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Soon, No More No. 6 Oil: Should You Switch to Natural Gas, or Dual-Fuel?

Jennifer V. Hughes in Board Operations on April 2, 2013

New York City

Switch to Natural Gas or Dual-Fuel
April 2, 2013

"A lot of people are just pushing the button and going all the way with natural gas," says Jim Marcinek, project manager for Rand Engineering & Architecture.

But it's not always the best choice. Oil-to-gas conversions are the most costly and complex. Even if your c-op or condo already use gas for cooking, you'll need a larger main inside the building and you might need a gas booster pump to increase the pressure. If you are burning only gas, you'll also need a new burner.

"We recommend to our clients that [they] look at the big picture," says Marcinek. "Don't just jump and run to natural gas because it's cheaper."

The Unnatural

For one, natural-gas service for heating is not available in some parts of the city. Buildings can pay extra to get Con Ed to run lines into their neighborhoods, but that's costly. Marcinek, recalling that one estimate came in at $1 million, notes, "People aren't going to add that to their budget. They'll wait until Con Ed comes into the area."

Marcinek says some condo and co-o[ boards didn't have time to switch from No. 6 to gas. If your certificate to operate your boiler expired before July 2012, you could get a new one to buy some time and continue to burn No. 6 oil until June 2015. If it expired after July 2012? No No. 6 oil for you. Since the oil-to-gas conversion can take at least nine months, many buildings had to go to No. 2 or No. 4 — at least for the short term. 

You can go from No. 6 to cleaner oil in a matter of months, but the costs vary widely, Marcinek says. The tank and lines must be cleaned and a new burner is sometimes required, an expense that can top $30,000. Another wrinkle? Because of No. 6's viscosity, cracks in the storage tanks often do not leak because the oil is so thick. Thinner oil may leak through those cracks and the tank will need to be fixed.

The required chimney lining is especially costly; because gas burns cooler than fuel oil, the gas condenses in the stack and basically turns into acid rain, which can destroy masonry and leak fumes into the building. Relining the chimney with steel can cost about $10,000 per floor, Marcinek says.

Con Edification

There are other considerations, observes Kenneth Camilleri, senior account manager for New York City Clean Heat, which assists buildings going through the No. 6 conversion process. Say you go to Con Ed asking if it can service your building. Camilleri notes that you should be ready to go with a conversion once you get your answer. If Con Ed says it can service your building at no additional cost, but you wait longer than 60 days, the utility may close out your case and the gas that was reserved for your building could go back into the system. If your neighbor starts a conversion process in the meantime and then you decide to take on the project, that gas supply could now be considered taken and you might have to pay a hefty tab to boost delivery to your building.

"You can't take it as your first step to ask Con Ed if they can service you," says Camilleri. "You have to understand what your internal costs are going to be and what needs to be done in your building, so when you get the response from Con Ed you can start."

To read about other options, including biofuel, and to see how particular buildings analyzed costs and completed conversion projects, see part two.


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