Example Analysis of Steam Vs New Technologies
More than 50% of homes in Massachusetts were built before 1960. Many homes built around or before 1900 rely on steam boilers powered by oil. These systems don’t have the ability to add central air conditioning.
Oil burners are no longer the most efficient means of heating. They have higher maintenance costs that gas alternatives and require using valuable space to store oil, which often has an unpleasant odor. Oil burners that feed radiators are called ‘steam’ systems – by burning oil, water is heated (much like a tea kettle) and pushed up from the basement into the metal radiators. The radiators get VERY hot for a short amount of time and then cool off. This heating and cooling cycle often results in uneven heating of rooms.
In the following scenario a customer just bought a two family Victorian home and is considering options to save energy, gain better flow of heating, and perhaps adding central air conditioning. DiPietro Heating Cooling Plumbing is discussing options for comfort and energy efficiency upgrades.
Customer: I have a really old boiler. I bought this house a couple of years ago and there’s a giant beast of a thing in the basement and its oil so it takes up a huge amount of space. I don’t know how old it is. The house itself is more than 200 years old. I don’t think it’s that old but it looks like it’s probably from the turn of the century and it’s steam so the heat comes up and it gets really hot in the rooms and then it gets really cold before it comes back on again.
Joe: Have you ever considered switching into natural gas?
Customer: I never even thought of it, no. Is it going to save me money?
Joe: Yes. Let’s look at how a gas system operates and show you if there’s some savings there. You said that the house heats up really fast and cools down fast. Seems like there’s a lot of comfort issues. Can you tell me more about those?
Customer: The radiators sit right under a window, which seems, stupid to me that the heat comes up and then it goes out the old windows. Some rooms don’t have any radiators in them, like the bathroom and the kitchen. It doesn’t seem like there’s good air flow or a good heat movement throughout the house.
Joe: It’s funny you brought up the radiators being under the window. Back in the days of the plague, they actually sized steam systems so you could keep your window open a third of the way. They actually over-sized all the radiators and the steam systems so that they could still get fresh air into the homes during the winter. It may be time to change the system over to a different style of system. Forced air forced hot water might be a good alternative. Did you ever want to consider adding air conditioning to the home?
Customer: I never have really thought about it. I guess I always assumed it was expensive.
Joe: Now is the time when we’re looking to replacing the system anyway, to explore some of those options. For resale value, a lot of people these days want air conditioning. It’s starting to become a real requirement in homes.
Customer: Does that mean major construction in my house though? What happens to all the piping that’s running around my walls and how does that all work?
Joe: We can remove all the pipes for you. People usually complain that there’s a lot of clicking or banging as the steam systems heat and cool. A lot of the times the pipes aren’t even pitched right. All of your pipes should be pitched back to the boiler so the condensation runs down those pipes and gets back into the boiler where it could be boiled again. The banging you hear is actually pockets of water getting trapped in the pipe. When the steam comes up and hits that water it flashes off real quick and that’s what you hear inside the pipes.
Joe: Did you have a budget set aside so that I can help with those options? Have you ever bought a heating system before?
Joe: I think I can get you in something that is going to be inside your budget or something that’s reasonable. DiPietro Heating & Cooling is always competitive with other companies so I think you’re going to see it just being a very reasonable process.
There’s a ton of different rebates out there. The systems that provide you with higher efficiencies tend to have the most rebates. With efficiency comes a little bit more expense but with the whole premise behind the rebates are is that it should pay for the efficiency upgrade. For example a 90% efficient system might cost $2,000 or $3,000 more, but, you’re going to get that $2,000 or $3,000 back in rebate.
Customer: You said we’d look at forced hot water, but aren’t we talking about going from steam to hot air when you talk about adding air conditioning?
Joe: Well, there are a couple different ways we can add air conditioning. What I’d like to do is take a walk around the house and take a look to see how the house was built and take a look at what’s the best way to address your needs and the best way that the house is going to accommodate this new system.
We need to we can get pipes from point A to point B. Whether there would be a three quarter inch pipe for a baseboard system, or whether it might be a small six inch duct for a forced hot air system. Let’s take a walk around the house and find out the best way that the house might accommodate this new system. We might need to take a corner of a closet to run a three quarter pipe. I’m going to need to see where your your thermostat is, look at your electrical panel and also your oil tank.
Joe: Do you or any of your family have allergies or do you find the house to be dusty?
Customer: No allergies. But, it is really dusty. Two days after I’ve dusted, there’s a skim coat on everything.
Joe: We might want to look at some dust and allergy filters. Having looked at your house and from everything that we’ve talked about, forced hot water system is probably not going to make a lot of sense as a replacement here. A better solution would be a forced hot air system so you can add air-conditioning and reduce the dust.
Customer: Aren’t those systems really dry though? I’ve been in other parts of the country where it’s really dry and it really bothers my sinuses. How do you handle that?
Joe: The steam system you have has been adding humidity to the house. But with a forced hot air system can introduce humidity into the air with a central humidifier. I think that’s something you probably should consider adding to the system.
As a comparison, with your current steam boiler, a forced hot water or a ductless systems, there’s no way to put humidity into your house. You said that your house is really dusty too. Ductless AC, doesn’t have good filters. And of course, forced hot water systems don’t filter air. From everything you’re telling me– the forced hot air system based off everything you’ve told me, is going to best fit your comfort needs. And anything’s going to be more efficient than the 50 year old boiler that you have in your basement.