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Natural Gas Conversion Considerations and Planning

We are energy geeks and our goal is to help you cost effectively cut your energy bills and environmental footprint.  What we are not is a boiler service company that wants to makes its profits by selling service contracts and running fleets of trucks with techs doing endless repairs.  Sure we service what we sell, thus we sell only the most reliable heating systems.  Premature failures should be seen as a disappointment not a profit center.  

We have put together this list of things you should start thinking about as you decide if you want to switch to NG.  It is a big decision and we are happy to come out and meet with you and talk about options, costs, financing, and how to get the most of the incentive programs, just give us a call.

What to keep in mind when considering switching to natural gas

Maine is the only state that relies primarily on expensive dirty oil.  Nationally natural gas has been the heating fuel of choice for decades.  It is safe and inexpensive.  Its price is expected to remain low.  Sure NG prices went up last year with the cold weather but so did every other fuel source.  It is simply supply and demand.  The only energy source not impacted was solar.  Oil prices are expected to climb much more quickly that NG or propane.

Often the gas company will make the connection at no charge especially if they are working in your neighborhood.   In Portland there is a rotating schedule where the streets have "no dig" restrictions.  Once this is lifted for your street is a good time to hook up NG so Unitil has as short of run as possible.   As Summit comes into new areas they will require a percentage of homes on a street choose to connect to NG or they may opt to not connect your street.  It is very hard to get a firm commitment from Summit until the last minute.  

When the average family replaces their inefficient tankless coil oil boiler with a modulating condensing NG boiler they can expect to see a 50%+ savings due to improved efficiency and lower fuel cost.   A good modulating condensing gas boiler will cost about 10k and Summit provides a 2k rebate.  We believe you are foolish to not buy the most energy efficient boiler.  Yes they cost more but every year your fuel bill will be lower.  Efficiency Maine has low interest finance options.  

Old oil boilers only have on or off.  They run so hot that the exhaust is generally over 500 degrees which is a waste of your fuel dollars.  A modulating gas boiler has the ability to run at different speeds and uses little fuel when running on low.  Before the exhaust goes up the chimney the returning heating fluid passes through it capturing most of the heat, causing it to condense.  These small wall hung boilers don’t need a chimney and direct vent out a wall.  You will find they run more often, but on low, using very little fuel, and keeping a more even temperature in your home.    Printable information on boiler efficiency ratings.

Putting a gas burner in a oil boiler is not going to give you an efficient boiler.  You may need to line your chimney which can cost $1500-2000.  The efficiency difference can be more than 25% so within just a few years whatever you save is lost by purchasing more fuel every winter.  In the long run it is a very bad deal.  You are much better off to take advantage of Efficiency Maine's low interest loans and get a good modulating condensing wall hung boiler.  The fuel savings will cover the loan payments.   Boilers that claim to run on all types of fuel never give top performance.  You sacrifice your fuel dollars year after year for the option of switching the unit back  to "oil" just in case.   You would be better off to buy a good gas boiler and put the savings in the bank as protection.   The idea that one day oil will be the cheap fuel is nearly impossible.   These boiler companies are capitalizing on your fear of change as oil is so entrenched only in Maine.

Summit, in conjunction with the state’s energy department, Efficiency Maine, provides incentive money for weatherizing your home if you switch to natural gas.  Weatherization is always a good investment as it will lower your fuel bill and means you can buy a smaller less expensive boiler.   We know who the good energy auditor/weatherization companies are.  A good auditor will ensure you get the most rebate money.  We are happy to provide referrals.   We suggest you do as much weatherization as you can and if necessary take advantage of Efficiency Maine’s low interest loans.  Your fuel savings will usually cover the loan payments.  The weatherization should be done first so we can properly size your boiler for your more efficient home.  For low income homes that qualify for LIHEAP there are more generous incentives.   Unitil also offers incentives and if the gas line in already on your block connection may be free.  

Sometimes not switching to NG is a good idea too.  Ductless mini split heat pumps are an excellent way to cut your heating bills and their operating cost are similar or less than a good boiler burning NG.  The advantage is the upfront cost may be much less.  Plus since they run on electricity you can add solar panels and let the sun heat your house for free.  Mini splits also provide cooling.  Efficiency Maine also has rebates on heat pumps.  These units work particular well if you have a more open floor plan.  We often add a heat pump hot water tank to provide your domestic hot water so you can shut down your existing boiler unless it is very cold.  Your existing boiler stays in place as a backup system for extreme weather, unless the mini split units are sized to cover the entire house.

If you are not getting NG for a few years you may want to consider replacing your oil boiler with a modulating condensing propane boiler now.  If you have a tankless coil oil boiler it could save you quite a bit of money on fuel.  When NG comes to your neighborhood we simply replace the nozzle.  One thing to be aware of, Summit has rebates if you buy a new boiler and switch to NG.  You could risk this rebate so carefully consider your strategy and the timing of your agreement with Summit.

Summit also provides rebates on water heaters and clothes dryers, even stoves.  You should consider switching as gas dryers and water heaters are much less expensive to operate than standard electric (we prefer heat pump tanks).   It can be harder to regulate temperature on a gas oven so you may want a gas cooktop and electric oven.  

If you have propane appliances now in most cases replacement nozzles will be available for a small charge so you can switch to NG.  Compared to buying propane in small quantities it will be a wise decision.  Have the technician make the changes when the heating system is replaced.   Most companies should be able to accommodate this on most appliances.

The size of the gas line takes into consideration all of the appliances in the house, their draw, and the distance they are from the incoming gas connection.  If you plan ahead you will not end up having to rerun the gas line when you add appliances in the future.  If you are bringing gas lines into your house for the first time consider having “stubs” for future gas appliances.

Do you want a NG hook up for your barbecue grill?  

The new gas boiler can also function as “on demand” hot water; ask if this is right for your family.  Sometimes it is better to have a storage tank.

The new gas boilers MUST be set up and programmed correctly.  A condensing boiler must condense or you will not get the expected efficiency ratings.  Beware of lowball quotes, most of the time there is a reason.  


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