Re: Alternative to Oil Heat
Since you currently have steam heat, the proper name is boilers, for your heating units.
That price quote seems quite high this time of year for fuel oil---if you have a contract you may be required to buy your oil from THAT particular dealer, otherwise, I would call a few other dealers---the price of oil is dropping rapidly now because the heating season is mostly over for southern New England.
It would be expensive to convert from oil to gas & since you are also contemplating replacing the boilers, this may involve replacing the distribution system (radiators, pipes, etc.) as well---most steam heat radiators can't be used with say, a hot water system---and baseboard is much easier to install.
These are known as "steam to hot water boiler conversions"---you can Google that phrase (without the quotation marks) to get numerous articles on the subject.
Of course, you could always replace just the steam boiler with a new steam boiler---but these are less efficient than forced hot water systems--so most people convert from steam to forced hot water.
It would also depend on how long you intend to stay in the house---it probably wouldn't be in your interest to spend $10k for a new heating system if you intend to sell within a year or two.
Any INSULATION NEEDS are always addressed first---if you lack insulation (or have minimum insulation) in the exterior walls or attic--NOW is the time to have it blown in---this is a one or two-day project that only costs a few hundred dollars & may well result in you being able to order SMALLER boilers that will burn less fuel.
Insulation also saves $$$ during the summer when you're trying to cool the house with AC---consult the Yellow Pages under 'Insulation" for blown-in cellulose spe******ts.
You should first do a FUEL COST COMPARISON at the sites below to determine which fuel costs less in your area---these sites compare 100,000 btu's of oil heat to 100,000 btu's of gas heat to determine which is least expensive.
You would have to call your local gas co. to find out the cost of a cubic foot of gas, or 100 cubic feet of gas; or a therm of gas; also call several oil co's to get a better price on fuel oil.
Steam heat systems are less efficient than forced hot water & thus are rarely used in residential applications these days for that reason--there is also a lot of corrosion that occurs in steam systems.
So your would have to decide if you just want to upgrade to new boilers, or replace the whole system.
If it was MY house, I would get some estimates for a replacement in forced hot water with baseboards throughout the whole house---if you have 2-pipe steam radiators, it may be possible to use the current rads for forced hot water---you would have to get some heating contractors (see Yellow Pages under "Heating") to give you an evaluation.
You would save considerable $$$ if you got new HW boilers, either gas-fired or oil-fired.
The top of the line boilers these days are called CONDENSING, variable output boilers & can be gas-fired or oil-fired.
A Peerless Pinnacle, for example is oil-fired or gas-fired and is a condensing boiler that is 95% efficient---the boilers you have in there now are probably in the range of 50% efficient--you would very likely see a 40% to 50% drop in fuel oil or natural gas usage if you installed one of these newer systems.
Other recommended boilers, either oil-fired or gas-fired would be Viessmann Vitodens, Triangle Tube Prestige, Utica UB, Burnham CHG, Crown Bimini, Dunkirk Quantum, and numerous others---these well-known manufacturers also make less expensive standard cast iron boilers that are rated at 85% efficiency which would cost you less & where you would see at least a 30% drop in your fuel usage.
The summer would be a good time to make the conversion---do you plan to install air conditioning at the same time, or is that already installed??
Why not consult the Yellow Pages under "Heating" & have a few contractors give you free estimates of what it will cost---don't ignore fuel oil dealers, who are also licensed to install oil-fired as well as gas-fired heating systems, & often give a lower estimate.
Get at least 6 estimates before you decide--the choice of equipment and cost estimates will vary widely.
Also Google "when to buy a new boiler" or "when to upgrade your heating system", "steam to hot water boiler conversions" (all without the quotation marks) to get additional info.
Re: Alternative to Oil Heat
As a supplemental heat source have you looked at pellet or coal stoker stoves? Being in Boston, you may have an issue with the storage of the bags of pellets or coal, though. You also have to consider getting rid of the ash. There are direct vent versions available that will cut down on your oil usage.
Check for fuel availability and price to see if it is worth it.