We live in Massachusetts in a house built in 1927 that has an aging oil-fired steam boiler and single-pipe radiators. It’s getting more difficult to find replacement radiators and folks who know how to maintain these systems. We hear we’re going to be dinosaurs soon.
What kind of heating system(s) should we investigate as a potential replacement for our steam heating system? We’d like to minimize the cost (we know it will be expensive, whatever we do). By the way, we’re in a rural area that has no natural gas service, although it’s possible to get propane deliveries (as well as oil, of course).
Ours is probably not the ideal property for solar (and we don’t live in the ideal part of the country, either). Some folks in town have tried getting permission for wind turbines, but there are significant restrictions (our property doesn’t meet the requirements). One of our neighbors has installed a geothermal forced hot air system that runs off a standing column well (consumes electricity but no fossil fuels); it seems to be working well for them, but they already had a forced hot air system and even so it was a huge initial capital outlay.
Thanks for your advice!
I am sure you already know, the problem is not what kind of heating system you install, its that old construction with limited or no wall insulation and minimum ceiling/roof insulation.
Any money you spend now to add more insulation and re-caulk to reduce air infiltration will make any system you install much more cost effective. If you like the old steam radiators, there are ways to convert these over to hot water heating by adding new supply and return piping, or you could just replace them with new hot water baseboard radiation. You will see a major savings regardless of fuel just by switching out that old steam boiler operating at about 60% efficiency, with a new high efficiency hot water boiler available with efficiencies up to 94%.
Unless you do a major renovation to greatly reduce the heat loss of any old home, I think you will find it almost impossible to heat using a heat pump, even geo-thermal. If this is the case and propane or natural gas is not an option, stay with the oil, but replace all the steam piping with a zoned copper supply and return pumped hot water system.
Finally, you did not say, but I assume you also use a wood stove on really cold days. If not, that would be my first purchase.