Steam Heat Costs

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Does anyone here have natural gas steam heat (boiler furnace with radiators)? I have an older two story house with a full basement. The boiler is in
the basement. My heat bills have always been among the highest of all the people that I know. I've always accepted the high heat bills but since the price of natural gas is going up and expected to climb higher, it's begun to get my attention. My heat bill for this January was $500, up from $445 last year, and it was unseasonably warm this month. Here are my questions, for people with steam heat, and who live
in a climate that's cold in the winter:
If you have steam heat from natural gas, do you find that it has been expensive to run?
I keep the heat turned off in a few rooms in the house, I guess I could
turn off a few more, does that make much difference in the cost?
Has anyone ever replaced their steam heating system with something more
modern (not just the furnace), and if so how much did it cost and was it worth it? Does the new system provide lower winter heat bills?
If you did replace the steam heat, what would you recommend replacing it with?
I once casually asked a neighbor in the hvac business how much it would
cost to totally replace my heating system with a forced air system, putting in all the ducts, and putting in central air, and he said $15,000. Does this sound about right to you? I don't even know if that included the cost of taking out all the pipes and old boiler.
Do you have any tips for getting the monthly bills down?
Does anyone have similarly high heat bills who are NOT running steam heat?
The reason I ask this is because I notice from talking to different people that a lot of the people who have winter heat bills in the same price range as I do have steam heat. A lot of the people running forced air systems are only paying $100-$200 in the winter.
I know some people who had steam heat, bills similar to mine, and pretty much no insulation in their house. They spent a lot of money to
insulate their house, with the end result that the heating bills were pretty much exactly the same.
I know someone else who replaced their old boiler with a new efficiency
furnace, but he said there has been no appreciable change in the size of his heat bills.
All this leads me to believe that the steam heat itself is the main culprit causing my high heat bills. So I thought I would ask on a wider forum if this has been your experience also? It would make sense, since steam heat is a rather outdated way of heating your house.
I used to be able to heat the house to 72 degrees and I notice now to get roughly the same size bill, I'm down to 63 degrees and counting. Presumably, this is mainly due to the increasing cost of natural gas. Does anyone have any comments?
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iarwain snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I have 2 story steam heat with radiators and yes, my bills are very high here in NYC, which is high to begin with. Other than getting the airvavles replaced with a dial that u can set which room to have less heat, can't see any savings but mimimal. Most say to find openings where cold air is getting in and weatherproof them. Gas, elect are all sky high..there is no magic bullet...with the possible exception of solar heat...you might look into that Good luck and thank Bush.
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So you have not insulated because you think it wont help! There is your loss. Steam can be 83% efficient, HW 96-99% units are available, it would be cheaper to convert to HW than forced air which goes from 80-94.5% efficient, but if that is possible it would cost alot.You would be at 83% with a new steam unit, you old unit may be unadjusted and to large giving 50% efficiency. You need insulation, how much do you have what type windows and what location
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I'm not saying that at all. I haven't decided what I will or won't do at this point. I'm just wondering if there are other people out there with similar experiences, and if someone has some advice to give along the way I will happily listen. My high heat bills have never bothered me before, I've just become interested this year because of rising energy costs and concerns about shortages.
I knew some people who dropped $2000 on insulating their house and got no return on their investment. If that happened to me, I'd be irritated. Since I have the same type of heat they do, it makes me hesitant.
I live in north central Indiana. The highest heat bill I've heard of was from someone who paid $800 in December. I have all new energy efficient windows, the old ones WERE very drafty but I used to cover them with plastic. I haven't noticed any bill reduction with the new windows, in fact the bill has gone up (but the gas company warned us there was going to be a large rate increase). There is insulation in the attic and around the pipes in the basement, but the house is old so I don't doubt there isn't any in the walls.
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My previous house had hot water baseboards and insulation in the walls and ceilings, but here's what I did and what the results were:
year 1: nothing - gritted teeth and bore the brunt of the full-force west wind during upstate NY winter. 100,000 BTU/hr boiler struggled to maintain the house at a balmy 60 degrees on windy days, despite a thermostat setting of 68 during the day. House in question is a ranch with an attached garage and living space above the garage: total approximate living space = 1600 sf
year 2: during the summer, replaced 10 out of 12 windows with argon-filled, low-e, double pane windows (two not replaced were already double paned and special sizes). Also removed two layers of old siding, replaced with Tyvek, 3/4" polyisocyanurate foam with foil facings, and vinyl siding. The house still seemed slightly drafty and the boiler seemed to struggle to reach 60-65 degrees F still on windy days, though it wasn't as bad as the previous year. Gas bills were the same as the previous winter - HOWEVER, gas prices went up that year, so it would indicate that the windows and insulation and Tyvek had an effect.
year 3: during the fall, blew in 12" of cellulose insulation on top of the existing 4" of fiberglass batts. Again, gas prices went up, my gas bill remained the same. The major difference this time was that the house actually felt more comfortable and more consistently held the desired temperature.
I have since sold the house and don't have any long-term experience on how it feels now. If you can afford to insulate the walls, do it. If you can add some to the attic, do it. If you can search out air leaks in your house and seal them up, do it. Other than that, it sounds like converting from steam to a newer, more efficient hot water system would be best for your situation. Better yet, call around with some HVAC contractors, have them take a look and quote you a price. Ask for suggestions on alternative systems from them as well, since they would be most familiar with what works in your area and what doesn't.
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On 16 Jan 2006 12:43:16 -0800, iarwain snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

You should probably keep track of the amount of fuel you use, and not the bill. Especially if you're going to want to know if you have saved heat or fuel.

Three negatives in a row! Are you a lawyer? (although they usually have a reason for getting sucked into that, based on denials by appellate courts etc.)
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iarwain snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

I suggest finding a good local contractor to take a close look at your home and your current heating system. Then let them make some suggestions. Hopefully they will consider insulation as # 1 on the list, assuming you are weak in that area now. How well that works depends on your specific situation.
I may suggest that if your heating bills don't go down much after insulating, then the insulation is doing a good job since without the bills would have greatly increased.
--
Joseph Meehan

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insulte first...
make sure the radiator air valves are working correctly,
When the heat comes on and the rads are cool, the valves need to be open to let the air out of the rad and the steam in...then when the hot steam gets to the valve, it needs to close to keep the steam from escaping...
also try putting small fans to blow air through your radiators effectivly increasing their size.
Mark
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A blower door test apx 300 will show you how leaky your house is and where to fix leaks, old houses can have 20x more air leaking than new houses, You are likely zone 6 and need alot of insulation, optimal for you area is R 50 - 60 attic. Has a pro checked the boiler out, you should call the manufacturer , they will tell you how efficient that boiler design was, then you can start to shop and compare. Old designs hold alot of water and have no automatic damper , more water means more gas waisted to heat to steam. Im northern Indiana and cut utilities in a 100 yr old house 75% by redoing everything, but insulation is a 1st I went to R 100 attic everyone said it was overdone but it already settled to maybe R 80, it is a 1800 sq ft house I paid 465 in 04 for gas for the whole year. Research insulation and boilers, Energy Star is a good place to start.
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I don't have steam heat anymore, but what I never understood was whether painting the radiators made it better or worse.
Some I've seen were already painted white, and I think that makes it worse. ??
But does painting it over with black make it better again? Or is it just another layer of paint to slow down heat transfer some more?
If one were to paint over a white-painted radiator, which is better, black or metallic silver/aluminum color?

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Talking to people here in New England, that seems reasonable for the house you describe.

No more than other sources of heat. A Btu is a Btu no matter what fuel it comes from. Steam is a very efficient way of delivering energy. Rhere may be other issues, but the fact that it is steam is not the culprit.

It will help some, but heat will still travel to those rooms.

modern (not just the furnace), and if so how much did it cost and was

I just took a 7,000 foot area off the steam boiler and replaced it with a high efficiency gas unit of 200,000 Btu. It is costing about $500 a month to heat that area right now. Cost of conversion was $7000 for the boiler installation, plus some wiring and a welded gas line that added $2000 more.

Hot water, but I'd rather keep the steam. I like steam.

Could easily cost that or more.
I don't even know if

Insulation.
One of my co-workers has an apartment and just heats hte first floor. Her bil was $400+ last month.

What other changes have been made to the house?

That is pure bullshit. Insulations save money. Lots of money. I've insulated a few older houses and saw big drops in cost and big increases in comfort.

Makes no sense to me. While steam is not used much for residential these days, it is far from outdated and is very efficient. That is why steam is used in so many big buildings such as hospitals.

Don't just look at the dollars, look at the number of therms or cubic feet of gas consumed. that is hte story. Insulate also. Don't ever think it won't help. YOu are just pissing money away if you don't have insulation.

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When the thermostat calls for heat, it takes a lot of BTUs for the water to change state and become steam. A single zone steam heat system can be very inefficient because it usually keeps on giving heat long after the thermostat is satisfied.
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more.
insulated
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Bob wrote:

But that heat (BTUs) is not wasted, it is still in the home.

--
Joseph Meehan

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Not true. If you set the thermostat at 70, and it overshoots every time, the heat loss will be greater. The warmer it is on one side of a wall, the faster the heat will travel through that wall, because the molecules are bouncing around faster.
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Bob wrote:

All very true to some extent, but in real life the loss I was talking about is minimal. Note: I was not referring to a thermostat error.
"molecules are bouncing around faster" :-)

...
--
Joseph Meehan

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No bob steam does not overshoot temp every time, I own a 16 unit with steam boiler, I know it doesnt overshoot, or my bill would to, single zone is efficient, its all in the design, install, sizing, venting, and proper maintenance.
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But if your house is too warm because your furnace keeps overshooting, you generally don't set the heat to 70 in the first place. You set it to 68, and let it go ahead and overshoot. Always assuming that your thermostat isn't set up to anticipate the overshoot in the first place.
--Goedjn
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So set it for 68.
Nick
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Would you have any evidence for this article of faith?
Nick
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It's a scientific fact. Google "change of state".
wrote:

to
very
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