'Ijust posted about my collapsed combustion chamber, and was told that wehad to replace our gas boiler. We received one quote for $5,800 andanother for $6,800 to replace our natural gas boiler. I would reallyappreciate any advice about any other type of heating system that wemight try that could provide heat in a less expensive manner. We livein the suburbs, just north of Boston, MA. Our house is a two-story,1,800 square foot home with forced hot water baseboards throughout. Wehave no existing ductwork in the house; any ductwork would be entirelynew. What about replacing the baseboards with electric baseboards? Aforced hot air systems? Changing to an oil-fired boiler? Any otheroptions? The bottom line question is this: Is it at all likely that Iwill be able to change to a different type of heating system for lessthan $6,000? Thank you very much for your help.'
One of the homeowners who regularly posts on the Wall answered this way:
'Unfortunately,you can't save money on a new system except maybe if you go withelectric heat, and then you'll be paying through the nose for dailyoperation. Boilers are much more expensive than forced-air furnaces,but as you have realized, putting in ductwork is a major one-timeexpense. We're not supposed to discuss specific prices here, but if youdon't need major plumbing or other work, if it's just a change-out, andif there is no asbestos on your old boiler or any exceptionalsituation, you should be able to get a boiler replaced forsignificantly less than what you were quoted. It won't be the mostefficient or quietest system, and it won't give you the most eventemperatures, but it will work. It will never be as cheap as a cheapforced-air furnace.'
A contractor then suggested thatJen get more quotes, and that her local gas company might have somesort of rebate program. Another contractor suggested that she checkwith her insurance company. While admitting that it was a long shot, hesaid it was worth a try.
I suggested to Jen that she put this all into perspective. Here's what I wrote:
'Jen,even if you go with the higher price here, and assuming you'll keep theboiler for 20 years (and you'll probably keep it longer than that),you'll be spending about 94 cents per day for the installation. Notbad, when you consider how hard it's going to work to keep youcomfortable for all those years. Now compare that to a car. Suppose youbuy a new car for $20,000 and keep it for six years. You'll be spendingabout $9.00 per day (or ten times as much as you'll spend on theboiler), and that doesn't include the interest on the car loan. Whenyou put it into perspective the heating system's really not such atough investment to make. You buy it and it serves you for a generationat least. It's just that it came along all of a sudden, and no onelikes that. It's an unexpected expense. It always is. Good heatingsystems are so reliable, and they provide such great comfort, that mostfolks don't notice them or give them much thought. Until moments likethese, of course. But compared to other consumer products, a boiler isa pretty cheap investment all in all.'
I figure that whenyou put things like a new boiler into perspective they suddenly looklike a pretty good investment. Have you ever taken the time to do that?To compare it to a car by looking at the cost over time. Cars cost tentimes more but no one objects. Is it because the neighbors can see thecar? You really think so? How about six years down the road? You thinkthe neighbors are still looking at what is now a clunker? The car isnow old, but the homeowner is still paying ten times more per day forthat car than she would be paying for that boiler. And let's face it, asix-year-old boiler is still a new boiler.
Jen read what Iwrote and she thanked me for my advice, but then she explained thatthey're only going to be spending the next four years in the house andthen they'll be moving. She didn't think she'd be able to get back themoney she spends on a boiler when she sells the house. She wanted toknow if she could buy a boiler but have the contractor reuse all thethings around the boiler, like the circulators, valves, controls. Whyshould she have to buy all of that stuff if it's already there andworking just fine right now.
So we come to the question ofpayback. I asked Jen if she would buy a house without having itinspected by a home inspector or an engineer. I don't know many peoplewho would, but I figured I'd ask. She didn't answer me and I think thereason she didn't was that she knew a good inspector would pick up on ashoddy heating system and tell the client that this was a bargainingpoint. But that's four years down the road in Jen's future. Sheprobably doesn't want to think about that right now. I figured I'dbring it up anyway. Because it's real.
And then there'sthe issue of comfort, of course. She's got to get though the next fourwinters with a cobbled-together heating system, done on the cheap.Imagine how anxious that will make her, never knowing when the thingwas going to quit. And is it worth it? I mean when, for just 94 cents aday (and you and I both know she'll get the money back when she sells)she could have peace of mind.
And then one of the other Wallies posted this, which I think is simply beautiful:
'Youcan go for cheap and pay through the nose over time or you can pay theup-front costs for a modern high-efficiency appliance and reap therewards starting on day one of operation.
'When fouryears rolls around, you'll have either a track record worthy of displaywhere fuel savings are concerned, or you'll have a mundane and ordinaryrun-of-the-mill heating appliance that inspires no one and won't beworthy of mention. If fuel costs continue to rise at current paces, arelatively new boiler of lower efficiency might just be seen as anegative worthy of price point negotiations. Given the current state ofaffairs where rising fuel costs are concerned, I'd be darned concernedabout doing this the right way. Spend an extra two or three grand nowand recoup not only the savings on fuel usage, but the return oninvestment you'll see when you can clearly show a perspective buyerthat your home will save them an extra mortgage payment or three everyyear (tax free too) over what they'd be paying for fuel with the otherhomes they're considering.
'Over four years, you cansave a good deal of the price difference, which is an excellent ROI.Even in its heyday, the stock market never held such promise. You'venothing to lose and lots to gain.'
Makes sense, don'tyou think? And before I leave you, think of this. Jen needs a newheating system. The high bid is $6,800. If she manages to find aheating system for half that she's still going to pay $3,400. So we'renot really talking about $6,800 here, are we? Nope, we're talking aboutthe difference in price between the cheapest system and thehigh-bidder's system, and we can say that that amount is $3,400 forargument's sake. Which means that over the course of the next fouryears Jen will be spending $2.33 per day for the best system.
Ninebucks a day for the old clunker. A bit more than two bucks a day for agreat heating system that will catch the eye of the home inspector andthe buyer, to say nothing of the comfort and the peace of mind she'llhave though the next four bitter-cold New England winters.
It really is all about perspective. Get your own head straight first, and then go talk to the people.