Heat loss calculation on every residential boiler replacement?

 

ROB_1-278x300Do you do a heat loss calculation on every replacement job? Should you? Everyone will say you absolutely, positively a must! At the risk of being excommunicated from the Hydronic Brethren, I’ll say not always, and, depending on the type of work you do, maybe never. How can that be possible?

I live and work on that lengthy, narrow atoll that Dan Holohan refers to as the Isle of Long, aka Long Island. It’s full of subdivisions built mostly between 1950-1980; these developments are invariably comprised of a very few models of homes. Ranches, capes and colonials primarily with a smattering of variations on that theme, splanches, high ranches and split levels. Probably 90% of the homes will fit one of these categories.

Back in the early ’80s I  was told a Manual J was the proper way to size boilers and I decided  that I would do it that way. The Manual J  is very aptly named because it entails a lot of manual labor to gather the data and then do the calculation the old school way on worksheets. After slightly more than four hours into it, I arrived at a number that was approximately one third that of the existing boiler? Impossible! I did the math again with the same result. I thought my scientific approach would impress the prospective client and win me the job, not quite! I presented my proposal to the homeowner along with the heat loss worksheet showing a boiler size of 59,000 BTU/hr. It wasn’t received very well. After he stopped laughing and regained his composure, he showed me the three other quotes he had gotten. The existing boiler was 160K, the quotes were from 160-225K — all from reputable local companies, who at that point in time had been in business a lot longer than me. Long story short, he went with the company proposing the 225K boiler. “That way it doesn’t have to work as hard”

That turned me off heat loss calculations for quite awhile, until I got my first computer, an IBM XT. Some very expensive heat loss software and I was back in the game, only now with very official looking reports printed with my daisy wheel printer! I had a little bit better luck this time around, and while not everyone was buying this method of boiler sizing, enough were. I’d be lying if I wasn’t nervous when the first stretch of design temp weather set in but amazingly enough, no complaints! I started doing quite a few with the new computer but after awhile I noticed something: the numbers were almost all the same. No sense spending time measuring another ranch when you’ve already done  10 of them and they are all within 5% of each other!

There was and still is a very substantial proportion of oil heated homes on Long Island, and unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of choices size wise in oil boilers. Even today, 65K is about the smallest and many manufacturers smallest are in the 85K range. Doesn’t make a lot of sense measuring a house you know from doing many heat loss calcs on similar homes is less than 50K when the smallest boiler available is 85K!

Yeah, but what about the oddball home? The mid-’80s contemporaries or the circa homes? I have an answer to those as well and no measuring required!  You need some information; the heating degree days over a known period of time; I’d recommend a year and the fuel consumption over that same time period. Degree days can be found at http://www.weatherdatadepot.com/
Step 1.  Add up all the BTUs of the fuel you used and multiply by the AFUE rating of your heating appliance. A gallon of oil has 139,000 BTUs/gallon, a therm of natural gas has 100,000 BTUs/therm, and gallon of propane contains 91,000BTUs/gallon. Some gas utilities measure their consumption in CCF, which is 100 cubic feet, which is 102,000 BTUs

Step 2. Divide the total number of BTUs by the number of  heating degree days. The result is a measure of how many BTUs your home lost per Heating-Degree-Day. Now divide that result by 24 to obtain the number of BTUs your home loses per heating-degree-hour. Lastly, multiply the result by the difference between 70°F and the design temp. For example, if the design temp is  0°F, then the difference you multiply your heating-degree-hours by is 70°F.

An example:

Home using 1000 therms/year in a 80% boiler in a 6000 Degree day climate per year

1000 x 100,000 ( BTU per therm)  = 100,000,000 BTU’s

100,000,000 x .80 (AFUE)    = 80,000,000

80,000,000 ÷  6000( Degree Days) = 13,333.33

13,333.33 ÷  24 (hours per day)  =  555.555

555.555 x 70 ( desired indoor delta T) = 38,888 BTU/Hr

38,888 = heat loss of home

A couple of big advantages to this system, it gives you an actual heat loss on an actual home, not a calculation based on factors that may or may not be correct. How do you know the infiltration or do anything other than guess at an R value? No tape measure required! There a few caveats, however; if they use supplemental heating, mini split heat pumps, pellet stoves, etc., the number will not be correct and depending on how much they supplemented may not even be close.

Caveat number two: they kept the house colder than they would have liked due to fuel cost; this one is pretty common in oil and propane heated homes and will skew the number lower because of the abnormally low fuel consumption. Ask these questions upfront and when you get the final number, ask yourself if it makes sense. The average number around here is 20 BTU/sq ft. If I am much off that in either direction, I look for a reason why. As a last resort you can always break out the tape measure!

Robert C. OBrien is the owner of Technical Heating Co. LLC in Mt. Sinai, NY. Robert serves as the Vice President of the national OESP chapter. See more from Robert in his blog “Boiler Sizing & Indirect Water Heaters“ & “Converting from Oil to Natural Gas“.

18 thoughts on “Heat loss calculation on every residential boiler replacement?

  1. Great article, thank you Bob. Unforunately our building inspectors require a heat loss on each replacement, and many won’t even recognize a connected load on steam. I wish they would accept and acknowledge your wisdom.

    1. Bob, great article! I especially like how you point out that we never know the infiltration rate nor the r values in buried walls and ceilings. Too many what ifs..I have an older friend who insists that Manual J is the only way to determine equipment sizing, i will forward this to him.

      Some of the inspectors are requiring heat loss calcs now around here (mass). thing is, most of these inspectors are former framers and vinyl siders who know NOTHING about hvac, but want these to cover their butts, not for the consumers best interest. If the customer isn’t happy, they call us not the inspector.

      Another thing is on mod/con boilers and furnaces, they are virtually impossible to oversize to anyone with experience in this business. like you pointed out most average homes calcs come out within 5-10% of each other, these units usually come in sizes that increase 25% as they go up in size.

  2. A heat loss is required in Maine and it must be available to the state inspector upon request. When would they request it? Only if the homeowner makes an official complaint with their office.

    1. Ken, the local utility requires a heat gain for high efficiency CAC rebates. I couldn’t figure out how guys were still putting 5 ton units in 2.5 ton houses? They put the numbers in that yield the results they want and no one calls them on it

  3. Excellent article Bob,

    Your method is empirical and has great value for that reason. Especially in an existing building in a specific location. The existing heating system with a history of fuel use can be used as an instrument by which one can estimate the necessary design capacity. This can yield measured results rather than textbook estimating.

    If I might add, there are several caveats to account for, especially the efficiency of the existing system, and the efficiency of the house. As houses become more efficient, solar and internal gains make up for larger fractions of the heat loss, effectively lowering the outside air temperature at which a building might “call for heat”. Because heating degree days are measured at base 65, it is necessary to de-rate the deg day totals for very efficient buildings especially super efficient buildings.
    Thanks for a good article.

  4. Jim,that makes no sense on steam whatsoever, the heat loss is irrelevant! As far as the calculated heat loss, how many times has the calculated number turned out to be too large? I figured that out the first design day when run time was only 11 hours in a 24 hour period!

  5. Bob, you know where I am coming from and I completely agree with you. I do enough heat loss calculations but also triangulate using HDD data vs. fuel consumed, same as you do, plus a take-off of radiation as a “whoa! Stop!” metric that tells me there is no point in installing a boiler with an output greater than the radiation it serves. Yes, understood that radiation is not heat loss or rarely is, but it is the governor on the larger engine of options.

    Another facet is modulating boilers- they become the boiler you need, when you need them.
    In the end, yes, I will calculate at least a block heat loss as a check, habit and best practice, but the answers are routinely in the same range for similar homes.

  6. Robert Have you compared the results to an actual heat loss on the same home? What I see is a total BTU consumption for a home. This does not take into consideration BTU’s that were consumed for heating domestic water, cooking or clothes drying.
    I will say that it is close, however it seems to only represent the BTU’s that would satisfy the thermostat no? In homes with multiple zones = multiple thermostats we will have some rooms over working because they will loose heat to rooms under working. At least that is how I see it…
    Thoughts please?

  7. Bob this was a very interesting article. I have a couple of questions. First, if I am reading this correctly, is this final value is the average heat loss of the home? If so, then this doesn’t take into account design day boiler selection. So, I am wondering how to apply this information in terms of proper boiler selection?
    I am a boiler rep and I am always telling contractors to do a heat loss. Too many times they just replace whats in the basement. We all know the variety of ways the old guys used to use to oversize a boiler!

    1. This will give you the correct boiler size. It’s the total energy consumption over a known period of time and known temperatures. With a standard heat loss calc you are guessing at a lot factors that you aren’t sure about,who knows what the R factor is exactly? How do you know the insulation was installed properly and hasn’t settled or been wet or vermin infested? How do you know the infiltration factor without a blower door test? Do it both ways and compare the numbers,they will be pretty close and as you said both will be tremendously less than the existing boiler! We do a fair amount of oil boilers and the smallest are generally 75K,which makes a heat loss a moot point on any tract home under 3000 sq/ft, at least in my climate.

  8. I think this or a similar calculation should be done as a point of comparison, but I would caution using this as the only calculation/criteria for sizing the boiler. The annual heating therms are the result of variables, many that are not proportionate to degree days. Consider the difference between a sunny afternoon at 0F and at 5AM at 0F when the house is trying to recover from night setback. Those data points both went into the annual consumption and are “averaged” out with this calculation technique.

    Building load calcs. require a lot of educated guesses, but each estimated value is only part of your resulting load. And each value is estimated based on a worst case scenario as opposed to an average. i.e. you would not consider a house full of people on a sunny afternoon as your design conditions.

    I agree that many times heating systems are oversized and that for residential applications there are limited incremental choices of equipment capacities. I use the method described here, (or an expanded version using monthly data) but I know that it is likely too small. You should rely on your experience and understanding of the application as much as any calculation. And don’t forget you will want extra capacity to recover from night setback in a reasonable length of time.

    1. Every type of calculation has some guesswork in it, but since most don’t do any “math” at all in selecting a replacement boiler, it certainly beats that! I honestly believe it will get you in the ballpark quickly and easily, I’ve found it to be within 10% of a Manual J. Even at that, the number is usually smaller than the smallest boiler available! A lot more 35K houses out there than 125K houses,yet very few 35K boilers available while 125K boilers are everywhere! 🙂

  9. Your points are well taken. But it is not an excuse to never do a Manual ‘J’, which, unfortunately, is the industry standard. If you know how to do a heat load and have done them successfully in the past I would give you a pass. If I worked in Levittown I would not likely do many heat loads but would likely get into and argument with people who think you need more than 50 mbtuh condensing boiler to heat one.

    Which brings me to another pep peeve; the new excuse that all condensing boilers modulate so size doesn’t matter. I get the calls when boiler are twice over-sized and modulate to shutdown to the point that they won’t heat the house.

    The fact that we have to guess about air changes, insulation and other such, suggests that a WAG is sufficient, or even better! Not so. We use Wrightsoft for our Unico and hydronic work on a daily basis. We do these heating and cooling loads for our own local work and for many clients across the US and Canada. Most complain that they can’t get the local “professionals” to produce one and the bids they receive often vary in equipment size by as much as 100%.

    I have performed heat loads for concrete homes without insulation and Passive House designs. The numbers are always in question, which is why experience helps, but a proper heat load on a Queen Anne with two additions, basement remodel and new windows requires the use of CAD software if accuracy is the goal. I just did and extensive remodel of a 1960’s Prairie School with so much geometry I had to have a blower door test to determine the loads accurately. Since many upgrades to insulation and window were to be done, the basement floor torn up, insulated and PEX tubing installed for a new zone, CAD drawings and heat/cooling loads were a must.

    If you lose a job because you know more than your competitors you have to ask yourself if you really want customers that aren’t too bright or perhaps you should be reading more books on good sales techniques.

    In other words, if you know what your doing, you don’t need to be told. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you need an excuse. This article is a good as any.

  10. Thanks, Audetat. Doing repetitive heat loads and always coming up with a number smaller than the smallest boilers available led me to give this some thought. That and seeing boilers that were sized real close to the calculated heat loss run at best 60% of the time on design days. I’ve found this method to be within 10% of a Manual J and if one says 48K and the other 43K, what difference does it really make?

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Hydronic geothermal heat pump

WaterFurnace International, Inc., a leading manufacturer of geothermal and water source heat pumps, introduces the 5 Series 504W11 hydronic geothermal heat pump, featuring WaterFurnace’s patent-pending OptiHeat vapor injection technology. While most hydronic geothermal systems generate 130°F water, OptiHeat creates exiting water temperatures up to 150°F, thanks to an additional heat exchanger that diverts excess heat … Continue reading Hydronic geothermal heat pump

Watts opens Watts Works Learning Center

On April 20, Watts Water Technologies  announced the grand opening of the Watts Works Learning Center, a 12,000-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art facility where customers, distributors, sales representatives, and others can obtain hands-on experience with the company’s plumbing, HVAC, and water quality products and technologies. The 12,000-square-foot facility includes configurable classrooms, demonstration labs, and working mechanical rooms that … Continue reading Watts opens Watts Works Learning Center

NaviLink™ available through Navien wholesale distribution

Seen at AHR, Navien’s newest industry-first innovation, NaviLink, is now available through Navien wholesale distribution. This optional new Wi‑Fi remote control system makes it easy for commercial and residential users to communicate with their Navien systems from anywhere in the world. The NaviLink module attaches easily to all Navien water heaters and boilers (NPE series, … Continue reading NaviLink™ available through Navien wholesale distribution

Coffee with Caleffi™: Temperature regulation

A new speaker to the popular Coffee with Caleffi™ webinar series, Claudio Ardizzoia, debuts on Thursday, May 19 at 12 noon CDT discussing Super Simple and Reliable Temperature Regulation for Hydronic and DHW Systems. Ardizzoia, product marketing manager of Caleffi S.p.a., will explain the functionality of mixing valves in both plumbing and hydronic applications, investigating … Continue reading Coffee with Caleffi™: Temperature regulation

Bell & Gossett releases Q2 Little Red Schoolhouse schedule

Earn credits toward green building certification through Xylem’s industry-leading training at its Bell & Gossett Little Red Schoolhouse (LRSH). Second-quarter classes are geared toward engineers, contractors and installers in the commercial plumbing and hydronic heating and cooling industries. The LRSH’s one-of-a-kind, systems based training approach provides industry professionals with hands-on training and holistic solutions to … Continue reading Bell & Gossett releases Q2 Little Red Schoolhouse schedule

Taco’s expands iWorX building automation platform capabilities

Building owners and commercial system designers and installers now have a bigger ally in Taco. The company has broadly expanded the capabilities of its iWorX control platform to provide an updated graphical user experience.   A tablet, PC or smart phone now acts as the local control interface for monitoring, system diagnostics and the new … Continue reading Taco’s expands iWorX building automation platform capabilities

Aspen, Colorado high-end home features high-end hydronics

When the owners of a 10,000-sq.-ft. new construction high-end residential home in Aspen, Colo. was looking for a reliable company with extensive experience in hydronic heating and high-end residential plumbing, they looked no further than Top Gun Plumbing & Heating, Glenwood Springs, Colo. In addition to battling the elements, the design of the project presented … Continue reading Aspen, Colorado high-end home features high-end hydronics

Carlson-Holohan Award finds permanent home at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York

Right across the street from the Harvard Club of New York, funded by notable members such as Andrew Carnegie, sits the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York. Founded on November 17, 1785 the aims of the General Society were to provide cultural, educational and social services to families of … Continue reading Carlson-Holohan Award finds permanent home at the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York

Caleffi releases new idronics: Water Quality in Hydronic Systems

Water is the essential fluid in all hydronic systems. Its quality affects the system’s overall efficiency, reliability, life expectancy and the effectiveness of chemical additives. The 18th edition of idronics™ discusses problems that can develop within hydronic systems when water quality is ignored. It lays our procedures for converting raw water into high quality water … Continue reading Caleffi releases new idronics: Water Quality in Hydronic Systems

Lochinvar names January VIP program winners

Lebanon, Tenn. — Lochinvar has announced its monthly VIP Contractor Program winners for January. The company rewards VIP Contractors throughout the heating season for impressive installations submitted in the VIP Installation Showcase and holds a monthly drawing for VIP Contractors who register qualified products. Of all the entries posted in January’s VIP Installation Showcase, which … Continue reading Lochinvar names January VIP program winners

Coffee with Caleffi™: Siegenthaler Examines Water Quality in Hydronic Systems

Many installers simply fill their newly installed hydronic systems with water that’s available on site. Sometimes they’re “lucky” to have water with relatively low dissolved solids, stable pH and low turbidity. Other times they may not be so lucky. Although problems may not appear right away, the life of their new system could be significantly … Continue reading Coffee with Caleffi™: Siegenthaler Examines Water Quality in Hydronic Systems

Taco introduces the Dan Holohan Comfort Award at AHR Expo

At this year’s AHR Expo, Taco CEO Johnny White Jr. presented the Dan Holohan Lifetime Contribution to Comfort Award to Dan Holohan. The award’s inaugural presentation to its namesake, Dan Holohan, was called, by White, “just one small token of appreciation for a lifetime of tireless commitment to improving the trade and — in no … Continue reading Taco introduces the Dan Holohan Comfort Award at AHR Expo

2016-2018 Carlson – Holohan Industry Award of Excellence Inductee – John Goshulak, P.Eng.

At the RPA party at this past AHR Show in Orlando, the next chapter in the Carlson-Holohan Industry Award of Excellence was revealed as John Goshulak, P.Eng., was announced the next torch bearer of said biennual award, which is bestowed upon an individual who is selfless and gives his/her time to raise the benchmark of … Continue reading 2016-2018 Carlson – Holohan Industry Award of Excellence Inductee – John Goshulak, P.Eng.

Must Own: Lessons Learned Servicing Boilers by Ray Wohlfarth

Ray Wohlfarth, international author of Lessons Learned in a Boiler Room and Lessons Learned: Connecting New Boilers to Old Pipes, has a new book on the service of hydronic and low pressure steam boilers, entitled, Lessons Learned Servicing Boilers. The book is filled with almost 300 pages of tips, rules of thumbs, formulas, and jobsite … Continue reading Must Own: Lessons Learned Servicing Boilers by Ray Wohlfarth

Product Review: Viessmann Vitocrossal (CU3) boiler

Jim Godbout Plumbing & Heating, Inc. is a very diversified company offering comfort and efficiency using geothermal systems, solar thermal sstems by and plumbing, piping and HVAC systems. Godbout provides service for the entire coastline of Maine from York to Freeport. Including: Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Portland, South Portland and everywhere in between. The Hub … Continue reading Product Review: Viessmann Vitocrossal (CU3) boiler

WaterFurnace introduces HydroLogic, a simple solution for radiant heating

WaterFurnace International, Inc. introduces HydroLogic, a turnkey solution for radiant heating that integrates seamlessly into a WaterFurnace geothermal system. It is a cost-effective product that takes the complexity and time out of radiant system installations. The main component of HydroLogic is a pre-piped, pre-wired modular mechanical panel designed to simplify installation. The panel supports cooling, … Continue reading WaterFurnace introduces HydroLogic, a simple solution for radiant heating

Boiler primer: Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.

Bosch Thermotechnology is a leading source of high quality cooling and heating systems, including tankless, point-of-use and electric water heaters, floor-standing and wall-hung boilers, Bosch and FHP geothermal heat pump systems as well as controls and accessories for every product line. Bosch Thermotechnology is committed to reinventing energy efficiency by offering smart products that work … Continue reading Boiler primer: Bosch Thermotechnology Corp.

‘Caleffi Excellence’ grand prize winner announced

The year-long contest — Caleffi Excellence — which is a platform where designers and installers of hydronic or plumbing systems can showcase their work and receive national recognition, has culminated in the announcement of the grand prize winner. Bill Olschewski of Tip Top Plumbing (Manitoba, Canada) and a guest of his choice has won a … Continue reading ‘Caleffi Excellence’ grand prize winner announced

tekmar snow & ice melting app & online design tool

tekmar unveiled its new app and online tool to assist users in designing their own snow & ice melting solutions. Contractors, engineers, and distributors can use the app and online tool to enter their design parameters and instantly receive the specific information they need to specify the correct control solution, prepare a quote, and successfully … Continue reading tekmar snow & ice melting app & online design tool

Coffee with Caleffi: Boiler Component Selection

December Webinar Completes Component Selection Series In the webinar, Bob “Hot Rod” Rohr, training and education manager, completes a two-part boiler component selection series on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 12 noon CST concentrating on key components used in renewable energy hydronic systems. Please visit www.caleffi.com for registration details. The complimentary educational series, Coffee with Caleffi™, … Continue reading Coffee with Caleffi: Boiler Component Selection