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Help me lower my home oil heating costs
March 5, 2012 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Any experience with the Energy Kinetics EK1 System 2000 boiler?

I recently purchased a home that has an oil furnace. Having always lived in a house with gas heat, I was totally unprepared for the oil expense, which is about $4.20/gallon. I'm 1 person, I keep my thermostats around 62, and my monthly oil bill is still nearly $1000!

Because my house is in a semi-rural area, gas is not an option.

I've had several people come out to give me my options:

1. Add a separate water tank (~$2500), which would save ~10%/year.

2. Install the Energy Kinetics System 2000 (~$10,000), which saves about 30-40%/year. These claims seem to be backed up in online reviews.

They recommend against an electric tankless water heater because of well/hard water (although I do use water softener).

This is my dream house, so I don't plan on moving, ever. I figure if I'm spending close to $10,000/year on oil, the System 2000 should pay for itself within 2-3 years, assuming the claims are true. Not to mention, oil costs are only increasing.

So, anyone have any experience with the System 2000, or have any other recommendations to take the pain out of getting crushed by oil bills?
posted by ssmug to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Take a look at propane. It's not as inexpensive as natural gas, but the price tends to follow the natural gas market. We just installed a new propane boiler (135K btu) that supplies both our radiant/hydronic floor heating system and all domestic hot water. The one we installed replaced a 10 year old model and it's pretty incredible to see the improvement in technology in just 10 years.

Tip #1: Since this is your dream house, buy and bury your own propane tank as opposed to renting it from a supplier. This way you're free to change suppliers depending on price and service. We forward contract a year's worth at a time in August of each year and it saves a lot on the price. The supplier then just tops off our tank once a month or so to keep it full and debits our gallons pre-purchased.

Tip #2: If you do go with propane, get your gas grill plumbed up to the house supply so you never have to change one of those silly little white tanks again.
posted by webhund at 7:17 AM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have an above-ground propane tank, but I only use it for the water heater and stove. It hovers around $2.50 a gallon. Although its been as high as $2.90 or so in 2007-08. You have a smaller selection of appliances, unless they allow you to re-jet the burners as was the case with my stove.
posted by narcoleptic at 7:34 AM on March 5, 2012


A thousand dollars a month? Really??

Where is your house located? Is it in an extremely cold climate? How big is the house? Is it enormous? Is it insulated? Are the doors/windows extremely drafty? Could your existing furnace be malfunctioning in some way? Do you burn oil for tasks other than home and water heating?

I'm having a very hard time imagining how you could use $1,000 of oil a month unless some of the above situations apply.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:48 AM on March 5, 2012


posted by webhund
We just installed a new propane boiler (135K btu)

Interesting, I didn't realize propane efficiency increased that much. I thought it was closer to 90K or so.

Is propane on-demand? I think a lot of my costs are from the constant on-off cycles of my current furnace.

Can I ask where you live? The seasons will help me understand the costs better. Likewise, if you don't mind, the size of your house, # people, baths, etc., and your yearly gas costs.

Thanks!
posted by ssmug at 7:49 AM on March 5, 2012


If you're willing to spend $10,000+ trying to salvage savings from your oil heat, it makes far more sense to switch to a lower cost, higher efficiency system all together. I'm not sold on webhund's propane option; you should check out the fuel rates in your area and plug them into this handy spreadsheet. I tried it using the national averages for oil and propane and unfortunately they come out roughly equivalent in BTUs per dollar. Pellet stoves/boilers could be an option for you, depending on your heat type (hot air vs hot water) and square footage. Pellet fuel is dirt cheap, most modern systems are self feeding and it's pretty eco-friendly (wood pellets tend to be local fuel, they're a waste product of other industries, renewable resource, etc.).

You should also check and see if your local utilities company offers a home energy audit. Depending on the age of your house (and it's accrued differed maintenance) you could save a great deal on energy bills by re-insulating, weatherstripping, replacing your windows/roof (some states even offer rebates for improvements). Obviously there's a greater up-front cost for these options, but if this house is your dream home these are all improvements that will pay for themselves down the line.
posted by givennamesurname at 7:59 AM on March 5, 2012


posted by Juffo-Wup

A thousand dollars a month? Really??


Yup. Granted, it's a service plan where they top up. But to give you an example, on Feb 8 they delivered 142 gallons. On Feb 28, they delivered 111 gallons. Everyone I've talked to said that oil furnaces burn 7-9 gallons a day.

The house is about 2000 sq ft. It's a mid-century modern built in 1974, so it's not terribly energy efficient. Still, I basically don't turn my heat on and have been relying on space heaters, so it's not really a question of losing heat.
posted by ssmug at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2012


Is propane on-demand? I think a lot of my costs are from the constant on-off cycles of my current furnace.

Your current furnace could be really badly misconfigured, but from this I am inclined to believe that your problem is that your house is very badly insulated/airsealed. In particular, if your house is badly airsealed, heat is just getting sucked right out of the house almost as fast the the furnace is making it. Hence,

I have an above-ground propane tank, but I only use it for the water heater and stove. It hovers around $2.50 a gallon. Although its been as high as $2.90 or so in 2007-08. You have a smaller selection of appliances, unless they allow you to re-jet the burners as was the case with my stove.

Where I live in New England, propane is over a dollar more than that per gallon (and actually close to heating oil if you aren't using a lot of it (price goes down the more you use...)) The advantage of propane is that you can get AFUE in the 90% range, as versus topping out in the high 80s for gas. The problem is that either way when you invest in a new fuel you are really trying to arbitrage the home heating fuel markets... and who's to say what the price differential between propane/heating oil is really going to be. (Propane is a pretty different product from natural gas unfortunately... if ng was availlable it would be a no brainer.)

The bottom-line is that before you invest in any new furnace, you should try to get someone to do an airseal test of your house. Unfortunately, right now because there are a lot of tax credits for insulation improvements, there are a lot of private contractors moving into the insulation business. But, still, dollar-for-dollar any investment in insulation is going to beat investment in a new furnace. THIS IS AN UNDENIABLE FACT(tm) Search around for a non-profit in your area that does home energy audits.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:07 AM on March 5, 2012


I strongly second having an energy audit of the house. Like ennui.bz said, there's got to be something wrong with either your furnace, insulation, or air seal, for you to burn that much oil to heat a 2,000 sq ft 1974-built house.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:11 AM on March 5, 2012


(also, to try to answer your question, since the EK system is a heat/hot water system, i bet their 40% savings figure is based on assumptions about how much hot water you are using. In general, since the furnace has to turn on to make hot water, this sort of "infinite" hot water system is most efficient if you are using a lot of hot water. So, unless you have a house full of teenagers, you are unlikely to meet their stated cost savings. )
posted by ennui.bz at 8:16 AM on March 5, 2012


I've had 3 people look at the boiler, and the energy efficiency was standard (~80%), and no one commented on it being faulty in any way.

I should definitely do an energy assessment. The house isn't particularly drafty, but because the back of the house is basically floor to ceiling (~15ft) single-pane windows, there's not much insulating that can be done, other than replacing the windows, which I imagine is quite pricey. On the other hand, the Southern exposure can provide a fair amount of heat in the afternoon.

But still, I've had the heat almost entirely off for the month and am still using the same amount of oil.
posted by ssmug at 8:24 AM on March 5, 2012


BTW, I'm particularly intrigued by the pellet stove. A quick internet search shows that the furnaces are pretty pricey, but the payback is good. And, of course, the price stability.

Any additional info on pellet stove experiences?
posted by ssmug at 8:28 AM on March 5, 2012


you have oil fired hot water? do any of your hot water faucets drip?
posted by duckstab at 8:29 AM on March 5, 2012


But still, I've had the heat almost entirely off for the month and am still using the same amount of oil.

Well, that seems like a big tip-off that something is wrong. Can you hear the boiler when it starts up? Has it been starting up frequently even when you don't have the heat on?

Is there a possibility that you may have a leaking hot water faucet or pipe?
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:29 AM on March 5, 2012


are you sure you aren't either A) getting ripped off by the oil guy or B) someone is stealing your fuel oil via siphoning? i live in a modern 1000sqft apt and my (natural) gas bill is only $30, it's really hard to believe that a place 2.5x the size is paying 20x more than me. my parents lived in a 100 year old house with oil heat, radiant heating, and an old-ass furnace, and i don't remember the oil guy coming more than once a year.
posted by Mach5 at 8:30 AM on March 5, 2012


Well, that seems like a big tip-off that something is wrong. Can you hear the boiler when it starts up? Has it been starting up frequently even when you don't have the heat on?

It does go on and off, but I think that's just to keep the water at temperature.

A) getting ripped off by the oil guy or B) someone is stealing your fuel oil via siphoning?


I guess it's possible they're lying about the amount delivered. I guess I could monitor the gauge and see. I highly doubt anyone is siphoning the oil, though.
posted by ssmug at 8:42 AM on March 5, 2012


Interesting, I didn't realize propane efficiency increased that much. I thought it was closer to 90K or so.

Our specific model is rated at 96% and discharges only a small amount of steam through a PVC vent/exhaust, unlike our old model which vented through a fire-proof, insulated exhaust that was too-hot to the touch. (Note that I am talking about boilers, not mere tankless water heaters).

Is propane on-demand? I think a lot of my costs are from the constant on-off cycles of my current furnace.

Not sure what you mean by "on-demand." It's plumbed right into our LP tank and fires up whenever a thermostat or domestic hot water consumption calls for hot water.

Can I ask where you live? The seasons will help me understand the costs better. Likewise, if you don't mind, the size of your house, # people, baths, etc., and your yearly gas costs.

We're in central Iowa in an exposed (windy) north-facing spot. So our temps tend to the extreme from -20 F to 100 F with lots of wind all year.

I think you need to do a lot more research about your current setup from the sounds of some of your comments and other's questions. Might be worth it to spend a few bucks on a real energy audit.
posted by webhund at 8:43 AM on March 5, 2012


I'd bet that all that single pane glass is a significant part of your problem -- the heat loss through that stuff is ghastly. Do you have any drapes there? If not, it would be worth your while to invest in some excellent insulating drapes that you could close at night so you're not trying to heat the whole neighborhood.

How's the insulation in the attic? Builders were typically pretty skimpy with that in the 70s, compared to today's standards. Upgrading attic insulation is usually one of the easiest, cheapest things you can do to cut down fuel use.
posted by Corvid at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2012


The problem isn't so much the heat loss, because my oil use is high even when the heat is off, presumably just to keep the water hot. Literally, my thermostats (3-zone) are set to 62-65, so the heat really only goes on if I decide to heat up an area.

The previous owners had (horribly ugly) curtains, that I took down. Aesthetically, it looks so much nicer without them, but I'm sure they could cut down on heat in the summer and cold in the winter. But sometimes you have to sacrifice for aesthetics! ;-)

There's no attic. I suppose I could look into that spray insulation for the walls, though.

Also, 90% of the house is on slab, which doesn't help with the cold factor.

I have contacted a local place for an energy audit.
posted by ssmug at 1:08 PM on March 5, 2012


If keeping the water hot proves to be the main issue, maybe switch to tankless water heaters?
posted by Scram at 3:04 AM on March 6, 2012


I thought tankless would be the way to go, too, even though it would be electric. The rationale being my electric bill would never be as much as my oil bill.

But so far the recommendation has been against the tankless -- it's better suited to natural gas and public water (as opposed to well water, which is what I have -- much greater risk of scaling and damage).

Related, an electric furnace wouldn't be an option either, because they think I just don't have enough electricity to power it. I don't know much about adding new breakers or increasing supply, but I guess I can see how that's the case.

BTW, thanks to all for the thoughtful suggestions! It's hard to pick a favorite answer -- you're all winners in my book. ;-)
posted by ssmug at 5:39 AM on March 6, 2012


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