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Benjamin CC500 wood/oil boiler

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by gshep, Feb 16, 2008.

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  1. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Hi,
    I'm wondering if there's anyone who can help me with this. I'm in search of a indoor wood/oil boiler. I've spoken with Tarm regarding their product; for the most part it appears that their units are too large for my space. My house is approx. 1000 sq. ft. w/hot water baseboard heat. Does anyone have any experience with the Benjamin cc500. Is this a good unit? Additionally what should I be concerning myself with when looking for multi-fuel boilers. Thus far; there doesn't seem to be many manufactors of combo units.

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  2. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Welcome to the Boiler Room, gshep.

    I've used both combination boilers and stand-alone wood-fired units.

    You have a lot of options, but a combination wood-oil boiler is not always the best one. It depends on what you want to do and what your current setup is like.

    Why do you want a combo?

    What are you heating with at the moment?
  3. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Hi,
    I currently have a 20 plus yr. old Weil-Mclain Oil Boiler. My fuel cost have skyrocketed; my thinking is, by using a combo set-up I have the option of heating with oil or wood. I would use oil when I'm not available to feed a fire. Based on current set-up and location of boiler, it appears that one would replace the other and I could still use chimney to vent system. The Benjamin cc500 info states the wood/ oil are vented together. I've checked with the building inspector and he states thats ok. Certainly the Tarm appears to be superior in its make-up but oversize for what I need. Benjamin on the otherhand sounds like what I need but; "How good is the product"? There's something to be said about a product waranteed for 20yr verses 6yr. If I were rolling in dow I would not concern myself with fuel cost and I'd probably go solar entirely, but that's not feasible on my budget.
  4. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I think you might be ahead to keep your oil boiler and pipe a dedicated woodburner in next to it. Here's why:

    Despite what the literature, website and sales staff says, most combination wood/oil burners are only optimized to be good at one thing. Typically, they're built to burn wood, with the oil stuck on as an afterthought. If the oil gun uses the same firebox as the wood, then there's no way it's going to be efficient as an oil burner. And there's no way the oil nozzle is going to avoid being damaged or otherwise compromised if it's exposed to the wood fire. So the multi-use claim is really more marketing hype than reality.

    Higher-end combo units like the Tarm and the Wood Gun have separate combustion chambers, and are thus more efficient and functional. But if the Tarm combo was too big for your heat load, then I think the Wood Gun probably is as well.

    The vast majority of wood/oil combination boilers use the same flue for both. While it's legal to use the same flue for oil and wood with a combination boiler, in many cases it's not safe, IMO. It's against Code, for example, for two separate appliances to share the same flue. But it's within Code to do it with a combination boiler. Makes no sense. The danger is that you can get creosote buildup in the chimney and then switch over to oil and try to run your oil burner in a restricted or plugged chimney. The results can be tragic. The only safe way to do it is to clean your chimney before switching over from wood to oil. So there's no safe or practical way to automatically have your oil burner pick up the slack for your wood side.

    Another problem is that with a combination boiler, you've got all your eggs in one pressure vessel. If it springs a leak, you don't have a way to heat your house. If it dies, you don't have the luxury of heating with your backup while trying to figure out what to do. You have to act fast, or drain the system and move out.

    As it is, you have a perfectly good oil boiler that hopefully you won't have to use at all during the heating season. You can buy a nice dedicated wood boiler--preferably a gasifier--and still have a reliable backup for the transition months and for when you leave town in the winter.

    The only downside to that approach is that you will need either a separate chimney for the wood boiler, or a powervent for your oil burner, allowing you to vent it out the side of the foundation and use the existing chimney for the wood boiler.
  5. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Thank you for your response, however it left me scrathing my head a little, I'm ignorant when it comes to type of stuff. You stated in your reply. "If the oil gun uses the same firebox as the wood, then there's no way it's going to be efficient as an oil burner". Please school me on this; again the literature states that there are two separate combustion chambers, one for oil and the other for wood. Correct me if I'm wrong, isn't the combustion chamber the same as the fire box? Isn't it just another way of saying the same thing? I'm not clear on this; if there are two separate chambers, why would the oil gun have anything to do with the wood portion of the unit? Maybe i'm not getting the concept of the oil gun. I know you said a lot in your reply, if you could clarify the oil gun and firebox function for me I'd thoroughly appreciate it.

    Thanks again
  6. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    If it has two separate combustion chambers, then forget what I said about a shared firebox. I had a combination boiler (Marathon Logwood) in which the two shared the same firebox.

    It still won't be as efficient as a dedicated oil burner with the separate combustion chamber, but it will be much better than with a shared one. But I bet they both share the same chimney outlet. If so, what I said about that still stands.
  7. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    When you say the sharing of the same chimney outlet; are you referring to the venting of the system?
  8. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Where the smoke exits the boiler. Do the oil and wood sides share the same chimney, or do they have separate outlets?
  9. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    The installation guide for the cc500 can be found in the Benjamin website. It shows two pipe or flue outlets.
  10. gshep

    gshep New Member

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  11. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    That's interesting. It shows both exhausts connecting to the same chimney, but I suspect that's against Code even though they're both part of the "same" appliance. But I'm not the codes guy. It would be best to connect them to separate chimneys, and it might be required.

    Either way, that still leaves you with all your heating eggs in one pressure vessel.

    Why are you so anxious to get rid of your Weil-Mclain? I've got one made in 1958 as my backup, and it works great. I have no plans to replace it.
  12. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    When you say " that still leaves you with all your heating eggs in one pressure vessel"; Maybe I've missed something; "isn't the oil and wood independent of one another"? If the oil portion breaks down, I thought I could still use the wood side of it. I will definetly inquire about that before making a purchase.
    Yes, I'm anxious to cut fuel cost and tell my oil provider to stick it where the sun doesn't shine. The Weil-Mclain I have no longer makes enough domestic hot water, the hot water coil is shot and labor intensive to replace. The bolts holding the plate in front of the coil would require re-tapping just to install a new coil. I'm tired of replacing parts and still having an old unit that isn't as efficient as current boilers of today. I currently use a hot water heater that runs off of propane. If I go with the multi-fuel unit; I can get rid of the hot water heater and the additional fuel cost attached to that, as well as cuting my oil cost in half. Both appliances work, but its costing me more money to use both as oppose to one unit that will do it all. If I decide to purchase the combo and if it breaks down; I guess I'll cross that bridge provided I get to it.
    This exchange started mostly with my query about the quality of the Benjamin cc500, from where I sit I don't want to invest into junk. If it not a good unit I will need to nix the idea. I'm not really interested in a add on wood burner. If I were looking to buy a single unit I would probably go with a new Weil-Mclain boiler; from my experience they make a reliable product, but my need calls for more than they have to offer.
  13. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    My point was that if your combination boiler springs a leak, you're out of options. That's what I mean by putting all your eggs into one pressure vessel.

    A good wood-fired boiler will solve your hot water problems and let you heat your house and hot water without oil or gas. As I said, you're going to compromise efficiency on the oil side with a combination boiler.
  14. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Quick take on the boiler - looks like a relatively ancient design. The wood chamber looks like it has no aspects of advanced combustion and uses an electric motor damper to operate. This certainly will not give top efficiency. Likely we are talking about 30-40% on the wood end. I know you are on a budget but you also have to consider the creosote, smoke and the cost of firewood (or the time and energy of it).

    We can't say it is not a "good" unit, but I think Eric and I can say if we were shopping for a boiler we would look at newer and more efficient technology. If I were going to go with older tech, I would look around for a used unit at a REAL bargain. That's my take, anyway!

    Oh, you can also consider an external DHW tank for any boiler you end up with - like a "superstore" - I had one in my last home and it was great. These are tanks with a DHW coil in them, and they circulate water from your boilers into a coil at the bottom of the tank. This provides some storage for hot water, and you are less likely to run out.
  15. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Who offers newer and more efficient technology in a combination unit for a house that's only 1000 sq. I looked at the Tarm and spoke with them. I was told their unit is too large for my needs. What about the design that appears ancient ? Did you review the link I posted in an earlier reply to Eric. Is that 30-40% efficiency for the wood side? What are the differences between the advanced combustion technology and what the Benjamin's chamber looks like or has to offer. What does the the advance technologhy use to operate its damper.
    I appreciate all the input I'm getting, but I'm a middle aged woman who hasn't the time nor desire to be married to a wood only boiler. I'm looking to simplfy things. What happens during cold spells? How does the wood get into the firebox if I'm away? This was one of the things I needed to take into consideration when I started my search. If there's something you know please respond with...
  16. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I apologize for any confusion. To me it doesn't make any sense to tear out a perfectly good oil boiler and replace it with a wood/oil combination. You're really better off, from a number of different perspectives--most of which we've already discussed--to add a wood-only boiler on to your existing system.

    If anybody disagrees with that, I hope they will speak up.

    Since you investigated Tarm first, I assume that you want a good wood boiler. When we hear "Tarm" we think wood gasification boilers, since they pioneered that technology in this country, and I believe that's all Tarm sells now. If the Tarm 30 is too big for your house, then you can get an EKO 25, which as the model number suggests, is smaller than the Tarm. My guess is that you only looked at the Tarm combination boiler, which may indeed be too big for your house.

    The nice thing about gasifiers is that they don't produce any smoke or creosote, so they're more environmentally friendly than a conventional boiler, require little or no chimney maintenance, and are, as a result, much safer. If you buy a conventional boiler like the Benjamin you are considering, you'll have to deal with smoke and creosote and the resulting 30-40% efficiency (compared to 80-90%) that results from the smoke going up the stack instead of being burned for heat. A gasifier burns the wood in an upper chamber and then pulls the smoke down into a lower chamber and burns it at around 2,000 degrees. A conventional boiler like the Benjamin CC500 has one firebox, where wood is burned and the smoke is allowed to escape up the stack. The smoke is lost efficiency and air pollution. Simple as that. Most--but not all--gasifiers use a blower to supply air to the burning chambers. Look at the diagram on the left side of the top banner for Cozy Heat. That's a cutaway view of a downdraft gasifier. If you go to the website you can watch a video of the thing working (pretty impressive) and see all the relevant specifications.

    Here's the link to the manufacturers' website and the page for the Benjamin CC500. It doesn't give any details or specifications, so it's hard to say how big that boiler is, but I'm guessing 75 or 100K btu. The EKO 25, for example, puts out 80K btu per hour. I'm always suspicious of product descriptions that spend a lot of time talking about basically irrelevant product features (i.e., "Dutch Oven" effect) without talking about specifics. What's its overall efficiency when burning wood? How big is the firebox? What's the output?

    http://www.apimaine.com/CC500.html

    And they talk about the "Energy Star" rating, without providing any details, either. My strong hunch is that any Energy Star rating they get will apply to the oil side only--not the wood, despite the strong implication to the contrary.
  17. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I sold and also used the basic Benjamin wood boilers with the "dutch oven" design. This design is a simple cylinder - nothing else. No enhanced combustion features.

    As to boiler sizing, I think you have to have a heat load done on your house. Sq feet is not a good criteria to go by, because construction and climate can differ.

    Yes, I am talking about 30-40% on the wood side, keeping in mind that our members here have tested some of the best boilers on the market and only gotten 60% or so. In terms of pollution output, a basic boiler like the B would put out 10x as much than a high efficiency downdraft (gasifier).

    I know that the new generation costs more - any way you look at it the total $$ on a hot water wood central heating system can add up fast.
  18. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Are you working with a contractor who sells the Benjamin and wants to install it in your house, or did you research this on your own? If the former, did he do a heatloss calc on your house to determine your needs?

    You can do your own heat loss calc by downloading the free calculator here:

    http://www.heatinghelp.com
  19. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Thank you both for your insight
  20. Mainewood

    Mainewood Member

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    gshep, The CC-500 may be a good option in your situation, since you are looking to replace an old oil boiler. It would probably cost you about $10,000 to purchase and install in the place of your old boiler. The wood portion of the boiler is not as clean or efficent as the gassifiers, but it provides a cost effective way of burning wood to heat your home and domestic hot water. The oil side of the CC-500 has been tested and yields 85% efficency, with either Riello or Beckett burners. The wood and the oil fire in 2 seperate chambers so that wood smoke does not come into contact with the oil burner. Here are some real world observations: I have operated a Benjamin wood boiler in my home for 3 yrs. Before installing the wood boiler I used 1100 gals of heating oil. I have used about 300 gals of oil and 5 cords of wood to heat my home for the past 3 heating seasons. I am getting about 8 hrs of burn time before re-loading. Burn times will vary with outside temps & type of wood.
  21. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Thanks Mainewood for sharing your experience, I will take it into consideration.

    Answer to Eric's question; I researched the Ben; I'm currently researching contractors as well. Most HVAC in this area have little or no experience with Multi-fuel boilers. I asked 2 heating guys and neither of them were familiar.
  22. Mainewood

    Mainewood Member

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    gshep, You may want to get your info. "straight from the horse's mouth". I have found Stephen Benjamin, the company's owner, both helpful & knowegeable. Benjamin Heating Products. 1-800-565-5495
  23. gshep

    gshep New Member

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    Thank you Mainewood,
    I actually tried calling the manufactor last week; I spoke with someone who was suppose to be Tech support and he was very nasty; I hung up on him. If tech support is not going to be support; then why bother. I will try again with hope that my experience be better the 2nd time around
    .
    By the way, are you still using the benjamin? Have you had any problems, leaks, etc? Can you use one side of the boiler predominately, be it wood or oil; without effecting the system. How much space is your unit heating and is that space well insulated.
  24. Mainewood

    Mainewood Member

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    Eric, API was the importer for Benjamin products in Manie, but is no longer in business. The correct link to the manufacturer's website is: http://www.benjaminheating.com/cc500_series.htm
  25. Mainewood

    Mainewood Member

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    Yes, I am still using the Benjamin and enjoying the fact that I am not burning 1100 gals of fossil fuel. If you want to discuss further, send me an e-mail.
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