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Oil Boiler Maintence

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by ColdNH, Jan 18, 2013.

  1. ColdNH

    ColdNH Minister of Fire

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    Not sure if there is a correct forum location for this, so here goes

    We have a 25 year old Wiel Mclain oil boiler. It heats the hydronic baseboard and the hot water. We havent really run it much at all this winter for heat, but it runs daily for hot water. the oil guy came last week and topped of the tank with 75 gallons. Not bad for january!

    With that said, the maintence of this thing gives me heartburn. I have toyed with the idea of switching to electric hot water heater, but i will still need the boiler for backup heat or when were not home for extended periods of time, so converting the hot water to electric may not make too much sense.

    Currently were paying 25$ a month for a service contract which covers alot of larger repair costs and they just came and cleaned the boiler at 200$... I estimate were spending near 500$ a year to keep this thing maintained and cleaned. seems rediculous for a backup heat and to heat my hot water.

    Makes me wonder if the service contract is worth it? they did just replace a 130$ pump and the thing is 25 years old and I do not feel comfortable repairing it myself.

    also does this thing need to be cleaned yearly if its only being used to heat the hot water?

    I miss my last house that had electric baseboard and electric hot water. zero maintence and zero oil buying!

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  2. Morgan

    Morgan Member

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    $500 a year sounds steep for maintenance and cleaning. If your burning not much more than say a tank or maybe even two I would only clean every second year. Pumps, Aquastats and Zone valves are the only real things that can go, they are all around $100 (to buy wholesale anyway, not sure what labor rates are in your area) If me I would scrap the maintenance plan, pay for a cleaning every second year and just do the repairs myself, you say your not comfortable but its all easy stuff to do, we are here to help. =)

    You say you use the boiler just for domestic hot water but you went through 75 gallons of oil in January? I could heat my house and DHW with 75 gallons of oil for a month, probably a 1.5 months if it wasn't horribly cold(heating 2800sqft) . If all that was for just DHW and your boiler is %80 efficient (which it probably isn't but for arguments sake) and you converted to electric you would pay $246 in electricity (@10cents per KWH, I am paying near 12, no idea what you pay)
  3. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    Generally the service contract covers parts and some even carry replacement if the boiler cant be repaired. A 25 year old boiler is starting to get at the pont where parts may need to be changed. If you have to have it fixed right away an oil company service call will be pricey and every part coming out of the back of the truck will be marked up if you dont have a contract. If you can wait a few days, you can usually buy parts at Home Depot or on E-bay for far less and most areas have independent burner techs that if you schedule an appointment are quite reasonable compared to an emergency service call.
  4. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Usual rule I heard was clean every 700-1000 gallons, so every other year is **theoretically** ok. I was in the same boat, went off contract, and after 18 mos the boiler choked on soot and started blowing CO out the baro (after ~400 gallons burnt). Effing CO alarms have a high threshold to avoid nuisance alarms....long story short my family of 4 got low-grade CO poisoning for several weeks before the CO level finally tripped the alarm...which was just one pip, BTW, that was all. The wife and I had headaches, woke up 'hung over' w/o drinking the night before, etc. couple months of stupid. Data suggests the kids will be alright. Ugh.

    So, theory is one thing..with an old boiler, the amount of soot can vary with fuel, draft, boiler temp, nozzle, age, etc.

    So, go for it and get a low level CO alarm....

    http://www.energyvanguard.com/blog-...omise-Get-a-Low-Level-Carbon-Monoxide-Monitor
  5. Jack Straw

    Jack Straw Minister of Fire

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    I'd put the $500 a year towards a new boiler.
  6. I haven't cleaned my oil boiler since 2006. Been meaning to for a couple years but I installed a wood boiler and haven't used 100 gallons in two years.

    I have a garber filter at the boiler and the typical cheap filters at the tank. The garber provides a much finer filtration which keeps the nozzle running clean.

    http://www.generalfilters.com/products/garber-filters.html
  7. Hearth Mistress

    Hearth Mistress Minister of Fire

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    We have the same furnace. It kept me up at night worrying if the dreaded red saftey light wound be on when I would wake up to a freezing house. It seemed t was always something. Since electric is much cheaper than oil we installed an electric hot water heater bypassing it from the furnace. We figured it would extend what life was left in the furnace and minimize our oil use. We have had our stove a year and a few days now, and have used about 30 gallons, mostly because it kicks on overnight if the house drops below 62.

    I too pay $25 a month fr a service contract, just for fear because before the stove, it seemed everytime I had to have a call, it was night/weekend and never something cheap. However, my contract also includes 2 cleanings a year, no extra costs for "after hours or emergency" calls and there are tiered prices for repairs, simple stuff, like sensors clogged, is $99 instead of $149.
    The problem with relying on it for back up, is it needs to work when you need it. I would recommend shopping around for other contractors, piece of mind has it's cost, but the return on investment to be warm in the dead of winter is worth it to me :)

    Also, cleaning it is always a good idea, that soot build up can make the furnace run harder than it has too. Ever since we started with the service contract, there is never any smell of oil or soot in the house and it burns a lot quieter.

    Good luck!
  8. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Ooh, I know about that problem. I had that problem 'intermittently'. The company would come out, say 'I dunno, maybe we can replace dis', and then a couple months later 'huh, maybe we can replace dat'. A few hundred bucks each time. After a little internet research....the cad cell was dirty. The techs are supposed to clean it when they clean the exchanger....but they never did, so it was sooted up and the sensor couldn't see the flame...and shut down for safety. Opened a little port myself and wiped it off with a q-tip. Problem solved. When I asked the tech...he said "**I** always clean the cell, who serviced it last time?" and I had to say "You". We repeated this sort of thing this several times. Maroons.
  9. ColdNH

    ColdNH Minister of Fire

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    Sorry 75 gallons since august, primarily for hot water.
  10. TheMightyMoe

    TheMightyMoe Minister of Fire

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    Fairbanks, Alaska.
    ""Currently were paying 25$ a month for a service contract which covers alot of larger repair costs and they just came and cleaned the boiler at 200$... I estimate were spending near 500$ a year to keep this thing maintained and cleaned. seems rediculous for a backup heat and to heat my hot water.

    Makes me wonder if the service contract is worth it? they did just replace a 130$ pump and the thing is 25 years old and I do not feel comfortable repairing it myself.
    If you threw that money into savings, you would likely end up way ahead, that boiler is likely going to meet it's demise in the next 10 years. No amount of maintenance can stop time. But you would have to actually save the money...""



    Many people get their boilers cleaned every 2-3 years here, and we have abundant usage up here (Depends on the boiler/install of course)

    Annual cleaning is recommended, I brush mine, clean the photoeye, empty the tee (Check the flue with a flash light while I'm there), and check the stack annually. I could probably get away with brushing every 3-5 years, but hey, I clean it myself, its free.

    The fact is you are firing your boiler just for hot water and as a maybe back-up. You know the thing is working, because you are firing it, and your usage is maybe 150 gallons a year... Most boilers go through 500-1000 a year, with maybe one cleaning.

    Boiler inspections rarely find something broke. If a safety is bad the unit won't run. If there is a leak or the pressure/temperature is high, you should be paying a little more attention to your boiler in the first place.

    Depending on the repair a pump replacement should only cost 100$ - 200$ in labor, based on the system. (A pump that has valves around it can be changed in 10-15 minutes) Likewise most repairs should not take long, unless plumbing is required (Zone valves / any part that does not have isolation valves for example)

    Your basically paying for insurance @ 25$ a month. If your boiler breaks annually you will break even, but if that is happening, it's probably time to replace a lot of old parts anyways...

    http://www.patriot-supply.com/products/showitem.cfm/RIELLO_7001001
    http://www.patriot-supply.com/products/showitem.cfm/BECKETT_7600A000LU

    All my boiler spare parts, 500$ worth, what you spend in a year just for the insurance alone. Peace of mind vs your pocket. Seeing as the boiler is a back-up, I would save my money, and pay for a bi-annual servicing. It's all about your comfort though.
  11. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    If you aren't away much in the winter, and don't use much oil for heating - I would get rid of the oil boiler and replace with an electric boiler for backup heat, and an electric hot water tank. Or, a propane boiler and electric hot water tank - depending on you local propane situation. That service contract money will go a long way towards paying for that stuff - and you'll get rid of the oil tank and all it's potential liability. That's getting to be a pretty old boiler - how old is the oil tank?
  12. ColdNH

    ColdNH Minister of Fire

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    Thats actually not a bad idea, We have propane tank for our kitchen stove which gets filled like once every 5 years, I assume the tank is original 25 years as well. They keep telling me i need to replace the line from the tank to the boiler as a precaution...

    I could stop paying the service contract, pocket that money, keep cleaning the boiler and doing cheap fixes, then when a major fix comes up, i could spend some money on an electric water heater and a propane boiler. hmmm



  13. ColdNH

    ColdNH Minister of Fire

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    Well, just found some old paperwork and never got billed for the cleaning, looks like the 300$ a year for the service contract includes a yearly cleaning. not bad. think ill stick with paying the 25 a month for piece of mind.
  14. firefighterjake

    firefighterjake Minister of Fire

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    Same here . . .

    I have a relatively new oil boiler I put in a couple of years before getting my woodstove. While it may not run very often having a more efficient and reliable back up source of heat in my mind was worth the expense.
  15. Hearth Mistress

    Hearth Mistress Minister of Fire

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    I woke up to "red light syndrome" Friday morning. It was 40 in my kitchen, 52 in my living room and 58 upstairs. It started right up but won't stay on. I pulled the filter, blew back the lines (to make sure they were not frozen) checked the nozzle. It's getting fuel and firing up but I don't think it's "seeing" the flame so the safety is kicking it off. I can't remember where that cellunoid is to clean the soot off. I've learned what I know from watching the tech but it's been year and my memory is failing me. It's scheduled for PM monday anyway but I'm sleeping on my sofa to keep my stove going so I don't have super cold temps again in the AM to deal with.

    I know they may be different but where is that %*#¥£ cell? With these cold temps and snow on the ground, I really would rather have my back up running ;)
  16. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    On mine its in the burner head (a popular Beckett model), above the nozzle but about 3" back from the flame. My boiler had a high voltage transformer (black box round corners) on top of the burner head, on hinges. If you remove a screw or two, you can rotate the transformer out of the way (on its hinges) and get access to the space behind the nozzle. The cad cell (on mine) was right there....little white disk with a squiggle pattern on the light sensitive side.

    Hopefully that will do it for you! Be safe.
  17. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    When I had a cad cell problem...it was really intermittent....would happen every few days or weeks, but would always fire after a reset. When I was stuck in 'safety shutdown', what you are describing...I needed a new controller. On the beckett, that is the white box with the red button on it. Not hard to replace DIY, but you might need a new one if the cad cell is aok.

    When mine went (also on a WE, with me off contract), the guy came out, diagnosed (correctly), but explained he didn't have one on the truck. He would have to go get one from a store 45 mins away, and charge me $100/hr for the 90 minute round trip, plus $100 for the controller. In the end, I got charged ~$400 to get a $40 part replaced on a Sunday morning.

    I would think his truck would have every possible spare part for a beckett burner. I think he just wanted me to pay him $150 to go get brunch, but what are you gonna do?? :confused:
  18. Dishonest oil boiler tech? No way not possible. He probably went and did 2 more no call heats and told them the same story, gotta go get parts...

    I used to know a guy that carried a five gallon fuel can on his truck. He'd make sure to bleed the lines real good for you. By the end of the day he 5 gallons of fuel. Heated his house for free.
  19. heat seeker

    heat seeker Minister of Fire

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    They shouldn't charge for going to get parts. Period.
  20. Hearth Mistress

    Hearth Mistress Minister of Fire

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    Ok, yes, mine set up is the same. I remembered the tech flipping a piece up, now its all coming back to me. I just replaced the honeywell box, where the red light is, last season because it was shot. The transformer, now Carlin, was replaced not that long ago too. The fact that it's firing, as in getting fuel and starting fire makes me think it's a sensor. The light isn't on now but if I set the thermostat, it turns on for a few minutes but kicks off, red light. Even on a restart, it goes off again.
    It's 68 throughout the house with the wood stove going and my new favorite vornado fan so It isn't that bad in here.
    Thanks for the help, I'm gonna hit the breaker off and try cleaning it. Worse case, I just was to wait fir the "professional" on Monday ;)
  21. Hearth Mistress

    Hearth Mistress Minister of Fire

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    THAT WORKED!!! I knew it was the flippin sensor, just couldn't remember where is was! Two q-tips saved me $150 service call. THANK YOU!! She is running again!
  22. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Good to hear!

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