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Considering The Dark Side

Post in 'The Pellet Mill - Pellet and Multifuel Stoves' started by becasunshine, Nov 12, 2013.

  1. becasunshine

    becasunshine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Messages:
    418
    Loc:
    Central Va
    Hello, Wise Ones!

    We need advice.

    We are considering a stove solution for our river house, the house to which we hope to retire in a few years. We are considering woodstoves and propane-fired gas stoves as well as pellet stoves.

    The specs:

    One story ranch style house, approximately 2000 sq. ft. The living areas are on one end of the house and consist of a living room, dining room, kitchen and Florida room in an open concept design with no doors nor substantial walls nor obstructions between those four rooms. The laundry room is off of the kitchen, at one end of the house, and that has a typical residential sized doorway with a door. A standard long ranch-styled hallway traverses the other half of the house, leading to three bedrooms, a hall bath and a master bath off of the master bedroom at the far other end of the house.

    The HVAC system consists of a 14 or 17 SEER (neither of us can remember right now) heat pump/air conditioner with a propane furnace back up.

    We have a 500 gallon propane tank. We opted to purchase a propane tank to replace the rental propane tank, since we don't typically use enough propane in a year (yet) to avoid tank rental fees. Since we had to purchase a tank, we purchased A TANK, with an eye toward a whole house generator eventually. It is a remote rural location with above ground electrical supply lines. Power outages don't occur as often as one might think but we do get both summer and winter storms (and spring and fall storms) and prolonged power outages are always a possibility.

    The house is new construction (circa 2007) and very well constructed to handle the environment. The builder is a life-long resident of this area, as is his family for several generations. They know how to build houses that stand up to weather on the water. The house is stick built of substantial materials, insulated and tight, with good quality thermal windows, R40 blown insulation in the attic, six inch exterior walls with good insulation, good quality doors, etc. Construction money was spent on "meat and potatoes" construction as opposed to "lipstick and mascara" extras. We feel very fortunate to have found this house at that time. The builder had discounted it substantially in the down turn in the housing market, otherwise it would have been out of our price range.

    The front of the house has an east/southeast exposure that gets good solar gain. There is a deep front porch that shades the living room windows in the summer. The back of the house has a west/northwest exposure. The lot isn't waterfront but there is a flat, unobstructed field between the back of the house and the water. The highest wind speed we've clocked on our weather station since we've owned the property was over 60 mph last winter- and that wasn't during a storm. That was just winter wind. The wind hits the back of the house directly. (Thank God for substantial construction.) There is the possibility that lots between us and the water will be developed with homes, typical residential landscaping, etc. over time but at this moment there is no development on the horizon.

    The outside unit for the HVAC is on the front of the house, tucked into a little protected "L" created by two exterior walls. There is a gas vent for the propane furnace, the dryer vent and foundation vents with which to contend in that area as well. This is important because we hope to put the stove, whichever type of stove we get, on the interior of one of those walls. Venting for the stove will come into play here. I suspect that with all of those openings and equipment in play we will be looking at a vent pipe chimney of some sort.

    The interior location in which we hope to install the stove is on the opposite side of one of the walls of that "L," in the living room. That location would point the stove almost directly down the hall to the bedrooms. It would also locate the stove in the room in which we typically sit on winter evenings and watch t.v. and it also places the stove in the open floor plan portion of the house. The heat flow to the dining room, kitchen, Florida room and laundry room will be unobstructed.

    The question is- what kind of stove?

    Propane: easy, will operate during a power outage, but it means that our "supplemental heat" is fueled by the most expensive option we have at our disposal. Not the economical solution we are seeking but it is easy and it will operate during a winter power outage.

    Pellet stove: easy, economical, and we have a place to store a nominal amount of pellets. We have storage for tonnage in town and we can transport the pellets we need for temporary stays until we build more storage on site. Cannot run it during a power outage. If we eventually have a generator at this location, and we run the generator during a power outage, we'll use it to run the furnace/furnace fans, not to run the pellet stove.

    Wood stove: can operate during a power outage and any other time as well. The heat is stronger- will it circulate throughout the house as well as a pellet stove with a blower? Will a blower on a woodstove work as well as the convection blower on a pellet stove? What about an outside air kit? Will an outside air kit keep the woodstove from creating negative pressure in the house and pulling cold air in through any little air gap? Both of us realize that embarking on a woodstove lifestyle in our mid-fifties, moving into our sixties (and hopefully beyond) is a lot of work. We are both in pretty good shape, however, and we aren't afraid of work. That being said, we will most likely have to buy firewood. We don't own land, we don't have access to land with hardwoods on it, and many of the very local lumber is pine. How about the new hybrid woodstoves? We are rather fascinated with those... Also, do these newer hybrid woodstoves come up to temperature faster? It's been years since I've been around a woodstove- but it will do us little good if we crank up the woodstove on a Friday night, and just about the time the woodstove gets up to temperature and warms the house, it's time to leave on Sunday afternoon. As far as storage, wood can be stored outside.

    Combination solution: a pellet stove in the living room to heat the house during normal periods of time and give us an economical alternative to the electric heat pump and propane-fired back up furnace, and a gas stove in the Florida room for power outages. The gas stove could come later, since we are not yet obligated to staying at that location during winter storms and outages. On the other hand, a heat source in the house that is independent from the power grid but quick and easy could protect pipes from freezing in winter storms.

    Any feedback is welcomed. The two of us are chasing our tails with this problem- we finally realized that we need input from people who are more experienced with the various alternatives.

    What think you, Wise Ones? :) :)
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013

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  2. Madcodger

    Madcodger Guest

    I am hardly a wise one, but your comments on propane (and a desire to use a renewable fuel) are what led us to pellets. I did the math using an energy calculator (several available online) and the only better option based on fuel prices was natural gas (not available at our location).

    For power outages, you will likely need a generator anyway. Our solution is to have a battery backup for the stove (we have a Quad designed for this) that allows us to turn off the gen at night while still having heat. Well-made refrigerators and freezers are fine overnight if unopened and a few LED lanterns and a laptop or iPads even allow for entertainment with no grid electricity (with or without internet depending on other battery backups). Very workable for several days, and you save on running a gen when it is essentially not needed for 12 or so hours. They are stunningly inefficient when of any size and nothing like even expensive utility power in terms of cost, so minimizing their use has many benefits.

    We are also of your vintage agewise and the thought of dealing with wood in either a new hybrid or more traditional model wood stove holds no appeal. Pellet bags are recyclable and not bad to deal with once stored, and our dealer handles getting them into our storage shed. Even if I had to do that it's a once per season event if you plan well. We found a beautiful old steamer trunk that can store a whopping 10 bags of pellets and I keep that filled (beside the stove) for bouts of bad weather or illness that make it undesirable to go outside and bring a bag in from storage (otherwise I do that every couple of days unless I'm away on business, in which case the boss takes a bag from the trunk by the stove. Part of my household duties and a good trade considering I don't cook and she is amazingly good at it). I also handle stove maintenance which involves two minutes of weekly ash removal and 20 minutes of a more thorough monthly cleaning. The addition of another smaller stove in my basement office has doubled that but doesn't apply to you. I've no idea if I'll feel differently as we age, but for now it's a lot easier and cleaner than wood.

    We have found two other benefits from pellets. The first is cost savings vs our electric heat. We have a heat pump and when not using the backup heat strips I think it's a close tie between the heat pump and pellets in terms of cost, with the heat pump probably winning out if the temps are in the 50s / 60s. When in the 30s and below, pellets are a clear winner because the backup heat strips are not activated. It's Nov 13 as I write this and it was 25 here last night but we have yet to turn on our heat pump. There's a chance it will come on later this morning based on the tstat settings but I doubt it. The living areas of the house stay about 68-70, our desired range, with the family room where the Quad is located just above that. The upstairs bedrooms go as low as 62 or so at night when the stove tstat goes to 67, which we prefer. Our sleep is noticeably better at those temps, which was a pleasant surprise. I just asked my wife if she wanted me to adjust the tstat (eiher heat pump and/or stove) to make the bedrooms warmer and it was an emphatic no because that.

    The other benefit is that the stove makes us more aware of our energy usage. I consciously need to put a bag of pellets in periodically and that somehow reminds me to do little things to reduce energy. I rather like that. We don't do anything drastic but I did do a more conscious job of caulking, air sealing, etc., partly due to a desire to reduce pellet / energy use.

    I hope that helps with your thought process in some small way. Good luck with your planning.
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 13, 2013
    Lowarea and boomhour like this.
  3. briansol

    briansol Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jan 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,743
    Loc:
    central ct
    Have you considered coal? it's got to be cheap in that area.
  4. Madcodger

    Madcodger Guest

    Must say I have not, but can't speak for OP of course. I grew up with a neighbor who had a coal furnace, and the storage was a headache and a half. I'm also a bit on the green side, and don't think I could bring myself to burn coal personally unless I just had to do so. The renewable aspect of wood appeals to me. But I do appreciate the suggestion!
  5. becasunshine

    becasunshine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Messages:
    418
    Loc:
    Central Va
    "For power outages, you will likely need a generator anyway." Yeah, the plan is to have a whole house generator installed when we move there full time. We are still "tied to town" due to employment (NOT complaining, glad to have it) so financially, other than paying today's prices as opposed to future prices, it makes no sense to pay for a whole house generator at that location right now. Since we have a small house in town, the chances of us being without power for any length of time at both locations is, on a daily basis, remote. Big enough storms can do it, have done it, but so far those storms don't happen every year. We seem to be entering a "big storm cycle" again (I remember the "big storm cycle" from my childhood) so perhaps a whole house generator is more imminent than we know. =/ =/ I know that they aren't cheap, but honestly, I was surprised at the first phone estimate we received- surprised enough that I walked away and I haven't pursued it since. Given our lifetime history with big storms, we have a small portable gennie in town for the fridge and the freezer. If necessary, I'll drive out to the river, put the crap from the refrigerator (with its freezer) in a cooler and bring it back to town. There's no reason to install a generator in that location to save our condiments and ice cream. On the other hand... this does weigh on my mind... a winter storm/ice storm could make it difficult to reach that property, could take the power lines down, could cut power for long enough to freeze pipes. A whole house generator with an automatic switch could save pipes and that's no small thing.

    "Our solution is to have a battery backup for the stove (we have a Quad designed for this) that allows us to turn off the gen at night while still having heat. easier and cleaner than wood." Ahhhh- brilliant! Do tell more about the Quadrafire and its battery back up! Do you have a large UPS or do you have a battery bank like a solar array battery bank? Do tell!

    "They [generators, I assume] are stunningly inefficient when of any size and nothing like even expensive utility power in terms of cost, so minimizing their use has many benefits." Yeah, very true. =( =( We dream of a solar array on top of that house as well- and if that comes to fruition, then powering the pellet stove during power outages becomes less of a headache. Mr. Spock on this board has a Harman XXV and a solar array. He also has a gorgeous female German Shepherd and a cardboard cut out of Data from Star Trek guarding his battery bank. I have *serious* Mr. Spock Envy. =/

    Also, we have a Kerosene stove here that we use during winter outages in town. I dry burn the wick and I have replacement parts and everything. :) I made myself sit in the back yard, tear it down and put it back together when we first got it, so I'd know how to do that. I need to do that again... just to refresh my memory. That would be an excellent exercise for later this week, when the weather warms back up. We are supposed to have a rather remarkable winter this year so re-acquainting myself with the kerosene stove is not a bad use of my time. :) We also have a Mr. Buddy indoor safe propane heater as well, so those are possible stop gap solutions.

    "The living areas of the house stay about 68-70, our desired range, with the family room where the Quad is located just above that. The upstairs bedrooms go as low as 62 or so at night when the stove tstat goes to 67, which we prefer. Our sleep is noticeably better at those temps, which was a pleasant surprise. I just asked my wife if she wanted me to adjust the tstat (eiher heat pump and/or stove) to make the bedrooms warmer and it was an emphatic no because that." Ditto. :) :)

    "The other benefit is that the stove makes us more aware of our energy usage. I consciously need to put a bag of pellets in periodically and that somehow reminds me to do little things to reduce energy. I rather like that. We don't do anything drastic but I did do a more conscious job of caulking, air sealing, etc., partly due to a desire to reduce pellet / energy use."

    ^^AMEN. When you start thinking of your energy consumption in terms of tonnage, and when *YOU* are loading and unloading, stacking and hauling that tonnage into the house to burn, you become far more mindful and far less wasteful! I find that the mindfulness we apply to our energy consumption in terms of heat applies across the board: the insulation we've installed in the attic and the extra swaddling on the windows reduces our air conditioning expenses as well. Being mindful about overall energy consumption spills over to cutting off lights, cutting on only the lights we use, turning the t.v. and radio OFF if we realize that we are no longer paying attention, putting laundry on the clothesline to avoid sucking air we've already paid to condition into a dryer, heating it up again, heating it up more, then dumping it outside, opening the windows and turning on the fan when weather is temperate, dinner often goes in a Sun Oven during the summer to avoid heating up the house, etc. This in turn spills over into the rest of our thinking and our budget- we are conscious of the dollars we spend on *everything.* At first the discipline is awkward, self-conscious, feels a little compulsive and limiting, but ultimately it is freeing- there's simply far less waste in the house, far less "stuff." We own what we use, we use what we own. The practice of physically handling, as in actually putting one's hands on and one's back into the effort of providing a basic need like heat, also spills over into other areas of life. We started looking at our entire infrastructure differently. When we acquired the river house, we didn't want to acquire an entire duplicate set of household bills. In order to have some mindless t.v. for the evenings, we installed a big honkin' antenna (and an equally big honkin' lightning ground system) on the house. When we realized that we were paying the cable company in town for hundreds of channels that we never watch, we got rid of cable and installed the same big honkin' antenna and big honkin' ground system on the house in town. BOOM, that saved a chunk of change immediately each month. The two year contract for the remaining landline phone and internet is just now expiring- so we are switching to a lower cost ISP and also switching to Ooma for VoIP phone service. It's a bit of a mental exercise to meet these challenges but, given some modicum of success, it becomes *fun.* :) :)

    When we bought the river house, we fielded some snarky comments as well as some genuine inquiries about how we could afford it. We understand the snark and we weren't offended by it- it's too easy to get sucked into the typical consumer mindset and not see the forest for the trees. Genuine inquiries we are always happy to accommodate. If others hadn't been open and generous with information, we would have never learned either.

    In a nutshell:

    We bought the house at a huge discount due to the unraveling of the housing bubble.
    We furnished it from Craigslist and thrift stores. What few items we couldn't find in those venues we bought at discount retailers. (I absolutely cherish my Craigslist furnishings- in addition to the cost savings, we met awesome people and the furniture has its own wonderful stories. I think about those people and their lives, and the stories we collected, whenever I dust or use that furniture. It always makes me smile.)
    Similarly, the "landscaping," the foundation plantings we've acquired, came from perennial splits from family and friends.
    We DIY whenever possible.
    We buy used whenever possible.
    If you cut your heating bill with the DIY labor you spend feeding a pellet stove, if you cut your overall energy bill with insulation (DIY where possible) if you drive 7 and 11 year old cars that are long paid for, and maintain them (DIY where possible) if you cut things that you more or less mindlessly consume without getting any real benefit or enjoyment from it (hundreds of cable channels you never watch) if you learn to shop the used goods market where appropriate, then it's surprisingly easy to accumulate a pretty decent house payment.

    Ok, off my Frugalista Soap Box now. Thanks for reading. :)
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013
  6. becasunshine

    becasunshine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    418
    Loc:
    Central Va
    Brian, no, I hadn't! That's an idea- must investigate!
  7. Madcodger

    Madcodger Guest

    A person after my own heart re: frugality, etc. Just smart living...

    Re: generator: We actually installed a manually controlled gas(oline) model that hooks into our main electric panel with a manual switch. It's 8000W (12000 for motor starts / surges) and handles everything except the heat pump, dryer or main oven. We have a well and septic and no problem powering those plus fridge (actually two, which isn't exactly frugal but there's a story there) plus internet, tv, and lights with many watts to spare. We can even use the hot water heater to heat up water for showers, but then turn that breaker back off, just in case. It would not solve your problems of power going out and not being able to reach the river house, but the whole setup cost me under $2K, and we've had it running for up to five days. One year we were down for multiple days three times, and we're only 25 minutes out of Philadelphia, in essentially a suburb (just a little more rural due to being up on a hill near a farm). They can also be converted very easily to propane (as can any gasoline engine, for that matter). It's the "automatic" part that really drives up the price, I've found, and for at least a few more years we'll be just fine with throwing a few switches and walking outside to start it.

    Re: Battery backups: The Quadrafire Mt Vernon AE is built to just plug a battery into it with an optional cable. The internals except the ignitor are all DC (which also makes it VERY energy efficient - only 27 watts max without ignitor running). I imagine others are also capable of this. My other stove is both a pellet and AC hog, taking about 100 watts full time. But it's OLD... It does throw out some heat, though, and is fine for the basement office where I'm at all the time when I'm home. We also run the Quad through a large (server type) free-standing UPS designed to produce a sine wave (VERY important) and to accept dirty power from a generator (all but the small sine wave generators are generally rather dirty in their power output - other threads here on that). I am now trying to either wire that into a larger battery bank of 2 - 4 deep cycles or just buy a sine wave inverter and be done with it. Still in design stage for that... No solar here, at least yet. The county owns the property right behind me and has very tall tress that block part of my roof, so would have to figure that out (nice, though, because it's designated for a very large park and can't be developed).

    Keep us posted on your decision, and good luck!
    becasunshine likes this.
  8. Bob Sorjanen

    Bob Sorjanen Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2012
    Messages:
    146
    Loc:
    Edgecomb Maine
    http://www.leisurelinestoves.com/698400.html
    some of the newer coal stoves are similar to pellet stoves, load the hopper and go. thermostats on them also, have been thinking of one
  9. iceguy4

    iceguy4 Minister of Fire

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    1,051
    Loc:
    Upstate, NY
    as a LONG time wood burner (wood hot air furnace and many stoves) and longtime wood cutter,chopper,splitter, stacker....ect. LOVER ...well I always turned my nose up at "pellet burners". my thinking, why pay?
    Anyway fast forward Last year was my first experience with pellets. Things that swayed me...No chimney (direct vent)...reliability ...little or NO smoke. Now I wonder why I didn't switch quicker. another benefit, pellet appliances will fit your schedule ..as apposed to you scheduling around a wood appliance's schedule. both require a modest amount of time.
    becasunshine likes this.
  10. becasunshine

    becasunshine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2009
    Messages:
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    Loc:
    Central Va
    We are leaning away from coal due to storage concerns.

    We are leaning toward a hybrid wood stove due to storage concerns. Right now we have limited storage for pellets at that location. We may build a garage at that location at some point in the future, but it will be in the future as in years unless something changes drastically between now and then.

    We can store wood outside. We can store pellets outside too, but they would have to be delivered on pallets and remain shrink wrapped until we use them. We'd pretty much have to pay for delivery. Even if we could have the supplier load a pallet onto a trailer for us, we'd have to get that pallet off of the trailer at our location- and our location is pretty remote. We don't own a forklift. My husband counts this among the myriad of shortcomings in his life circumstances, along with the absence of his own personal submarine, any one of the cars from any James Bond movie, any one of the girls from any James Bond movie, and a pet velociraptor. But I digress.

    In case of winter power outages:

    We'd have to have a pellet stove and a gas stove. A back up power supply works for hours, not days, typically. A solar array with enough back up batteries could last for days. If we get a bad ice storm, we could easily be without power for a week or more. So, if we use a pellet stove for supplemental heat during normal grid powered times, we'd still have to buy another stove to see us through winter storm power outages.

    A wood stove would enable us to cook with it as well. We have a gas stove at this location so we could use the cook top in a power outage. We aren't without resources in that area. A wood stove with an incorporated cook top would enable us to use the same energy that heats the house to cook our food as well. We'd probably use it to cook some items whenever the wood stove is fired up. Why not? The heat is there, and whatever propane we don't use is money in our pockets.

    We know that wood stove heating is a lot more labor intensive. At ages 53 and 54 we are not entering into this lifestyle lightly. On the other hand, we are in pretty good shape and we enjoy being active. There are folks in the area that intend to use our wood stove that supplement their propane heat with wood stoves well into their golden years, so we know it can be done. We anticipate buying more wood as we get older... and we realize that we are betting that wood will be cheaper than propane as years progress. We hope that will be true, but no one can predict the future.

    Besides, having a wood stove is an iron-clad (or steel clad, or soapstone clad) reason to BUY A CHAINSAW, yet another shortcoming in my husband's life circumstances that could be corrected by this acquisition. :)
  11. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

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    Northern NH
    For what its worth, if you don't have a pellet or wood stove, you may want to check out my thread in the green room on solar vs wood. If you have the proper solar exposure and net metering from your utility, the split type heat pump option is very attractive as once the PV and split unit is installed, you are not buying fuel. I have been running mine at 20 deg F and heating two floors of my well insulated house with one 1 ton unit. This doesn't cover your power outage issues although I expect with the proper generator you could run it .
  12. becasunshine

    becasunshine Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
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    418
    Loc:
    Central Va
    Peakbagger, thank you for that- seriously. We have a really great east/southeast exposure on the front of the house, where the roof catches unobstructed sun for most of the day. We do dream of a PV system at that location.

    We are on the grid. It's an electrical coop and we have nothing but great things to say about them- they do good work. Our coop copes with our big storms and our relatively remote, very rural location with grace, panache, good spirit and a can-do attitude.

    Not sure if we have net metering through the coop. We should check.

    We have a 14 or 17 SEER heat pump/central air unit at that location with a back up LP propane gas furnace. Not sure of the tonnage on the HVAC system. It was installed when we bought the house. There is some paperwork but the paperwork is there and I am here. :) We bought a propane tank last year when it came time to buy a tank or pay an annual rental fee. Buying the tank was a no-brainer; we don't live there full time yet, and the reason we were faced with a tank rental fee is that we don't consume enough propane for the company to waive the fee. Since we won't live there full time for a few more years and we hope to acquire a less expensive supplemental source of heat for very cold weather (when the propane furnace would take over for the heat pump) we hope to *never* use enough propane to waive the tank fee. We do hope to get a whole house generator at some point and it will run on propane, so we bought a 500 gallon tank.

    I won't run a propane fired generator to run a pellet stove. If I'm going to use a propane fired generator to run a heating plant I'll run the furnace ignition and the furnace fan intermittently- but I'd rather do neither. Per above, a PV system could run a pellet stove, and with a big enough battery bank it could run a pellet stove for days.

    We don't often have big storms here but when we do... the combination of our tendency to have ice storms and the fact that it makes no sense for government nor municipalities to allocate a large budget for things that happen occasionally rather than regularly means that when we lose power due to big weather, it is possible to lose it for many days on end.

    Long ago I fell in love with the Woodstock Soapstone wood stoves, and I'm afraid I've got it bad. When it's cold in the evenings there, and the wind is whistling past the house straight off of the water, and it's dark early, we are sitting in our living room with the cat and the dog, both of us wrapped up in home made afghans, what's missing is a fire of some sort.

    Add a nice wood stove with a wood stove fire... don't you see the magic? :)

    I know, I know, now add cutting wood, splitting wood, stacking wood, hauling wood, cleaning out the wood stove, etc. :) HOW'S THAT MAGIC FEELING NOW? :D

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