I’m Getting Into Hot Water, and I’m Liking It!

4 Feb

Okay class, welcome back to “Ronin’s 10 simple rules to live by when designing and building a home, because you’re poor, and you can’t afford a new one any other way… and your mother-in-law is a harpie who won’t shut up about it and what a bum you are…” LOL!

Whew! Try saying that three times fast, while your wife smacks you on the back of the head for talking about her mother… LOL!

Building a new home is complicated. Now those of you who frequent this blog (need to get lives, because you’ve obviously got way too much time on your hands…) know that my family is building a new home to replace the one that a hurricane ate. And, you know that we’re building it out of Shipping Containers, and recycled aircraft hanger components, because… we… um… er… the price was right.

If you didn’t know all that, you do now.

Where was I? My ears are ringing!!! Oh yeah… The 10 “Simple” Rules!

We’ve already discussed some of the “rules for homebuilding” that I’ve decided to bombard you with. And, I’ll remind you that a pop quiz is always possible (but not very likely).

After all, you’re too far away to be smacked on the head with a ruler, eh? Don’t make me put my wife in a car. Her “smacking prowess” makes Mike Tyson look like a sissy…

We’ve talked about  (#1) the Sun, (#2) Spray Foam and SIPs (you remember what SIPs are, right? Cuz’ I’m warming up my smackin’ hand…), (#3) building mass (thermal) walls, and even (#4) heating the floor.

This time, we’re gonna talk about an element of that heat system.

Using High Efficiency Condensing Boilers

Heating is the single largest energy expense in most homes, accounting for 35-50% of annual energy bills in colder parts of the country.

Have you watched the News lately? Not only have terrible Ice Storms caused power blackouts, crisis and death all across America, there are Ice Storms in Florida! It’s official folks, Hell has frozen over!


So, reducing your heating energy usage is the single most effective way to save money and reduce your home’s contribution to global environmental problems. And, your teeth will stop chattering!

But what in the hell is a “Condensing Boiler?”

boiler2_largeOkay, you’ve figured out that a condensing boiler is a boiler designed to provide heat. After all, there’s no opening in it for eggs or hot dogs, right? LOL!

A condensing boiler is a high efficiency modern boiler that incorporates either a larger heat exchanger or even a second heat exchanger. It produces lower flue gas temperatures, lower flue gas emissions, and reduced fuel consumption .  It typically converts more than 88% of the fuel used into useful heat, compared to, typically, 60%-78% for modern conventional types.

By recovering and using heat that would otherwise be lost up the flue the best high efficiency boilers can operate with seasonal efficiencies in excess of 90%.  Recovering the heat from the flue reduces the temperature of the flue gases to a point where water vapor produced during combustion is ‘condensed out’. Thus the name high efficiency condensing boiler.  A side effect is that this ‘condensed out’ water, known as condensate, which is acidic, has to be piped away to a drain.  All condensing boilers will produce ‘pluming’ from the flue terminal which appears as steam. This pluming can drift into neighboring  property causing annoyance and possible condensation on window glass or frames so careful consideration should be given to siting of the flue terminal especially if it may effect neighboring property.

A condensing boiler can work at over 90% efficiency.

Whaaaaa? Okay, I’ve read all yer damned gobbledegook, Ronin! What the hell does all that mean?

Hey! Don’t blame me! It gave me a headache just writing it… um… er… copying it… if the truth be known… pass the Tylenol, please…

Well, it just means that when a condensing boiler is working at its peak efficiency, the water vapor produced in the gas combustion process condenses back into water – hence the name “condensing” boiler. Capish?

This condensation of exhaust gases releases the latent heat that is given off whenever the vaporization of water takes place. Together these two processes create the high efficiencies associated with…  you guessed it… “condensing boilers.”


A high efficiency boiler can save more energy for your dollar than any solar thermal system. A High efficiency (95%+ AFEU efficiency) direct vent, condensing boiler(s) should always be used to supply energy for radiant heat *and* even your home’s domestic hot water via a sidearm, or indirect, tank.

Now, I’m not sure why we’re suddenly talking about Nolan Ryan, but… (for those of you who don’t know who that is… “Google!” Actually, he is a Baseball Pitcher who could knock a fly off the end of a bat, at 90 feet…) The fireballer had 324 wins, 5,714 strikeouts, and seven no-hitters.


Ah… never mind…

Housing Experts are telling us that these boilers are now reliable, proven and inexpensive. This translates into: a couple of extra thousand dollars spent now (you didn’t expect them to be cheap, right?), will return the average homeowner’s investment within the first year or two.

What else should you know?

It’s a good idea to avoid tankless hot water heaters or standalone gas or electric water heaters, if you’re going to use Radiant In-Floor Heating.

Energy efficiency should be a major consideration when choosing a water (or gasp! HEAT) heating system.

Tankless Hot Water heaters guzzle energy.

Standalone systems aren’t very efficient, from a money standpoint. Combining all your water heating needs (Radiant In-Floor Heating and  Domestic Hot Water Supply) together will save you money. After all, with a Condensing boiler sitting right there, you already have everything you need.

And, if (G_d forbid!) your home is too large for one central hot water source (I should have such trouble… Oy Vey!), Solar hot water can be used to supplement if your budget allows and your solar electric space is maximized already.

Here’s a tip, that should border on “A hard rule tattooed on your forehead…”

ALWAYS, always, always… use an accredited HVAC engineering firm (not your plumber!) to design the HVAC and geo-exchange systems. These boiler systems are complicated beasts, and you want someone who works with them EVERY DAY to design yours. Trust me on this one.

Otherwise, your mother-in-law will never shut up…


Before you let me have it, I admit that there is some “negative feedback” bordering on “controversy” on these boilers.

Naysayers say that:

“Condensation is needed for high efficiency boilers and it only occurs if the flue gas temperature is below 120deg F, so to lower the temperature they bring in cold winter air (which obviously defeats any heat savings) when the boiler is running extra hot in winter. These systems don’t work!”

In part, that’s WHY you need a good, solid design for your boiler system. Comprende?

Next time we’ll talk about… lemme’ see… hmmmm… well… you’ll just have to check back, to find out!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance RoninNote: In “celebration” of both winter, and “frozen friends…” I give you a new header photo “Container Cabin in the Sky!” Some of you will recognize the cabin, it’s a “Stankey Monument.”

One Response to “I’m Getting Into Hot Water, and I’m Liking It!”


  1. Tankless Hot Water Systems - February 12, 2009

    […] I’m Getting Into Hot Water […]

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