Replacing heating system - Looking for advice

Hello, I'm looking for some help because I've just been told by my furnace company that the pipes for the steam system in my house need to be replaced. I just inherited the house from my mother about two years ago, and have been planning on doing this already a preventative measure, just in about the next five years or so - not before next (2005) winter. We're planning on pretty much gutting and renovating the house in toto over the next year or so anyway.
A little background on the situation:
- The house is 3 floors, approximately 4,000 sq. ft. (old victorian, four floors counting basement).
- The furnace was replaced in October of 2000 with a Peerless semi-commerical unit (don't remember the model mom chose off the top of my head).
- As I said, we're planning on a complete renovation of the house, so insulation will be added to the exterior walls, and the single pane wood windows replaced (yay).
- Right now we go through about 2,000 - 2,400 gallons of oil a year for heating and hot water. I expect with the measures above, that would hopefully fall to the 1,500 - 1,800 gallon a year range. Is that a reasonable hope?
- Since we're looking at a LOT of black pipe to get replaced (was told $5,000 ballpark after a quick eyeball by the heating contractor when he was checking the radiators, as opposed to about $500 for pex tubing if we switched to hot water), the cost of getting a new furnace and converting to hot water and staying with steam are about the same.
- I am NOT planning on doing any of this myself. I'm smart enough to know I don't know enough to even think about doing anything but opening the door for the people doing the work and writing a check when all is done.
So what I'm really wondering is would there be any economic advantage of one system over the other? Is one system more efficient? Considering the costs involved, I'm tempted to go with the hot water since I know in 30 years there will still be people alive who know how to diagnose/repair a hot water system, but I really don't know much about heating systems in general - grew up with steam, every apartment/house I lived in was always steam.
--
"All we had were our dreams, and that's all we needed to be free"


*To reply, replace 'deadfishies' with 'bigfoot.'*
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Shouldn't this be posted in alt.hvac?
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Matt wrote:

You know, I thought that too, until someone there gruffly said it should be posted here. Ohwell, what can ya do right?
--
"All we had were our dreams, and that's all we needed to be free"


*To reply, replace 'deadfishies' with 'bigfoot.'*
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Heheheh... I was just playin Chris, sorry (I saw your post in alt.hvac). Alt.hvac was set up years ago by a few guys to talk shop.... they don't much like furreners. (Don't take Paul's comments too personally - he's really a nice guy. They just get real tired of people asking for free help on a system they shouldn't be fooling with in the first place).
On the bright side, alot of the people who post in alt.hvac will answer your question if it's posted here, especially 'general' questions such as yours, vs. a question such as "where can I get a new gizmo for my furnace'..............
Happy new year.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 12/28/2004 2:50 PM US(ET), Christopher Rawlison took fingers to keys, and typed the following:

I should hope so. My 2000 sq ft hot water heated house goes through about 800 gallons of oil over the winter (NY). The insulation and double paned windows provide most of that savings in fuel use.

I am not a plumber, but I would suspect that hot water is more cost-effective and efficient than steam (how many new houses are built with steam heat?) Hot water heat uses copper pipes rather than steel pipes. I know nothing about pex tubing, other than it is used for radiant heating, usually in floors. Besides, with hot water, you get rid of all those steam radiators, and having to bleed them of trapped air.

--
Bill

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
willshak wrote:

Actually, considering the size of the house, and the number of windows (approx 40), and the size of the windows (on average about 6'x3'), I'm hoping more than 25% drop in my heating costs. But we'll see. With what fuel oil runs, even 25% would pay off in about 10 years. Hard to beat an investment like that even in the stock market.

I was always under the impression that steam usage began to fall off because of the complexity of steam systems (balancing, higher pressures, higher noise, higher operating temps, etc) opposed to hot water.
AFAIK, there's still a bit of maintinence involved in hot water (still having to bleed radiators, occasional flushing of the system, etc). The maintinence isn't really an issue for me. As far as if the pex can be used or not, I'm waiting until my plumbing inspector is available tomorrow to ask him if it would meet code to run from radiator to radiator, if not, this is a pretty moot point.
--
"All we had were our dreams, and that's all we needed to be free"


*To reply, replace 'deadfishies' with 'bigfoot.'*
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Once you replace windows and insulate walls and ceilings, your heating costs will fall drastically and you'll eliminate drafts.
I cannot believe that your heating service has declared that every single pipe component in your system has failed simultaniously. It might need some TLC, but I'm sure it can be made to work again until your complete renovation.

Since this pex would only be a temporary fix until you're under renovation, I say to heck with what the plumbing inspector says. You need heat, and to replace an old system now is just throwing good money into bad.

snipped-for-privacy@aol.com
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
HaHaHa wrote:

Well, my mother bought the house in '83, and from what I understand the system had never really been maintained. The building was originally single family and then converted to a multi family in the 70s. The slumlord, er owner we bought it from wasn't exactly the greatest in terms of stuff like that from what I've seen. Then again, neither was my mother. As far as I know, the only things in the system that have been replaced were whichever of the cast iron radiators that had sections leak. The system itself we don't really know how old it is. Was definetly installed post construction, our guess is somewhere in the 1920s/1930s. So you look at the lifespan of black pipe in a steam system and start counting backwards from today............. You get my point.
Anyway, it isn't so much a question of not having heat right now. They said the existing piping should get us through winter without any major problem. It's just a question of the interior walls of the pipe have corroded so much that now rust and scale buildup have begun to clog the pipes so much it's affecting the return of condensed steam, which is causing the furnace to cut off because we're either getting alternately low water cutoffs and overpressure cutoffs. It's easily dealt with by cycling the furnace when the pressure drops or after we drain it if it fills with water. While the symptoms of the problem can be dealt with and worked around, I'd still like to fix the underlying cause before next winter sets in.

Well, I haven't talked to the furnace company about quotes and whatnot. The 5 grand for materials number was more of a ballpark given by the maintinence rep that came to look at the furnace after doing a walkthrough on the house checking to make sure the radiators are working and stuff. He mentioned the PEX tubing if we convert to hot water, which lends me to think he was considering it as a permanent install solution if we convert. Right now I'm trying to do some research into what my options are and their pros and cons. As I said in the original post, we wouldn't be replacing the old system, the furnace and burner are only four years old.
--
"All we had were our dreams, and that's all we needed to be free"


*To reply, replace 'deadfishies' with 'bigfoot.'*
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On Tue, 28 Dec 2004 19:50:34 GMT, Christopher Rawlison

You are asking a very big open ended question. If $5000 sounds like too much for the piping change out, get a few estimates. If you are going through a complete renovation, look at several options. Rip it all out and start over? Consider equipment costs, operating costs, life span, how long you plan to live there, etc. Steam is great heat when installed correctly but does take a bit of maintenance. Just not real practical anymore in residential homes. Hot water systems are really great too but then you have to consider how to cool your home. In short you need to do a lot of research and maybe even have it professionally designed. Dont expect that old oil boiler to burn less fuel just because you changed the windows. Its still going to dump the same amount of oil through it every time it fires. It just depends how well the structure will hold that heat in. Good luck, Bubba
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Yes, the insulation and windows will do a great deal to improve your fuel usage.

Not sure about your area, I'm a contractor in Ohio and every town has different codes etc.
New systems use Pex with an oxygen barrier when used in a closed system, such as heating. Pex has been used for many years in Europe and it is trouble free, unless Jr. takes a knife to it! The nice thing about Pex is: Ease of instalation Virtually no maintanence Insulates better than copper or black pipe Doen'st plug or scale up like metals

Steam is the least efficient and the most troublesome. To have a two pipe steam system is costly as well.
Now, I suggest you get advice from other companies and then pick what you wish to do.
Remember, radiators usually match the decor of your home, and if you insulate and change windows your raditors are going to be too big for steam, but they will work. This means that since they are oversized they will probably be just right with hot water. There are chemicals available that will remove just about everything from the pipes and registers if you decide to keep the radiators. I personally like the looks of them in older homes. Baseboard radiators suck, they are built cheap, look cheap and are just plain crap. They do make cast iron baseboards, but it is four times per foot of copper type baseboards.
If you decide to keep the existing radiators, have the system flushed and cleaned with chemicals before you make a final decision. Any bad radiator will start to leak shortly after the cleaning starts, like within a few days.
Once you insulate your boiler will most likely be so oversized that if you don't change it out your heating bills will not go down!!! The residual heat in the boiler will go up the flue and the boiler will cycle so much it will die a pre mature death!
Lastly, CHECK your electric rates in your area. May electric utilities offer rebates and lower rates for heating with electricity. I have customers heating with baseboard electric heat CHEAPER than with a 90% natural gas furnace! There are electric boilers, and there are many types of programs some utilities offer.

My dream is to start making more money than I owe!
Rich

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Give the age of the house and the situation you mentioned in another post, the pipes probably do have to be replaced. Black iron will corrode over time.
IMO, I'd stick with the steam heat. Look at the layout of the house. Steam will carry the four floors easily, but water would have to be pumped up to it by use of a pump. Steam will lose less energy along the way making for better efficiency at the point of use. If the pipes are insulated, the heat moves from the boiler to the uppermost radiators quickly and will little heat loss.
Hospitals, schools, industrial buildings mostly use steam because it can be moved to extreme places. I'm responsible for the heating of a complex with 12 zones in four floors covering about 20,000 square feet. The radiators 300 feet from the boiler are just as warm and comfy as the ones in the room directly above it. Steam packs a lot of heat energy in a small space. In New York (and other large cities) steam generating plants provide the heat for buildings that are blocks away because it can be transported through pipes at high pressure and reduced as needed along the way.
In my own house, I have two stories and two zones of hot water. It works OK here as the water does not have to travel nearly as far. Most homes built today are similar, thus steam has dwindles in home applications. Plus, people don't want those big cast iron radiators. Great place to warm up your shoes!
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.