Ask the Remodeler: Should this homeowner convert to natural gas?


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Jun 19, 2023

Ask the Remodeler: Should this homeowner convert to natural gas?

By Mark Philben, The Boston Globe Q. I have a 2,500-square-foot

By Mark Philben, The Boston Globe

Q. I have a 2,500-square-foot Colonial with hot water baseboard heat. My boiler is 25 years old and in good shape. Last spring, after paying $5.50 per gallon for heating oil, I had National Grid connect me to the gas line on my street. I don't know whether to convert to natural gas, so I would appreciate your input. Considering that the boiler and the tank are old and oil prices may not go down, I need to make a decision soon. To replace the tank and the boiler far exceeds the cost of converting to natural gas (with the rebates/tax credits). My concerns with natural gas are that those furnaces last only half as long as oil burners and that natural gas may not be a bargain compared with oil. Would you recommend a combination gas furnace or a separate hot water tank?


A. The very short answer would be to convert to a more efficient, cleaner-burning gas boiler. Since older boilers go at the worst possible time (when they are overworked during a winter cold snap), it is best to be proactive. More often than not, we advise homeowners to go with a boiler and an indirect-fired water storage tank. The boiler fuels the hot water tank as a separate zone. This is efficient and requires less maintenance than some of the combination systems out there. Advice that we regularly give to clients and Globe readers is to get an estimate for electric heat pumps for heat and AC but to leave their existing heating system in place. You will add years onto the life of the boiler when it is not the main source of heat. With electric heat pumps, you can also explore adding solar panels (your house may be a good candidate) or joining a solar co-op. Either way, you can potentially lock in rates for years to come and avoid the roller coaster that is fossil fuel pricing.

Q. I hope you can figure out why we have moisture in the attic of our 1949 Cape ranch. We had our attic insulated about 15 years ago, which helped a lot with our oil bill. The downside is we have moisture trapped under the floorboards where the insulation was blown in. Our floorboards are curled and damp only during the winter; the heat dries everything out in the summer. We had an attic ventilation company inspect the space, and they recommended many corrections. We did them, but our condensation problems continue. We have forced-hot water heat. What do you recommend?


A. It definitely sounds as if your ceiling insulation is inadequate and that you are experiencing textbook heat loss coming into the attic flooring system, where the heated air condenses against the underside of the very cold attic floorboards. The most cost-effective solution would be to get a higher R-value in the ceiling. That would most likely involve removing some attic floorboards and the loose-fill cellulose and spraying in dense-pack cellulose, filling all voids possible. This should be done professionally to make sure you are not spraying over things like recessed lights that are not rated for insulation contact. Another, but more expensive, option is to change the thermal envelope of the house and spray closed-cell insulation on the attic end walls and in the rafter bays. This will keep the attic at a more even temperature throughout the year, avoiding things like condensation on the attic floorboards.

Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing. Subscribe to the Globe's free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at

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