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Still Thinking About An Oil-to-Gas Conversion in Boston?

Last week, I talked about how heating oil and natural gas compare from several different standpoints. We get a lot of interest from homeowners who would like to convert their Boston residential heating equipment from heating oil to natural gas. While there are many benefits of making such a conversion, there’s one consideration that many homeowners overlook – until they’re confronted with a major repair to their chimneys!

We tend to take a chimney for granted. Chimneys are generally built at the same time the house is, and in very old homes, the chimney may have been used to service three or four different kinds of heating technologies. The purpose of the chimney is to give certain products of combustion, which are toxic, a safe exit from the home.

Over time, the chimney deteriorates. The outside of the chimney is exposed to weather, including cold air, water, snow and ice. The inside of the chimney is repeatedly heated and cooled, which causes problems with temperature-related expansion and contraction. Add on top of that potential hazards from wind and storm debris, and repairs that may not have used the proper mortar, and you have a repair in the making.

But these hazards don’t take into account what happens inside the chimney day-in and day-out. The inside lining of the structure, which is traditionally made of terra cotta tile – can be damaged by water, sulfur and household solvents. These chemicals, along with water, break down the surface of the chimney lining. This damage occurs whether you use oil or gas as a heating fuel. Once the surface is damaged, the chimney lining deteriorates and small pieces of debris begin to accumulate at the base of the chimney. Advanced deterioration of the lining can cause the chimney to admit soot and toxic gases into the living space of the home.

Conventional chimney maintenance requires regular inspection and cleaning. Periodically, the outer mortar must be repaired, too. Ultimately, the chimney must be relined when the deterioration to the inside lining becomes significant. As you may have guessed, relining a chimney isn’t cheap! It’s also one of those repairs that can’t be put off, and since it has to be done right, it is best done by someone who lines chimneys for a living.

It sounds like there are no alternatives to relining the chimney, but that’s not true! An exhaust process known as direct venting can come to the rescue when heating equipment is replaced. Direct venting is a technique used with high-efficiency gas heating equipment to conduct toxic gases directly out of the home and without using the chimney. Furnaces, boilers, water heaters and gas fireplaces can all be direct-vented. Fresh air intake and exhaust ports are installed and connected to the natural gas appliance. The appliance then vents the toxic products of combustion directly to the outside of the home, instead of using the chimney.

Direct venting requires the creation of a couple of small holes in an exterior wall of the home. The intake and exhaust ports use these holes to make a direct connection between the gas-burning equipment and the outside environment. In most cases, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is used for these ports because it’s inexpensive and easy to replace. Some homeowners prefer to use stainless steel exhaust ports to avoid potential problems with PVC outgassing – the subject of an upcoming post.

If direct vent equipment is used exclusively in a home, there’s no need for a chimney, and the existing chimney can be sealed. You’ll still want to have the chimney inspected periodically for exterior damage and mortar deterioration. (After all, a chimney is literally a “ton of bricks” standing inside your home!) Direct venting, when done in conjunction with heating equipment replacement, can save you money in the long run by eliminating the need for annual chimney inspections and expensive relining or repairs.

For more information about oil-to-gas conversions in Boston, or direct venting heating equipment contact us at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation.

Hot Water Heating System Inspections In Boston

Fall is quickly approaching, and with fall comes the need to add heat to our homes. Because of its history, Boston has a large variety of home heating systems, including both hot water heating systems and steam boilers. Like other types of heating systems, hot water heat systems can range in efficiency from plain inefficient to highly efficient. Good system maintenance and hot water heating system inspections in Boston can help keep a high efficiency system operating at its peak, and poor maintenance practices can cause a high efficiency system to lose 25% or more of its potential.

This post will deal with hot water heating systems and what should be included in an inspection. In my next post, I’ll discuss steam heating systems and a proper inspection for those types of heating plants.

First, I think it’s important to discuss the difference between hot water heat and steam heat. A hot water system (also called a “hydronic” system) does have a boiler, but the method of distributing heat is what distinguishes a hydronic heat system from a steam boiler. A hydronic heat system has a “heating boiler” that is usually fired by gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LP) or heating oil. The system may or may not include a tank for water storage.

Generally, an inspection should include examination of all heating system components; the fuel source and its controls; the distribution system for the hot water; and the controls and safety devices that regulate the operation of the system and the heat that is generated. Boiler inspections should be conducted annually since boiler-based heating systems require regular maintenance.

The safety inspection should include an examination of all components of the fuel supply, as well as an inspection of the chimney or system vents. Debris should be removed to ensure safe system operation.

Boilers can be made from a number of materials including copper, cast iron and steel. If the boiler, tank and heating coil show signs of leaking, significant rust or corrosion, a replacement of the entire system may be required. Routine maintenance can help keep the mechanicals in good shape. Also, limiting the amount of moisture in the basement by using a dehumidifier, keeping gutters and downspouts clean, making sure floor drains are working, and making sure your sump pump (if you have one) is operational can also prolong the life of the system.

Boiler inspections should indicate – among other things – that the boiler is heating to the correct temperature; the pressure inside the tank (if the system has one) is safely limited by relief valves; all system valves are opening and closing fully; the expansion tank is in good order; the thermostat is properly sensing temperature and controlling the system operation accordingly; the pump is working properly; and exhaust gases are being directed into the chimney or exhaust vent.

The distribution system should also be checked for leaks and signs of corrosion, and all distribution valves should be checked to ensure that they’re in good working order.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can assist with boiler inspections, boiler maintenance and repairs of all kinds. If you would like more information about our boiler inspection and maintenance services, or would like to schedule an inspection, please contact us at (617) 288-2911.