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Boiler is the way to go....I think

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by Jonny006, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. Jonny006

    Jonny006 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2013
    Messages:
    33
    Loc:
    Ct
    Hey folks-
    I have been perusing posts on here for some time and have some questions.
    First off let me just say I am no stranger to wood heat. I LOVE heating with wood and hate being cold. This is a pretty good statement no?
    Recently moved in to a new home, in the north east, specifically Ct. It's a colonial style, 43YO with a finished(unheated) basement and is @1800sq'+/-. House has newer windows and is constructed quite well and appears to be well insulated. The living room on the end of the house has a large fireplace in the center with an external chimney but only one doorway at the end to get into and out of the room. I mention that because I have toyed with the idea of adding a wood stove to the existing fireplace but I think that unless I add some vents and fans that room will be 100 degrees and the rest of the house will be cold. I even bought an old Buck insert but it's now collecting dust in the garage.
    In our old home I had a VC Encore that heated the whole house. (split level ranch). Loved the heat even though it was a labor of love maintaining it all winter since it was on 24/7. The stove went with the house.
    Which brings me to the wood boiler.
    I have been researching these and feel its the best option for this new home. I will explain why. The house is currently oil heat with a newer 1998 boiler that is running about 85% efficient. Baseboard radiators with two zones for 1st and 2nd floor, hot water coil for DHW with no tank.
    Since we just moved in a few months ago I don't really have a baseline for heating costs but the oil co who serviced the house with the previous owner stated that they used 900-1100gal annually. I think we should be on the low end of that as we set the thermostats lower than what they were set at when we moved in. Honestly that's about 800gal more than I want to use!
    I am really leaning toward a wood boiler. The room where the current boiler is separate from the rest of the basement and is about 10'x10'. There is a lot of useable space in there. it has a door leading into the basement as well as an external/bilco going outside.From what i can see, adding a boiler in tandem would still allow for plenty of room for wood storage and yoga..
    I also should point out that since we have been using the heat I am very happy with the distribution of temperature within the house. And with two young kids and a possible 3rd on the way, keeping a house warm is paramount.
    All this means I think I want to do a wood boiler. Wood supply for me is good. I just took down over 50 trees mostly sugar maple and black birch that is currently in whole log form waiting to be cut up. We are on 2 acres with more trees to go and I am in an area where wood is easy to get and free if you're willing to put in the labor.
    My head is spinning however over the cost. I can't seem to get a handle on the hard number. There are so many variables. I've seen places stating that I have to have a concrete storage tank that is 4x8 and costs $$ to some where that is not mentioned. I also don't understand the chimney factor. Will I have to add an entirely new external chimney up the side of the house? That is easily 40' or more. I plan on adding the boiler with my current system and also doing a majority of the plumbing myself with my plumbers assistance. I am assuming that will keep costs down. So really, what I am asking is if any of you have a similar type setup what was your cost? Is this going to be a $4-5k deal or am I looking at $10k+? I plan on being in this house for at least 20yrs so that is also a factor I suppose. Plus I have 2 boys so in time the wood work will be their job. That's why we have children right?
    I realize that their are many variables here. I know that there is no real hard number involved but perhaps there are some other things I am overlooking in terms of install that you guys could mention.
    I don't plan on adding this unit until next year as I need $ and the wood supply is not ready so I do have some time but I really want to have a cost idea first. And if all else fails I will just put in a wood stove and make it work.
    Thanks in advance!

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  2. dleeallen

    dleeallen Member

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2008
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    Loc:
    Burlington, VT
    Your situation is very similar to mine, so I'm interested to hear what people think.

    I am currently leaning towards doing a pellet boiler alongside my oil boiler. You have better access with the bilco door which makes cord wood a bit easier to deal with in the house. Also consider that you will probably need water storage with the wood boiler. That can take up a bunch of room.

    I would definitely consider an insert in the fireplace regardless of what you do. Best case it's there for power outages, worst case you use it as supplement for a year or two until you figure out your boiler plan.
  3. rkusek

    rkusek Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
    Nebraska
    Your heating costs (1000 x $3) would be more than 3 times what I would pay in extra electricity if I didn't burn wood in my boiler which means your payback will come 3 times sooner. I think you are on the right track in thinking boiler. You have the free wood, enjoy the labor and satisfaction of burning wood, got the baseboard distribution which you like, and although I know nothing about oil boilers I'm guessing the 1998 setup would be a reliable backup heat source for many more years. You are definitely looking in the 10 grand range with one of the lamba controlled boilers, a new chimney, and storage. Even the most basic boiler Iike an EKO 25 is going to be about 4 grand for just the boiler. If that size is large enough to cover your heat load and you are good at scrounging for stuff like old tanks for storage you might be looking at only around $7k or so. The pressurized storage avoids a lot of issues but also requires an expensive expansion tank (at least $500) unless you build your one which many have done. It will be a great project if you like doing this kind of stuff and the life lessons your children learn by helping out as they grow will be well worth it IMO.
    GS7 likes this.
  4. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    I was in a similar situation a couple years ago. House 18 years old, mine a bit bigger at 2700 sq.ft. on two floors.

    I had a wood/oil combo unit with coil for DHW, replaced that with a wood boiler with storage, plus electric boiler for backup (takes very little space, frees up a chimney, easy install), a new electric HWH.

    You can read a bit about it in my install thread - but round numbers to give you an idea, I was at about 15k, all in. That included almost 2k just getting it from your country to my driveway, and 15% tax on everything I bought here. No labour/install paid, did everything myself except for wiring in the electric boiler & HWH. Some costs will depend on what you can find locally - like storage. (BTW who said you need concrete storage tanks? That's a bit out there.)

    Do you have access to natural gas? How's the propane situation or do you already have either? You could also put in a direct vent gas unit for back up to free up your chimney too, rather than an electric boiler. Mine is seldom used (only one day last winter), that's why I went with electric. Even though your oil unit is 'only' a 1998, it's a great feeling getting rid of oil all together & all the liability potential that comes with storing it. Mine was only 2 years older than yours, and I did not regret sending it down the road.

    There are all kinds of possibilities out there - the main factors in your decision making will likely be ones of personal preferences & local situation.

    But don't be afraid to think about kicking the oil to the curb, totally.
    Coal Reaper likes this.
  5. Jonny006

    Jonny006 New Member

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    Aug 2, 2013
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    33
    Loc:
    Ct
    Hmmmm.... Never thought about removing the oil burner. My concern with that is if I'm unable to fire up the wood furnace a small hot water heater won't cut it for heating. Also, down the road selling a home with a manual furnace that you have to feed may not be a good selling point.
    There is no gas in my area and no plans that I know of adding it. Kinda off the beaten path. I do have propane at the house for the stove and generator so in essence I could put in a propane heater. Electric might be a better option since I have the whole house generator.
    Man, there is a lot to consider here huh? Maybe dleeallen is right. I should throw in a wood stove while I figure it out. That might at least offset some of my oil cost. I have a line on about 35' of chimney liner for cheap and if I picked up an old VC for a good price I could be throwing some heat out there for not alot of cash. But, this winter I'm screwed. No stove, no wood ready...a hungry oil burner. This sucks.
  6. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Loc:
    Nova Scotia
    Sounds like it's too late in the season now to get something in place for this winter - especially if your wood doesn't have at least a year of seasoning time on it (cut split & stacked).

    If you have propane there now, I would seriously consider a propane boiler for backup - direct vent it & you can free up your chimney. Get rid of everything oil. Put in a wood boiler & storage. Electric hot water heater. BTW, if your chimeny is in the 30' tall range, you can put in a natural draft boiler - like mine (I'm likely biased).

    ( It's some fun spending other peoples money :) )
  7. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    1,013
    Loc:
    Upstate NY
    My advice is to live in the house this winter, get a feel for what you want to do with it, and do a LOT of reading here on Hearth! We all have different setups and opinions, and there is a lot to learn. You are right on the cusp of the heating season, so everything is more expensive right now. I feel you on not being ready. Our first winter here we had the T-stat at 58, and STILL went through 4 tanks of oil. But its a lot of money, no sense jumping ahead until you know how you want to proceed.

    Also, get your logs bucked and split sooner instead of later! Gassifiers really like dry wood, possibly drier than you are used to, so the more head start you can get on it, the better!
  8. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    1,194
    Loc:
    Central Maine
    Give up on this winter.

    Start getting and SPLITTING wood right now. Not a month from now.

    Plan on 15k for a gasser and storage. All the pumps, plumbers and such all add up. Yes, you can certainly do it yourself for less.

    A properly integrated wood boiler with storage, and oil boiler for backup is a WONDERFUL thing to run in the winter. Plan your whole project. Right down to where you will store your wood. How it will travel to the boiler.. on and on.

    Read and Read here. Take pictures and measurements of your home and yard. Many people here will help. Go SLOW!

    JP
  9. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Southern Tenn
    Good advice above about using this year for preparation. My first year I hastily installed my system in November, fired it up with not well seasoned wood, cut corners because it was getting cold. Spent most of my first season debugging and dragging what I thot was seasoned wood out of the hills which just complicated system debugging on top of my learning curve. No regrets, but had I at least started with well seasoned wood all the other problems would have been easier to diagnose.

    I installed our 60 class boiler without storage for about 10k (ignoring the ~2k I wasted on my screwed up underground). Now after 4 years I'm adding 1000 gal storage which will be about 3-4k. So the 14-16k all up price with storage for a good boiler is in the ballpark depending on which system you pick. Generally the guys who spend a lot of time researching here make wise decisions and have few regrets.

    You've found the right place. Welcome.
  10. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    NJ
    I was in same situation a year ago as well. Got a deal on my demo model boiler in the spring and started making hot water in may this year. Gave me the whole summer with dhw to learn the system. $12.5k for my whole setup. The only thing i didnt do myself was the sprayfoam. I spent a year researching and planning. Now we are rockin!
    Get that birch split and stacked first. They go punk fast. My gasser loves birch. I prefer it over oak.
  11. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    You burning white birch or yellow birch?

    I started scrounging some white here this spring, since it was easy to get to & growing like weeds in places. Bit of a PITA since it's not very big so the piles look like stacks of toothpicks after splitting and lots more handling per volume, but it dries real fast. Haven't burned any of it yet this winter, but I will be. Nice to hear the preference of birch over oak for yours, makes me think at least it's not absolute trash - and I have lots more I could get.
  12. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    Black. Sorry. Should have specified. I do think its better than the rest. Same btus as most oaks but seasons in a year. I got lots of black birch on my property including many pushing 24". The only problem is the craving for rootbeer after cutting or splitting!
  13. Fred61

    Fred61 Minister of Fire

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    I prefer yellow birch over black but the two are non that far apart. I avoid white birch since it's heating value is far less than the others. The thing about birch is that the bark is waterproof and if not split right away it will start to go punky. If the piece is too small to split, all you need to do is score the bark over the length of the piece with the tip of your chainsaw and that will stop the rotting otherwise they will sit in your wood pile and compost instead of drying.

    Funny, I crave a cherry coke after processing black birch.
  14. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    I must be doing something wrong - I usually crave beer after processing most anything.
    Fred61 and Coal Reaper like this.
  15. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    Any other wood requires reAl beer post-processing.
  16. NateB

    NateB New Member

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    Mar 5, 2013
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    Loc:
    South Central Pennsylvania
    I would also consider a non pressurized system with heat exchangers, that is what I will do once I get the cash out of the stock market. I am getting my tank from Tom at http://www.americansolartechnics.com/products.html. He is very helpful. Also going this root gives you options for adding solar hot water in the future. I have an EKO 40 I bought for $4000 plus the 820 gal tank plus 2 heat exchangers $5000, so around $10k. You could do it cheaper and build your own tank, and make your own heat exchanger, but the tank would always make me worry if it would hold up and I don't have time for the heat exchangers. have fun welcome to your new obsession
  17. Jonny006

    Jonny006 New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2013
    Messages:
    33
    Loc:
    Ct
    Well, it seems I have some pennies to save. I think it's safe to say that a budget of @10k is where I am at.
    The solar idea is intriguing as well. I keep seeing the ads for solar power where you lease the equipment. It seems that they install solar panels on your roof which is at their cost and you lease it from the company. They cover all install and will repair anything during the lease period for free. I have spoken to one guy who had it done and is already seeing savings. Hmmmm. Not really a topic for this forum I suppose. I don't even have electric heat or central AC and my electric bill is not really too bad.
    I really hate that I cannot heat with wood right now. I did have a coworker selling off a pellet stove for $800 that i considered as a holdover but I think he sold it. And quite frankly I don't think I would really be saving any money once I was up to speed.
    All said I have a ton more research to do. But I have a year anyway right?
  18. flyingcow

    flyingcow Minister of Fire

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    Your house size and oil useage is very close to what i have. 1800sq/ft 2 story/baseboard heat and unheated basement. I was using about 1000 gals of oil a yr. Replaced it with 6.5 cord of well seasoned wood. 2 adults/3teens. If you do your own storage, you could do it for 10k-ish. I got 12k into parts alone, but i bought my tank. Also, the systems is set up if my tank gets cold my oil burner kicks in. I use my boiler yr round.

    Your chimney could be a significant cost??
  19. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    Just make sure you get started on a good wood supply now! Research here nights and days with rain/snow, but if its nice out, get splittin'! You might be able to get by with wood seasoned less than a year ( I did my first...and part of my second year) but its SO much easier with good seasoned wood.
    flyingcow likes this.
  20. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Addison County, Vermont
    Planning for next year gives you time to scrounge. Boilers tend to be less expensive any time of the year but now. I bought a ton of my stuff on eBay, and I'm good friends with my local scrap yard. As mentioned above, storage tanks can be expensive, but I've seen a bunch that could be had for scrap metal costs - they just don't hang around for long.

    I heartily recommend a well rounded program:
    • Do some research on the web over a cup of coffee
    • Go outside and cut/split/stack some firewood
    • Have a beer
    • Refine your plumbing design, control design, and parts list - post questions here
    • Check eBay and craigslist for bargains on things you'll need
    • Repeat as necessary
    Good luck - this is a worthwhile project.
    flyingcow, woodsmaster and Clarkbug like this.
  21. Jonny006

    Jonny006 New Member

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    Oh, I've been splitting. And cutting. And splitting. I need to research this storage tank. Not clear on what I need specifically. The chimney is also going to be a challenge I'm afraid. I know I cannot share the chimney with my oil burner and I certainly cannot tie in to the existing fireplace side as it is not practical from what I can see. That leaves adding an additional insulated pipe up along the side of the existing mortar chimney. Two things that will be an issue from what I can see thus far;
    1) The run up the side of the house is really tall. 3 stories really. That is costly.
    2) I dont see where I can exit the basement with the chimney. The side that I thought would work is blocked by the electric meter and generator smart switch.
    I'm gonna have to really research this. Maybe some of you have seen posts dealing with this same issue? Perhaps y'all could direct me toward those? The search function doesn't always work so well.
    When I have some time I will snap some pics of the room and the layout. That would probably help in assessing what I need.
  22. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    You could " power vent" your oil boiler.

    Depending on your location.. Two appliances in one flue MAY be allowable. In use.. you won't run both at the same time. I have a massive amount of draft with my 45' chimney. I COULD run both and not have an issue. It's kind of foolish how the govt will grandfather something, but now allow new construction.

    it's either safe, or it's not. if it's truly unsafe than they should make people change it, no grandfathering.

    JP
  23. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Echo JP on the power vent - but if you're facing huge chimney obstacles to adding a wood unit, that is also another score for yanking the oil all together & replacing with a direct vent propane boiler, since you've already got propane on-site. I'd pick either one of those as opposed to a complete new chimney build just for a wood unit - but doing away with oil & just dealing with one fossil fuel would appeal to me.

    Sounds like your chimney would make a natural draft gassifier work pretty good. :)
    Coal Reaper likes this.
  24. Jonny006

    Jonny006 New Member

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    Ct
    I was unaware that two appliances could share a chimney. Coming from a wood stove background I would never think that due to the creosote problem. I am assuming the boilers burn much cleaner so it can be done? I am hesitant to toss the oil burner. It's already setup and is in great working order. And to add the cost of removal and adding a propane unit does not seem cost effective.
    This chimney sharing has my interest peaked. If it's possible and not problematic then that is a great option.
    I'll be honest I am very new to this boiler thing. I'm not really sure how the setup should be done at all. After reading some posts I get quite intimidated because of the technical jargon that is regurgitated. It is all very foreign to me. All these things about regulators, "T"s, flow rates, exchangers, pressurized, non-pressurized....I have a lot to learn. And on top of it all I don't have a clue as to what boiler to buy? Tarm? Eko? The list is long.
    I guess I'll be here for a while posting and reading.
  25. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    reading and reading and searching and reading more. it aint tht bad once you dissect it all and work on one thing at a time.

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