We have a hole in our old boiler and need to replace it asap. I've been looking into it and know size is based on square footage of heated areas but was wondering if anyone had any recommendations or advice about doing this. I want to get a reliable unit that is as energy efficient as possible. Have you purchased a unit you are happy with? Anything I should know before buying a unit? I'm getting a couple of estimates from local plumbers but trust members of this forum a lot more.

Thank you.

PS Anyone have experience with conversion to geo-thermal system?

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We just put in an air to air heat exchange in our old 1865 house. The system was VERY expensive but for what needed to be done, a conventional heating system would have cost close to it. They took out the old radiators and put in vents (which added to the cost). Total cost for the system and venting was $42,000. We also replaced all the windows & are in the process of insulating the house with blown-in as well as fiberglass batting. The price upfront is shocking to say the least, but we will get a tax credit on it and it SHOULD save us $$$$$ in the long run. The house we live in now, has oil heating. Last year, we spent close to $4000 in oil and this house is smaller than our 1865 one. And oil is only going to go up in price. At this point, we don't know how much it is going to cost us to heat the house (we will know next month when we get our electric bill).

You can see a bit of it on my videos. (Yes, another shameless plug. lol)




Thanks Cat, but we're not looking to replace our steam radiators at this stage. Just want to replace the unit. As it is there is some major chimney damage to replace due to the problem as well as leak damage and we have to put a liner in the chimney as well so this is going to be pretty expensive without changing the entire system.

I have some information that may apply.  I replaced my 1946 boiler in 2000 when I bought my house. Part of the sale contract was for the seller to pay half of the replacement.  If I went with anything besides the steam heat the house had the cost would be all mine.  I bought a WELL-MCLAIN brand,  EG series 3,  steam boiler.  The installed price was $6100.85 (I just looked it up) I have been very happy with with the boiler and steam heat. It has a rating of 53,000 to 209,000 BTU/hr.  My house is about 4300 sq. ft. with 12 foot ceilings so it is a lot of space to heat here in Iowa.  It has an automatic fill hooked up to a water softener which someone on this board told me was a big mistake and I should fill it by hand.  As much as it runs I can't imagine me doing that by hand.  I burns natural gas and is set up to run on a battery if lights go out.  I have had one only repair since it was installed.  It needed a new board because my basement flooded and it got wet.  The total cost was $250.00 for the board.  Other than that I have had no problem.  The boiler is 88% efficient according to the papers.  All I know since I got the new windows and 200 bags of insulation my monthly fuel cost average $120 on the annual plan.  I love the boiler and steam heat.  The only thing I would do different would be to install the unit up off the floor so water wouldn't be a problem in the future.  In the 14 years I have only had water in the basement 2 times after very heavy rains.  Laying up cement blocks would have been very easy before the unit was installed.  They connected directly to the old pipes so I have all the old radiators that work great and provide humidity during the winter months.  I hope this is the information you were looking for but if I can help just let me know.  Lair 

Charles, we were on at the same time.  My installation cost included lining the old chimney.  They told me the exhaust from the boiler was about the same as a water heater so they just ran a 4" duct inside the old chimney.  I have a CO detector down there and so far no problems so I guess they were right about that.  Lair

Hi Lair -- you have our situation described exactly.  The first thing I noticed was a water stain running down the side of the chimney in the 2nd floor master bedroom. This didn’t happen until the recent cold spell hit so I first thought it was the roof. Then when I checked the attic, the chimney was wet.  I did not think this had anything to do with the boiler until both my mason and chimney cleaner said I had to have the boiler checked out first. I subsequently discovered that the mortar in the chimney was wet and melting…Finally got a plumber/heating guy here today – (It was supposed to be two days ago but he didn’t make it then.) He fired up the boiler and as soon as it started it began to vent steam.  He said the problem was a hole in the boiler that is causing the chimney problem.  So he gave me the name of his contact for Weil McClain and Dunkirk and we checked them out.  So far we are in agreement with you about a Weil McClain one.  From what I saw on their website the series 3 may be discontinued but I was given a model number that meets our BTU needs and seems about par price wise.

So I am thinking that replacing the boiler, lining and fixing the chimney will be around the same as you paid.

Thanks so much for detailed reply. I really appreciate it.



I hope I was some help to you.  When I was looking I didn't have this board to go to and I had never had steam heat before so it was trial and error method.  Residential heat men suggested Gas forced air and replace the old stuff.  They told me only schools and factories used steam anymore.  That 's when I called business heating companies and none of them suggested anything but replacing the boiler.  They were also about a third the cost of the gas forced air with all the ducting necessary.  I think I made the right choice because it is -12* outside right now and I have an orange tree blooming in my house.  I must be doing something right.  Lair

Both WM and Dunkirk are fine machines.

Beyond that I'd strongly caution against getting caught up in the "High Efficiency" over 90% machines.  To get that efficiency heat exchanger life is shortened.  Generally heat exchanger problems begin a month after warranty expires.

More information is needed to formulate a good plan in this situation.

The first question is WHY STEAM?

Unless this is a multistory house staying steam is an ongoing extra cost to convert hot water to steam. 

Steam does make sense when retaining the piping in a multistory because steam functions at lower pressure than would be needed to get the altitude with water.

I really wouldn't be getting too worked up because some "Residential Boiler Installer" told me the boiler was leaking until I saw the hole and the unit.  I hold heating salesmen in low regard for a multitude of reasons.

We had our old boiler replaced when we purchased the house. Used a Burnham Hydronic unit. I believe the original radiators were used with steam, and the condenser unit was still in line up in the attic. However, we switched to using hot water and have zero complaints.

We also had to install a liner in the main chimney servicing the boiler/basement.

That all cost about $13,800 which included new plumbing of the ground floor radiators (6) and some of the second floor that was accessible without tearing into the ceilings, which was 2 unit of the 5 upstairs. We were able to use the original steam pipes.

And the plumber pressure tested the original radiators, which all failed. Evidently, water was left in them and there were several hard freezes that ruined them. Lucky for us, our local appliance store had many radiators of the same age that were recently disconnected and they offered them to us at no cost. So, our plumber pressure checked those as OK.

The story of removing and installing the radiators is a good one as well.


Boiler burners are rated by how many BTU's they produce; if the existing boiler was satisfactory, replace it with the same size in BTU's. If the house had significant work since the boiler was installed, like additions, or more efficient windows and doors, or additional insulation in the attic, then the heat requirements need to be re-evaluated by a pro. There are heat-loss calculators online, but entering all of the data points requires considerable expertise.



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