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Question DetailsAsked on 7/8/2016

Replacing electric baseboards with gas hot water baseboards in Western MA?

I have a 2-story 1200 sqf Cape Cod in Western MA that was never converted when gas became available and still has electric baseboards (very expensive to operate out here.) The gas company says they'll run the line and install the meter for free, so I definitely want to do this. I'm planning on getting a mid-efficiency boiler as the high-efficiency boilers seem to have an unreasonably high payback time, even with rebates. I have contractors coming out over the next week but was wondering if anyone had done something similar in the area and could give me an idea of what I'm looking at.

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Commonly in the few thousand to five-six thousand $ range for the gas piping from meter to furnace, water plumbing (to feed the boiler and for the heating loops), electric to the boiler (for controls and circulating pump), new exhaust ducting (since you probably do not have a central exhaust flue now but need one unless you go with very high efficiency condensing boiler, which vent horizontally directly to the outside), and for the installed furnace for normal efficiency boilers. Up to couple to several thousand more with very high efficiency boiler units.

The water lines and heater elements for the baseboard heating probably up to another couple thousand sometimes depending on house configuration - one story with open joist basement or crawlspace maybe as low as one to two thousand for the loop plumbing so included in the top-line number, going up through two-story or more frame house more like couple thousand so commonly gets you into the more like $4-5,000 range stated above, solid concrete or brick houses can be quite a problem to run the piping and can run you up to the $6 thousand and over range - rarely. Since you said Cape Cod I presume wood framing so something in the roughly around $5,000 number is what I would expect. And of course makes a goodly ($500 or more) difference in installed cost if you go with copper piping, which I prefer and it provides a noticeable amount of radiant heating in the floors and throughout the exterior walls rather than just air heating at the radiators, though is slightly less energy efficient than flex polyethylene because you are heating the walls where the pipes run so you lose more to the outside - but makes for a much more uniform house heat than the plastic "pex" type tubing which does not radiate anywhere as much heat along its runs - and also has the continuing product dependability and leak issues.

And presumably you will be considering changing to gas water heater too - if not now, at least consider plumbing the gas and water and set up flue venting (if gravity venting - i.e. not high efficiency goiler) at the same time to be ready for it when it next needs replacement. If done as part of a complete replacement, they might do the install for very little more than the new waer heater cost at this time if the water heater is getting older (and located by the boiler location). And possibly run gas line at same time for range and clothes dryer for when they are next changed out or as a possible replacement for energy cost reductions, because they are a goodly chunk of your electric bill too ?

When you say you have contractors coming out next week I presume you mean multiple contractors to look at the job and prepare bids - because you definitely need several bids for this type job - possibly as many as five or more to get a good feel for the "fair" versus "out-of-range" ones, because you will commonly get both lowball estimates (failed to account for everything in the bid) and also "courtesy bids" - high ones from vendors who really do not want the job or just bid high and take only the jobs their high bid is accepted on to keep running.

Now - other costs for baseboard heating - to run the piping loops they need to cut into the walls and basement and downstairs ceilings, so you are also looking at probably $1000 or more in drywall/plaster and repainting cost - commonly runs more like $1500-2000 if you do not have exposed joists in basement/crawlspace to run the laterals and downstairs loop without having to tear into finished basement ceiling. If exposed (open to outside air) crawlspace downstairs, then you will need serious insulation under the pipes running down there, and possible consideration of freeze protection issues.

That is one consideration if you are in one of the MA common ice-storm areas - make sure the lines are pitched (to extent possible) and provided with low-point drains on each loop so you can drain the hydronic heating system in the event of a serious long-time power failure, because at say about zero temps they will commonly start freezing up in about a day or so. Sometimes can freeze without leaking, especially if you shut off the water and drain the system at the boiler AND leave the drains open to allow for release of expansion as the water freezes, but also sometimes rupture in multiple places because there are so many ups and downs at the radiators that trap water. It is possible to run antifreeze in the lines (propylene glycol like RV's use) but does add to maintenance hassle and extra work duering any repairs to capture and refill it, and a messy situation when it leaks.

One other consideration along that line - there are a few brands that make hydronic boilers that will run (albeit without the circulating pump due to no electricity) when there is a power outage - might be a consideration, as that type of system will commonly not keep the house itself warm in cold weather but will generally protect the heating loops against freezing. Of course, just leaving a few of the lowest-level electric baseboards in place to run off a generator is also a freeze-up protection possibiliity.

So - by the time you add up the install and the repairs afterwards (which a HVAC/Plumbing contractor would NOT bid but a Remodeling contractor would include in his bid if bidding the entire job in one but also with markup on the HVAC sub, so apples to oranges there), probably at least $5000 and possibly pushing more to the $10,000 range complete for the conversion.

So - you say definitely going to do this - but until you get bids on the hydronic heating system complete with the drywall/painting repairs, then compare that amortized cost against the higher electric bills for electric heat as compared to gas cost, you do not really know if it will be cheaper. Certainly in the 20-30 year range it probably should be because you are in a quite high electric cost area, but to amortize maybe $250-500 of capital cost per year, plus maybe $200-300/year added maintenance/repair would require a pretty high electric heating bill compared to the gas cost.

And one other prime consideration a lot of people forget - even if it would pay off in the long run, will it pay off for YOU - because the new system "added value" come resale time will probably be quite a small fraction of its cost, especially if a few years old at that time. So - if this is your "forever home", may well be worth it, but if you move around every 5 years or so like the average american, you personally will likely lose big time on the deal. It is pretty rare, except in extraordinary power source differential cost areas, for a swap-out between power sources to pay off in less than about 15-20 or even more years - oil to gas being the only common exception. Looks better if doing this as part of a mandatory furnace replacement anyway rather than purely on cost savings basis, but takes careful figuring of ALL costs to be sure.

Bear in mind too, natural gas prices will likely be going up now that it is replacing most coal power plants because of Obama's essentially killing of coal power plus the starting of mass exporting of liquified natural gas to overseas where it is worth a LOT more than here (up to 3 times as much). A LOT of utilities are announcing major conversion costs to convert coal plants to natural gas - and the higher demand for the gas and the costs of building more transmission lines for the greatly increased demand will increase both the transmission costs and the raw market cost of the gas. Sawones article by the Dept of Energy a couple of months ago forcasting a doubling of natural gas prices in the next 5 years because of those factors - though of course those prices increases would also affect the price of electricity generated from gas.

And of course don't forget your time-value of the money you would be sinking inot the conversion - either lost-opportunity cost if taking out of savings (which is not a very high ratenow but is expected to climb back toward the long-term 5% range), or interest cost on financing if taking out a loan for it. Just things to think about when you run through the numbers.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


BTW - on rebates - be sure to check utility, state, and federal rebates. The federal ones, as I recall, expire end of this calendar year, and are 10% of boiler cost BUT only if 95% or higher efficiency, AND limited to $150 tax credit, as I recall. I read that, as it stands now, ALL residential energy rebates on conventional (as opposed to solar and alternative energy) systems expire at the end of this year as it stands now so be sure to checkk what is CURRENTLY available plus whether you would have to have it FINISHED and billed this year to qualify.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD


Thanks for the input - I currently have 3 contractors scheduled to come out, but it does seem like a good idea to get even a few more. I admit that resale value is definitely part of of why I'm looking into this conversion; I got a good deal on this house specifically because of the electric heating system. Nearby houses with gas heat (same age and floorplan) were consistently going for $10-$15k higher. Most of them actually had forced air, but I'd always liked the feel of hot water better, however another option I am going to inquire about is leaving in the electric baseboards but putting in hot air as well. I'm not worried about the drywall - I'm lucky enough to have family experienced with that. Joists are open in the basement so distribution to the first floor is going to be easy enough, it's the second floor that's going to be a pain (2 bedrooms and a bathroom up there.)

Answered 2 years ago by kpeterson


IF doing a major remodel on this place anyway - including siding - sometimes hot water baseboard is installed in the lower part of the walls from the outside during siding replacement rather than tearing out drywall ceilings to install in the subfloor for the runs between radiators, though of course that eliminates the nice warm feet from the "waste" heat radiated from the pipes going into the subfloor, which gives a low level of radiant floor heating as well as at the baseboards (at least when using copper pipe). However, also freezes faster if the piping is in the walls and the power goes out, and in-wall installation is less energy efficient than in-subfloor because more of the heat commonly escapes through the wall to the outside - provided of course the piping is put inside of the rim joist insulation rather than "outside" as is commonly (and incorrectly) done.

On the hot water baseboard versus forced air thing - sounds like would make little installation hassle difference between systems coming in under first floor in your case. Upstairs of course the hot water baseboard pipes can run up walls easily - commonly between-floor run is done in the central part of the house rather than outside walls both to retain the hottest water in warmer area and for slower freezing if power goes out.

Hot air - running that as a retrofit is undoubtedly going to cost more both because the materials cost a fair amount more and because the larger ducting just takes a lot more tearing out and replair of drywall - little or no difference in heating unit cost but the boiler takes more install time with the piping as a rule, and the larger air ducts can be a hassle to run in the walls to the upstairs, and of course generally run in the subfloor (or attic if you have to) because they do not fit well in the walls - and even if they do fit, you lose basically all insulation at that point so you lose a lot of heat through the wall at the ducts when in walls. Also on the ducting - commonly for ease basement ducting is run BELOW rather than only IN the joist bays because it commonly has to run both directions, but this causes headroom problems and the need for a false ceiling in finished basements, so can detract from value by reducing the possibility of easily finishing an unfinished basement. For running to the upstairs or attic - it is not uncommon to put in a well-insulated plenum - a sided box-out on the outside of the house, commonly put necxt to chimneys to blend in more - to hold the main (and hence larger) supply and return ducts running to/from the second story. Sometimes instead of running full-size metal ducting much smaller insulated flex "pressure" ducts are used and a secondary supply booster fan (and sometimes booster return fan also) is used to provide higher-speed flow to get more air through the smaller ducting (which can be as small as 2-4 inch in cases) which will fit in walls easily. If doing that generally needs to be sound insulated to eliminate duct noise, but their is commonly a low whooshing sound at the registers when the unit is running - VERY irritating to some people,most just tune it out quite quickly.

Depends on area whether hot air or hot water baseboard will add more value - different areas developed one or the other as a local preference over time, commonly without apparent cause, but locally the difference can make a major difference in house value or resale time on the market just because of which type system you have, regardless of energy efficiency. For instance, in our area hot water baseboard or in0floor radiant hot water systems are considered more "high-end" and forced air is considered tract or lower-end housing, pretty much regardless of what subdivision or price range the house is located in.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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