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    1927 home, where to start? (26 Posts)

  • dpeart dpeart @ 2:22 PM
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    1927 home, where to start?

    I just purchased a 1927 home with an oil boiler and radiators through out the house.  It is ~3400 sq ft and 2 stories.  I know that in the basement there was water damage that caused flooding and I'm sure ruined the boiler and water heater.  The oil tanks are in the basement as well.

    All I know about radiant systems like this is what I've read over the last couple of weeks.  And that my middle school had one when I was a kid. :) 

    I'm hoping that someone can help guide me on "next steps".  My plan is to have the system repaired.  I've not great desire to change from oil to propane, but am not opposed to the idea either.

    Here are a couple of pictures of the basement, you can see the water mark on the tanks and boiler.  Any recommendations on where to start would be great.



    Water Heater:

  • Zman Zman @ 3:42 PM
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    Natural Gas

    Do you have natural gas in the area?
    Where are you located?
  • dpeart dpeart @ 3:52 PM
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    Natrual Gas

    No natural gas.  The home is in Goshen, VA.

  • Zman Zman @ 4:09 PM
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    To Start..

    This calculator from the DOE is a great way to compare fuel costs
    If you plug in your local rates and the efficiency of the appliances you are considering, it will break down the cost difference.
    You need to be sure that you find a contractor that will do a heat loss calculation. The boiler in the picture is many times bigger than what you would need for a home your size. Oversized boilers not only cost more up front, they run inefficiently as well.
    If possible, a wall hung boiler or one on a platform would be a good idea. It does not look like the first or the last time that basement has flooded.
    How big are the main boiler water lines? You may have a gravity conversion.
  • kcopp kcopp @ 4:37 PM
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    The entire....

    basement was flooded. That is a Smith BB14. One of the heaviest boilers made. It is no longer in production.
    You are more than likely going to have to scrap it. 
    Does the basement flood often?
  • dpeart dpeart @ 9:29 PM
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    I know that it flooded this time because a water pipe in the basement broke.  I don't know anything beyond that. I doubt that it has flooded prior to then as there is no water source around that could flood it, the home is on a hill.
  • Eric Eric @ 5:35 PM
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    You posted...

    this in radiant but it looks like a steam boiler there. You have steam piping around it and a pressure switch for steam, but I don't see the sight glass?
  • dpeart dpeart @ 9:27 PM
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    Steam or Radiant?

    To be honest I don't know which it is.  The radiators all have two pipes on them, so I thought that meant it was radiant.

    Here are a pictures of a couple of the radiators.
  • dpeart dpeart @ 9:34 PM
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    I expected it to be total loss

    when I bought the home, but I just couldn't pass it by, it was too good a deal.

    I know that there is a broken pipe in the basement that caused the flooding.  The house was vacant at the time.  I figured I'd have to replace everything in the basement, and that is OK.  I'm just trying to figure out what is in the basement and trying to get somewhat educated about boilers and all so when I talk to someone to do the work I will have a chance of getting what I need.

  • Zman Zman @ 10:14 PM
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    2 pipe steam

    Good call Eric.
    You have a 2 pipe steam system.
    I would suggest purchasing "you got steam heat" and maybe more from the store on this site. You are looking for a contractor that specializes in steam.
    The book will be super helpful.
    It would also help to post this in the strictly steam section.
  • dpeart dpeart @ 10:20 PM
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    OK I got steam

    I was thinking that since it was a two pipe system it would be hot water.  I'll go read up on the steam version.

    What issues are involved in converting this to hot water?  My desire for hot water is that I have all the free fire wood I can burn.  I was "hoping" that I could hook up a wood gasification furnace to the boiler and use that to do the majority of the heating.  This would be a very cheap source of fuel for me.  I don't think those work with steam, though I don't know for a fact.

  • Eastman Eastman @ 2:04 AM
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    the key question

    is what kind of temperature range is required at the rads.  Are steam temperatures neccesary, hot water temperatures, luke warm water temperatures?  The thermal output from a radiator is basically dependent on its physical size and the tempreture of the fluid inside it.  Can the rads balance the heat loss of the home if they are operating at hot water temperatures?  Your first step here is to get an idea of the btu requirements this house requires on a room by room basis, then compare that to what the radiators are capable of outputting at various fluid temperatures.

    The stuff in the basement looks like a total loss, it was never worth anything to begin with though  --nothing really to lose sleep over.

    Is there a fireplace in the house?
  • dpeart dpeart @ 7:56 AM
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    The Fireplace

    is in the living room.  Today it has a stove insert in it.

    Sounds like I need to get someone out to run the heating numbers on  the house.  I looked in the "Find A Contractor" section but the only person listed is in DC (3.5hours away).
    Anyone know a good person in the Roanoke/Lexington area?

  • Zman Zman @ 11:12 PM
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    2 pipe steam can be converted to hot water. Wood boilers are hot water boilers and will not work for steam.There is more involved with wood boilers than the manufacture would lead you to believe. They will only run well if they have a significant buffer/storage tank The problem is, you cant just turn them off and on. They need to run long cycles at high output. You have to be able to store the unused energy.
    There are some amazing minds that frequent the strictly steam section. It is truly a lost art and may be worth preserving.
  • SWEI SWEI @ 12:33 AM
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    Wood steamers

    I believe AHS offers their Wood Gun in steam trim.  It would still require a fair bit of firetending.
  • Eastman Eastman @ 1:58 AM
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    Odds are likely

    that you will be converting the system to some form of hot water.  As Zman already pointed out, there's a lot of gotchas surrounding a wood based system.  Wood works best in the dead of winter.  It's tough to utilize efficiently in the shoulder seasons.  A system that works well throughout the heating season requires considerable added complexity and cost.  And more than likely you will still want a conventional heat source for backup.  Integrating all of this together on a budget is challenging.

    Consider utilizing the existing fireplace during the coldest weeks of the heating season.  An outside air source and a top sealing chimney damper will maximize it's potential.  You won't be able to heat the full house, but you'll save propane and avoid the cost and complexity pitfalls associated with installing a wood boiler or wood/propane hybrid system.

    A wood fired vacuum steam system would be pretty cool to see though.
  • dpeart dpeart @ 10:16 AM
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    Another picture

    This beast is in a brick outbuilding behind the house.  The outbuilding has two rooms, one for holding firewood and the other has this thing in it. Any ideas what it is?

    My initial plans, thinking it was hot water, for the house were:

    1. attic/crawl space insulation, fix air penetration leaks
    2. replace the old boiler with a new one.  This would include a heat loss analysis and an outdoor reset controller
    3. later add a outdoor wood gas gasification stove for the winter heating

    This is still my plan, but maybe I need to do a steam to water conversion.  Hopefully this won't break the bank.  I was hoping to get 1 and 2 done for the $10k range is that completely out of the question?

  • Zman Zman @ 2:28 PM
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    I don't know....

    But I want one!
    If it will hold water it would be great with a wood boiler.
    I think you budget it light.
  • dpeart dpeart @ 6:48 PM
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    It is hot water

    I was able to talk to someone that actually knows something about the heating system.  It is a hot water system.  That makes me happy, as I should be able to do an oil boiler with a wood system as well.

    The home is a couple miles from a railroad tie factory and you can buy a pickup truck full of ~12 inch long ends of hard wood for cheap.  So I have a ready supply of pre-cut, kiln dried hardwood, hence my desire for a wood add-on.

  • SWEI SWEI @ 8:23 PM
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    Wood-fired boilers

    Read this before you make any decisions.
  • Eastman Eastman @ 3:37 AM
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    I feel like if

    you're paying anything for the wood, it's probably not worth it.  At least for me, a whole season would be a chore, but a few weeks in the peak of winter would be entertaining.
  • JStar JStar @ 8:36 PM
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    Uhh....that is a steam system. Unless somebody REALLY screwed up. There are traps on the radiators and a float-type LWCO near the boiler.
    This post was edited by an admin on October 15, 2013 8:38 PM.
  • Zman Zman @ 11:00 PM
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    A Duck

    I sure thought it looked and talked like one.
    It could be the world strangest conversion.
  • Eastman Eastman @ 1:25 AM
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    Regarding the tank

    Could you take more photos of the tank?  What are the approximate measurements?  I have a massive mystery tank in my basement.

    I think your 3 step plan is excellent.  Attics, basements, and air infiltration together represent the biggest bang for your buck and possibly the easiest to accomplish.  Take a look at Green Building Advisor --everything you ever wanted to know about every kind of insulation, moisture management, air barriers, capillary breaks, vapor retarders, tape, caulk, etc..  essentially all the details that keep a building from rotting and losing heat.  There's also an active community that would love to pick apart your specific project.

    If you're serious about wood heat, you might want to consider an intentionally undersized conventional unit for your backup.  Supplement it with the fireplace insert until you install the wood gas boiler.
  • dpeart dpeart @ 5:40 PM
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    Tank size

    It appears to be about 3 feet in diameter and 15 feet long.  Just pacing it off.

  • dpeart dpeart @ 5:48 PM
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    Steam it is

    All right, kudos to those identifying it as steam.  Guess it is time to move the thread to the steam section.

    Here are a few more detailed pictures:

    Pipe leaving the boiler:

    Another shot:

    The ~3" pipe leaves the top, turns right the goes along the back of the basement getting smaller each time another pipe tees off.

    Water level sight

    Backside of water level sight

    Now the bad news.  I spoke to a HVAC guy and it went like this:

    Steam?  I don't do steam, only hot water . . .
    Nope don't know anyone that does steam anymore . . .
    Cost to replace a steam boiler?  Best guess is $15k-$20k.

    Call Dale, is my boiler distributor, maybe he can tell you if anyone has bought a steam boiler

    ring ring

    This is Dale . . . Steam?  That is a lost art.  No one really does that anymore.  Best shot is . . .

    We'll see what happens next.

    This post was edited by an admin on October 17, 2013 5:54 PM.
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