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One of Tom Soukup’s customers used to joke that the comfort issues with their old oil boiler system were so bad that they had to wear a parka downstairs and a bathing suit upstairs.
The southeast Pennsylvania home’s original builder had split the house into vertical zones, instead of floor by floor, so either the first-floor bedrooms would be freezing cold or the kids’ bedrooms on the top floor would be stifling. The non-modulating oil boiler made matters worse, with a very high water temperature creating an uncomfortable environment — and extremely high energy bills.
So Soukup’s company, Patriot Water Heater, proposed a solution that would resolve both the comfort and cost issues: a redesigned radiant heating system powered by a high-efficiency, condensing propane boiler.
Check out the videos below to learn more about how much your clients can save by switching from oil to propane heating and how to compare propane versus all-electric systems for boiler replacement scenarios.
Propane boiler conversion ROI
While oil-to-propane conversions have become quite common in parts of the country such as the Northeast, where oil was popular in the past, Patriot Water Heater specializes in unconventional heating scenarios that make the most of a propane boiler’s versatility. Richard Zalepa, the company’s service manager, describes a recent project where the company replaced an oil boiler with a high-efficiency propane boiler and tied it to the indoor pool for heat.
The Collegeville, Pennsylvania, home’s original oil boiler was used for heating five zones of the house, as well as domestic hot water. But the owner had brought in propane to power a standby generator and heat an indoor pool and natatorium. “So he was spending tremendous amounts of money on oil on the far side of the house to heat and make hot water and keeping that oil boiler hot all summer long, just for domestic hot-water purposes,” Zalepa says.
So while the owner initially approached Patriot to do a like-for-like boiler replacement for around $4,000–7,000, Patriot’s team explained the ROI and comfort benefits of converting to propane and completely redesigning the system around a condensing boiler. “We ended up coming in around $32,000 for the whole system, and now he’s got a brand-new heating system for the house, the pool, and domestic hot-water purposes,” Zalepa says. “It was a big investment, but it’s going to save him tremendously in the long run.” He estimates the project will pay off with energy savings in about three or four years and then continue to provide energy savings throughout the 15-year life of the boiler.
Projects such as the Collegeville home and the home featured in the video provide savings on multiple levels, Soukup says. Based on local energy prices, simply converting from oil to propane offers about 18 percent savings. Jumping from a standard boiler to a high-efficiency condensing propane unit brings the efficiency of the equipment from 82 percent to 96 percent. The high-efficiency boilers also modulate to provide the exact amount of heat needed, rather than just being fully on or off. And then Patriot can provide additional savings by optimizing the system. Implementing outdoor reset, for example, adjusts the boiler’s water temperature based on the outdoor temperature, providing another 15 percent savings.
Replace oil with propane or electric?
Removing older oil systems from a home also provides quality-of-life and environmental benefits for the customer. On the Collegeville project, Zalepa says, the client was relieved not to have 275 gallons of oil in the basement. And environmentally conscious customers are especially receptive to discussing converting to gas. “Because of it being a cleaner-burning fuel, we can squeeze more efficiency out of it and it makes them feel nice that they’re going to be using less fuel,” he says.
Converting to all-electric heating systems would be a much more difficult project due to the cost of installation. Geothermal systems are no longer popular in the region now that they aren’t supported by tax credits or rebates, Zalepa says. “Once that goes away, nobody’s spending $50,000 to dig a hole in their backyard to have a $200-plus electric bill.”
Powerful propane boilers are also much better suited for the popular amenities common to the upgraded farmhouses that make up much of Patriot’s residential work, such as radiant floor heat, snow melting, pool heating, and the amount of domestic hot water used by large showers with rain heads and jets. “It’s very difficult for electric to keep up with that and get the amount of electricity you need into the building to do that,” Soukup says.
In rural areas, upgrading the 60- or 70-year-old electrical infrastructure might require municipal-level improvements. And if a house is set back from the road, the client would likely have to pay for poles or underground work to bring the upgraded electrical infrastructure to the property.
Having a home’s primary water-heating and space-heating systems on propane can also make a standby generator much more affordable by reducing the size of the generator needed. “If you go to a gas solution, we have gas cooking, gas dryer, gas water heating, you’re only talking about pulling less than 15 amps,” Soukup says, which equates to a more affordable generator size.
Given Patriot’s service area and its specialization in hydronic systems and high-efficiency condensing boilers, the company has become adept at propane installations. “Being in the rural part of southeast Pennsylvania, we have limited energy options,” Soukup says. “So when we look at all the options, depending on the building and the heat loss and everything else, we always tend to gravitate towards propane. It’s just a much easier install, it burns much cleaner, and it’s much more readily available in this area.”