FIRST: I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BOILERS AND THIS POST DOES NOT CLAIM TO KNOW ANYTHING. TALK TO A PROFESSIONAL IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR HEATING.
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“: