Boilers... in Old and New Homes
Boiler systems heat water, which travels as liquid or steam through pipes that circulate throughout a building. The pipes heat radiators in each room, and the radiators warm the air. Boilers can be powered by natural gas, fuel oil, or electricity.
Because only 5-10% of the homes in our area are heated by boilers, many heating contractors have little experience installing and servicing these systems.
Bethke Heating & Air Conditioning is the expert when it comes to installing both hot water and steam boilers. Our installation and service personnel are knowledgeable, and they receive ongoing technical training to hone their skills and learn about new designs and technologies.
Learn more about:
- Boilers in older homes: hot water and steam
- Boilers in newer homes and additions
- Can a boiler system be converted to a forced air system?
This Old House
Boiler systems are often found in neighborhoods with vintage homes built before the advent of forced air technology.
If you need to replace a boiler in an older home, your options will depend on many factors including the design of your radiators and whether your existing boiler uses hot water or steam technology.
HOT WATER BOILERS
Many older homes feature hot water boiler systems. Older systems usually vent through a chimney, and heat is typically delivered via cast iron radiators.
If you need to replace a hot water boiler and you have cast iron radiators, there are many trade-offs to consider.
The simplest solution is to install a new cast iron boiler that vents up the old chimney. New cast iron boilers are rated 81-85% energy efficient. A chimney liner may be required to protect the chimney from condensation damage.
Higher efficiency boilers typically cost several thousands of dollars more than cast iron models. When considering whether this cost is justified, it's important to understand manufacturer efficiency ratings. While manufacturers commonly describe models as 95% efficient, the fine print reveals that this rating is achieved only with a specialized piping and radiator system not typically found in older homes. The actual efficiency of a new high efficiency boiler paired with cast iron radiators is about 90%.
High efficiency boilers vent out the side of the house through a PVC pipe instead of up a chimney. In some old houses, it is difficult to find a suitable vent location.
In addition, pairing a new high efficiency boiler with old cast iron radiators requires one more step: Over time, tiny rust particles flake off the insides of old cast iron radiators. High efficiency boilers can be damaged when these rust particles travel from the old radiators through the water pipes to the boiler. Isolating the boiler from the old pipes and radiators with special equipment can reduce or eliminate this problem, but the solution can be expensive.
Note also that high efficiency boilers tend to have higher maintenance costs and a shorter lifespan than cast iron boilers.
When faced with this set of trade-offs, some homeowners opt for a new cast iron boiler even though it is slightly less energy efficient.
Changing radiator style
We are often asked if old cast iron radiators can be replaced with new radiators for aesthetic reasons. Perhaps the old radiators take up too much floor space, or the homeowner simply doesn't like their looks. Replacement is possible, but doing so throughout an entire house can be very expensive. One option is to prioritize a few rooms for this improvement.
Do you have an older hot water heating system?
Call Bethke at 608-251-2222. We will be happy to evaluate your system and help you sort out your options.
Steam heat is one of the oldest heating technologies. While a properly installed and maintained steam system can provide very comfortable heat, it has some disadvantages.
Steam systems can be noisy. The old radiators may need maintenance and adjustments to keep them functioning properly. Steam boilers vent through an existing chimney, which precludes remodeling projects that remove the chimney.
The energy efficiency of new steam boilers tops out at 82%. In contrast, a hot water system can be 90% efficient, and in specialized applications up to 95% efficient.
That said, homeowners with steam systems often opt to stay with steam, and Bethke installs many new steam boilers every year.
It is possible to convert a steam system to a hot water system, but it can be expensive. The retrofit usually requires the cost and inconvenience of opening walls in order to reconfigure piping.
Do you need to replace a steam boiler?
Call Bethke at 608-251-2222. We will be happy to help you sort out your options.
BOILERS IN NEWER HOMES AND ADDITIONS
Hot water boiler systems are found in many newer homes, and we can replace boilers, radiators, and hot water baseboard. Steam boilers are no longer installed in new homes.
Many people prefer hot water heating because it is so comfortable. Heat tends to be evenly distributed throughout each room, without draftiness. Boiler systems are usually easy to zone, allowing you to heat various areas in your home on different schedules and at different temperatures. In addition, it's often possible to use a home's boiler to power the hot water heater — a very energy efficient option!
New hot water boilers are 90-95% efficient. New radiators are available in steel and aluminum as well as cast iron. High efficiency boilers vent out the side of a house through PVC pipe, instead of up a chimney. This means that any future home remodeling will not be constrained by chimney location.
Many new hot water boilers are installed with radiant heat systems. In a radiant heat system, specialized water piping is embedded in floors, walls and/or ceilings — in effect becoming one giant radiator. In-floor radiant heat installations are most common. People love the comfort of stepping on a warm floor.
This is an increasingly popular choice for home additions, especially additions built on a concrete slab. If air conditioning is desired in the new space, a split-ductless air conditioner can be installed.
Can a boiler system be converted to a forced air system?
The answer is yes, but it may be expensive and involve major remodeling. Ductwork must be installed to reach every room in the house, which can mean opening many walls. The fabrication and installation of this ductwork is labor intensive.
A small one story home with a full unfinished basement can allow a relatively straightforward conversion. But for most other homes, it's usually more complicated.
If you are interested in exploring this option, we can come out and evaluate the potential in your home. If your primary motivation is a desire for air conditioning in a boiler-heated home, split-ductless air conditioners may be a better solution.