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Ask the expert: Oil burner vs. electric water heater

4:58 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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Hope from Sanford Asks:

I have a questions. I was wondering if it worth the money to spend changing my oil heat/hot to just using the oil burner for heating the house in the winter and have an electric water heater for the house. I am think of doing this so that I don't have to turn on the burner in the summer time and i keep my heat at 55 degrees in the winter. I was thinking if I use electric water heater for my hot water, I could put antifreeze in the pipe and I can turn the heat down even more in room that I don't use. I have a oversize range house.

I am also thinking of putting in a second sources of heat for the house. Gas, electric, wood pellets stove. What is your recommendations?

Tom Caron of Northeast Inspection Services Answers:

This is a good question. For heating water, the boiler is going to save energy during winter time versus using an electric water heater.
It's also good to avoid using the boiler as much as possible in summertime.

Now it gets more complex. Some boilers can be turned off in summertime and only turned on when there is a need for hot water. Others will leak if you turn them off. Also, I must add that some heating contractors feel that that the boiler can rust internally if turned off. I'm not sure how that can happen. I once asked this question to a head of The States Solid Fuels Board. He did not think it was a problem as long as the boiler did not leak. Additionally, I used to turn mine off and on every day in the summer and I had no problems. I have moved since then and don't need to do that anymore.

I think the best answer for your question now is to ask your boiler tech to find a control that will allow the boiler to run at a low temperature during the summer. The control is variously called "outdoor reset", "modulating aquastat", and "variable aquastat". These controls or 'switches' will lower the internal temper of the boiler and thus save energy.

One more option- an on demand water heater can heat your water as well. It costs more than a tank type water heater but pays for itself in just a few years.

Installing antifreeze in your pipes is somewhat expensive for what you get. I hear that's $700.00-800.00. The water heater costs about that as well, depending on the piping.

If you're going to add another heat source you might want to think about wood pellets. A 'Monitor' or 'Rennai' heater are also good choices.
This decision is best made by talking to the dealers of those products so that they can show you the benefits of using them in your unique living space.

I hope I answered your questions and I hope you are successful in your effort to stay warm and save energy.

This story was originally posted on November 17, 2008.


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