)?
Lastly, anyone from the area able to comment about price of oil vs. gas vs. electric?
I really appreciate any commentary -- I see other entries along these lines but some are old and some are not from the Northeast. thanks!
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On Mon, 19 May 2008 07:03:30 -0700 (PDT), Dairy Godmother

Hi D-G,
As per your previous thread, if you already have gas to the outside of this home and you must replace the oil tank because it cannot be insured, then now is a great time to make the switch to gas.
From what you've described here and elsewhere, you have a hot water heating system, so to install central air requires that you run duct work throughout your home. That's likely to be costly and potentially messy work in an older home such as this. If you want air conditioning, you might consider going with one or more ductless heat pumps [or, alternatively, a multi-zone model], also known as mini-splits.
If you're not familiar with this technology, here are a couple brochures to get you started:
http://www.fujitsugeneral.com/PDF_06/halcyon06_brochure.pdf
http://www.friedrich.com/downloads/Ductless_Sales_Brochure.pdf
They provide both air conditioning and economical heat even in CT where electricity sells for $0.16 to $0.18 per kWh. How economical? At today's prices, as little as one-half to one-third the cost of home heating oil.
Bear in mind no one knows how much oil, gas or electricity will cost five, ten or twenty years from now. As I said before, a lot has changed in just the past two years alone. Your *ONLY* safe bet is to insulate and air seal this home to the greatest extent possible so that regardless of whichever fuel you use, you'll be using very little.
Cheers, Paul
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says...

I have oil heat (sticking with it since we don't get gas here; I'd have to do another tank), but in that scenario I'd probably go with the gas. For one thing, I haven't seen any oil-fired inline water heaters. Unless someone here can point me to one..
Banty
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Try Googling
"inline water heater" "oil"
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Hi Banty,
For a general overview on water heating options, click on the "Hot Water Answers" link here:
http://www.conservens.ca/enerinfo/enerInfopublications
And although the pricing data may not be relevant to you, this table could still be of some interest:
http://www.gov.ns.ca/energy/AbsPage.aspx?ID 63&siteid=1&lang=1
Cheers, Paul
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says...

OK - one source doesn't mention direct heat; the other only gas-fired direct heat.
Why are there no oil-fired direct heaters?
Banty
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Hi Banty,
I don't know of any myself. I'm familiar with direct-fired natural gas and propane units such as this:
http://www.bradfordwhite.com/images/shared/pdfs/specsheets/557B.pdf
but none made for oil. Perhaps the market is deemed too small for a low-volume product like this (and with home heating oil selling at $4.25+ a gallon, it's likely to contract a whole lot further).
Cheers, Paul
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says...

I don't know about that - there's a huge installed base of oil-fired furnaces and boilers, especially here in the northeast US, many (like mine) in places without gas service. Plus, gas and oil have a history of see-sawing as far as prices. There's lots of people around to tell woes of converting one way or the other based on then-current prices, only to be burned.
Since these are reputed to be so efficiant, the oil prices should have customers lining up.
Banty
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No one in this discussion has mentioned the current price of oil , $3.60 / gallon/140,000 btus vs gas which is now $1.30/therm/100,00 btus. The cost per therm of oil right now is twice the cost per therm of gas in my area. One solution is run the oil tank dry. Then check the prices of oil vs gas. If there is still a great discrepancy and the boiler is in good shape, then replace the oil burner with a conversion gas burner. It is a quick job(I am told about 2 hours) if the gas pipe is nearby. BTW the cost of this burner is around $850. Richard
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Hi Banty,
Looking at the latest DOE figures for Y2005, nationally, 7.7 million out of a total of 111.1 million households use oil; that's less than 7 per cent. New England is the notable exception, where 6.2 million of the 20.6 million homes in this region are heated with oil (30 per cent).
In 2001, there were 8.7 million homes in the U.S. that were oil heated, of which 6.6 million were located in the northeast. That means one million U.S. homes converted to some other fuel in the span of that four year period alone -- 400,000 in the New England area.
Sources: http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/recs/recs2005/hc2005_tables/detailed_tables2005.html http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/recs/byfuels/2001/byfuel_fo.pdf
Given the rapid run up in fuel oil prices since 2005, I'd expect that trend to accelerate further. The residential fuel oil market is imploding as we speak.
Cheers, Paul
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says...

I haven't seen that. But, I'd like to know, as an owner of an 18 year old Burnham oil burner in an area with no gas service anywhere near, what my best ocnversion option would be.
Banty
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Hi Banty,
Do you have to replace your boiler at this time? At 18 years, a good quality boiler should still have plenty of life left in it.
I've talked about ductless heat pumps throughout this thread. You might consider one as a secondary heat source, especially if the a/c benefits enhance the overall picture (the Fujitsu 12RLQ has a SEER rating of 21, btw).
Cheers, Paul
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says...

OK. But you have no ideas on a primary heat source instead of oil, where there is no gas service....?
Banty
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Hi Banty,
There are other options such as electric or propane but I can't see either being more cost effective and even if they were somewhat cheaper per BTU, it would hardly justify the cost of swapping out what you have now if your current heating system is relatively efficient and in good working order.
My recommendation, if your primary objective is to reduce your home heating costs is to keep what you have now and add one or more ductless heat pumps as a secondary heat source. As noted, the operating costs are considerably less than that of oil and you gain the benefits of a/c.
Cheers, Paul
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says...

Thanks, Paul.
Well, I have pretty much decided already to sit on my oil fired Burnham and tankless coil system for awhile (windows have been replaced and some insulation work has been done, too!).
But the question that bugs me is - if the boiler gives out and I have to make a decision regarding a primary heat source tomorrow (no, let's say, January 18 2009 ;-), what would be the best way to go.
Banty
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[... snip ...]

Hi Banty,
I don't think anyone can accurately predict what will happen in the energy marketplace, one, five or ten years from now but I can tell you that I'm in meetings this week with a senior representative from a major New England utility and he's painting a rather bleak picture and from what he's been telling us, his fears appear to be well founded. I don't say this lightly, but if you haven't already taken steps to make your home more energy efficient and to reduce your personal energy needs to the greatest extent possible, I strongly advise you to do so now.
Cheers, Paul
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says...

Well, OK, of course. Which makes me glad (if I weren't glad enough already) that I've tightened up the house with new Marvin windows and added insulation where it was found to be lacking.
But what I'm trying to get at is - should I be ready to make a conversion from oil should my boiler go, or is propane (I'd have to have a propane tank) and electric going to follow oil anyway?
Banty
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Hi Banty,
FWIW, the previous owners of my home used some 5,700 litres (1,505 gallons) of heating oil a year for space heating and domestic hot water purposes and with various thermal upgrades plus the addition of a ductless heat pump, I was able to get that down to 700 litres last year. Now, with a small electric water heater pre-feeding my boiler's indirect tank, that number should drop to perhaps something in the range of 250 litres (66 gallons). When you get your consumption down to this level the price of fuel oil could double or triple overnight and your out-of-pocket expenses are still minimal. Had I done nothing at all, today, I'd be paying over $7,000.00 a year to heat my home; as it stands now, I pay less than $700.00 and our winters are significantly colder than those of Buffalo, NY.
If money were no object and you wanted to stick with a central heating system, then a ground source heat pump would likely be your best bet. However, at the end of the day, one or two ultra high-efficiency Fujitsu 12RLQ ductless heat pumps could reduce your home heating costs by almost as much but, in this case, your upfront costs would be substantially lower and the money you save could be used to pay for additional upgrades to your home's thermal envelope. To me, this is a more sensible way to go.
BTW, crude oil is currently trading at $134.75 a barrel and the Nymex heating oil futures price is $3.96 a gallon. Retail is normally another $0.60 to $0.75 above that so, as of now, residential fuel oil would be priced at $4.60 to $4.70 a gallon. You should expect to pay **at least** $5.00 by this fall and perhaps $6.00 if things continue at their current pace. So for a homeowner who uses an average of 1,000 gallons a year, budget $5,000.00 to $6,000.00 just to be safe (the cost to fill a 275 gallon tank that's roughly 1/4 full could be $1,000.00+).
I'm trying hard not to be alarmist, but when I say I'm being told the situation in New England this coming winter will be bleak I mean this in the truest sense of the word.
Cheers, Paul
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says...

Thanks, Paul.
I'll look into the heat pump - I take it it greatly raises the efficiency of circulation. For my primary, should it go, maybe I should go for the downsized indirect tank system but stick with oil as other fuel options aren't great either. And emphasize conservation. As in the end the only real way to address this.
One thought I had when backing out of the System 2000 (other than getting a stong feeling I should rethink everything, and that I had time to do so) was that the $$$ could better be put into a few more things, like replacing certain doors.
My house isn't particularly well situated for solar (north side of a hill, with the major roof surfaces facing east and west), but maybe there's something I could do there too.
Banty
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Hi Banty,
Crude oil hit $135.09 yesterday and is trading this morning slightly lower ($132.27). However, heating oil futures are now $3.991 a gallon so, again, based on normal margins, we should expect to pay between $4.60 to $4.75 a gallon retail. Due to a growing world-wide demand for distillates, that will most likely pass the $5.00 mark within the next few weeks. [Looking at this week's numbers, U.S. distillate inventories, which includes both heating oil and diesel came in 800,000 barrels below analyst expectations.]
So, again, homeowners who heat with oil will be in for a shock when their tanks are topped up this fall. Best get consumption down now or you will pay dearly in the months ahead.
Cheers, Paul
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