• Tag Archives Gas
  • OIL AGAIN THE “CHEAP HEAT” IN NH — FOR THE SMART BUYER

    When our family entered the NH Oil Heat Service Market 60 years ago, #2 Heating Oil was $0.135 a gallon! It had replaced virtually all other fuels despite poor heating equipment in un-insulated buildings. In these succeeding years we participated in the evolution of heating appliances and fuel preferences. All the while we have witnessed technical development being compromised by economic and regulatory policies. Fortunately recent developments in fuel extraction have overtaken market manipulation and put things back into perspective.

    Referencing our prior Heating Blog entitled “Heating Fuel Selection — From An Engineer’s Perspective” will provide a base to qualify our further arguments. Briefly, physical characteristics of heating fuels, in particular “energy density”, physical state (gas, liquid or solid), processing & handling characteristics predetermine their viability and effectiveness. Understanding fuel properties will guide you into what we can now refer to as “The Perfect Storm” that has developed in our region, and may be applicable in others as well.

    Understanding the difference between “distributed” and “delivered” fuels is paramount. Simply, a distributed fuel is piped or wired to your building (electricity, natural or city gas) while a delivered fuel is physically dropped at your location (coal, oil, propane, wood, etc.). Distributed fuels are typically single-source provided while delivered fuels are openly competitive. Heating oil is the highest energy density liquid fuel within a competitive and somewhat volatile market (until recently) and thus presents the “smart buying” opportunity. We will demonstrate that #2 Heating Oil far surpasses ALL other heating fuels when properly sourced. Yes, including Natural Gas.

    Whether its gasoline, diesel or heating oil there are many participants in the petroleum fuel products market and competition is keen. Note the number of heating oil companies represented in your area. They are like the varied gasoline stations, but on wheels. The only visible difference can be the size of a particular fuel company and its operating area, but the fuel distribution market is changing, and rapidly.

    NOTE: As a matter of policy we do not reveal specific identities of our sources, organizations and participants.

    Here in Northern New England we have an expanding presence of a Canadian-based “vertically-integrated” Refiner/Distributor. Their combined advantages of excess refinery capacity, direct transport & distribution, a weakening Canadian Dollar and lowering feed-stock pricing makes them a formidable competitor indeed. Although we have not researched it, similar current or potential situations could exist in the Mid-Canada-US Region as well.

    As an individual user in a prolific supplier market you have little buying leverage excepting to “gang up” as Buying Clubs, Co-Ops, etc. and purchase aggressively. Only in so doing can you move into the ‘Big Boys Club” and attain “rack pricing” as it is referred. The buying groups are out there, but they vary in scope and effect. Do your homework well, in particular to the terms of affiliation with both they and their subscribing suppliers. Making the leap from “Good Old Joe” my local oil dealer who has “kept me warm” (at a price) can be a daunting one to an unknowing consumer, so let’s put some numbers together to make things more exciting.

    We use the NH-OEP Fuel Prices Page, published weekly and loaded into the NH Climate Audit Calculator (typically updated monthly) as the basis of our comparison. Loading our daily Co-Op #2 Heating Oil Price we obtain the “Price per Million BTU”, then adjust all the other Fuel Unit Costs to equate. To obtain an “apples-to-apples” comparison we use the average of latest generation heating appliance efficiency (AFUE) for oil & gas as 87% and 95% respectively. The resultant Fuel Unit Costs are the equivalents to oil-generated heating energy. The “distributed fuels” (gas & electricity) must be factored to your total bill for actual fuel cost + distribution/services.

    Fuel TypeFuel Unit CostUnit of MeasureHeating Unit EfficiencyPrice per Million BTUBilled Cost MultiplierFinal Fuel Unit Cost
    Coal215Ton7910.92
    Fuel Oil (#2)1.3186Gallon8710.93
    Natural Gas1.038Therm9510.931.3 (Estimated)0.7984
    Propane0.948Gallon9510.93
    Wood126.70Cord5810.93
    Electricity0.036kWh9910.921.85 (Estimated)0.01946
    Wood Pellets144.30Ton8010.93
    Kerosene1.15Gallon7810.92
    Geothermal0.102kWh27510.921.85 (Estimated)0.0551

    Go to the NH Climate Audit Calculator and substitute your own values for fuel cost, efficiency, multiplier (where applicable) to ascertain your personal numbers. Only if we substitute our statewide fuel oil average cost which appears to be affected by “pre-buys” can we even approach a par with natural gas. My how times are changing!

    Looking forward it bares noting that the appliance efficiency differential between oil & gas seems to be closing as well. Selective gas appliance manufacturers are claiming AFUE’s of up to 97% while “oilers” are nearing 90%. While gas is nearing its zenith oil has a ways to go. We are watching recent advances in higher temperature combustion oil burners and initial results with cleaner “Bio-Heat Fuel” as examples. We will advise as worthy.

    Our personal soon-to-be-published efforts applying Delta-T Hydronic Distribution will benefit ALL heating systems. To quote JFK, “a rising tide lifts all boats”. The sailing ahead should be smoother …..


  • THE DELTA-T ECM CIRCULATOR — The “Automatic Transmission” for Boilers

    After speaking on-site  with a local customer about his system, he inquired as to what else we were doing. A mistake on his part.

    Both of us having differing technical backgrounds I launched into an inspired dissertation of our application of Delta-T ECM Circulation to Residential FHW Heating Systems. Obviously very interested, a running Q & A exchange of increasing technical depth ensued to the point of my noting he was developing that “deer in the headlights” look of incomplete understanding.

    We engineering types have a terrible habit of technically overloading our audiences, not as an “ego-trip”, but to inform as effectively as possible — we think!

    Needing to salvage the situation I paused, desperately searching for that inspired “bolt of lightening” to strike and clarify the atmosphere. By seeming grace, it came immediately! “I’m putting Automatic Transmissions on Boilers.” Yeah”, he responded, “that makes complete sense. Good idea!” Our further conversation became an analogy of FHW Heating Systems to Automobiles, surprisingly clearing our technical disparages. To expound …..

    After all, hot water boilers and automobile engines are both truly “heat engines”. An automobile engine must convert as much fuel combustion energy into mechanical propulsion power as possible via pistons, crankshafts, etc. Less than 60% becomes useful power, the remainder is dissipated as waste heat. The hot water boiler on the other hand necessarily converts its fuel combustion energy directly into useful heat at up to 97% efficiency!

    The automobile uses a transmission to adapt its mechanical power to control vehicle propulsion. A variety of gears, pumps, valves, etc. are used to accomplish this. The hot water boiler conversely needs only to move heated water (via a pump) exactingly to ideally acclimate our heated areas and (optionally) our domestic hot water (DHW).

    The Delta-T ECM (Differential Temperature) Variable Speed Circulator (Pump) is that ideal “boiler transmission” that delivers heated water most efficiently to maintain our comfort. So efficiently does it do so as to reduce system fuel consumption by up to 15% and electrical consumption by up to 85% as documented by Taco, Inc. Published Testing Results.

    No longer is heating system efficiency measured solely (and inaccurately) by the Boiler AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) Rating, but the aggregate of Boiler, Distribution and Radiation Efficiencies. There are THREE (3) Elements in a hydronic heating system! Just as in Sulky Racing, it’s the combination of the horse, the jockey and the buggy that wins races.

    Even more exciting  is the opportunity provided by the Delta-T ECM Circulator to most efficiently configure a FHW Heating System, which we have done very effectively. Refer to our other, recently published Delta-T Blogs on this site that detail our development, field testing and observations of our systems.

    Our “Packaged Delta-T ECM Hydronic Heating Appliance™” (Patents Pending)exhibits the following attributes in direct comparison to the typical “conventionally installed” system:

    1. Has a higher Combined Boiler AFUE and Delta-T ECM Distribution (System) Efficiency than achievable with any “conventional” system configuration.
    2. Consumes less fuel and electrical power than any equivalently sized system.
    3. Our Integrated Boiler/Indirect Water Heater System occupies 1/3 to 1/2 the floor-space of others.
    4. Our proprietary Fully-Iron & Cast near-boiler piping maximizes durability and distribution performance using fewer materials.
    5. Further combining a High-Mass Boiler with an All-Stainless Indirect Water Heater assures a dramatically projected economic life (30 years or more?).
    6. A true universal, multi-fuel Appliance. Just change the burner —– not the system!
    7. Provides, Simple, Durable, Efficient and Cost-Effective FHW Heating.

    So yes, we do put “Automatic Transmissions” on Boilers!

    Author’s Note: Updated 07/23/2018


  • HIGH EFFICIENCY CONDENSING FHW BOILERS – The Dirty Little Secrets

    The popularity and performance of condensing gas technology hydronic (FHW) boilers is both noteworthy and deserved. Kicking up heating gas fuel (Natural & LP) efficiencies from the prior generation average of 80-85% to 90-97% in one technological step is astounding. However like any new technology it has come at a price, both positively and negatively. Problem is the negatives are not discussed with the sales enthusiasm.

    It doesn’t take a very sharp pencil to justify a condensing boiler upgrade from a prior generation unit, and particularly a much older one. That 10% or (much) more is significant itself, but coupled with an indirect water heater operating as a “cold start” system can yield 40% or more in our experience. So where are the issues?

    Hydronic boilers have traditionally been constructed of cast iron or of welded steel plate as a lower cost alternative. The welded-plate alternative has failed historically in both durability and efficiency. We have noted recently a disproportionate number of steel boilers appearing locally in “upscale” newer homes. After all, contractors have to cut costs somewhere!

    In the gas market we are moving to new materials to compliment both the cleaner and more controllable combustion afforded by Natural Gas and LP (Propane). These boilers can “modulate” (adjust) their firing rate up to 80% to accommodate heating demand, much like pressing on the gas pedal of your automobile from an idle to adjust power and speed. This is accomplished using a sophisticated sensor and control system. So now we can utilize materials that are more favorable, specifically aluminum and stainless steel, but for very differing attributes.

    Referring to aThermal Conductivity Chart you can appreciate why copper is so commonly used as a heat-exchanger material in baseboard with thin aluminum fins to compliment. Cast iron is so-so but stainless steel is very poor. So why use these particular materials?

    Cast iron is typically used in larger, heavy sections with a generous amount of water as a “thermal mass” device to manage both combustion and energy distribution. (Refer to our Blog:HIGH-MASS VS. LOW-MASS BOILERS – THE ARGUMENTSfor more detail.)

    Aluminum would also seem to be very desirable in this regard excepting that it is very susceptible to chemical corrosion and must be alloyed and/or chemically surface treated for protection.

    Stainless steel on the other hand is a very poor heat conductor, but with very good corrosion resistance. Designers must therefore carefully define the stainless steel heat-exchanger to attain performance while utilizing a substantially more expensive material. With much poorer thermal conductivity, material thickness and heat transfer surface area become prime design parameters. However, coupling this with the necessity of welding stainless steel components together for structural and process integrity and you have a metallurgical compromise.

    Corrosion is the common denominator in all heat-exchanger materials, caused by oxygen and minerals naturally present in water. As such, appliance manufacturers must deal with their eventual effect in their design executions. It’s not IF, but WHEN chemistry wins. Thus the only way to predictably present a hydronic (or steam) boiler to market is to specify the water quality requirements of the system. Note: All condensing (and other) heating appliance manufacturers detail pH (acidity) and additional water conditions in their product documentation and in their Warranties!

    For the past decade or so, manufacturers have been quietly honoring warranty claims against condensing boilers that are clearly the result of poor water conditions. Cast iron boiler durability on the other hand has always been manageable. We presume that honoring condensing boiler warranties was a calculated marketing effort to promote the new technologies and systems, but no more.

    Weil-McLain (our flagship supplier) is renowned within the heating industry for its warranties (and leniency). We have dozens of stories to reinforce this supposition in fact. “The customer is (virtually) always right.” However, speaking recently with Weil-McLain Field Personnel has prompted this blog both reflecting the industry’s necessary strategy change and the ultimate effects upon the consumer.

    The extent of water quality management and documentation may vary within particular suppliers, but be assured that it is happening! This will be very evident not only in new system documentation but inWarranty Claims on existing condensing boiler systems, the most susceptible and therefore the industry focus.

    Therefore you, the consumer must now “have his ducks in a row” by:

    1. Verifying that the water condition requirements of your boiler are met upon installation and start-up by yourself or your installer.
    2. Documenting your water conditions then and thenceforth.
    3. Qualifying that your serviceman performs the specified pH (Acidity) Test during maintenance cycles.
    4. Keeping these maintenance records on file.

    Note: A similar situation exists in degree within the On-Demand DHW (Potable Drinking) Water Heater market. We in fact are certified and install the premium brand unit. They strongly recommend annual flushing with white vinegar to maintain heat-exchanger integrity. (This requires suitable piping installed on the unit, pump, etc.) Immersion coil heaters within boilers have historically had this issue, but not to the degree of the on-demand units due to their design attributes (less restrictive fluid passages). Their replacement cost is also more reasonable in comparison to an on-demand unit.

    So, hard water can become hard times! Be prepared.

    Continuing with our representatives’ conversations, they further offered an enlightenment that won’t be found in print. Specifically, that the life expectancy of a condensing gas boiler is measurably more limited by water conditions and average life is projected to be substantially less than its less sophisticated predecessors. Their average heat-exchanger replacement life expectancy from a marketing perspective on a condensing boiler, considering the heat-exchanger construction material is:

    1. Aluminum — approximately six years.
    2. Stainless Steel — approximately ten years.
    3. Cast Iron — over twenty years.

    We are in no position to qualify or disqualify these statements, excepting to state that we have had an aluminum heat-exchanger failure at six years. It was replaced at no charge (of course) by Weil-McLain. The water condition at this installation was poor, but had been treated by a salt-based softener. How effectively is the obvious question?

    Note: A heat-exchanger replacement cost can approach half that of the initial boiler.

    No field histories on stainless steel heat-exchangers have been published, so again we must defer to judgment.

    In either case, the substantial differences in both initial condensing gas appliance costs and life expectancy must be considered in making a purchase decision.

    Cast Iron is a different matter altogether. It has been the material-of-choice for hydronic and steam boilers from the onset of the Industrial Age. They live long and harsh lives, particularly as “steamers” where their iron is literally eaten by continual ingestion of fresh water (oxygen and minerals) to create and vent steam as the heating medium. A precipitated “black goop” settles in their bottoms and must be periodically flushed to avoid corrosion and a circulation stoppage. (Note: Steamers typically have heavier castings to suit.)

    There is also a unique hybrid stainless steel/cast iron condensing gas boiler available from Weil-McLain (of course). TheirModel GV90+ Gas Boilerhas a primary cast iron heat-exchanger coupled to an external stainless steel “condensing” exchanger. The combination provides an extremely longer-lived condensing boiler, readily serviceable with modular replacement at a respectable 91-92% AFUE Efficiency. So now there is an alternative with a seemingly longer economic life, but at the penalty of a few points in efficiency less than its more sophisticated cousins. Do the numbers justify the hybrid’s 3-5% lower efficiency and its 20% lower initial cost for a potentially doubled system lifetime?

    Before you “run the numbers”, consider this point. Presuming that the hybrid has a double life over the aluminum or stainless units, you will effectively buy a second unit with no economic incentive at all. At 97% AFUE we have, to quote the old farmer’s saying: “Used everything from the pig except its squeal.” There are only 3 points of efficiency left to play with, most of which is likely technically non-achievable.

    Note: We have not discussed heating oil and other fuel conversions to/from Natural Gas. LP (Propane) in our region remains, and likely always will be a more expensive “fuel of choice”. Refer to our Blog:OIL TO GAS FHW HEATING CONVERSION – ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS for applicable detail. Be mindful also that the past year has become an economic crossover for Heating Oil vs. Natural Gas, particularly when the Crude Oil Per Barrel Cost stays under about $45. We have a recent Blog:OIL & NATURAL GAS AS HEATING FUELS EQUATE @ $45/bblthat can serve to further inform ….. and confuse! Further, Natural Gas is not tracking #2 Heating Oil well, the differential widening substantially. So $45 is probably a low number today …..

    So what conclusions can we offer?

    1. An older Gas Boiler upgrade to a Condensing Gas Boiler is a “no-brainer” economically.
    2. Heat Exchanger Material choice, considering your water condition, is paramount.
    3. There are not two but three condensing gas boiler options available: Aluminum, Stainless Steel and a Cast Iron/Stainless Steel Hybrid.
    4. Condensing Boiler Life is a real factor. Check the Warranties and Conditions!
    5. Factor both efficiency increases and potential system life decreases into your calculations. Initial system cost is also a variable.
    6. Your water condition documentation is paramount.

    Summarizing, the Condensing Gas Boiler is the contemporary appliance-of-choice for cost effective residential heating, where applicable. Hopefully providing you with all of the rules of the game will make you, the consumer, a better player.

    Author’s Note: Recent HVAC Trade Journal Articles are beginning to document premature material and weld failures (leakage) in condensing boilers, some immediately upon or within weeks after installation. Some can be attributed to factory process control by manufacturer, but underlying is that basic metallurgical integrity factor. There is no field repair option yet available.

    Updated 06/29/2017 P.D.M., Sr.


  • OIL TO GAS FHW HEATING CONVERSION — ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS

    With the “Fracking Effect” of plentiful, relatively inexpensive natural gas (and oil) upon us, there is a continuing heating system conversion trend from oil, and justifiable in degree. However, this rush borders as all rushes do on becoming foolhardy. In the New England Region our magic number has been a $45-48 per barrel crude oil price, but it’s at best a “crude” one (please excuse the pun). We have seen a significant gas vs. oil crossover now in the past three (2016, 2017 & 2018) heating seasons. (Ref. our Heating Blogs.) It’s an easy sale to “play the numbers”, telling the customer what they want to hear. The typical scenario is an immediate “boiler swap” with perhaps a less than ideal economic resultant. But there are alternatives, depending upon your particular circumstance.

    If you are fortunate to have immediate, metered access to natural gas and your existing oil-fired system is “old enough to vote”, the choice is obvious — swap it! However if you have a newer oil system and it performs well except for the fuel bill, you have other options. Similarly, if you live in a non-natural gas area and are using propane, your incentive differs very substantially.

    Let us review these potential scenarios.

    Firstly, we must qualify your natural gas source AND it’s actual, delivered cost to you! It is a “distributed” fuel, like electricity and therefore has multiple service charges assessed. Always get an actual billing estimate as with any distributed fuel.

    Please refer to our additional, related Blogs from our site library for more detail. We will hyperlink as we proceed, but not necessarily all of them.

    The Installed Cost Premium of a Gas vs. Oil System must be considered and factored into any scenario. Gas systems are at minimum a 20% premium in our experience AND their life expectancy can be half or less of a cast-iron boiler system! Our blog “HIGH MASS vs. LOW MASS BOILERS – The Arguments”should be required reading in this regard.

    Recommendation: If you do not have natural gas access currently in the building, solicit and qualify its installed cost before further consideration!

    1. If it’s on your street the line extension may (or may not) be free as an incentive by your provider.
    2. If it’s down the street a ways there likely is a significant service extension cost up front. There may also be group incentives to extend and supply a neighborhood. This cost must be amortized over some service period. “Run the numbers.”
    3. Natural Gas (like Electricity) is a Distributed Fuel. As you know on your Electric Bill, the Kilowatt-Hour cost is burdened with service and distribution charges. Natural Gas is the same. Always solicit an ESTIMATED TOTAL GAS BILL from your provider!

    Read our blog USING A ‘HEATING COST CALCULATOR’ — CAREFULLY!….. For more detail.

    NOTE: We harp on using a “Heating Cost Calculator” for any project. “Gotta know where you are before you know where you’re goin’.”

    Another suggested “read” is our blog: HEATING FUEL SELECTION – FROM AN ENGINEER’S PERSPECTIVE

    Natural Gas (and Propane) Boilers (FHW) and Furnaces (FHA) are available in very different flavors, technically and efficiency-wise. The EPA assigned AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) Rating can vary from the minimum required value of 85% to over 97% on Weil-McLain Products as an example. AFUE Rating must be obviously considered when making any system decision.

    Scenario 1: Older Oil Boiler (15 years or more), NatGas available on site, longer planned occupancy/ownership. Justify and replace with the highest efficiency unit available (Oil or NatGas) and enjoy the benefits. Note the substantial fuel cost premium of LP (Liquid Propane) vs. Oil if this is your only option ….. see also further below.

    Scenario 2: Newer Oil Boiler (under 10 years?), otherwise same as Scenario 1. Consider upgrading with a Gun Burner alone. Yes, there are several manufacturers of very high efficiency Gas Conversion Gun Burners. Among them:

    1. Carlin Combustion Technology.
    2. Wayne Combustion Systems Several Options.
    3. Midco International Residential Series.
    4. Additional Domestic and Foreign Suppliers.

    However, you must make an objective judgment as to the viability of this conversion. As an example the Weil-McLain Gold Series Oil Boiler has been around since 1995, still available and produced in quantity. It is an older “two-pass” design, 85% efficiency, with tight heat exchanger passages. A good candidate as are similar competitors’ models.

    A Gas Conversion Gun will be higher in combustion efficiency (up to 95%+?). Combined with the oil boiler that is efficiency-limited by oil’s chemical composition should provide you with very respectable boiler performance. We have no means of estimating this, but certainly the Gas Gun Manufacturer should have some history as a marketing tool. Ask!

    To expand our point, we regularly scour Craigslist for Cast-Iron Weil-McLain Gold Series Oil FHW and Steam Boilers as budget upgrades in our area (NH). We can save several thousand dollars by obtaining a well cared for unit for sometimes just above scrap value. Haven’t bought a lemon yet!

    Read our Blog: BUYING A USED BOILER? – CAVEAT EMPTOR (BUYER BEWARE)!

    Scenario 3: What about a LP (Propane) Conversion? The Fuel Cost Premium in our view has relegated propane to a “fuel of choice”. As of this writing, Propane is a 42 to 91% premium over #2 Fuel Oil regionally, using 95% and 87% Appliance Efficiencies (AFUE) respectively as a comparative. Otherwise the outlines in the prior Scenarios apply.

    Subsequently propane is primarily used for cooking, drying and seasonal or supplemental heating along with a wood, pellet or coal system in our rural area. Propane heated properties are therefore slower and lower sellers.

    There is however some relief that may be available to the propane user. Gas tanks are typically owned by the fuel dealer, locking the customer into his supplier. Conversely, oil tanks that are owned by the customer provide sourcing negotiation flexibility. Our customers advise substantial fuel purchase savings via direct negotiation. “Fuel Club” membership is another very desirable purchasing option that we personally employ.

    Commercial and particularly industrial propane clients typically own their storage tanks and contract with suppliers. There is no reason not to own your own tank, save two reservations:

    1. The initial cost of the tank and its installation.
    2. The manufacturing date stamping of the tank, the subsequent re-testing and re-qualification requirements. Tanks are date stamped (Mo.-Yr.) and must be re-qualified ten (10-12?) years after manufacture. (If you buy a used tank, check the date stamp! Don’t buy a dying or at worst a dead horse.)

    We have a local tank-owner client who advised us of a recent propane buy at an astounding price! He shopped aggressively and paid C.O.D. His purchase price was well below that of the fuel oil equivalent at the time.

    So, you off-the-pipeline propane gas users may have some hopes yet. Check them out.

    In closing, propane has historically been a premium-costed fuel. Having said this, it is conceivable that we may see a variant of natural gas emerge as a pressurized or liquefied fuel to challenge propane in the future. Stay tuned …

    Update: Read our Blog entitled “Oil Again The Cheap Heat in NH — For The Smart Buyer”. It documents the lower cost of oil vs. all other heating fuels @ a $32 a barrel this past winter. The approximate “break even point” with Natural Gas is currently around $45-48 a barrel. Fluctuations of both fuels (and others) should be qualified with a Current Heating Fuel Price Comparator, as we have noted in our Blog.

    Also reference our Delta-T ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance™, bridging the Gas vs. Oil Heating Argument by applying the latest hydronic technology.

    Author’s Note: Updated 01/11/2019 P.D.M., Sr.


  • HEATING FUEL SELECTION – FROM AN ENGINEER’S PERSPECTIVE

    Heating fuel selection has become more than a casual topic in this currently tenuous economic situation, and likely to be an extended one. Unfortunately the picture is both clouded and distorted by the contemporary economic, political and media rhetoric. From an engineering perspective however the overcast is dissipating and the stars are beginning to show.

    As Sgt. Detective “Joe Friday” (Jack Webb) of the old TV Series “Dragnet” would retort upon questioning a witness, “Just give me the facts, Ma’am. All I want is the facts.” So here they are.

    From our Physics 101 Textbook: All physical matter exists in three (3) states: Gases, Liquids and Solids. Hold this thought.

    Our Chemistry 101 Textbook was divided into two (2) Sections: Inorganic and Organic Chemistry. Organic chemistry is dedicated to the properties of carbon, and in particular the C-H (carbon – hydrogen) bond and its chemical interactions. It is so important as to warrant its own science. There’s Carbon ….. and there’s everything else!

    Carbon compounds all occur in nature (predominantly in the earth) in all of its states as gases, liquids and solids. Due the energy content of the C-H bond they are all potentially direct heating fuels, or for the creation of other forms of energy, in particular electricity.

    What primarily differentiates the states of fuels is their “Energy Density”. (How much energy is contained in a comparable volume of material?) Therefore, as naturally occurring heating fuels they are:

    1. Gases: Natural Gases are the lowest density fuels.
    2. Liquids: (All Petroleum) Heating Oils are mid-density fuels.
    3. Solids: Coal is a mid-density fuel, comparable to oil, but solidified.

    There could be another category of “Renewable Solids”, made up of surface harvested fibrous materials such as Wood, Peat, Corn Stover, Peanut Shells, etc. These have much lower energy densities, somewhere between gases and liquids. You might consider these as “fuels of opportunity”, based on locales.

    None of these fuels as harvested below or above the ground can be directly converted into a heating fuel without further processing. They must be economically converted and moved to their points-of-use. This takes energy in varied forms, depending upon their specific fuel attributes.

    The Gases:

    Natural Gas is the predominant subterranean gaseous fuel and can be directly combusted for its heating value. Distribution and safety are the primary considerations.

    Having no smell, a trace gas must be added to all fuel gases for detection. That “stink” is a life saver! Gaseous explosions are memorable ones indeed.

    Natural Gas must be piped to its point-of-use. This piping infrastructure is large, extensive and expensive, supporting the movement of huge volumes of a very low energy density fuel over long distances. As a “distributed” fuel (similarly with electricity) these costs are burdened onto your energy bill, typically along with additional service and maintenance charges.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Whenever doing fuel cost comparisons, you must solicit an estimated billing for Natural Gas and Electricity Service. The “Per Therm” or the “Kilowatt-Hour” (KWH) fuel unit cost IS NOT YOUR FUEL BILL! Locally (NH) we factor (multiply) by 1.5 to 2.1 seasonally for an estimated billing.

    Liquid Propane (LP), Liquid Natural (LNG) and Compressed Natural (CNG) Gases are concentrated, higher energy density fuel products achieved by composition, chilling and/or compression of gases into a tanker or tank for distribution. As such these become “delivered” products that are billed by-the-gallon or by-the-tank only.

    There is a significant amount of energy required to transform gases into usable liquid products, thus a much higher unit cost. Delivery costs related to tanker-to-site-tank or individual “bottle” deliveries are also factored into the unit cost.

    An on-site stored energy gas source must also be weighed, where applicable.

    All gases can be combusted very efficiently utilizing the latest “condensing” technologies. These are routinely 95+%. It must be accentuated however that the equipment investment is costlier than alternatives and must be factored.

    The Liquids:

    Petroleum Fuels (Carbon-based) being liquids have an inherent advantage over their gaseous or solid cousins. They can be pumped, poured, piped, tanked or transported with less energy and at substantially less risk. Only bulk barging or training of coal can compare, and then only to bulk use sites.

    Petroleum as extracted is a varying mixture of liquid and gaseous carbon-based products, readily separated by heating in a “Distillation Column”. Gases rise to the top and Tar sinks to the bottom. All are “skimmed” at their various levels. This is a relatively simple “first pass” process, but yields a ratio of products.

    The C-H based chemistry yields more. By introducing selective products under heat and pressure you can “polymerize” (chain them together) to make denser, heavier products or “fractionalize” (break them apart) to make lighter and gaseous products. Very high yields of usable fuel and lubricant products result.

    Heating Oil fuels combust efficiently in a modern, atomizing power burner. Peak is about 87% efficiency, depending both upon the appliance and the composition of the oil itself. Natural contaminants such as nitrogen and sulfur preclude higher values. Recent “Bio-Heat” Oil development, blended from harvested, carbon-based stocks will improve combustion efficiency somewhat. This along with “Fluidized Bed” and similar technologies promise even higher future combustion values.

    The Solids:

    Coal: Our discussion of C-H based solids must necessarily be limited to Coal. There are two (2) major derivatives, namely anthracite and bituminous, but energy-wise they are arguably similar. Functionally they process and handle much the same. Anthracite is the preferred variant in volume combustion applications, however.

    Coal requires considerable extraction and granulating energy, offset by the low material cost in situ. It bulk handles and transits readily and inexpensively, but its combustion characteristics relegate it to continuous-fire applications. Thus it predominates in electric generation. It handles very safely as well. When have you ever heard of a coal train catching fire?

    The Renewable Solids:

    Referring to our prior mention of these predominantly fibrous, harvested fuels, suffice to say that only wood is regionally viable and a great “sweat equity” fuel. It is also a natural by-product of our wood-harvesting industry. To quote that old New England adage: “Wood warms you twice”. We don’t foresee any significant deforestation resulting.

    Further, the quoted lower efficiencies for wood are aggravated by the need for moisture content control (air or kiln drying) and necessarily long and moderately controllable firing cycles. It is truly only a “fuel of opportunity”.

    The Current Heating Fuel Situation:

    By “situation” we mean what economical fuels are viably available and where are they located? The “what” and the “where” are inevitably linked.

    By any measure the United States is most bountifully blessed with all resources, with the least being not only our current heating fuels, but our future ones!

    The near-term picture is punctuated by our excesses of both natural gas and petroleum (oil) that have depressed heating fuel pricing dramatically. Despite a depressed economy a fervent effort is on to convert particularly oil-fired installations at all levels to natural gas, where available. We have within the past two heating seasons seen incremental fuel cost crossovers of oil and natural gas within the $45-48/bbl crude oil range.

    Natural Gas and Petroleum have become so plentiful in fact that we are net exporters of both fuels. The “World Price” of 4 to 5 times our domestic of Natural Gas in particular is just too good to ignore. It won’t hurt our trade imbalance either.

    It is no understatement that “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing) as touted in the technical journals is likely the most significant American Invention since the Computer. The world energy picture has changing dramatically, and for the good. This technology is applicable to both gas and oil exploration and production.

    We currently have about 50,000 miles of fuel pipelines operating in the U.S. The Canadian Athabasca (Oil Sands) extension known as the Keystone Pipeline is happening along with the Bakken Basin and others. Several U.S. and one (1) Canadian pipeline(s) are being reverse-flowed to support both this and the new Greater Mid & South West Fields. We are currently exporting some highly refined oil products to Europe from the East Coast. Delta Airlines recently purchased a New Jersey refinery for its dedicated jet fuel production. (Smart move!)

    We are now at oil parity and less subject to the fickle “World Oil Market” (OPEC). As we expand the ball game will change significantly. To accentuate this point: The current price of natural gas (energy-wise) is equal to an oil barrel-price of $15, or a gasoline price of less than $1.50 per gallon. Will we get there? Unlikely, but we are heading in that direction. The current barrel-price of $45 is expected to stabilize, barring world influence.

    Thus, the current and near-term heating fuel situation is substantially “business as usual” with a notable sag in heating oil pricing with natural gas applications expanding disproportionately. Heating oil cost is crossing over with natural gas, even as a delivered vs. a distributed product. Sharpen your pencils when you shop!

    Coal remains in plentiful supply! Without addressing the EPA Regulations, etc. it remains our significant electric power generation fuel as well as a selective heating fuel. It is a bargain where natural gas is not available, if you can utilize it. Note: We are now exporting coal to Asia and Eastern Europe.

    The “Crossover Fuel” Period: (the term is ours – and at our risk?)

    The disparity in natural gas supplies and pricing vs. the oil supply limitations and volatile pricing is breeding an era of “crossover fuels”. These will virtually all be based on Natural Gas in both gaseous and liquid states as a seed fuel. It will be combined with other gaseous, liquid and solid fuels to create oil product supplements for the transportation and in lesser degree the heating markets.

    This fuel availability phenomenon will precipitate a series of these products within a relatively compressed time period. None of these are “rocket science”, merely scaling existing technologies as market opportunities are presented. The following are just a few of these, but the likely leaders:

    1. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG): As a potentially more broadly applied transportation fuel, it is a real winner. Currently being used in Utilities Service Vehicles, its logical and economic extension to all mid-range (up to 200 mi radius?) fleet and service terminals (private and government) will have a major impact. The offset loosens up general oil supplies, including heating fuels. (This is also BillionaireT. Boone Pickens’ new pet project. He took an admitted $150M “hit” on now abandoned Windmill Projects. Looking to make his money back in a hurry we presume.)
    2. Oil from Natural Gas: There are several processes that can make oil from plentiful coal as well as lesser feed stocks. We are not familiar with the specifics excepting that plentiful gas next to plentiful coal seems to be a bench-marking enterprise.
    3. Alcohol from Natural Gas: Alcohol as a fuel has not been mentioned thus far. Its current notable application is as a beneficial gasoline additive. A C-H-O (Carbon-Hydrogen-Oxygen) Compound, its energy-density is less than oils, but burns cleanly and very efficiently. It is a superb racing and automotive (E85) fuel IN A SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED ENGINE! Ethyl Alcohol (Ethanol) is readily manufactured by process combination of natural gas and carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. CO2 is that nasty (?) stuff that creates global warming (?). Estimated Cost: $1.50/gal.
    4. Alcohol from Coal: Referring to Items 2 & 3 preceding there is a proven, scalable process for producing alcohol from coal using natural gas. Estimated Cost: $1.50/gal. Note: Alcohol is not currently used as a heating fuel. The cost and energy-density vs. heating oil has not been advantageous. Secondly, the current heating oil process equipment would have to be modified for its use. A diaphragm-style fuel pump or similar device would need to be employed for atomization. (Alcohols are not intrinsically self-lubricating.) Otherwise there is no process reasoning to negate its use as a heating fuel.
    5. “Fuels of Opportunity”: This is the Etcetera Bucket that contains all of those development projects that ultimately produce oils or alcohols. There is a seeming plethora of these with few in scalar production. Notable are the alcohol producers:
      • Corn Ethanol Fuel Supplements– Gasoline additives (E10, E15 & E85) production by farm co-ops and independents.
      • Cellulosic Alcohols– Produced from fibers and by-products of surface agriculture.
      • Oil from Coal– High Temperature/Pressure Steam Injection into Coal Process. No cost-to-benefit analysis available. South Africa produces.
      • Etcetera – The list goes on.

    General Note: There may be a few winners, but a lot of losers in this alternative energy crap shoot. The Natural Gas glut will skew the results.

    Summary Notes on Current Heating Energies:

    1. Natural Gas will generally predominate, where available.
    2. The Oil vs. Natural Gas pricing gap has closed, returning to par for the next few years.
    3. LP (Propane) Gas will remain a “fuel-of-choice”.

    Near-Future Heating Fuels:

    Looking forward near-term in heating fuels is a simple matter. More of the same. There is nothing save the Natural Gas to Oil cost gap closure to talk about. You must also accept that common Heating #2 Fuel is close to Diesel Fuel and necessarily follows its pricing trends. (#2 Heating Oil is dyed Red to deter Diesel Tax Skippers from using it in their cars and trucks. Fine resulting when caught!)

    The giant strides in efficiency made in the past ten years or so in heating appliances will be tempering. There’s just is not much more to be had in particular with gas efficiency to play with. Oil efficiency continues to address its composition problem.

    Recommendation: If you’ve been procrastinating, waiting for that world-beater boiler or furnace to appear, don’t hold your breath any longer. Invest in that 95% Condensing Gas or 87% “Triple-Pass” Oil Boiler. Stop “throwing good money after bad.”

    The Future Heating Fuel: Nuclear-Generated Electricity

    Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Electricity is the simplest and most efficient means of generating, distributing and utilizing energy. Problem is that we don’t generate it efficiently enough. We do a fair job with hydroelectricity and maybe geothermal, then we get loose. But even these are not really good enough.

    Back to Energy Density. The C-H Bond energy potential is the basis for all of our fuels. The energy-density of a Nuclear Fuel is 1 to 2 times 10 to the 6th power or 1-2 million times that of the C-H Bond! So why don’t we have cheap enough electricity? The wrong nuclear technology. We developed and then abandoned the correct one in the 1970’s in favor of uranium and plutonium based processes – to build bombs with their by-products.

    Thorium LFTR Reactors are being aggressively developed by Russia, China and India, with our technology! We must have them to project our Medical Isotope, NASA Deep Space Programs and as a DOD Modular Power Source at minimum. We’re looking at electricity costs of less than $0.01 (cents) per KWH! Check your current electric bill.

    For your Homework, read up on Thorium. It’s our future.

    Last Edit: 09/07/2017 pdm


  • DOMESTIC HOT WATER (DHW) GENERATION – YOUR OPTIONS

    We just returned from a hardship “no heat” service call. These folks are obviously up against it economically, as are many these days. However they recently substituted an electric water heater for their boiler immersion coil to generate domestic hot water and hopefully reduce their summer fuel bill. Now they are concerned about the increase in their electric bill as a consequence.

    This brings up the timely subject of options available in DHW generation. Please refer to content in our other blogs, specifically related to energy source selection, tempering tanks and using a Heating Cost Calculator. For the latter we use the NH OEP Heating Cost Calculator at http://www.nhclimateaudit.org/calculators.php. There should be equivalent calculation tools available for your region.

    Heating Cost Calculators don’t lie. They provide a unit energy cost per Million BTU’s for each fuel. You should apply an appropriate AFUE (Energy Efficiency Rating) for your or the best competing appliance by fuel type to get an accurate comparison.

    By calculation DHW heating fuels from lowest to highest costs are: (NH Region)

    1. Natural Gas – Rate factored by 1.5 to 2 for actual billing. (Divide total fuel billing by actual fuel charge for factoring.)
    2. Fuel Oil
    3. Propane
    4. Electricity – Must be also factored for actual billing. Ours is 1.85. (Varies significantly by Provider & Region)

    Note: 1&4 are “distributed fuels”, necessarily incurring varied pipeline and distribution service costs.

    Natural Gas has been historically the most efficient fuel for both heating and DHW generation vs. fuel oil until recently. A very rough crossover is a $45/bbl Crude Oil Price. Local fuel market variations and appliance installation costs must be considered. Propane, a manufactured fuel, is by comparison a significantly higher cost product. This is unfortunate in that they utilize the same appliances (with minor modification) with similar efficiencies. Propane fuel cost is a killer!

    Fuel Oil and Gas Heating Appliances provide the same function, however differing significantly in configuration to accommodate their particular combustion characteristics.

    Electricity despite its extremely high energy efficiency is offset dramatically by unit cost. Electric Water Heaters are enticingly priced, too. Too bad.

    We are considering only the intermittent combustion fuels (oil and gases) in our analysis. The continuous combustion fuels such as wood, coal, etc. suffer by nature to being very inefficient DHW generators. This is not to allow that these fuels fired in boilers can provide seasonal DHW to Indirect Storage Heaters or coupled to a central boiler with an immersion coil. Although increasing in rural popularity, they don’t represent a significant market segment to date, nor likely will they ever.

    Gas and Oil Combustion Appliances are limited to Boilers and Water Heaters. Their configuration options are similar with the exception of the Gas “Demand” Water Heater and are as follows:

    1. A “stand-alone” (dedicated) Oil or Gas Water Heater. These are a virtual necessity when the central heating appliance is Forced Hot Air (FHA). The stand-alone Oil-fired Hot Water Heater has suffered from poorer fuel efficiency by design and has been limited to high demand users such as restaurants, etc.
    2. The Gas “Demand” Water Heater – A unique, hang-on-the-wall device, it stores no heated water but fires only when DHW flow demand is detected. It is very sensitive to water conditions, including acidity, contamination and lower delivery temperatures.
    3. A Central Heating Boiler with an Immersion Coil therein to create DHW.
    4. A Central Heating-only Boiler coupled to an Indirect Water Heater (Super-insulated DHW Storage Tank). Provides higher efficiency in both heating and DHW generation. Significantly increasing in popularity.

    The Gas-fired “On-Demand” Water Heater has a distinct DHW market application, subject to several limitations:

    1. They are “pricey” relative to other options.
    2. Initial DHW delivery is mildly delayed during warm up.
    3. Long cycle demand capacity reduces with supply water temperature decrease (colder water from source).
    4. Annual chemical treatment to control sedimentation is required to maintain performance.

    Note: Both the Gas “On-Demand” Water Heater and Boiler Immersion Coil Systems mentioned can benefit from a “Tempering Tank” placed in line with their water supplies. (Reference our prior blog on these.) It’s a non-insulated accumulation tank that allows water to acclimate to ambient (room) temperature before entering the DHW heating device. Increases heater performance significantly by temperature and delivery maintenance over total cycle demands.

    Otherwise, Indirect Storage Heaters are the path to efficient DHW generation and storage – regardless! They compliment lifestyle variations and usage patterns when coupled to an efficient heating-water-only generating device, commonly referred to as a “Cold Start” Boiler. It fires ONLY when area heating or DHW recovery is demanded. Otherwise they revert toward ambient temperature, saving significant “standby losses” when not in use. There are several options to “getting there from here”, depending upon your situation.

    1. Purchase a High-efficiency “Heat-only” Boiler and Indirect Water Heater as a package and be done with it.
    2. You can convert your existing Immersion Coil System Boiler to a “Cold Start” Type by:
      • Changing your Master Aquastat Control to a “Cold Start” Unit
      • Adding an Indirect Water Heater with its own circulator or valved zone.
    3. Couple an Insulated DHW Storage Tank to your current Boiler Immersion Coil with a POTABLE WATER CIRCULATOR ONLY (Stainless or Bronze) and Temp Aquastat Zone in the loop. Substitute a “Cold Start” Master Aquastat to convert your boiler to a “Heat-only” as in Option 2.
    4. Do Item 3, but convert a good 80 Gal. Electric Hot Water Heater into a Storage Tank. Strip its wiring and utilize the upper, internal Thermostat Switch as a DHW temp control. Note: This last option is the “Cheap Trick”. It costs significantly less to install, despite the pricey circulator requirement. DHW piping is typically run in parallel with the immersion coil with a flow check function.

    Whenever employing ANY Storage Tank for DHW, place a Thermal Expansion Tank in-line on the cold water supply line! Heating cold water expands it, creating pressures well above the supply pressure and potentially bursting the system. This is particularly evident in municipal or well supplies where there’s a check valve in the cold water service. Cheap insurance!

    So, using the appropriate fuel costs from a Heating Cost Calculator and reviewing your current or planned appliances, plan your Heating and DHW Systems together for best efficiency.

    Last Edit: 06/24/2017 pdm


  • HIGH-MASS VS. LOW-MASS BOILERS – THE ARGUMENTS

    It ultimately comes down to economics, as do most things. The current trend is to market low-mass (light-weight) boilers against the traditional heavy, high-mass cast-iron boilers. However, there are risks involved that must be assessed and quantified.

    New gas-fired appliances in particular have a technological efficiency milepost that must be considered. Specifically, the traditional tube/ribbon gas burner “dry base” boilers vs. the new condensing technology based low-mass boilers. These have a significant efficiency increase of 10+% in AFUE Efficiency Rating. Along with this however is a marked increase in appliance costs and operational risks — both quite important, yet never publicized!

    Stainless steel heat exchanger condensing gas units have been generally doing well service-wise. Cast aluminum heat exchanger units where supply water pH (acidity) has not been addressed at installation or at further maintenance points have had issues, to which we can personally attest. Given this reservation they have also performed reasonably well. Being quite sophisticated control-wise, one has to admire the engineered system integrity of these condensing gas systems. They certainly do flag service and maintenance issues with their sophisticated sensor complements!

    However, a disturbing pattern is emerging and the alarms are sounding in the trade journals and forums. Premature welded stainless heat exchanger leakage failures are being reported, some even “out-of-the-box” or within weeks of installation. A reduced anticipated installed system operating life of 15 years or less is being reported. The common cause for all should be water condition issues, but it’s also become manufacturing process integrity in some cases. Regardless, manufacturers are countering with stringent water condition qualification requirements within their typically 10-Year Pro-Rated Warranties. Not only do water conditions have to be measured and recorded at installation, but subsequent annual service procedures must re-qualify and record these values. Violate your water control guidelines and void your warranties!

    Oil-fired appliances on the other hand are a different animal, with combustion energy containment and management paramount in their design. Heating oil has over 60% more energy content per gallon than gases and can’t be technologically “modulated” (vary the firing rate) as with a gas appliance. Adjusting the output of an oil boiler is done by managing system temperature and/or by utilizing multiple boilers (MBS Systems) in larger installations. Therefore the oil boiler must be designed to perform at its maximum firing rate and within its design parameters. This is typically accomplished by using a cast-iron heat exchanger, and has been for the past two hundred years!

    Let us first disqualify any “dry base” welded-steel-fabrication (oil or gas) boilers from this discussion. Their overall field performance history in both thermal efficiency and longevity are well documented and recognized. They are sold on price alone. If you have one, you won’t have it for long — unless you were born under a lucky star! (They now barely meet D.O.E. Energy Star Ratings as well, and we hope for not too much longer.) Particularly disturbing to us is the poor field history of a nameless, highly publicized “high efficiency” gas-or-oil welded plate construction boiler. Their factory service record as emoted both directly by us, our trade service collaborators and their customers is damnable! Independent servicemen hate to touch them. Parts are product-specific, pricey and their eventual structural fate is predictable. We regard them as a “black eye” upon our industry. Beware of the sales pitch and do your homework! Always get customer referrals at a minimum (including for ourselves)!

    The “wet base” full-combustion-containment cast-iron oil boiler is the industry standard, with a solid performance history. They do however differ by both manufacturer and specific model design attributes that may affect life performance. If your oil boiler does not last at a very minimum 30 years or more, something is very wrong. We have replaced 100+ year old cast iron boilers with still beautiful castings, but you just couldn’t afford to feed them! You are more likely to see a cast-iron boiler section seal corrosion failure in particularly older units or hard-freeze icing fracture neglect than a “worn-out” boiler. Either situation is economically catastrophic though, requiring unit replacement.

    The high-mass vs. low-mass oil boiler argument ultimately comes down to design parameters related to material selection, application integrity and its performance under field conditions. The design safety factor of any boiler can be readily extended by simply providing more cast-iron and more water capacity. Works every time, but potentially adds cost to the boiler — or it should. Ultimately all materials degrade in use, whether it’s polymerization in plastics, embrittlement in metals, et al to a future point of failure.

    We must now extend the preceding arguments to contemporary oil & gas appliance issues. There are three emerging problems well documented in Heating Trade Publications that must be addressed:

    1. “COLD-SHOTTING”. A trade term that describes the condition where cold water is introduced into a hot boiler and thermally “shocks” the heat exchanger metallurgy. Single or cumulative events can result in catastrophic metal fracturing, seal and/or weld joinery failures. The “solution” is the additional piping and installation of a Boiler Return Water Temperature Control Valve to any condensing or low-mass boiler system. This is not an issue with a high-mass cast-iron boiler, nor has it ever been. Please note that Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution Technology properly applied negates this issue altogether.
    2. MAGNETITE ALLEVIATION. Magnetite is a magnetic, accumulating ferrous (iron) oxide (rust) present in boiler and supply water and attaches itself to internal boiler components, reducing in particular circulation efficiency. It has virtually never been an issue in a cast-iron (a naturally magnetite scavenging material) boiler, but here it is in very low iron content condensing systems. It can only be addressed with an integral, full-time Magnetite Filtration System – a significant cost and recurring maintenance cost addition.
    3. HYDRONIC DISTRIBUTION. Contemporary practices of near-boiler and distribution (to radiation) piping are excessive, unwarranted and inefficient. The seemingly excessive piping and controls witnessed in new installations are so, REDUCING system efficiency and increasing operating costs. Low-mass and condensing boiler systems are disproportionately affected. Correct application of Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution Technology is a must for overall system efficiency.

    If you’ve read from our “Heating Blog Library” on this site, you would certainly qualify us as “High-Mass Boiler” advocates. We have additionally optimized our system design and performance by fully incorporating “Delta-T ECM Hydronic Distribution Technology”. It smooths hydronic system thermal demands while significantly reducing operating costs. In fairness this technology would certainly be very beneficial when applied to any low-mass boiler! In fact we consider it a prerequisite in any low-mass boiler installation. Please reference our new Packaged ΔT ECM Hydronic (FHW) Heating Appliance™ (Patents Pending – USA & Canada) on this site, interchangeably fired by OIL or GAS.

    Considering the aforementioned, we much prefer high-mass boilers with their “thermal damping” and reduced cycling characteristics. More iron mass and greater water content equals less burner cycling and ultimately longer component life. We have noted in fact (although we don’t necessarily advocate it) that ultimately a boiler maintenance cycle is now more dictated by the quality and amount of fuel oil passed through our Weil-McLain Ultra Series Triple-Pass Boilers than calendar cycles. Their heat exchanger passages are very open compared to prior generation two-pass units. Combined with the combustion quality of the Beckett NX Burner you generate very little ash accumulation. The same cannot be said of a nameless foreign boiler that seems to have high ash generation and more frequent maintenance calls. (We refuse to service them, by the way — hire the mechanic with that “Mercedes”.)

    Summarizing, weigh the operating characteristics of your particular hydronic system application before you select any boiler. In particular look at an intelligent hydronic distribution option such as the Taco® Delta-T ECM Distribution System. Just “plugging and playing” a low-mass boiler into your system may not play too long, nor too well.

    Additionally, a very timely read is our commentary on the just published 2019 Annual Boiler Report. “Reading between the lines” extracts the admonition by several contributors that despite their pursuit of highly engineered new product offerings, a well configured cast-iron boiler system is tough to beat economically. Should the market and particularly the consumer be taking note of this fact amidst the condensing sales hype? Judge for yourself …..

    (Please refer to our other blogs and appropriate external sources for detail related to this discussion.)

    Updated: 07/30/2019 PDM, Sr.

     


  • SELECTING A HEATING SERVICEMAN

    Finding and selecting a serviceman for your gas or oil heating system is not a simple task. Merely calling up your fuel supplier to send someone over or asking your work associates whom they use from our experience will not usually get it done. Neither will shopping the Services Offered sections of Craigslist, Freebie Advertisers or local Newspapers for the $99.95 Annual Cleaning Special do it. You simply have to do your homework.

    Your goal should be to engage a serviceman who knows your particular system — in its entirety! After all, unless you live in a Condo Complex or Tract Development the chances of a reasonably generic heating system is minimal. Most heating systems evolve, driven by upgrades to the central heater, fuel changes, expansions and adaptations to the structure and so on. So no two systems can therefore be identical and all have peculiar deficiencies.

    Let us first address oil burning equipment. The argument can and should be made that there are only a few oil burner variations in common usage, predominated by the American-made Beckett, Carlin and occasional Wayne Burners. The European Riello is also encountered, but far less often. Therefore selecting a serviceman who knows how to swap nozzles, filters and tune these is all you need. WRONG! There is no “Jiffy Lube” heating analogy to oil or gas maintenance.

    Referring to our other blogs on heating system upgrades and efficiency we must emphatically reiterate — that efficiency report card you get from a serviceman is BURNER EFFICIENCY, NOT SYSTEM EFFICIENCY! It only documents the fuel combustion quality and NOT the heat energy conversion and transfer efficiencies of your system. System efficiency comprises other factors, particularly exhaust temperature and heat exchanger performance. This is why a Heating Appliance receives an “Energy Star Rating”, not a burner.

    With gas combustion equipment the variations particularly within the newer “condensing” system technologies are more pronounced. Manufacturers have developed similar but more unique methodologies that differ also in sensory and control applications. Gas equipment tends to necessarily be more sophisticated and “intelligent” than oil to achieve superior “Energy Star Ratings”, but subject to ultimate fuel cost considerations, particularly with propane fuel.

    Now addressing your particular system servicing, the starting point must be knowledge of your particular heating appliance. This can be simply addressed by referring to your Appliance Manufacturer’s Web Site and to their listing of Approved or Referred Contractors. This gives you some surety of knowledge, but not necessarily of comfort in that an individual with personal acquaintance with your system will arrive. Let’s elaborate.

    Servicemen are typically mechanically inclined individuals that have acquired knowledge and aptitude with heating systems. This is typically attained via journeyman or apprentice training within a trade organization, and prevalently within a fuel dealership or organization. The fuel dealers in particular become “training mills” for servicemen, but prompted by market competitiveness subsequently “spin off” most of their finest as independent servicemen.

    Within a Manufacturer’s Approved or Referred Listing find the local independent serviceman. Let’s face it, he’s flying solo and doesn’t have the luxury of organizational protection. He has to perform or not eat regularly. There is similarly no significant correlation between his performance and the appearance of his vehicle and advertising in our experience. Our only caution is reflected in our prior blog “Plumbing Guys Plumb, Heating Guys Heat” wherein the dedicated heating professional seems to be the most effective performer, overall. Similarly be especially wary of the TV Advertisers! There are just too many complaints of shoddy workmanship, pricey “bait and hook” complaints on these Plumbing and Heating “entrepreneurs”.

    Test your prospective serviceman on a preliminary visit. He should not only be familiar with your appliance, but offer observations related to system components, performance, serviceability and quantify prospective improvements. Particularly solicit opinions related to your heating distribution (ducting, piping, radiation, etc.) and boiler domestic hot water generation where applicable. If your system is say 15 to 20 years old, expect a suggestion to replace particularly the gas appliance, but make him quantify it!

    Now solicit another serviceman and repeat. Compare notes.

    After your selection has serviced your system, measure his performance particularly in respect to service calls. They should be minimal and not repetitive for the same symptom(s). Cut a little slack on ignition and control inter-dependency issues — but only on two calls and how he treats the situation. Otherwise, go shopping again. The successful independents typically have excellent diagnostic capabilities, low service call occurrence and a larger clientele.

    Again, refer to our other blogs for background in assessing your serviceman. Good hunting.