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Old 05-21-2013, 12:14 PM   #1
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It really ticks me off when...


I've got an water heater fired by oil and it ticks me off when I take a quick shower and hear the boiler kick on just to heat a few gallons of water. Am I nuts to consider an alternative way to heat my water? I'm considering propane (no natural gas here) or even solar.

I use about a thousand gallons of oil a year and I guess that 10-12 percent of that is for heating water, $350 - $400 (is that a good guess?) Solar could even be configured to help out with the hot water radiant heat in the house.

I am in Thornton, NH with excellent southerly exposure without any trees for hundreds of yards.


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Old 05-21-2013, 12:16 PM   #2
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It would help to put your location in your profile.

Depending on where you live, the type of solar solution could vary quite a bit.

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Old 05-21-2013, 01:30 PM   #3
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Oil fired water heaters vs. gas or solar is a tough decision. What you must do is a cost comparison between oil, propane and solar and figure out your overall investment vs. time it takes to pay for itself. I will tell you now that you might not find much of a difference between the cost of oil vs. the cost of propane because LP gas is a byproduct of the cracking process of crude oil. So what you must look for is how efficiently the fuel of choice can be used.

Since you live in New Hampshire I am guessing that solar isn't going to do you much good, but that is a guess. Also, by the time you get done factoring in the cost of conversion, materials and installation etc. you might find that solar is cost prohibitive. I am not speaking as someone who knows a whole lot about solar so please do not take my word for gospel on the subject.

Oil fired water heater tanks are frankly the quickest recovering based solely on the BTU content on the fuel. For oil you have 140,000 BTU/gallon whereas propane is 94,000 BTU/gallon. (those figures are from memory so I may be off a bit) However, you have far more options with gas than you do oil as far as equipment choices and efficiency. I don't have a ton of experience with tankless gas fired water heaters, but I do know that they are designed well and can keep up with hot water demands in most applications.

What is your main source of heat? If it is an oil fired boiler then you may want to think about replacing the entire thing with a high efficiency gas boiler and putting in an indirect water heater tied into your boiler which would simply act like a separate zone in your home.

There is a lot to think about, so take your time and do your research. See if you can get a cost comparison of oil vs. propane gas first and then go from there.

Oh, before I forget... if you would convert to propane heat/hot water, you may want to think about purchasing the propane tank from the company if it would be a 500 gallon or 1000 gallon above ground tank. A good deal of the cost of propane is the fact that you are basically paying for your tank, your neighbors tank and the guy across town as well because in most cases the propane company owns the tanks. If you own the tank you will find that because the company doesn't have a continuing expense sitting in your yard, they are likely to give you a better price. Plus, that also means that you can shop around for price as long as you own the tank and provide the gas company with proof that the tank is yours. Sure it makes you responsible for the tank but they have a long life as a rule and because it would be an ASME tank it does not have to be recertified, whereas a DOT tank has to be recertified after 12 years and every 5 -7 years after that. That does not imply you shouldn't check the tank every year, but those are the regulations unless they have changed recently.

Sorry for the long post. I hope it helps.
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Old 05-21-2013, 02:22 PM   #4
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A water heater isn't burning millions of BTUs per month. The payback period on a more efficient water heater may run to 10-20 years or more, which might not save you any money overall considering the high up-front cost of installing a new unit.

Anyway, I dunno how oil vs. propane costs in your area, but around here propane can be more expensive than electric! So I wouldn't advise propane unless you've run the numbers (oil $/BTU * efficiency vs. propane $/BTU * efficiency) to see exactly how much it will/won't save you.
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Old 05-21-2013, 02:51 PM   #5
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Go with a 40 gallon electric tank. Saves wear and tear on the boiler also. Wrap it with one of those tin foil and insulation aftermarket kits they have so it does not lose heat. Get low flow shower heads also.

Shower at work or the gym. LOL.
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Old 05-21-2013, 07:15 PM   #6
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Do you have an oil fired water heater. or a oil fired boiler with a tankless coil.

An electric water heater will pay for itself in a few years.
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Old 05-22-2013, 05:46 AM   #7
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As previously mentioned Electric water heater, shut down the boiler in the off season.
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Old 05-22-2013, 11:50 AM   #8
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Thank you all for your comments, they are greatly appreciated. Here are my thoughts right now...

An electric hot water heater will cost an estimated $400 - $500 or so a year in increased electric costs and eliminate roughly 100 - 120 gallons of oil a year (based upon my summer consumption of oil which is roughly 0.32 gal/day). So, that's roughly a wash.

Regarding solar, Revision Energy was here today, they've done 3,000 solar installations. My place is perfect in that it is facing directly south with no trees for 400 yards. I can get a system for about $6,000 (after rebates and federal tax credit) that will provide all my hot water needs for eight or nine months a year and supplement my hot water/radiant system. Oil consumption will be cut by 30 - 40%. (I use about a thousand gallons a year). Payback is expected in 6-7 years (at today's oil prices).
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Old 05-22-2013, 11:58 AM   #9
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Go tankless or add solar.
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Old 05-22-2013, 12:04 PM   #10
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Solar Go 4 it.

Problem with ANY hw tank gas/elec/propane/thru the wall is the da*mn things only last around 10 yrs and then leak.

Not like the old John Wood tanks that went 20 yrs or more or the old Maytag units.
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Old 05-22-2013, 12:26 PM   #11
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I don't think this cycyling is using much fuel, the burner is going to have to come on periodically to keep the water hot anyway. Insulating water pipes and turning the temp down a little would be two ways that can help.
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Old 05-22-2013, 12:27 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yuri View Post
Problem with ANY hw tank gas/elec/propane/thru the wall is the da*mn things only last around 10 yrs and then leak.
Varies by water quality of course, but flushing any tank type water heater annually and replacing the anode ever few years will sometimes let them last for decades...
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Old 05-22-2013, 08:23 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by RWolff View Post
I don't think this cycyling is using much fuel, the burner is going to have to come on periodically to keep the water hot anyway. Insulating water pipes and turning the temp down a little would be two ways that can help.
Why is the burner going to have to come on to keep the water hot. If the boiler isn't being used to make domestic hot water in the summer?

For the average family of 4. A boiler with tankless coil uses roughly 200 gallons of oil just for domestic hot water.
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Old 05-30-2013, 04:15 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobHatcher View Post
Thank you all for your comments, they are greatly appreciated. Here are my thoughts right now...

An electric hot water heater will cost an estimated $400 - $500 or so a year in increased electric costs and eliminate roughly 100 - 120 gallons of oil a year (based upon my summer consumption of oil which is roughly 0.32 gal/day). So, that's roughly a wash.
I was in a similar boat to you--I had DHW coil in my oil fired boiler. I installed a 40G electric tank heater (the cheapest one, $150 from Lowes) in SERIES with the output of my boiler's DHW coil.

Some things to note:
- In the winter the electric bill is not as high as summer because the tank is getting pre-heated water (since the DHW coil is still active)

- In summer you can shut down your boiler... if you have a DHW coil you know that your boiler is staying HOT 24/7 just in case someone turns on a tap... there is a lot of savings here if you are a household that doesn't use much hot water.

- Even the cheap hot water tanks are well insulated, mine isn't even warm to the touch... so I'd skip the extra blankets and wrap insulation

- If you are no longer using your DHW as the primary source of heating your water then you can lower your aquastat--mine was keeping the boiler 180-210*F 24/7 ... I lowered it to range between 110*F and 180*F ... this means that the swing is much larger so it runs far less frequently due to standby losses and I haven't noticed any difference in keeping the house at temperature ... This lowers the oil consumption in winter (summer of course is nil since boiler is off)

- Your hot water temp will be FAR more consistent... I don't know about you, but my DHW coil worked something like this... turn on tap, for about 30 seconds you 150-160* SCALDING water ... about 1 min you get normal water ... then it progressively gets cooler. If you're also running the heating zones then the "cooler" becomes down right cold. This is because my DHW was getting older and scaled up, so the heat transfer from boiler was getting worse. The previous owners attempted to compensate for this by partially shutting the input valve, but all that does is reduce the pressure of the water which is a half ass solution. Eventually my DHW coil will become worthless and I intend to bypass it, capping or removing it

Honestly, once you get the tank heater you will be really happy vs. a DHW.

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