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Council Weighs Converting Museum Furnace to Gas

Converting the Heller Homestead's oil furnace to gas could result in a significant savings. The potential for a conversion was discussed at Lower Saucon Township Council's March 7 meeting.

There was a time when oil heat was the preferred choice of many, but in recent years the high cost of home heating oil has caused some homeowners to switch to natural gas. And now, is contemplating that decision on behalf of a property that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

At township council's March 7 meeting, members discussed the opportunity to convert the oil furnace in the --a township-owned museum--to gas.

The opportunity exists, township manager Jack Cahalan explained, because a gas line serves the Society Hill residential development, which is located directly west of the homestead property.

The gas line is not buried in adjacent Friedensville Road, however, so "they would have to go in the rear of the homestead property," Cahalan told council.

Council president Glenn Kern said a conversion to gas would reduce heating costs at the museum and eliminate instances in which the heating oil supply has been exhausted because of a missed fuel oil delivery.

A missed delivery could have dire consequences for the historic building and the treasures it houses, councilwoman Priscilla deLeon said, noting that it is often unoccupied for days at a time in the winter.

DeLeon is also president of the Saucon Valley Conservancy, the nonprofit organization that has overseen the preservation of the homestead and environs, and maintains its headquarters there.

While not opposed to the idea of converting the building's heat source to natural gas, deLeon said she would like to find out if something is wrong with the furnace currently in use at the homestead before committing to that course of action.

She said that while a total of $1,571 was spent on heating oil for the homestead in 2011, as of March 7 almost $900 had been spent on fuel oil so far this year, in spite of it being a much milder winter.

"The Saucon Valley Conservancy's a nonprofit, and we have to pay these costs," she said.

DeLeon also advocated for the installation of a device she said would be connected to a phone line, to send out a warning message if the temperature in the building dips below a certain threshold.

Council vice president Tom Maxfield questioned the safety of using natural gas, and noted that "we've seen gas explosions in the past."

Cahalan, however, pointed out that Seidersville Hall--which is part of the townshp municipal complex--is heated with natural gas, in spite of being unoccupied for significant periods of time.

Councilman David Willard also asked what the cost of removing the oil tank at the homestead might be, and asked if Cahalan could secure an estimate for a report on the project council is expected to receive in the future.

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