Restoring a 1915 Colonial Revival house

The tired boiler installed in 1989.

A few folks have been writing and asking why we haven't posted any updates in a while. Aside from being busy with our daytime jobs, we've been conserving our financial resources for another big ticket item that needs to be replaced - the boiler. Our house has circulated hot water heat, so having a reliable boiler is essential to surviving the brutal winters the East Coast has been getting the last few years. The boiler we have was never in good shape and barely limped through last winter. The thing broke down at least a dozen times, the last being the death of the motor on the circulator pump, which moves the water through the heating pipes throughout the house. A dead pump means no heat.

Coal found during demolition of what had been a coal storage area

In doing some work in the basement, we've found some clues and have been able to piece together the heating history of our house. The house has always had circulated hot water heat with a cast iron radiator in each room (two in the living room). The heating plant has been changed out a few times over the years. When the house was new, heat was supplied by coal, which was stored in a wooden chamber in the back of the basement. When we were taking out the rotted partitions, we found some small pieces of coal that had rolled underneath decades ago.

Cover from an early oil fired boiler safety control with a patent date of Jan 17, 1922 engraved at the top. The cover dates from 1922-1927, as the Honeywell Heating Specialties Co. name was last used in 1927 due to a company merger. Found in the basement.

The coal boiler was replaced with a fuel oil fired unit right after the King family bought the house in 1929. The house has had oil heat ever since, with at least three other boilers installed over the course of the house's life. The most recent (and the boiler that is currently in place) was installed in 1989. It's 22 years old and did not have the best maintenance over its lifetime. Aside from constantly breaking down, you could smell the thing from a mile away. Needless to say, we kept fresh batteries in our carbon monoxide detectors!

Patched cement and four metal piers mark the location of the first oil-fired boiler

This inscription in the cement patch left by a worker gives us some clue of when the first oil-fired boiler was installed. The coal boiler was apparently taken out in January 1930.

The new boiler, un-crated and ready for installation.

The new boiler we will be installing is pictured above. It's slightly larger than the old unit and has the water input and output pipes on the front and the exhaust opening on the top. The old one had the input, output, and exhaust on the back, so we're going to need to be a little creative installing the new boiler. The first challenge we had to overcome was getting the new boiler unloaded off the truck and inside the basement. The new boiler weighed 560 pounds crated. We built a makeshift "road" of plywood sheets to the basement steps and slid the crated boiler along until we were in position. We laid plywood sheets down the steps to make a ramp and tied several lengths of rope to the crate. Several of us leaned the crate back and slid it down the ramp while several others held on to the ropes so it didn't get away from us. The boiler made it down the steps in one piece and we removed the crate so it would fit through the door. One major hurdle was cleared!

The drain valve on the old boiler. The circulator pump is in the foreground. Note the corrosion caused by a slow leak that was never repaired.

With the new boiler inside, the next step was to get the old one ready for removal. The very first thing we did was to shut the power off to the boiler so it could be safely disconnected. Since we have a circulated hot water heating system, the system needed to be drained before we could do anything else. Hot water boilers have a drain valve, usually on the return side. We ran a garden hose to the drain in the floor and connected it to the drain valve on the boiler. After this was in place, the valve was opened and we waited. And waited. It took the system over an hour to completely drain. There must be a mile of heating pipe in this house!

The smoke pipe protruding from the chimney. The bag was placed to catch falling debris.

After the system had drained, we disconnected the supply and return pipes from the heating system and disconnected the exhaust. I highly recommend wearing a mask when working with the exhaust line because there is going to be a LOT of soot flying when you pull the exhaust pipe out, especially if it hasn't been cleaned in a long time like this one. Once the exhaust pipe was out, we wrapped a plastic bag around the pipe coming out of the chimney to catch any falling debris.

The water input and output pipes cut and disconnected from the heating system.

We cut the two water lines and removed the expansion tank once the system was completely drained. The fuel oil line was removed, leaving the old boiler completely disconnected from the system and ready to be removed.

The new boiler in position.

The old boiler was muscled out of the way and we placed four 12" x 12" cement blocks that were 2" high together on the floor to form a base for the new boiler. We laid a few sheets of plywood on the floor and slid the new boiler across them to its permanent location.

The next few weekends were spent connecting the water supply and return lines, running a new copper fuel oil line from the tank outside, running new BX cable for power and a new thermostat wire, replacing the thermostat, and replacing the smoke pipe going into the chimney. All was pretty straightforward, though the chimney pipe proved to be a messy job. According to the service tag on the old boiler, the chimney pipe and flue were last cleaned in 2006. We pulled over five gallons of soot out of there, so there is no way that it was cleaned only five years ago.

Here is the bucket-full of soot we removed from the chimney.

And, it's finished!

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