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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

Wondering about a great new energy-saving device
you found on the Internet? Then CLICK HERE!

Sorry. Jeff no longer answers questions online.
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resource for all BHM website visitors.


Home heating strategy – replace steam system?

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

Dear Jeff,

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!

Melissa Webster


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.

Good Luck!

Jeff Yago


Biodiesel in Oil Furnace

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008


I have an oil burning (#2 diesel) furnace installed in the mid “80s”. Can I use bio diesel. My tank is inside.

Jeff Yakobics


The answer is yes, under certain conditions. Straight biodiesel burns a little hotter than #2 fuel oil, and has a higher cetane rating. But biodiesel will turn to a gel before regular diesel fuels do. Biodiesel fuels also form more deposits and have more solids than diesel fuel, and require replacing filters more often. Biodiesel also has a corrosive effect on some types of rubber hoses and seals, which is why some diesel engines have problems and others do not, depending on the type of seal material used.

If you still want to do this, I suggest using a “blended” biodiesel fuel that is usually 20% biodiesel mixed with regular diesel fuel. Most suppliers also add special “solvents” that reduce this filter clogging problem. If this lower mix fuel works out you can try a higher percentage mixture of biodiesel.

Jeff Yago



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