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April 21, 2006

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Don't forget about natural gas.

I stopped to buy gas this morning on the way to work. A cable TV reporter came up to me and asked me what I thought of the prices. I told her, and she asked who I thought was to blame. I gave a poorly thought out and deeply unsatisfying answer. I had the chance to say something intelligent -- or maybe even angry -- and move the debate forward in this country. Bring us all one step closer to a real energy policy. But I totally blew it.

All day, people kept calling me to say they thought they'd heard my voice coming from a TV in the gym or wherever, and looked up and there I was mumbling something about how my VW takes premium.

I think I have to change my name and move to another city.

One small action that I've just taken is using a push-reel mower in the front yard. It uses no gas, leaves no clumps, I don't have to yank a cord to start it, and it's so blissfully quiet that I could mow at 3 a.m and not wake anybody up.

It does get stuck on any little twig and isn't even, but still, I'm in love with it already.

The back yard is *much* larger, so I still need a riding mower for that.

But is a Prius really more efficient? I read things like this and don't know what to do:

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060331/sff031.html

Albert: I don't know about that -- and I bought the Prius in 2000, before that analysis. I do wonder whether some aspects of the Prius -- like it's being a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (I guess they had to come up with a new term when ULEV was surpassed) is included with that. In any case, though, I'm in love with mine, and I snicker at Hummers as they drive by.

CharleyCarp: condolences. I hate it when that happens. -- Though I once had the opposite problem: I was very articulate to someone who had not identified herself as a New York Times reporter, and got quoted saying various things about Princeton NJ that I would not have said had I known. (The only one I can still remember -- this was about 25 years ago -- was that I believed that every night, armies of tiny gnomes came out and vacuumed the sidewalks. -- One of my aunts called my parents to offer her condolences.)

armies of tiny gnomes came out and vacuumed the sidewalks

1. Sidewalk gnomes steal all the dirt at night.

2. ??????

3. Profit!!!

In the case of onrushing catastrophes we are totally unprepared for, it looks like peak gas will get us before peak oil.

Tim -- is there anything particularly good to read on peak gas? (I focused on oil both because I know something about it and because the implications as regards e.g. transportation are more obvious. But I'd like to learn more about peak gas, especially since the new house runs on natural gas.)

For up-to-date stuff, I like the Oildrum.

Oildrum

Since Katrina, when it became obvious that natural gas is a big or a bigger problem than oil, they have been tracking it. You'll also find links to other info sources, like EIA.

Arggh.

Oildrum

Here would be a good overview:

Gas

Good article hilzoy.

I agree with everything you wrote except the bit on global warming. No one has been able to offer any conclusive proof; the infamous “hockey stick” has recently been called into question, and critics of those advancing global warming theories are marginalized rather than being publicly debated.

Even so, take that one argument out and the rest of your piece still offers plenty of incentive to do something now now now.

Boilers - That "cement" on your old boiler may contain asbestos. In that era the heating pipes may also have been jacketed with asbestos. You may be about to experience "abatement".

Boilers - Some of the more efficient new boilers are also very complex. You may have to consider the upfront investment VS BOTH cost savings and system reliability. Reliability is still very important in places like Minnesota (MN) despite global warming.

Coal - The USA has huge deposits of coal; the largest in the world. Thus as prices rise and coal-to-liquid/gas conversion becomes cost effective the USA may be in a very good position for hydrocarbons vs. the rest of the world.

Energy conservation - We have done all sorts of stuff at our house to cut heating costs by about 20-25%. But could we cut 85%?? It may be a wacked-out idea but I keep thinking we should build houses with optional heating. Room-by-room or something. In particular design a "core house". The core would be the zone where the water pipes are so the least energy is spent preventing pipe-freezing. In a new house the core might be away from all exterior walls. In an older house you might use low wattage heating wires and insulation to keep the water pipes above freezing but let the rest of the house be heated as-needed.

Some of the house might get quite cold but counter that with clothing. There are some very nice thin, lightweight garments we wear outdoors in the winter that we could also be fine with indoors.

Coal - The USA has huge deposits of coal; the largest in the world. Thus as prices rise and coal-to-liquid/gas conversion becomes cost effective the USA may be in a very good position for hydrocarbons vs. the rest of the world.

Coal prices have about doubled the last year, as have prices for mosr materials as cement and steel. It is quite possible that CTL and CTG will never become cost effective. After all, Brazil made most of its investment when oil was still cheap, an option no longer available to us.

Tim - Unfortunately your post left me confused - esp the phrase "...an option no longer available to us"


I think there are a few CTG plants operating in the USA now. North Dakota comes to mind. Perhaps they are unprofitable?

In the case of the cost of coal the price rise appears to be due to surge in demand ahead of capacity to produce. The process of mining coal in the USA is not nearly so difficult or energy-intensive as extracting oil from tar sands in northern Canada. So if the mining operations and rail transportation networks expand then coal prices need not rise too high.

The huge coal reserves in the USA appear to be REAL whereas oil reserves around the world appear to be greatly overstated.

Brazil has done a few good things that relate to timing.
1. Years ago they set out to become more independent of foreign oil and they stuck with it. Today 25% or more of their automotive gas is alcohol. The delivery infrastructure is in place all the way to the consumer. In the USA E85 gas pumps are scarce as are the vehicles that use it.

2. Brazil put emphasis on fuel efficient cars and stuck with it.

3. Due to their equatorial climate it is easy to grow sugar cane. Their sugarcare-to-alcohol process is said to yield 8 times more energy than our corn-based options.

4. And they have recently developed their own offshore oil fields which, although small compared to global needs, are perfect for their own needs.


Hilzoy:

I read the title of this post as "Of Broilers and Other Things" and expected some chicken recipes, or least an opportunity to crack wise about chickens.

I've known three other people who have purchased homes with boilers (one had a chicken run, too). All three within the first month of occupancy had to replace their boilers. It's Adam Smith's Invisible Hand: Person X sells home to avoid replacing the boiler; Person Y purchases home and replaces boiler; Person X (the aghast but oddly grinning boiler guy) sells expensive boiler.

See? Well, it needs work.

Jason: I too decided to conserve energy by changing my lawn mowing modus operandi. I make my son do it now.

Re global warming: Here's what we do. We place Michael Crichton, George W. Bush, and Senator Imhofe in three separate cages in three separate tidal pools, one each on the Atlantic coast, the Pacific coast, and at the mouth of the Mississippi.

Over time, we check each day to see that that they are not under water permanently and not being picked to death by crabs with bibs and little dishes of drawn butter.

Their faith -- my science experiment.

I'm willing to replicate the experiment with Dick Cheney, Neil Boortz, and the entire Wall Street editorial board (a suite of cages).

The latter bunch would write an editorial about the experience pointing out that while they drowned, what about that orange grove in Manitoba.

OCSteve wrote:

I agree with everything you wrote except the bit on global warming. No one has been able to offer any conclusive proof; the infamous “hockey stick” has recently been called into question, and critics of those advancing global warming theories are marginalized rather than being publicly debated.

Do you mean that there is no proof for global warming?
If so, you might perhaps look at reinsurance companies. They are interested in it because it costs them money. :)

"Munich Re" for example, the world´s largest reinsurer.
http://munichre.com/
Topics and Solutions -> Georisks -> Climate Change and insurance

"Climate change is taking place — this fundamental conclusion forms the starting point for the latest publication in Munich Re's knowledge series and is based on the fact that the ten warmest years ever recorded have all occurred since 1992."

Or you might look at "Swiss Re", the second largest reinsurer.
http://swissre.com/
Search for "climate change".

"Climate change is probably one of the most important issues facing the insurance industry today. Swiss Re has identified climate change as an important element of our long-term risk management strategy. It has implications across all of our business groups as a risk and an opportunity. Few other factors affect more the bottom line of our clients, insurance companies, than natural catastrophes. We believe that climate change has the potential to affect the number and severity of these natural catastrophes and result in a very significant impact on insurance business. While it is difficult to quantify the actual and future impacts of climate change on catastrophe losses, the overall trend towards more extreme events could lead to larger losses in some areas - even a small change in event severity can lead to multiple increases in damage."

Boilers. Natural Gas. You want a condensing boiler (or a condensing combination boiler), apparently, if the rest of your heating system's good enough. (90 per cent efficient.) Our (UK) Govt has decreed all new boilers here must be of this kind (!).

What JimofMn said about complexity applies to these boilers. Jim, I like the core house idea. I have gas fires in two rooms and try to use them, rather than turning on the central heating, when it's not too cold.

you could just move to Southern California. I haven't used a heater or an AC in years.

I really love it when I find something about which a cliché is literally true -- the only thing that made getting lice at all worthwhile was the chance to become a literal nitpicker

In the same vein, the high point of getting lost in a tropical rain forest so thick that I and my friends were wading down a stream because it was easier than fighting our way through the vegetation on the banks (there's no interesting story. We just got lost on a hike, slept in the forest, were home the next day) was the chance to say as I spluttered my way out of the water that had just unexpectedly closed over my head, "Hey! Still waters really do run deep!

Albert,

Note that anyone can pay to have their "research" put on PRWire.

Google around for some other "research" by "CNW Marketing Research." They are a PR firm for GM. Note the complete absence of any scientific foundation for their "research." Do you really believe that the energy cost of a Honda Civic is 24% greater than a Hummer? The steel and plastic GM uses in the Hummer must be produced by some super-secret energy-saving process that Honda is utterly clueless about. Right, that must be it.

albert wrote:

But is a Prius really more efficient? I read things like this and don't know what to do:

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060331/sff031.html

Difficult to judge.
Although I admit I am a bit sceptical of this claim:
"For example, while the industry average of all vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2005 was $2.28 cents per mile, the Hummer H3 (among most SUVs) was only $1.949 cents per mile."
(What does "all vehicles" mean in this statement for example? "Real" trucks too?)

According to this website:
http://www.dieselnet.com/news/2006/04cnw.php

" “Well-to-wheel” analyses are very complex, as the results depend on hundreds of assumptions, many of which are arbitrary and prone to bias. The CNW report contradicts a number of earlier studies (including studies by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 and 2003; a joint study by General Motors and Argonne National Laboratory of 2001; analysis by the Australian Greenhouse Office of 2001; and study for the Swedish National Road Administration of 2001) which assigned high energy efficiency ratings for hybrid vehicles."

Some of the assumptions according to:
http://www.thewatt.com/modules.php?name=News&new_topic=12
- The study includes the energy put into research and development
(How do you compare a 100+ history of combustion engines with 15? years of hybrid research and development?)
- Hybrids are only expected to live for 100,000 miles, but trucks are expected to live for 250,000 miles.
(That´s maybe true for the batteries of a hybrid. And what does "truck" mean here?)

Seems that the media articles are all based on initial press releases since the full report itself doesn´t seem to be available yet.

I´m not an expert but it seems that a lot depends on the variables used and how they are "weighted" in the analysis.
For example "plant to dealer fuel costs" makes sense. "Employee driving distances" seems to be a bit more difficult. Did they really get such data from every car plant worldwide building cars for the US market? Including data how many of these employees used public transport or how fuel efficient their cars were? Unlikely...

You see the problem?
Depending on the assumptions they used and the "weight" (=importance) they attached to the different assumptions/variables nobody really can judge their report.

Give me a free hand and I´ll give you a report that´ll show that Hummers are the most energy efficient cars ever invented. :)

Unless we can read the full report (hopefully including everything about their methods), we won´t really know. Unfortunately by that time this story might be "accepted wisdom" already.

Mind you, I´m not saying that todays hybrids are the "bestest" thing ever. :)
I´m just a tiny bit suspicious of a marketing research company with American car companies among its biggest clients.

I really love it when I find something about which a cliché is literally true -- the only thing that made getting lice at all worthwhile was the chance to become a literal nitpicker.

I once met a woman who did bookkeeping in a dentist's office. Part of her job was calling patients whose bills were overdue. One woman she called assured her the bill would be paid promptly, "as soon as my husband's ship comes in."

My friend said that might be too long to wait, and the patient informed her that her husband was at sea in the Merchant Marine, and she really was waiting for his ship to come in.

LizardBreath: In the same vein, the high point of getting lost .... was the chance to say as I spluttered my way out of the water that had just unexpectedly closed over my head, "Hey! Still waters really do run deep!

You just made my day. :-D

OCSteve, I know of no scientists (and wiki confirms this, FWIW) who argue that global warming isn't happening. The reason why critics of those advancing global warming theories are "marginalized rather than being publicly debated" is the same reason why critics of evolution are, in the field of peer-reviewed science journals, marginalized rather than being publicly debated - anyone who can read a graph accepts that global warming is a fact. (What the long-term effects of the global warm-up will be, what the cause is, and what we as a species should do about it - that is being debated.)


- The study includes the energy put into research and development
(How do you compare a 100+ history of combustion engines with 15? years of hybrid research and development?)

You don't. If the study is counting these sunk costs it is nonsense. Buying a hybrid does not retroactively increase the energy already spent on hybrid R&D.

It's not for everyone, but there are few choices you can make that can do more good for the environment than living in a high rise in a walkable, bikeable densely populated city with good public transportation.

Lucky for me, that's where I most want to live anyway. (Well, not the high rise part, but it's often seemed to work out that way.)

A belated response to JimofMN:

I was trying to emphasize the need for urgency in actually doing something, I think. There are small CTG in operation right now; Montana is comsidering a 60,000 bpd CTG and GTL unit right now. This puppy will cost around 5 billion and take 6 years to build. If we wait until the energy supply is declining we're probably in a recession, and we probably can't afford the investment for the alternatives and the time to build them.

Why I think natural gas peak is more alarming for the U.S., is that it's used for electricity generation, fertilizer production, and other miscellaneous uses. The power plant of choice for the last ten years has been gas turbine, mostly because they were only about $500/kw investment. Since gas prices have tripled over the last two years, the utilities are moving to the next cheapest, which are coal-fired steam plants. This is very bad news for global warming.

One way to debunk "studies" such as CNWMR's is to ask the question: if so much more energy goes into producing vehicles than fueling them, how could 45% of all US petroleum use be in the form of gasoline? (Source: US EIA) Given that nearly half of the rest of US petroleum consumption is for use as fuel for other forms of transportation, what fraction of the rest is actually used in manufacturing cars? Of course, other forms of energy come into play here, but all things being equal, if using an equivalent amount of non-petroleum energy (which might even come from renewable or at least non-CO2-emitting sources) reduces oil consumption by a similar amount, we come out ahead.

Bernard wrote:

You don't. If the study is counting these sunk costs it is nonsense. Buying a hybrid does not retroactively increase the energy already spent on hybrid R&D.

You´re right!
Just to support it:
http://www.thewatt.com/modules.php?name=News&new_topic=12

"I decided that this was too juicy to keep until the weekend. I interviewed Art Spinella yesterday for theWatt Podcast. He's the president of CNW Marketing Research who published the dust-to-dust energy cost study. You can download the interview here (although it will also show up in the podcast over the weekend): dust-to-dust.mp3 (27min, 9MB).

A couple of things that are important to know:

1. The study includes the energy put into research and development, which Art said is much higher for the hybrid than it is for the ICE. I'd like to see these numbers though. There is still research and development work going into the ICE.
2. The study uses expected lifetime mileage of the vehicles. Hybrids are only expected to live for 100,000 miles, but trucks are expected to live for 250,000 miles. This influences the $/mile significantly. If a hybrid could be driven 250,000 miles, it would be much more favorable compared to other vehicles."

albert: But is a Prius really more efficient? I read things like this and don't know what to do:

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060331/sff031.html

CNW Marketing Research is just what the name suggests, an automobile marketing research company. That doesn't necessarily mean they're bogus, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation with the figures they give for the Honda Accord boggles the mind.

CRW says the Energy Cost Per Mile for the non-hybrid Honda Accord is $2.18 per mile, and that of the hybrid Accord is $3.29, so that over a 10-year, 150,000-mile lifetime, the non-hybrid Accord consumes $327,000.00 in energy, and the hybrid $493,500. In other words, if a median-income U.S. household bought a hybrid Accord, and spent their entire (pre-tax!) income on its energy costs, after 10 years they'd be about $50,000 in debt (as well as on the run from the IRS).

As another sanity check, the number CRW gives for the Honda Accord is approximately five times the total cost per mile that Edmonds.com's Total Cost of Ownership calculator gives. For the non-hybrid Accord, CNW gives $2.18 as the energy cost per mile, while Edmonds gives $0.42 as the total cost for the first five years of a new 2006 Accord (at 15,000 miles per year), and $0.37 per mile for five years of a used 2002 Accord, again at 15,000 miles per year. (2002 is as far back as Edmonds will go for this car at least.)

CRW claims the lifetime energy cost of a hybrid Accord is $3.29 per mile, while Edmonds gives a total cost of $0.56 per mile (for the first five years).

Now Edmonds doesn't include the cost of junking the car, which CRW presumably does, and I believe the Edmonds folks are bankrolled by car dealers and thus have some incentive to lowball their estimates. But they do give a breakdown of the estimates into depreciation, financing, gas, repairs, taxes, and so forth, so if they were totally out of touch with reality it would be noticeable. CRW doesn't give such any such breakdown.

What about the thing where you can bury something (cables?) in the ground next to or under your house to pipe warmth or coolth inside, thus using much less fuel (or electricity, for air conditioning)? Does anyone know about this? Years ago I watched a "This Old House" where they were doing it, and a couple of years ago on the Upper West Side someone who bought and renovated a mansion that had moldered for years (with a sign over the door that said "House of Free Russia") tore up a big chunk of pavement out front for the same reason.

I can't Google about it. Our apartment is in the middle of being painted and I am leaning over several boxes to get to the keyboard as it is. Had kind of hoped to return from a week away to find freshly painted perfection, but ...

(Special to Charley Carp - just spent a week in Texas and canoed the Brazos River from the Paluxy downstream for abt 5 miles - it was just heavenly, except for the 10 minutes during which I was trying desperately to steer until I ditched several of us into the river and was demoted. And there's a really good barbecue place in Glen Rose now.)

Hil, glad you were able to negotiate house price - boilers are way expensive and I don't remember that hot water heaters are that cheap either. We just got a new & more efficient refrigerator which is bigger than the old one but has at least 3 fewer cubic feet available inside because of all the insulation. Oh, well.

What about the thing where you can bury something (cables?) in the ground next to or under your house to pipe warmth or coolth inside, thus using much less fuel (or electricity, for air conditioning)? Does anyone know about this?

Geothermal heat pumps. Substantially more efficient than air-source heat pumps. Closed loop systems will typically require about 300 feet of pipe per 12,000 BTU/hr of heating/cooling capacity. Small lots will generally require that the bulk of the pipe run vertically (they drill one or more 6" boreholes to an appropriate depth in your backyard). Some systems can also provide domestic hot water. The advantage of heating/cooling with electricity is that you no longer care whether your local electric company uses coal, gas, nuclear or wind to produce power. In the sense that the electricity is all the same, that is -- you may care deeply about nuclear wastes or carbon dioxide.

All info I know is in Dutch, but our ministery of housing has an overview of verious alternatives, their advantages and how much CO2 (and money) you save per year if you are an average Dutch household (uses 1736 m3 gas per year). Prices and usage are probabely very different in the US of course, but it might give an idea about the alternatives.

In general: Good ventilation is important: dry air heats up easier. So even in winter you have to regularly open the windows and let the air blow through. Isolation glass (hr++) and isolating the walles and the roof makes a difference too.

High rendement boiler - saves on average 220 m3 gas and 390 kg CO2 per yr compared to a modern boiler and 337 m3 gas per yr compared with a conventionele cv-ketel (600 kg CO2).

Photovoltaic system saves per Watt-peak 0.5 kg Co2 p/y.

Sunboiler saves 50-65 m3 gas per m2 collector surface per year (100 kg CO2).

heat pump boiler (for household water usage, not for heating the house) saves 940 - 1130 kWh & 526 - 633 kg CO2 p/y compared to an electrical boiler and 160 m3 gas p/y compared with a gas boiler.

Heat pump boiler for household water and heating the house saves on average (but there is great variety due to type and usage) 85,2 m3 aardgas per kWth p/y. This saves 169 kg Co2 p/y. They usually have a thermic capacity of 5-6 kWth. This requires a steep investment though, so for individual houses this might be too costly. Maintenance is cheaper, they last longer, and they can be efficiently used for cooling in summer, so for newly build houses this is recommended.

Low temperature Central Heating system consists of a heatsource (boiler of heatpump) that delivers water of max. 55 degrees celcius to low temperature radiators, floor and/or wall heating. Normally that temp. is 70-90 degrees. As a heat source you could use for instance a High Rendement boiler or any other heatsource, as long as it can deliver water of max. 55 degrees. Energy is saved because most heat sources have a higher rendement with 55 degrees than with 70-90 degrees, and because it generates more heat radiation (pleasant heat with less change of draft) which means you can have the same comfort at a lower temp.
Rendement improves with 4-6%. Average houshold saves thus 75 m3 gas (133,5 kg CO2) p/y. Most or our newly build houses have low temp radiators combined with isolation glass. Combined with a heat pump system for the household water you have a very efficient system.

Jav: Thanks for reminding me of a couple of books I need to buy. I flew to DC from Miami last week; long delays, but it was OK because I sat next to a delightful young Peruvian journalist, and had fun talking about everything.* She had been an athlete in college, and one of her sports was 'javelina.' Does your handle come from the feisty little pig-like creature, or the long pointy thing gracefully flung at the Olympics?


* Everything except boilers. She didn't think, btw, that the Duke lacrosse players would be convicted in Peru.

Adding CO2 capture and sequestration (CCS) to new coal plants is estimated to approximately double the total cost of electricity produced. That is not so terrible as it sounds, and doubling means going from 4 cents/kWh to 8 cents in this case. Or maybe 5 cents to 10 cents. The point is, the fuel component alone of electricity fueled by natural gas costs about that much now. The average cost of electricity today is already 5 or 6 cents/kWh. If we replaced the entire existing fleet of coal plants with new plant incorporating CCS would increase costs maybe a third to a half. IOW, it is very doable.

And, IMO, very likely.

Jake

And, IMO, very likely.

If we don't want to fry I agree with you. The trouble is that even a crash program would take decades even if we do retrofits and we have to wait until 2009 at the earliest to start.

Tim, I don't know how long it will take. Retrofitting is about $500/kW, about the same as the CCS addition to new plant. The real problem is s serious reduction in available capacity with CCS. You lose approximately 1/3 of total capacity to the CCS effort.

Beyond that, there are almost no coal plants built after 1987. The NEWEST coal plants in the fleet are now 20 years old, and most are far older. It is time to build new plant, with or without an oil or NG crisis.

Were we to get started, significant progress could be made in less than a decade.

Jake

Michael Cain: Geothermal heat pumps - thank you! Don't know if they're a possibility for hilzoy or not, but they are definitely useful and I'd go for them if building a house. Renovating, not so sure, especially not in a city w/ more pavement than dirt.

Charley: Predictably, my nickname comes from the feisty little pig-like creature which, as you know, one does meet even in North Texas from time to time. Some time in the late '80s a literary organization I worked for organized a Southwestern poetry week & Richard Shelton (Arizona) read a particularly memorable piece about them. A couple of weeks later I got mad and snarled at a colleague, who said, "Javelina!" and that was that - it has stuck every since. Said colleague went on to win a Pulitzer for fiction, which has no bearing on anything, except to demonstrate that he's got a nice touch with language. ... Dick Shelton subsequently sent me a lot of nice snapshots of the javelinas that hang out around his house in the desert, with captions like, "This is Dewey, wistful and yearning."

A useful exercise for anyone interested in home energy efficiency is to calculate your heating costs per square foot.

My fairly new 2,100 square foot house in a fairly cold climate (the southern Yukon) cost just over C$1.00 per square foot to heat with an oil boiler this past winter. This with delivered fuel cost of C$1.10 per litre (or C$4.18 per US gallon). Next winter I expect my costs to drop by 35 to 50% with the completion of a multi-floor masonry wood "stove" (a massive stone affair with a fireplace on each floor designed to burn small but very hot fires very efficiently with almost no emissions). The heat from the half-hour fire is stored in the stone and radiates out slowly into the house.

Last week I was asked to price out some major retrofitting work on a couple of shoddily built houses where the owners are currently paying C$4.50 per square foot to heat. Talk about insane.

BTW, I built my house with an eye to the long term. It has R-60 insulation in the roof spaces, R-28 walls, fanatical dedication to the integrity of the vapour barrier, triple pane argon filled windows with low E coatings etc. Also a heat recovery ventilator unit to provide air exchange in winter. Oh, and the most efficient oil boiler/burner unit available.

I can't figure out how the water heater can leak dangerous fumes. I know that the flu pipe or vent can and that's easily replaced. If the chimney is blocked you can have fumes but again, that's not the water heater.

Water heaters are a possible source of CO since the flames from the burner make contact with the bottom of the tank. Since the bottom of the tank is relatively cool compared to the flame it impinges the flame causing incompete combustion - thus CO instead of CO2. The fumes go up the center of the tank where the vent cap stratles the top of the pipe. Once the water heater has warmed up for a minute light a match and place the flame beside the gap between the top of the water heater and the bottom of the vent cap. The flame should draw into vent. This means you have a good draw and whatever CO there might be is disappearing out the chimney. If the flame is smothered and extinquished either there are holes in your vent or the chimney is blocked.

I always wait until the glass lining of the water heater leaks before I replace them but that's because I'm cheap and lazy. I applaud Hilzoy choosing her own time for water heater replacement.

I'm looking forward to our inevitable water heater failure so we can dump the cheap conventional one we have and get a tankless model. I'm particularly intrigued by the efficiency you get from not having to keep a tank of water hot when no one is using it in combination with unlimited hot water when you do want it. The net effect is less energy usage, although you do have to sink a little more money into the heater itself.

Quick note: I've invested in a CO detector/alarm; I highly recommend that you put one in your basement, hilzoy. CO at room temperature is more dense than air, and the basement is where it'd most likely collect.

I'm looking forward to our inevitable water heater failure so we can dump the cheap conventional one we have and get a tankless model

My uncle, who lives in England, had one, though this was a number of years ago, but it was remarkably poor at providing a constant subjective temperature, because it basically could only raise the temp a fixed amount, and because of the variation of the temperature of the water in different seasons, it meant that when the water started off really cold, it couldn't heat it up quite enough. A little googling suggests that the problem is still there, though not as bad as with the first ones. Here in Japan, almost every place uses tankless water heaters, but that means that the plumbing is adjusted for their use. If you don't have minimum flow shower faucets and such, it might be a problem.

That'd be perfect here in Florida, though, because the groundwater temp stays around 72 F, IIRC, year-round.

Slarti: I always have one. A kid I knew growing up died of CO poisoning, and that did it for me.

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