News and views about real estate in Greater Hartford

Getting a New Boiler

GasBoilerEvery year we come up with a list of projects we need to carry out on our house in order to keep it properly maintained. We go through enough home inspections to know that we need to keep on top of maintenance issues so they don’t cause larger, more expensive problems down the line.

This year one of our projects was going to be replacing the boiler. It’s an older gas boiler that was put in at some point before we bought the house. Based on an energy audit we had performed last fall, the contractor’s recommendation was to increase our efficiency and get a new high efficiency boiler. We know several heating contractors based on our line of work, so we decided to call four of them to get their opinions on what we should be doing and installing next.

We decided to give each contractor the same spiel when they visited our house so they were on a level playing field: We’re thinking about replacing our boiler. We haven’t done much preliminary research, so we’re looking for your advice, as you’re the expert. Would you recommend either a standard model like we already have or high efficiency model? We’d like a quote for both the standard and high efficiency models. From there we’ll do some additional research and let you know what we decide to do.

Contractor #1 was a sales rep for the heating contractor. He said our decision was a no-brainer, we should replace our current unit with a high efficiency model. They have been doing lots of conversions and the amount clients were saving on heating costs was phenomenal. He told us that the high efficiency unit needed no annual maintenance and would last us 20 or 30 years.

Contractor #2 was the owner of the company and an actual plumber. He asked us if we were having problems with our current boiler. We said we were not, but we felt it was old and not necessarily efficient. He said it looked like it had been well maintained and he didn’t think the unit was that old. He didn’t think we would get much additional efficiency out of a new standard model, maybe a 5% improvement. He also didn’t recommend going with a high efficiency model because he felt they are unreliable, require maintenance which can be expensive and last only around 10 years. He said the cast iron boiler we have could easily last until it was 35-40 years old if we continued to maintain it well. He gave us the serial number off the unit and said we could call the manufacturer to find out its exact age, but reiterated that his recommendation was to do nothing with our current boiler as long as we weren’t having issues with it. We would be wasting our money otherwise.

After the Contractor #2 visit we called the boiler manufacturer to find out the unit’s age. Turns out our boiler is 21 years old, so about halfway or a little more than halfway through the life quoted by Contractor #2. Good to know.

Contractor #3 was a sales rep for the heating contractor. He said if we wanted to change out the unit, it wouldn’t make sense to change it if we were going to replace it with a standard model. The efficiency savings, about 5%, wouldn’t make it worth it. He said we could change to a high efficiency unit, but because we were already on natural gas rather than heating oil, the payback would still take several years. At this point we asked him if we should be changing the boiler. We told him the unit is 21 years old, given we now knew this. He said he wouldn’t. He would maintain it and run it until it didn’t run any more.

Contractor #4 was the owner of the company and an actual plumber. He asked us what was wrong with our boiler. We said really nothing, but that it was 21 years old and we wondered if it would be worth it to update it based on efficiency. He said no, if we weren’t having problems that the unit probably had another 10-15 years left on it and to just run it into the ground.

So here we are, scratching our heads. We had every intention of replacing the boiler, but 3 out of the 4 contractors basically gave us the same advice: maintain the current unit and run it into the ground until it doesn’t work anymore. This wasn’t really the result we were expecting, but we can’t exactly say we’re unhappy with the result.

We now know there are 3 heating contractors that we would gladly recommend because they gave us truthful advice as knowledgeable professionals and didn’t try to sell us something we didn’t really need. We now don’t need to spend $10,000-$15,000 on a new high efficiency furnace and can divert the funds to something else. Finally, it reinforced something we already knew, for large projects, make sure you get multiple opinions.

  1. Peter E

    You can also do some back-of-the-envelope estimates yourself. Wikipedia has typical efficiency rates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annual_fuel_utilization_efficiency which tell you going from a conventional gas boiler to a high efficiency gets you from about 60% efficiency to about 95% efficiency. This means if you are spending $1000 a year in gas, then you can expect to save about $350 a year (95%-60%=35% savings). The tricky thing is then to figure out what to compare that against. If you’re planning on moving in 10 years and your existing boiler will last that long, the answer is easy: Paying $10000 on a new boiler to save $3500 in fuel costs does not make sense. On the other hand, if you have to replace your boiler now and plan to live in the house for 10 years, then the high efficiency unit starts to make sense if the cost difference versus the conventional version is less than $3500.