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What is the best natural gas steam boiler? I need to replace mine.
  • To all Master Plumbers and Knowledgeable Homeowners,

    My 22 year old Weil McClain natural gas steam boiler is on its last legs. Just started researching new units and talking to a variety of plumbers and I'm confused as hell. Seems everyone recommends a different boiler brand. Some of the names include: Utica, Crown, Burnham, Peerless, even Weil McClain. I would say Utica seems to be a bit ahead of the others.

    So what's your preferred brand and why? Also, PM me if your are interested in looking at my system and providing an estimate.

  • same unit newer model
  • Be aware that you can no longer install a mili-volt model. The new one will be power company dependent. What a shame!
  • Crown is a good, responsive company, but I don't love their steam boilers. The gas valve isn't protected inside the jacket. It's got a side tapping instead of a vertical top tapping, presumably so they can use the same sections for a hot water boiler instead of designing a proper steam-only unit. Same goes for Utica, but I don't deal with the company often, so it's more of that same design I don't like. Peerless has a great reputation as an early pioneer in steam boiler engineering, but costs more to install than Burnham and others because it's installation manual specifies larger diameter piping.
    Burnham is a good reliable gas boiler with all the accessory tappings you'll ever need if you want to create a hot water loop or attach an energy-efficient indirect water heater.( http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tankless-coil-and-indirect-water-heaters ).
    Weil-McLain is a good solid boiler with a smaller footprint than most others. They tend to drive troubleshooters a little crazy, and some people don't like the fact they are assembled with rubber gaskets instead of steel joiners, but there's no issue with Weil-McLain if you don't mind paying a little more. I like their tech support and manuals.

    What else you wanna know?






  • I would choose the plumber and let the plumber choose the boiler, especially if he/she has to service it in the future.
  • Thanks Tom Reingold but not to disrespect the plumber, I'm hoping my new unit outlives him (or her)....
  • goldstec has a Weil McLain woody...

    Woolley oil loves them as well...

  • Tom has a good point. No self respecting plumber is going to recommend or install garbage. They get business from referrals and happy customers. When I have replaced boilers in various houses I have gotten estimates and asked questions. I worry more that the plumber will understand the importance of the near boiler piping and will be using black pipe instead of copper. Once I have the right guy I have the right boiler.
  • Sure, you want the boiler to outlive the plumber's career, unless the plumber is just starting out. But you will also want him servicing the boiler for the first few years.

    Not only that, if you twist his arm to install a boiler he doesn't recommend, he may not be as familiar with it as he is with his favorite models, and as such, the installation may be less than ideal for that model, even if it's a very good model. Let the professional make a professional decision.

    I had a boiler put in by a good plumber. He chose the boiler. Then he left the state. Subsequent plumbers have been happy to service it.

    I had a water heater put in a few years later, and I also deferred to my new plumber. He's still my plumber now.

    [Edited to add the text in bold.]
    Post edited by Tom Reingold at 2013-03-14 18:19:27
  • I agree with Tom's reasoning.

    Woolley installed a Weil-McLain in my house a year ago. So far so good.
  • Gateway replaced my old W-M with Burnham INS 7 boiler a couple of years ago, and when our hot water heater went belly up a year ago, we used Gateway to install HTP SuperStor indirect water heater (as MP recommended above).

    This system has been working fine since install except that Burnham throws off a lot more heat than our old W-M, especially when the temp drops outside. When you open the boiler room door, it sometimes feels like you'e walking into a sauna. The heat in the room also has killed my water softener (also in the room) plastic discharge piping three times in the last two years. Because of the heat, it also takes about 30 secs for cold water to emerge when you first turn on the faucet first thing in a cold morning.

    My complaint about the SuperStor indirect water heater is that there is no control for adjusting the water temperature. Otherwise, it's been working great.
  • Good input. Thanks folks.
  • xavier67, there is most certainly a water temperature control device on your SuperStor water heater. It's called an aquastat and it's the grey metal box on the side with the wires attached. Take the cover off and read the dial. Set the number to the indicator and that's your adjustment.
    Burnham and Weil-McLain boilers are so similar in construction that I have serious doubts that one throws off more heat than the other. Both are engineered to minimize "jacket loss" in order to achieve their published efficiency ratings. What may be happening is that you've got more piping in the room as we tend to install 2 boiler take-off pipes on the IN7. The pipes themselves of course give off heat, especially if left uninsulated.
  • Many, many years ago, I was doing graduate work in Boston. Mrs. C was teaching at Boston College.

    We rented an apartment on the ground floor of an apartment building. One of the walls of our apartment was a concrete wall on the other side of which was the furnace room.

    Our apartment used to get unbelievably hot. I would go into the furnace room and flip off the switch to the boiler. After our apartment cooled off a bit, I would go back into the furnace room and flip the switch back on.

    The oil trucks used to come up to the bulding regularly. They never figured it out.

  • xavier67, there is most certainly a water temperature control device on your SuperStor water heater. It's called an aquastat and it's the grey metal box on the side with the wires attached. Take the cover off and read the dial. Set the number to the indicator and that's your adjustment.
    Burnham and Weil-McLain boilers are so similar in construction that I have serious doubts that one throws off more heat than the other. Both are engineered to minimize "jacket loss" in order to achieve their published efficiency ratings. What may be happening is that you've got more piping in the room as we tend to install 2 boiler take-off pipes on the IN7. The pipes themselves of course give off heat, especially if left uninsulated.



    Thanks for the tip about the aqua stat on the water heater. There was no manual, and I couldn't find one online, so thanks!

  • Are there any "bad" boiler brands to be avoided, or are they all pretty much fine? Anything to avoid at all costs?
  • amandacat,

    I'm hearing from several plumbers that the Weil-McLain rubber gaskets can create leakage problems.

    But others claim that WC is the "Cadillac" of steam boiler brands.

    That's why it's not as simple as just "choosing a plumber."
  • shickson, you are making this harder than it needs to be. Call a couple of the plumbers recommended on these boards and listen to them.
  • Shickson, any boiler that can be legally sold in the US has to meet certain criteria. Don't get too hung up on the brands, even though we all have our preferences. The quality of installation and service is what you're buying and is all that matters.
  • FilmCarp said:

    shickson, you are making this harder than it needs to be. Call a couple of the plumbers recommended on these boards and listen to them.



    FilmCarp, with all due respect I disagree. I've learned a lot through this process but a steam boiler installation on a large house is a significant investment, with lot's of possibilities for things to go wrong, and price ranges that can vary in the several thousands. For example, I know what Weltman quoted a couple of years ago and their price is close to double what other plumbers will charge. Gateway, while thorough, is also pricey. I'm interested to see where some of the independents land. Additionally, I've heard different opinions about the use of copper in steam systems. Some say it's not a problem. Other's say copper should not be used in steam systems other than as a return piping. Sizing and BTU's is another huge factor. One plumber initially told me I needed a larger unit than my current 350K BTU unit. All others after sizing my radiators say I can go smaller...even less than 300K BTU's.

    The key...get a variety of opinions...look for the commonalities...make a decision. Talking to just one or two plumbers for this kind of installation could be dangerous.

    Regarding brand, you are right in the sense that my sizing needs (BTUs) will ultimately lead to a good recommended brand. The brands vary in terms of BTU input/output by unit so it's key to match individual home needs with the appropriately sized boiler. I will go with whatever brand the pro's recommend and are comfortable with.

    Post edited by shickson at 2013-03-17 09:30:53
  • I never said one or two. You have the right idea to talk to a few. But once you have found a consensus among them about BTU size etc, that matches your own findings, pick the plumber you are comfortable with and follow their recommendations. That's all anyone has said. You are not the first one of us to go through this. When you post something like "that's why its not as simple as just choosing a plumber" you sound a little condescending. Good luck.
  • Shickson,

    Be careful with the lower bid guys. When I had my Handyman business I saw a lot of boilers and new boiler installs. One landlord that I did work for found a low price Master Plumber (not Master Plvmber of Gateway) and used him a lot.

    He install brand name boilers in several of the rental units, but then I was dealing with systems that were surging and banging; it was hard to get the guy out to skim and clean them.

    Into the 2nd year and we started having water and steam leaks on several of the systems. You guessed it, copper pipe used on the Header side of the piping. When we could get him out all he would do is re-solder the joints and tell me about cheap Chinese solder. I will not post the guys name, but, do be careful.

    I have come to the conclusion that Boilers are Boilers, it is the quality of the install and the service that makes a difference.

    I suggest that you read the book 'The Lost Art of Steam Heating' and come to understand what the "A" dimension is all about in the installation.

    Now ask any bidder what yours was, and what it will be with the new system.

    Some will look at you and not have a clue, some will say what does that matter, these pipes have worked for 80 years, I will just hook into them. And some will be able to explain to you that the new pipes will be different than the old pipes because the Boilers are more efficent and of different physical heights. Adjustments will have to be made.

    Get good answers and you have your team.

    Later,
    Da George

    Post edited by jgberkeley at 2013-03-18 06:29:10

  • Burnham is a good reliable gas boiler with all the accessory tappings you'll ever need if you want to create a hot water loop or attach an energy-efficient indirect water heater.( http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/tankless-coil-and-indirect-water-heaters


    @master plvmber
    I will be having a new gas furnace installed in may, the loop thing you mention above, can it be used to heat my kitchen floor?

    Also how about high efficiency direct vent? vs going through the chimney

  • Yes, you can create a loop of radiator/radiant-floor-heating piping to heat whatever you want in the home independently of the steam system.
    There are no high-efficiency steam boilers, but if you wanted to get rid of your chimney for some reason, you could get a standard efficiency direct vent steam boiler.

  • Process complete. Going with Utica.

    Edited to add:

    1. Available in appropriate BTUs for my home
    2. Recommended as "best in class" by my installer and several other professionals
    3. All metal boiler casing, no rubber gaskets/nipples like Weil-McLain
    Post edited by shickson at 2013-03-20 17:19:25
  • Why are metal nipples better at connecting boiler plates. Don't they have to expand and contract?
  • You don't talk about BTUs when sizing a steam boiler. The production of steam is measured in square feet, having nothing to do with area of space to be heated. That's why an installer does an EDR calculation of the exposed and heated metal components of the system.

    There's not a soul in the industry who buys a Utica boiler for any reason other than it's the cheapest steam unit on the market.

    Why are metal push nipples important to you? Are you using chemical additives that interact with neoprene?



    When you're done, buy a copy of this book: http://www.heatinghelp.com/products/Steam-Heating-Books/25/61/We-Got-Steam-Heat-A-Homeowners-Guide-to-Peaceful-Coexistence

    Post edited by Master Plvmber at 2013-03-20 18:46:10
  • Matser Plvmber,

    Once you go through the sizing process (i.e. EDR calculation) do you not then match it up to the appropriate BTU boiler?

    Utica is has been recommended by several plumbers I spoke to.

    I'm an English Major...not a plumber...look up obfuscation...

  • No. You don't look at the BTU column at all. It's irrelevant. Fortunately for me, obfuscation's not a new word, but you should buy that book.


    Take care.
  • I was asking like a lawyer. I already know the answer. Flexible connections are better. Have a nice day.
  • Shickson,

    Steam boilers have a "square feet of steam" rating which corresponds to the surface area of your radiators in square feet. I have The Lost Art of Steam Heat and it talks about sizing boilers.
    Post edited by tjohn at 2013-03-22 04:45:01



  • Why are metal push nipples important to you? Are you using chemical additives that interact with neoprene?

    I thought our water came complete with chemical additives.



  • Why does this thread feel contentious? Seems like a relatively benign subject, yet I believe I am detecting a some edginess here. Is there something going on beneath the surface?
  • No chemical addative just wondering how many gasket failures have you seen?
  • amandacat said:

    Why does this thread feel contentious? Seems like a relatively benign subject, yet I believe I am detecting a some edginess here. Is there something going on beneath the surface?



    I can't explain all of it, but we have well regarded professional plumbers in this thread whose expertise is being questioned. If I were in their shoes, I'd be a little annoyed. I truly believe that a good installation of a bad boiler is better than a bad installation of a good boiler, and this is where I would trust my plumber more than any word about just a boiler.

    shickson is approaching this in an odd way, though there's a good chance it will work out well for him, becaues he'll probably be as thorough in choosing a plumber as in choosing the boiler.
  • Tom, actually got estimates from 7 plumbers...including the big names like Weltman and Gateway and 5 independents...very comfortable with my choice of plumber who recommended Utica...Utica was also recommended by several others (as well as Peerless).
  • Master Plvmber (Gateway) said plumbers in general don't like Utica. Was the plumber you're using one of the low bidders? That could explain the choice.
  • I'm guessing that Master Plvmber is a bit less than thrilled by being referred to as "pricey."
  • Tom, while I did not specifically talk to Weltman about Utica, I did speak to all of the others about Utica. Gateway did recommend Peerless but all of the other 5 plumbers had good things to say about Utica Steam boilers.

    Gateway was very thorough/professional and one of the higher end estimates.

    EDITED TO ADD: chose Utica based on all plumber's recommendations and my chosen plumber's recommendation. Left the decision to the experts but what makes a process like this challenging is that the experts don't always agree.
    Post edited by shickson at 2013-03-22 14:32:29
  • I don't mind "pricey" at all, and I can't have every job. Variety is good for everyone and Gateway is not the company for every consumer. We're a busy shop and we're good here.

    I would, however, like to know what "independents" are. We're a family-run-and-owned business. What's more independent than that?
  • Master Plvmber, I was referring to the smaller "one-man" operations...not sure of the proper terminology...I appreciated your prompt and thorough response.
  • With regard to Weil-McClain and neoprene gaskets, mine is about 15 years old and works perfectly even without routine maintenance. The water is clean and I rarely have to add water. I'm not advocating skipping maintenance, but so far, no problems.
  • tjohn, the unit I am replacing is a Weil-McLain and lasted 22 years...not bad considering our South Orange water quality. I also have a Weil in my rental property...the technicians at Woolley Oil speak very highly of them.
  • Tjohn,
    Yeah, but you're building up an insulating layer of sludge on the inside bottom, you pull in a bunch of airborne dust into the burner tubes which raises carbon monoxide levels and inhibits combustion, your pigtails are clogging and reducing your pressuretrol's effectiveness, your gauge glass lower tube is clogging with sediment, your gas valve could be drawing in far more gas than necessary to make steam but you wouldn't you know if you didn't clock your meter or test your manifold pressure, your probe-type low water cut off probe could be hanging on by a thread or covered in crud, your chimney may not be drawing properly...

    I know you know what you're talking about, tjohn. This stuff is neither new to you nor over your head, but I always question when people make statements about their boiler working "perfectly" or efficiently without testing.

    *TGIF*

    Post edited by Master Plvmber at 2013-03-22 15:46:33
  • All true. Maybe I'll call your bro in September.
  • I like Weil-McClain and Crown Boilers. I've seen too many Utica boilers that didn't last. Also Burnhams.
    The main concern is to have a good installation, conforming to manufacturer's specifications. The steam header piping, equalizer, Hartford Loop and fill line are critical.
    Forget about automatic water feeds, too many things can go wrong.
    Make sure there are accessible casing drain/blow-down valves, and use them weekly during the heating season.
  • Is it possible to convert a year-old oil-fired Weil-McClain boiler to gas?
  • Kthnry
    Yes you can , the oil gun has to be replaced with gas gun new gas line has to be installed from gas meter to the unit , there is calculations involved ,chimney has to get inspected , wiring etc .
  • kthnry said:

    Is it possible to convert a year-old oil-fired Weil-McClain boiler to gas?


    Very very possible
  • Experts have differing opinions. Sometimes their opinions are in direct conflict yet still expert.
  • I have a good friend in Maplewood who had a boiler installed by, shall we say , some lower priced plumber. Overall didn't work too well

    Gateway came out for some other reason, explained the poor installation. They turned the boiler a completely different direction, used the right piping and all is well.

    Pricey may not be at all...


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