Eichler Boilers and Math


So, our dreary old boiler (circa 1958) “seemed” to be on the fritz a few weeks ago and now it’s working “fine”.  I say “seemed” because it appears to be working now and I say “fine” because it’s working as well as any 55 year old boiler should work.

The Story: Sometime in December (2012) we were noticing a gas smell coming from the hallway adjacent the boiler.   Obviously, any time you smell gas you should call the gas company. Oh, we also noticed our heating bill was $100 more than the same month last year. So, not sensing any danger, I called a plumber.

The Plumber: (Who, by the way, I trust and would recommend to anyone who asks) The Plumber looked at the boiler and said, “you’re not burning all the gas in your boiler and the orange colored flame indicates the boiler is inefficient”.  There was also pounds and pounds of black carbon inside the boiler that had accumulated over the years. Finally, he pointed out that the boiler (in it’s current state) could be a carbon monoxide problem. He said he could clean the unit to see if this might help.

The Cost: We then talked about boiler units and the cost. He recommended the “Solo 110 Triangle Tube” for our house (our square footage about 1750).  The unit is $3,500 and the install would be about $3,000 (all estimates on the high side). I shrugged, I really don’t have $6,500 dollars just laying around. $9,500 with a new water heater system!!

The Cleanup: I took off the smokestack and the top “dome” lid to the boiler and power washed the whole thing with a garden hose. FYI: There is a TON of copper in these bad boys and they’re probably worth something just for the metal value. Anyway,  I removed about 5 pounds of black carbon caked to everything and after using the shop vac to suck up all the water I used a blow dryer to get the unit dry enough to start up.

The Realization: When I started the unit I noticed the gas was coming out with WAY too much force and the flame was having trouble burning all the gas.  I adjusted the valve “thingy” (photo below) and the boiler burned with a consistent blue flame (mostly). I’m now convinced the unit was receiving too much gas  and could not burn all the fuel efficiently.

THE MATH: My TOTAL Yearly Natural Gas bill is $1,221.  If I subtract $168 to heat my water and run laundry ($14/month) the total cost for the current (old) boiler is $1,053/year. Now, considering this thing is so old I probably need to spend $200/year on maintenance and considering this old tank runs around 70% efficiency, maybe even 60%, my yearly cost to operate is “old bertha” is $1,253…ugh.

Now, replacement cost is $6,500 and the new boiler would be 95% efficient (claims the manufacturer).  So, the difference in cost would be 25% or 35% less per month based on efficiency. I’m sure I can get this down to $5,000 but let’s use $6,500 for now.

On a YEARLY basis a new boiler “could” save $263 (25%) or $368 (35%) per year.

So, best case, I save $568/year (I’m not paying for the maintenance of $200).   Or, maybe the new unit is only saving $263/year because I don’t have any maintenance with the old unit.  My best guess is that it’s somewhere is the middle between $263 and $568, or $415/year.

($6,500 install cost) / ($415 yearly savings) = 15.6 Years to break even but with piece of mind

Now, this doesn’t account for the increased cost of gas and assumes the new unit will be completely trouble free (probably about 90% chance of that).

I also have to consider the new unit won’t last 50 years but I’ll probably sell the house by then.  I think a respectable life on a new boiler is 25 years because they have electronics and they are not as heavy duty.

Oh yeah, there’s the whole environment thing too.


Here’s the Unit (Notice the electrical starter we added, this was about $700 to retofit on the system).



Picture Showing Handle/Lever “Thingy“:



New Theme

I didn’t really like how the previous theme cutoff the content and I thought we needed a better header image.

More to come!!!



Eichler Blueprints (Pretty Cool)

For the purist out there that want to maintain the original intention of the Eichler I think having the original blueprints from Anchen and Allen is key.

A lot of changes can happen to a home in fifty years so I think the original plans could be useful. Personally I don’t think I’m an Eichler purist. I keep what I think is practical and I try to stay with the “modern theme” but if I can’t afford it (or it just doesn’t make sense) I’ll change the look. Some things (like the exposed beams) need some rethinking.  The exposed beams can stay, they just need something to protect the tops from rotting.

And the kitchen, 1950’s kitchens are terrible.

Anyway, Eichler blueprints are available from eichler.blueprints@gmail.com in full scale sizes.  Pretty cool

Oh, please mention “eichler-blog” if you email him.




Here’s a picture from the E-71 blueprint sent from eichler.blueprints@gmail.com:

Hauling Concrete

So, this isn’t the most glamorous or interesting post but I thought I’d throw it on the blog because hauling 5-6 truck loads of concrete is A LOT of work. With the work my brother and I have done it’s easily 40 hours of heavy manual work.

Of course, with the right equipment that time could be cut in half (we only had a 60 pound jack hammer).

After jack hammering continously for about 11 hours my brother and I removed the  walkway on the side of the house, a random pad of concrete (12 feet x 12 feet x 8-10 inches) and a deck (about 15 feet by 8 feet).

Anyway, here’s the pile after the demo:


And here’s what the truck looked like (load 3 of 6):








Statues, Statues Everywhere!!!

As of today we have two statues.  Our Beer Monk who encourages me to brew and looks over the atrium  (he stands about 18 inches high) and our garden gnome who encourages us to travel.  He stands about 8 inches tall and is a close relative of that gnome from travelocity

So, in my opinion, statues ARE NOT REALLY a very appealing Eichler “enhancement”.  But, to each is own (design is a personal thing).and I guess we just choose not to have 9 foot concrete fountains and 6 foot tall concrete ladies painted in sexy white latex paint surrounding our house.  I know, weird.

To date I’ve sold TWO fountains weighing in at about 1000 pounds each.  Two lions that easily weighed 250 pounds each.  A 300 pound lady, a 100 pound bench, a mini fountain (100 pounds, not pictured, from our atrium) and some odds and ends (about another 100 pounds).

Without any exaggeration that’s 2,900 pounds of STATUARY!!!  Is that a word?  Oh well, here the are!

Backyard fountain (on the first week we moved in, April):

The “Cherube” fountain out front:

Sexy Latex Lady!!

Grrrr, 250 pound lion:

Odds and Ends:

Replacing the Eichler Electrical Panel

Here’s what a typical 100 Amp Zinsco panel looks like:

Our Zinsco electrical panel that was on our Eichler REALLY needed replacing.  There were actual black char marks around the panel (which is evidence of arcing) and there was a significant leak directly above the panel. Most electricians will say that a 1953 Zinsco panel is faulty by design (link here). In my opinion I think there are two main problems:

1).  The breakers are VERY old and old breakers tend to get stuck or locked in place (a locked breaker that does not trip can arc or cause a fire from excess heat).

2).  The design has aluminum bars (where the breakers attach) that can oxidize over time.

Also, I do not think the box was water tight but I can’t be sure.

So, here’s what our electrician did:

1). First, he pulled a permit from the county (we do not live within city limits so we only needed one  permit).

2). Next, he ordered the panel, grounding rods, and heavy gauge copper grounding wire. (the grounding rods are large 6 ft. copper rods).

3). With the permit displayed he setup a time for PG&E to shut off the power. Their availability wasn’t too great so we had to wait an extra 2 weeks.

4). With the power off he re-framed a small portion of the house where the old panel was.  Oh, did I mention that a corner of the house was rotted from a leaky roof?  Anyway, the new framing made the new box fit correctly.

5).  He also “bonded” the gas line to the water line to the grounding rods.  This guarantees that all the piping is grounded in the home. As an extra safety measure he put in two grounding rods (now a code requirement).

6). After sitting in the dark until almost 1am PG&E came out and turned the power on (bad PG&E!!)


For reference, the panel is a “Square D” 200 Amp Outside Surface Mount Panel.

The Beginning…


(Photo taken April, 2011)

So, we’re all moved in!!  Well, at least our stuff is all moved in.  My wife and I are moved into our Eichler and have just eclipsed 2 months. There are quiet a few “issues” in the home but nothing we can’t fix.  I wanted to post an initial blog and then focus on the “issues” one by one.

In the last 2 months we have accomplished A LOT of work.  We’ve removed about 3,000 pounds of statues, removed a 30 ft tree and 2 palm trees and moved a couple tons of dirt (literally).  Probably the biggest (and most expensive) change is replacing the electrical panel. We now have a 200 amp service!!

Here’s to the Eichler Blog!!