Help finding knowledgeable contractor in MA?

Discussion in 'Boiler Forum' started by carthesen, May 26, 2015.

  1. carthesen

    carthesen New Member

    Joined:
    May 26, 2015
    Location:
    MA
    Hi there. Apologies if this goes against the rules of the forum, but can anyone recommend a contractor in the greater Boston area who will appropriately size a boiler for me? So far everyone has recommended 100k+ BTU boilers for our 1600 sqft house. We are converting from oil, the house was built in the 50s and has the original Weil McClain oil boiler (it's a monster!). The house is a 50's cape, the basement is unheated, and the 1st and 2nd floors are on 1 zone. The house has replacement double plane windows (2007), and has been air sealed/insulated through Mass Save. Current system is tankless (and terrible) - we are planning on going with indirect hot water. I haven't done a heat loss calculation myself, though I have the slant fin app - is this an ok tool to use?

    Boilers that have been recommended to use are the Buderus 105?, Alpine 105, Slant Fin LX-120, and Weil McClain GV90+ - haven't received size info on that one. We thought we had chosen our contractor, but he was pushing the Slant Fin, and gave us wrong information about the material of the heat exchanger and the efficiency. When we realized it wasn't stainless steel + 96%, we opted for the Weil McClain, which he told us does have an outdoor reset. Is this not the case? Is it reasonable to ask him for a copy of our heat loss calculation?

    Anyways, suggestions/recommendations are welcome. It is frustrating to have such a clear message coming from online research, and have that be different from what the guys coming out to your house are saying.
     
  2. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    Location:
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    A typical 1600' house in MA will have a design heat load under 50,000 BTU/hr, but that's easy to verify. By analyzing the amount of oil you're using. If you have a mid to late winter oil fill up with the fuel used between two exact dated (the fill-up date and the prior fill-up date) and a ZIP code (to look up weather data for those dates), it's simple arithmetic to come up with a reliably close heating load, provided the house was occupied and heated during that period, and you weren't heating with auxillary sources such as wood/pellet stoves or mini-split heat pumps, etc. If you have that information, let's have it- it's a 5 minute calculation that puts a firm stake in the ground.

    The SlantFin Hydronic Explorer is a reasonably I=B=R methods calculator. As with all I=B=R calculators it will overshoot reality by 15-25%, sometimes more.

    With circa 2007 U-0.35 code min replacement windows and some retrofit air sealing & insulation a 1600' 1950s Cape with an air-sealed but uninsulated un-heated basement will probably come in around 35-45,000 BTU/hr @ 0F. If you are inside 495 your actual 99% outside design temp will be in positive-digits territory. If the foundation is insulated &/or the window/floor ratio is on the small side it could easily be under 25,000 BTU/hr. A ~100K boiler with a min-fire output of 25-30K is something you definitely want to avoid.

    The best thing to do is to figure out the 99% heat load first, then the heat load at +30F (which is roughly the mean wintertime temp in that area.) Figure out what boilers have a minimum-modulation output that is smaller than the +30F load, but a max-fire output that covers you at the 99% outside design temp based on your fuel use &/ or I=B=R calc.

    Then, call the local/regional DISTRIBUTOR of that equipment and ask for contractor recommendations for your area. The distributor knows better than anyone who is installing their equipment regularly without a problem, and which contractors are always coming back for tech support or warranty issue that are more likely to have been the result of a mis-installation.

    Don't count on the contractors to come up with a heat load calc for you. Even those who offer that service are all over the place on their numbers. If you've run your own numbers, don't let them talk you into upsizing it over some random anxiety concern. Almost every 1600' house in the Commonwealth could be heated with a 50-60KBTU/hr mod-con, though many would be better off with something even smaller.

    If you have the system broken up into multiple zones, an important parameter for using a mod-con is the amount & type of radiation on the SMALLEST zone (by radiation size, not by floor area.) Whaddaya got?
     
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  4. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    I suggest that you don't lock yourself into converting. There are plenty of good installers and contractors in the metro Boston area try logging on to www.heatinghelp.com. You can find many good contractors there.
     
  5. carthesen

    carthesen New Member

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    May 26, 2015
    Location:
    MA
    Hi Dana, thank you for the reply! Between 1/5 to 2/17 we used 171.5 gallons, 2/17-3/30 was 131.8. Zip code is 02474. The only heat source we have is the nearly 60 yr old oil boiler, and it is via ~100 ft of hot water baseboard all on 1 zone. A few other points of note - the basement (530 sqft) is neither heated nor insulated, but we would like to have the option to do that in the future on its own zone. Also, we plan on removing the baseboard (12.5') from the kitchen and installing a kick toe heater (or another suggested heat source, but we need the wall space where the baseboard is).

    Tom Sawyer - are you suggesting we stay with oil? The current boiler needs replacing (having moved in this past fall, we were just grateful it made it through this winter!) and a gas line has been brought to the house. We are pretty set on going with gas. Thanks for the site recommendation though.
     
  6. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Hydronic Heating Designer

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    Maybe, but they pay Dan to be on "the list".

    Better send me a drawing and I can put proper Manual 'J' steering you away from most of the choices you now have. Or you could take Dana's nearly flawless advice since you only have enough baseboard to unload a 60mbuth boiler.

    The contractor should be able to show you a copy of a similar Manual 'J'. I charge for mine and nearly always install the lowest output unit quoted, often charging more for it! Less is definitely more.

    Toe-kick space heaters are for lazy Architects, ignorant contractors and homeowners that can't afford to be comfortable. We use radiant floors in kitchens after doing a heat load for that room and determining what the load is and whether the floors will pull the load.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2015
  7. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    So you have 100' of baseboard on one zone @ 580 btu per lineal foot which @180 degree water temperature figures out to be about 58,000 btu/hr. A condensing, high efficiency gas boiler is going to run in the neighborhood of ten grand to install and might save you around 200 bucks a year over just going with a new and higher effiency, non condensing oil boiler which should only run you about half the cost to install. In other words, the new gas boiler will never pay for itself and will, most probably need to be replaced at near the ten year mark. Look into a Biase cast iron oil boiler with a Riello burner and intellicon or similar modulating controls. Pull it's combustion sir from outside and run a programmable thermostat. You will be miles ahead and still have some money left. BTW, the gas price outlook ain't exactly rosey.
     
  8. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Hydronic Heating Designer

    Joined:
    Mar 4, 2011
    Occupation:
    hydronic heating designer/contractor
    Location:
    Minneapolis
    If you were thinking of converting from oil to propane the argument for oil would be stronger.

    However, when one contemplates a conversion from oil to natural gas the scales bottom out for NG. If you decided to go back to the old-school cast iron boiler and oil you will need annual service and pay roughly three times as much per btu in most markets. An 85% efficient cast iron gas boiler will require little if any service in its 30 year serviceable life.

    NG is the future. Here in N.America we have at least a 100 year supply and the cost has been steady for many years with no indications of

    http://www.businessinsider.com/natural-gas-price-divergence-2014-9

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environmen...207/Heating-oil-a-last-stand-in-the-Northeast

    Most condensing boilers will last 20 years with reasonable care, about half that required for proper upkeep of a low-efficiency oil boiler.

    All condensing boilers use outdoor air instead of inside combustion air or outside air brought into the house, mixed with conditioned air and drafted out the chimney 24/7. Eliminating a chimney alone should reduce your fuel bill by 3-5%. All condensing boilers have outdoor reset built-in, make sure the installer actually installs the outdoor sensor without which this important fuel saving feature will not work.

    If you couple the 95% condensing boiler with a 30 year stainless steel indirect water heater you will have the most efficient combination available to homeowners today.

    The contractors advocating for oil should go back to school for low temperature hydronics and to factory schools for the proper application, installation and maintenance of low emission, high efficiency gas-fired appliances. Put up the horse and spurs for nostalgic weekend rides...
     
  9. carthesen

    carthesen New Member

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    May 26, 2015
    Location:
    MA
    Ok so, I think I've got this figured out -

    171.5 gallons * 138,690 btu/gal * 0.78 eff / (1810.8 HDD * 24 hr/day) = 426.9 btu/HDD hr with base temp set to 60 (we set to 60 at night and while at work)
    99% heat load (0F outside, 70 inside): 70*426.9 = ~30K BTUH
    typical heat load (30F outside, 65 inside): 35*426.9 = ~13K BTUH

    Using the Slant Fin hydronic explorer tool and including the basement as if it were a heated space, it calculates ~60K at 0F and 35K at 30F.

    Does this all look reasonable? Thanks for nudging me in the right direction! Nothing beats using data from heating your own house to support a sizing claim.

    Badger - the same contractor that was pushing the 120 mbtuh slant fin was also telling us to just go with the toe kick, I guess that's not shocking. Would it be reasonable to switch just the kitchen to radiant, or is that a whole house decision?
     
  10. Dana

    Dana In the trades

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2009
    Location:
    01609
    Your inputs or the U-factors in the Slantfin tool have to be WAY off, based on your fuel use numbers. If basement walls are completely uninsulated it might add 10-15K to the numbers, but unless your basement stays in the 40s all winter (not likely, if the oversized boiler is down there). With an insulated foundation (highly recommended, even if you don't fully finish the basement) the additional load is even less.

    Your fuel-use numbers are credible, but to put a worst case stake in the ground I usually make the following assumptions. Just because you set back to 60F doesn't mean you should be using base 60F, especially since the house is clearly tight enough that it doesn't actually drop to that temp overnight very often, and probably never during the day (except during polar vortex events.) The 78% efficiency presumption is also probably slightly higher than reality, but it's not a worst case number. To worst case it, use base 65F and 85% efficiency, which puts a firm upper bound on it.

    Assuming a source fuel energy content of about 138,000 BTU/gallon. About the best you're ever going to do with an old-school oil boiler even with the most advanced retrofit burner is 85% efficiency (that's really dreaming- reality is lower, possibly much lower), so that delivers about 117,300 BTU/gallon into the heating system (the rest went up the flue.)

    Between 5 January and 30 March you used 303.3 gallons of oil, which delivered 117, 300 x 303.3= 35,577,090 BTU into the heating system

    Assuming you keep the house at 68-70F, using base 65F for heating degree-day base would be about right. When it's over 65F outside you would have no heating requirements- the electricity use and body heat from occupants would keep the place at 68-70F. Taking the weather data from the Medford MA weatherstation on degreedays.net, between 1/5 and 3/29 you experienced 3391 HDD.

    So that means you used about 35,577,090 BTU/ 3391 HDD= 10,492 BTU per heating degree-day, which is 10,492 BTU/24 hours per day= 437 BTU per degree-hour.

    The 99% outside design temp for Arlington is about +10F (Boston's is +12F) but for yuks let's use +5F (your approximate 99.7th percentile temperature bin) to even further worst-case it. Using 0F would be silly, since many/most years it never actually reaches that temp in Arlington, and when it does, it's not for long enough to matter. At +5F you are 60F degrees below the presumptive heating/cooling balance point base temp of 65F. That implies a whole-house heat load of:

    60F x 437 BTU per degree-hour= 26,220 BTU/hr @ +5F

    That's about 16 BTU/hr per square foot of conditioned space, which is a totally credible number, but given the age of the boiler it's probably even lower, since the efficiency is lower.

    At your mean January temp of about 30F you're 35F below the balance point, for an average mid-winter heat load of 35F x 437F= 15, 295 BTU/hr.

    With an average load that low you should rule out any modulating boiler that has a minimum fire output higher than about 15,000BTU/hr. All of those 100KBTU/hr input boiler have min-fire output about 2x that much, which is even higher than your load at +5F.)

    The very smallest oil boilers out there have an output of about 60,000 BTU/hr, which is more than 2x oversized for your peak load, and 4x oversized for your mid-winter average load, which makes sticking with oil a very poor choice even if the price of oil managed to reach cost parity with natural gas over the next decade or two which is a dubious proposition at best.

    There are many modulating condensing gas boilers with 50K input at high fire and ~15K output at low fire, and some with a low-fire output of less than 10,000 BTU/hr, which would be GREAT.

    Assuming a 26k peak load and 100' of baseboard that's 260BTU/hr per foot, which according to Slanfin specs takes an average water temp of about 130F, or about 135F out, 125F return. With most mod-con gas-burners an entering water temp of 125F is at the edge of condensing, delivering ~90-91% efficiency at or near it's minimum firing range.

    Assuming a 15k average load that's 150BTU/ft-hr, which takes an AWT of about 110F, and you'd be running 95% efficiency or higher.

    With fin tube baseboard you don't really want to go lower than about 115F for output temp when adjusting the outdoor reset curves, since the output of low-rise convectors becomes very non-linear at lower temp, but clearly you have sufficient amount of baseboard to average in the mid-90s for efficiency once you've tweaked it all in.

    If you're going to cut it up into zones you will run into short-cycling on zone calls at condensing temps, since the output of the baseboard on any one zone will be less than the minimum amount of heat that the boiler can feed it. If that's part of the plan you'll be better off using massive tank-based combi boiler like the HTP Versa. But if you continue to run it as a single zone any number of mod-con boilers would work.
     
  11. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    Location:
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    A Biase with a Riello will run at 85-87% efficiency all day long. It's a three pass, cast iron boiler, wet base. Very efficient. A system 2000 will do 87% all day long. Run the numbers. Take the annual estimated cost of fuels against the cost of installation and I guarantee you the ROA difference will steer you back to oil every time. It's going to take a lot of years to make up that 5000 dollar plus installation cost. Besides that though, almost anything that condenses won't on 100' of baseboard running at condensing temperatures. These guys all want to push gas but I can pretty much guarantee that a few years down the road you won't be happy with either the price you paid or the equipment.
     
  12. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    Location:
    01609
    What's an ROA difference?

    If the Biasi were running on oil and hitting 85-87% efficiency "...all day long..." the temperature inside the house would be over 150F. The problem is that the output of thing (even the smallest version) is nearly 3x the design temp heat load. But it's possible to set them up with a gas burner.

    With a gas burner on it the Biasi won't hit 87% steady-state efficiency, let alone AFUE. It'll hit 84-85% for steady state efficiency, but by virtue of the fact that even the smallest Biasi is still more than 2x oversized for the design heat load means it's as-used AFUE will be lower than it's steady state efficiency.

    If you're going to go with a cast iron boiler the smallest direct-vented Burnham ESC series is a better choice than the Biasi, since it has intelligent heat-purging controls already built in, and is tolerant of return water temps as low as 110F without having to resort to primary/secondary or system bypass plumbing, etc., which means you could run it with outdoor reset control for higher comfort if you wanted to.

    Gas in the Boston area has been running $1.25-1.50/therm over the past 10 years, more like $1.25-1.30/therm over the past 5. At 85% efficiency that's 85,000 BTU/therm or 11.76 therms/MMBTU, which at $1.30/therm is $15.29/MMBTU

    At 138,000 BTU/gallon x 0.87= 120,060 BTU/gallon that's 8.33 gallons/MMBTU. For 87% efficiency oil to be at parity with 85% efficiency gas over the recent 5 years average...

    ...oil has to cost $15.29/8.33= $1.83 /gallon. Running back to oil yet?

    I don't think so. We haven't seen buck-eighty heating oil pricing in over a decade. In fact, running average in MA since 2010 has been over 2x that number.

    There's a financial argument to be made regarding condensing gas vs. mid-efficiency gas, but none with oil. Oil is done as a heating fuel- stick a fork in it. Even mini-split heat pumps chewing through 30 cents/kwh electricity will beat it on cost, even at this year's reduced price. The lower per bbl cost of oil may stick around another year or three- depends on how fast the Iranians can pump oil if they get back in the good graces of the world. The per/bbl price necessary to continue cooking oil sand or fracking shale and still break even will make the cost of heating with oil more expensive than heat pumps running on any common grid source. Oil still has legs as a transportation fuel, but buying a new oil boiler doesn't make economic sense for anybody on the gas-grid.
     
  13. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    Nov 29, 2010
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    Ok, so again, how long to pay off the five thousand dollar install cost difference? If he spent say 1500 bucks to heat last year with oil, he'd have spent nine for gas. Even if it were that big a difference, and it isn't, that's still ten years to make up the difference. Besides that, you all seem to think gss is pretty stable but it's not. The entire eastern seaboard infrastructure is decades old and leaking. Dangerously leaking I might add and the gss utilities will have to start the re piping process sooner than later. Who do you suppose is going to pay for that? I think you're delusional at best.
     
  14. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    There is not a $5K difference between installing a small oil boiler and a small cast iron gas burner for someone who is already on the gas grid. Some of the local gas companies will hook you up at no charge if there's a gas main on your street. (I'm not sure if there's any charge for that in Arlington.)

    The retail price of natural gas could double and still not quite hit the recent 5 year average cost of heating with oil.

    If the phantasm of potential horrific infrastructure upgrade pricing on the gas grid is too much to tolerate, it would make more sense to heat with mini-split heat pumps. The better ducted versions would average a COP of about 3 in an Arlington MA location. A single 1.5 ton ducted Fujitsu would more than cover the average heat load as calculated by the fuel-use numbers, if not quite the 99.7th percentile heat load. It might cover the 99th percentile load. But given that the hydronic system is already in place a gas-boiler is probably still the most viable option.

    If the residential retail price natural gas somehow doubles or triples if/when they start upgrading the gas grid it'll make sense to dust off the mini-split concept though.

    One of the guys in my office just bought a 1920s bungalow in Arlington, MA last year, on a street with a gas main. It's currently heated with a recent vintage steam boiler, but he's yarding that out and installing mini-splits later this year rather than hooking up to the gas grid, despite the ultra-low cost of hooking up. His wife wants the air conditioning. YMMV. (He also just dense-packed cellulose into the walls and installed R50 cellulose in the attic.)

    I wish that heating oil would average a buck-eighty/gallon over the next decade was a realistic prospect going forward. Call me delusional ( again? :) ), but that's about as likely as seeing the tooth fairy riding by on a unicorn.
     
  15. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    I won't argue the mini split option with you because it's probably the best option here given what he has to work with but I just don't see a decent ROA on a home that's not really using all that much product to heat with. Especially if he goes with a condensing boiler and 100' of baseboard but the only way to alleviate that problem is with a buffer tank or the addition of radiant tubing and or baseboards which definitely add at least five grand to the install. BTW, google residential natural gas explosions. Lot more of them happening as of late. Go gas, go boom. The op hasn't thrown any prices at us yet but I'm betting the installed price of the condensing unit is well over ten G's. Real hard to pay that off on use of less that 50,000 btu/hr
     
  16. Reach4

    Reach4 Well-Known Member

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    Location:
    IL
    My 30 day February gas bill had 12 Feb days on it and the rest Jan. The total (including taxes and charges) was $121.25 for 218.75 therms (therm = 100,000 BTU) or $0.55 per therm. At 138690 BTU/gallon, heating oil would have to cost $0.77 per gallon to be equivalent. This is not completely fair because with natural gas, there are monthly charges that continue even if you use little to no gas. With oil, if you are not using it in July, you pay nothing. But with gas you are going to heat water with gas, and you may cook with gas in the summer.

    Plus, east coast gas probably costs more. Maybe a lot more. Natural gas prices may rise; they have been surprisingly low due to fracking. http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/realprices/ shows historical prices. If I read these right, these are CPI-adjusted retail prices, and it looks like my gas was cheaper than their chart. 1000 cubic ft of gas is a little over 10 therms.

    Royalty trust markets do not seem to be priced as if gas is going up a lot soon. It seems to me that gas would have to go up a lot more than oil to make a new oil boiler make economic sense . Gas may go up a lot, for all I know. It has done so impressively at times. Then people drill more wells, and the price drops due to increased supply. If I felt confident that a price rise would happen in the next ten years, I would be looking at gas royalty trusts. But there are a lot of gas wells that were drilled, and wells that were started thinking gas would go high soon are usually completed.
     
  17. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    01609
    What's an ROA?

    100' of baseboard isn't a problem for a mod-con at his heat loads- it's the solution.

    100' of baseboard is PLENTY of heat emitter for a 50K mod-con that modulates down to 15,000 BTU/hr or less. That's 150 BTU/ft-hr, which it would emit with ~110F water, WELL into the condensing range. His 99% heat load is about 25,000 BTU/hr or about 250 BTU/ft-hr with that 100' of baseboard, which would take only 125-130F water temps to deliver, which is also into the condensing range.

    There are many mod-cons that will modulate that low or lower, which means it doesn't need a buffer tank, and it WILL condense, 99% of the time or more.

    And a 3-plate cast iron gas boiler like the direct-vent Burnham ESC-3 costs no more to install than a Biasi. It probably costs less since it won't need a stainless flue liner, and won't need cool-return water protection.
     
  18. Tom Sawyer

    Tom Sawyer In the Trades

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    Nov 29, 2010
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    Return on investment.
     
  19. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Hydronic Heating Designer

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    Occupation:
    hydronic heating designer/contractor
    Location:
    Minneapolis
    Go gas, go boom. Now that is fracking, I mean cracking me up!

    Gas has been historically stable. The fact that we and Dana, I mean the Canadians have more than we can use does not lead one to conclude that it will become scarce or expensive. If you mix it with a ModCon boiler the conversion is cleaner and more efficient than any other common fuel-fired appliance.

    But hey, if you really want to send more money to the Middle East...

    True, the lower the use the longer the payback, but sealed combustion, safer and cleaner indoor and outdoor air, plus getting rid of a chimney on the next re-roof will yield benefits not counted in gold.
     
  20. Dana

    Dana In the trades

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    Reach4: Natural gas in MA is substantially more expensive than in the midwest. Click the link to see just how much it has been historically in MA.

    About 1/4 of the natural gas in the US is currently from fracked wells, wells that are only profitable if they have sufficient liquids fractions, which for most means an average oil price of $75/bbl or higher. They'd never break even on the gas alone. The current low oil prices means the drilling rate in frack-land has gone down dramatically. It takes about 3 years to pump 95% of the liquids that the wells will EVER yield, but for the existing wells gas is still a profitable by-product. Yes, as the fracked wells deplete gas prices will rise as production slows and the glut dissipates, but the current low oil prices will last only as long as worldwide oil demand is down. As oil prices pick up (and they will, unless Iran can flood the market for a decade or more) and fracking for liquids becomes profitable again, natural gas prices will fall again.

    The fracked-gas biz is really a by-product of the hydrocarbon liquids markets. Fracked shale in dry-gas formations costs more to develop than makes sense at recent gas pricing, but they make it OK on the liquids fractions provided the oil price is high enough. At some price point for natural gas developing coal seam methane becomes profitable again, even if dry shale gas isn't. My relatives in the oil & gas exploration biz are sitting on quite a bit of undeveloped but proven coal-seam methane reserves that aren't profitable to develop at recent years' $2-4/MMBTU wholesale price, but will be at $5+. If the oil glut hangs around long enough for gas prices to rise, there's a natural limit to just how high it will rise, given the magnitude of coal seam methane reserves in the US. The price of crude oil has to fall well below current levels for heating oil to be competitive with coal-seam methane.

    Remember when crude was trading at $40/bbl back in '04? That was back when wholesale natural gas was $5/MMBTU (from dry gas sources like coal seams and old-school oil wells ), and the last time price point of heating oil and natural gas was still at rough parity for any sustained period. The price of crude oil today is about 1.5x that amount, and wholesale natural gas is trading at under $3/MMBTU. When wholesale gas hits $7/MMBTU for a sustained run making it at heating cost-parity with oil, my in-laws are going to be over-the-moon rich. But in the mean time they still have to work for a living, sniffing out for patches of oil that might still be profitable at $75-100/bbl (and it isn't easy.)
     
  21. BadgerBoilerMN

    BadgerBoilerMN Hydronic Heating Designer

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    Occupation:
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    Minneapolis
    Makes you feel sad for oil tycoons...:(
     
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