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usonian boiler

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 10:23 am
by peterm
we just purchased the lamberson house in oskaloosa, iowa. the house still has the original boiler for the radiant floor heat and it functions. however, we have no idea how efficient it is, and with all of the pipes, valves, and gauges going in every direction it looks like something from a world war one submarine. does anyone have tips for a replacement boiler which we could have stored at the house, if and when it expires?

do other usonian owners still have the original boilers?

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 11:43 am
by DRN
Congratulations on your purchase of the Lamberson house. The plan and spaces it creates look neat.

The previous owner of the Sweeton house replaced the boiler in 2002 with a Buderus boiler model G215/4 with a Beckett model AFG 196,000 btu/hr oil burner. (our house is about 1500 sq ft enclosed) Buderus is highly rated in the industry for quality, reliability, and efficiency (AFUE=86.2%).

Here's a link to their website:

We are currently reviewing our options for fuel as we have a 57 year old 1000 gallon buried steel oil tank serving our boiler. The tank is insured against leaks but the cost of insurance and the cost of oil are high to say the least. We looked at biodiesel but the Buderus boiler will only accept a small percentage of bio blend, so cost and "greenness" nixed that. Propane is an option, boiler will work with it, but will require a new burner, and burial of the tank is safe; long term cost is iffy as it is so tied to oil prices/ availability. Natural gas is our favored choice, but installation costs (350' run to the highway across a commercial parking lot, and a 14' auger run of pipe beneath the bedroom wing to access the heater basement without cutting the radiant slab) are an issue. We have to do something and we intend to think long term for our finances and the best choice for the house.

How are your distribution valves and pumps? The Sweeton house seems to have steel or iron pipes and the valves are frozen (corroded) stuck from lack of movement. Apparently once the balance was set they were never touched again and stuck where they were. We haven't been though a full heating season yet, but the house seemed ok when I visited it pre-purchase in the winter, and when we occupied in late March. The pumps at Sweeton need lubrication twice a year.

Hope this helps. Again, congrats on the purchase of a great house.

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 12:37 pm
by peterm
the sweeton house looks fantastic. are you enjoying it? it must be so great to have a usonian and be so close to n.y. city.

our houses seem to be similar square footage, so maybe this unit would be right for us, too. do you mind me asking how much it cost? you can send me a pm if you prefer.

as for our distribution pipes and valves, the inspection which we had done told us very little, except that the unit is an antique. (maybe i could i sell it on ebay :lol:) the seller assures us that it works fine, but i think we need a back up.

thanks for the help.

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:24 pm
by outside in
Be sure and choose carefully - there are a number of boilers that will work, providing that they are sized properly. Weil--MaClain, Burnham, etc. But before you do, I would recommend that you investigate the possibility of installing geothermal heating - it will cost more initially but will pay for itself in 5-10 years AND you will not be spewing out carbons into the atmosphere. It's also a good fit with photovoltaic, as the solar panels will help power the pumps that are needed to operate the system.

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 1:37 pm
by DRN
Thanks for the kind words. The house is a lot of work at this stage, but absolutely magical to live in...we love it. The location is very convenient to NY and DC...a NJTransit/Amtrak train stop is just 2 mi away. Center City Philly is 15 minutes by car typically.

I'm not sure of the heating plant's cost as the previous owner had it installed. He kept all things financial close to his vest, and I never found out what he paid. Buderus is at the upper end of the boiler price range from what I understand, but the burner is nothing out of the ordinary. Probably best to price it through the Buderus website or a local dealer.

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 2:38 pm
by DRN
outside in makes some good points. Photovoltaic is tantalizing, it would make good use of the Lamberson's detached garage roof for PV arrays.

I worked on a ground source heat pump project at a hotel in Geneva, NY about 10 years ago, it worked great... the wells were run with the pile foundations. peterm will need to check the electrical service at the Lamberson house though. Sweeton had a 60 amp service originally which was boosted in 1985 to accomodate a clothes dryer and 3 ductless AC units. Because of the lack of wall cavities in a Usonian, or attics or raised floors for that matter, new electric or plumbing is tricky. The previous owner installed the new electrical service such that it was run underground outside all the way around the house to a surface mounted conduit on exterior of the rear bedroom wall then on down the areaway to the heater basement. (It will be less unsightly when I paint it.)

Posted: Thu Aug 21, 2008 7:21 pm
by Paul Ringstrom
I've seen combination units that can serve for residential hot water as well as a radiant heat source. That would save a lot of room since your utility room is quite crowded.

Buderus Stackable Water Heater/Boiler Combination:

This is a boiler and indirect domestic hot water tank combination. The entire boiler room is a closet with a footprint of less than 10 square feet (where there's a will, there's a way!) This system is manufactured by Buderus Hydronic Systems and includes a control package that is fully programmable and provides outdoor reset capability. Outdoor reset monitors the outdoor air temperature and adjusts the boiler water temperature accordingly. As the weather gets colder, the boiler water gets hotter (and vice versa). This allows for a fuel savings of 25 - 30 %. The control also integrates the domestic hot water production, hot water re-circulation, warm-weather shut down, night setback and vacation setback.

I couldn't find this particular unit on their website so you will have to consult a local plumber. Nearest retailer is in IL or WI.

Posted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 2:33 pm
by Paul Ringstrom
All homeowners with hydronic radiant heating should take note of this new product when it comes time to replace your current boiler:

Recipient of the TOP 100 Product Award from The Building Products Magazine
97% Efficient Hot Water and Heating

The Ultra High Efficiency Phoenix Gas Fired Water Heater is an extremely versatile appliance that is efficient, reliable and easy to install. It is super quiet and has a low NOx rating, making it the right choice for today’s environmental concerns. The Phoenix can be used in restaurants, schools and homes within a wide range of applications making it today’s choice in water heating.

The Phoenix is a super insulated stainless steel water storage tank fitted with a combustion chamber submerged in the tank water. When the burner is fired, the hot combustion gases heat the combustion chamber walls, transferring the heat directly to the surrounding water. The hot gases travel into the secondary heat exchange coils where even more heat is transferred to the water condensing the combustion gases and wringing yet more heat from the gases. Finally the cool, low NOx combustion air is vented via plastic pipe to the outdoors.

Posted: Fri Aug 22, 2008 9:27 pm
by peterm
i like the idea of one unit for the hot water and the floor. sounds like it could simplify matters.

thanks, everyone, for your advice.

also, are there any other ways to insure that the pipes don't burst? did they always use copper? the seller mentioned that there have always been a few "dead spots" where the floor doesn't get hot. is this typical? anything to be concerned about?

Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2008 8:25 am
by pharding
It depends on what the dead spots are from. If they are from flaws in the original layout that is one thing. If it is due to another problem that is another matter altogether. It is important to take very good care of the fragile radiant floor in slab piping and use the correct products with it because it is extremely expensive to replace.

I second Outside In's suggestion that you consider geothermal. It has an attractive payback and you contribute to the health of our small, precious planet. Solar panels do not offer an attractive payback at present. I suspect that this will change with the Obama Administration.

Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2008 5:40 pm
by karnut
I suspect someone here is on the payrole of Air America!!!!!!!!!!. Idid not know the Election was over. :o

Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2008 9:26 pm
by pharding
It is not over. I am just an optimistic individual.

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:18 pm
by Roderick Grant
peterm, The early houses used cast iron for the heating pipes, but by the time of Parkwyn and Galesburg, copper was being used, so I suspect your house has copper.

Posted: Sun Aug 24, 2008 5:52 pm
by RJH
The early houses used cast iron for the heating pipes, but by the time of Parkwyn and Galesburg, copper was being used, so I suspect your house has copper.
That is not true. I have studied various later FLW Usonian drawings and they state they can use iron or copper.

In the Haynes drawings it states to use 2� wrought iron pipes for gravity heat. In the side notes it also says copper piping may also be used. It was the owner’s choice.

Posted: Mon Aug 25, 2008 2:24 pm
by Roderick Grant
Whatever they were allowed to do, they did use copper. Mrs. McCartney said all the houses in Kankakee used copper. I would have to dig up the information on the Peasantville houses, but I believe they did as well.