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Does a gasser make sense for me?

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by OldStoneHouse, Mar 3, 2013.

  1. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    I've been pondering getting a gasser for about three years (http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/vigas-vs-innova-or.86818/) and now am in a position to do so but I want to be sure that it's a good investment. Currently we have a two year old propane boiler (which wasn't cheap) but we do require backup heat so I guess that's a wash. Last year we used 5718 litres of propane - around $4000, this year will be about 20% less due to some improvements - so there has been some improvement. We do wish to heat part of our carriage house going forward and I am concerned about how that will impact long term costs.

    That amount of propane works out to about 7 cords - going rate around here seems to be $300. It may be possible that we can cut our own from my wife's parents land but I like to work with a worst case scenario.

    In my earlier post I was looking at a Vigas or an Tarm Innova. I'm really leaning toward an Innova - I spoke to Scott at Tarm Biomass and he was excellent. There will be around 1300 gallons of storage (using an old cistern) and Scott was suggesting the Innova 50 because of the large storage.

    Looks like it would pay for itself in six years ($15K capital cost, ~$2500 yearly savings). My wife is somewhat sceptical and points out that for $4000 we currently spend, we don't have to do anything. I should say we had a bad experience with a Caddy forced air wood furnace that wasn't sized properly and couldn't handle the load and my wife spent a great deal of time feeding it logs. On the other hand, I could use the exercise and would like our son to grow up with some experience burning wood.

    I'm also curious if I were to invest the $15K (mutual funds, stocks, etc) would I still be getting a better rate of return by putting in a gasser? Has anyone worked that out - my calculations show that I would need a rate of return greater than 12% for the investment to outperform the gasser. My wife also points out that 12% has labour involved whereas mutual funds would not. We're not against working - just trying to make an accurate comparison.

    I'm sure someone has run into a similar situation, would you mind sharing your thoughts? Does a gasser still make sense if I have to buy the wood?

    Thanks,

    Brad

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  2. Floydian

    Floydian Feeling the Heat

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    Hi Brad,

    I am all for cord wood but....

    I think a pellet boiler is worth considering if you are in a situation of having to buy wood. Check out some posts from the last few months on pellet boilers, especially an install by heaterman here:
    http://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/installed-this-boiler-last-week.91389/#post-1197573

    A lot of nice features, no storage needed, minimal labor involved and would still have a reasonable payback when your paying $4000 yr to heat your house.

    If you go with a gasser, having dry wood ready for next winter could be tricky at this point and figure on getting a few years ahead ASAP! A semi load of logs ready for you to cut/spit/stack would probably cost you less than $300/cord but I'm guessing here.

    Noah
  3. Norwegian Wood

    Norwegian Wood New Member

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    Hi Brad,
    The return on your gasser can be calculated by your annual savings.
    The return on any mutual funds is unknown, and can certainly be negative, as you already know.
    Bird in the hand for me.
    $300 seems a bit pricey, but you have more freedom than with any fuel that has to be delivered to you, and in which the costs can rise.
    What will be the price of propane next year? Oil? Pellets?
    BTY, the only person who ever claimed to make 12% a year, year after year, was Bernie Madoff.
    willyswagon likes this.
  4. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    Thanks for the replies - I had wondered about pellets actually. We had a pellet insert that my grandmother used for a year in her apartment (she lived with us) - it worked quite well but did require a fair bit of maintenance, but it was an older model. My parents have a newer model that doesn't seem to require as much.

    I agree, $300 is pricey (and to be honest at $300 I still have to pile and move it, probably twice), I think pellets are actually less per btu than cord wood at that price. The Harman boilers are available locally and the price seems good. I like the Hydroflex 60 actually but it may be a bit small for the load - on the other hand I wouldn't be terribly upset if the propane had to kick in on the coldest day of the year.
  5. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    "Mrs. bb" has pointed out more than once the fact that labor is involved with cord wood. As you mentioned, even if you buy it there is work involved. The work was a factor considered when we went cordwood. We also are not afraid of a little elbow grease but I was somewhat concerned about if we would still feel that way after a few years. This is our 4th year and I actually don't consider it "work" anymore...I actually kinda enjoy most aspects of cordwood except when I have to restack a pile I didn't do correctly :(
    We thought about pellets, but for me it was a matter of the biggest savings we could reap and the quickest payback. Those factors were more important than the convenience of pellets or any other source. The main concern I have with cordwood is if something were to happen to me I'm no sure my wife would/could continue with cordwood. We also have backup heat(oil) so she has an option to fall back on and we pray I'm able to continue harvest/burning wood for many years to come.
    CTFIRE likes this.
  6. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    Thanks - I think we are on the same page and I'm glad that you feel the same way about the work that I do. I'm 31 so I hope that I'm able to do the work for a long time yet!
  7. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    At about 25,000 BTU per liter (love mixing units) and assuming your 20% reduction, you're looking at about 115,000,000 fuel BTU. Good dry hardwood has about 20,000,000 BTU/cord, so you'd need about 6 cords if the wood boiler and propane boiler had similar system efficiency. That's probably being optimistic, so 7 cords is a decent starting point.

    I don't know if the massive drop in natural gas prices will translate to propane prices. If this were a purely financial tradeoff that might be a factor.

    How well can you insulate the cistern? That may also be an important consideration.
  8. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    Age can be a factor, but remember that life happens and sometimes it bites you in the a**...just have back up plans in place.
    I agree with Noah, if I were to buy my wood it would be by the triax load. Loads around here are usually 7+ cords and at $700 or so per load....much cheaper than $300/cord! Good luck with your decision....and of course, once you get the unit we need pics!
  9. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    If I was strictly buying.. I'd buy pellets. You don't need to "stock up" that much. Buy a ton at a time. You do A LITTLE labor moving bags.. that's it.

    Me.. I own a fair amount of land. I already owned the tractor. Payback is MUCH quicker that way.

    Pellet boiler hooked in series with the propane.. Or pellet burner with a window for ambiance in the home somewhere. Little maintenance.. but should be able to keep up with that much easier than moving cord wood.

    JP
  10. eauzonedan

    eauzonedan Member

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    Brad:

    A few thoughts by a guy building up a Garn system in a dedicated out building:

    Maybe consider buying cord wood - and bucking and splitting yourself. Up in NW WI - I can drop 12 cord of 8' sticks in the yard for about a grand....or $80 a cord (Red Oak)
    Try to find people hauling softwood for pulp or chip into building materiials. They don't want the hardwood and it's a by-product of their targeted purpose and pretty affordable.
    Even if buying wood bucked and split - you will likely have to store and dry it for a couple years for a gasser. I can't believe you will find anybody to properly dry it for you before delivery.
    In my instance and current LP and wood costs....... the difference per LP and cord wood is about 5x per btu. This is pretty easy to calculate given costs of LP and a type of cordwood and its cost.
    I don't factor in my time cutting splitting and moving wood......it's my "fitness program" and a lot more fun than hitting a gym.
    I'm on the back side of 60 and by not dropping and dragging trees - I hope to be doing this for a fair number of years to come
    Pure dollars........you can convince yourself of any outcome you want. Dollar retulrn on investment, time value of money, LP cost, cordwood cost, value of your labor....etc etc.
    My best guess looks like my total system cost revovery/ break even point is in the 7-10 year range. Not a very good investmentt from a pure financial point of view. A financial guy may call it dumb.
    I'm not a survivalist, but I am pretty damn independent. The mindset of being mostly self sufficient is hard to put a dollar value on.
    A small generator would be all that one would need to keep circ's and a well pumping, a fan motor blowing and a fridge to keep the beer cold...a good thing if weather or other things "went to crap".
    I insulated as much as practical, but note that I would not be keeping heat in a 1400 sq ft out-building man-cave (down) woman-cave (up) if I was doing it with LP.
    Storage in any form is a creature comfort and in my opinion worth the cost.
    Pellets are an option, but by being higher on the "food chain" (vs cord wood) it leaves you more exposed to fluctuations in your fuel costs due to labor costs , energy costs to produce supply/demand etc,
    I would suggest making the decision based on your head and heart and not just your checkbook. As many have said..... burning is a life style...... So....If it feels good - do it!

    Dan
  11. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    One other factor to consider - a wood boiler allows you to justify a variety of toys tools that your really wanted needed anyway - that nice 4WD diesel tractor, for instance.
    CTFIRE and Karl_northwind like this.
  12. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    Nofossil - nice! I think my wife would go for the tractor anyway, she's from farm stock.

    I just found out someone I work with is going to be selling his Tarm 2000 because his insurance company is making him change the oil tanks. It's at his cottage and he's going to go with propane now. So I might be able to buy that one from him which would be great. I can just ignore the oil side and carry on from there. If the numbers work out okay I could build a little 'house' for it outside and then not worry about getting it into the basement (or the wood). Another option would be our barn but it's about 150 feet from the house.
  13. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    I would be hesitant to buy a used boiler, especially one as old as a 2000. If I did buy one of the 2000 vintage it would have to be really, really cheap (close to free).

    Here's the deal, nothings free. You will save cash money going with a gasser, the trade off is time. I figure it takes me 2 to 3 weekends a year to get my wood in. In the grand scheme of things it's worth it to me because I do have the time and I was already setup for processing firewood.

    If I had no land and no reasonable way to source firewood I would be looking at a pellet boiler like others have suggested. You wont recoup your costs as quick but they're far less labor intense.

    K
  14. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    Sorry, I should have said it was an Excel 2000 (or 2200, haven't got that yet) - it's ten years old but definitely a gasser.
  15. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    Yeah, know still ten years of use could mean it's ready for another 10 - 20 years of service or it ready to die soon. Use and abuse it hard to gauge in one of these units. Did it have return temp protection? Was it used with well seasoned wood?

    That and I consider the Solo Innova a considerable upgrade over one of the older gassers.

    K
  16. ihookem

    ihookem Minister of Fire

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    If I were you I would look into insulating your house as good as possible. Foam everything you can. It will save you so much money that heating your house will be all but cheap. You are in Canada and weather may be more severe. It was -7 yesterday morning though. I use very little heat even at -7F degrees. It is a 2200 Sq.ft house/ 9' ceilings. I use about 15k btu's per hour if it's calm. Insulating may cost ya 5k if ya are not insulated well. I know existing homes are harder to ins. but most likely worth it. I can tell ya one thing, I built the home in 2004. I blew in cellulose in 2x6" walls and R 40 ceiling. On 12/25/2008 it caught on fire, most likely from the fan wire of the fireplace insert. I rebuilt with 4" closed cell foam in the walls, sprayed 3" in the basement joists and R 60 attic, and storm windows to boot. I thought the old house was insulated. The new house blows the old one away in savings. Foam is that good, done right. If I knew the new house was going to be that much more efficient I never would have spent the 9400 bucks for an EKO 25 . I most likely don't use 100 bucks a month in December. Matter of fact The Eko sits idle half the day and looses BTU's It takes 3-4 cords of wood with DHW. Much of my wood is popple, pine, boxelder and soft maple. I figure if I had red oak I'd use 2 cords. I would however still would burn wood, I love wood when it's all cut split stacked dried. I hate wood while I'm cutting, splittin,stackin though. I would most likely buy another Quadrafire 7100 again and use it more as a weekend fireplace that would subsidize the heat bill and for enjoyment of the dancing fire. Hope this helps.
  17. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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    The house is 160 years old and stone - each year we get better. I put more cellulose in the attic the first winter, it's good. The walls are as built but we are not going to insulate them as that would cause major destruction for a very small return and could cause moisture trouble. Our major issue (and simultaneous blessing) is the size of the windows - we have 18 windows which are 5'x7', small patio doors really. The solar gain is tremendous (the propane boiler will shut down for most of a sunny day) but also a big drain at night when it's cold. The property is historic and there is only so much that we are willing to do - in most cases foam is out. I have given some thought to having the basement walls foamed but I need to check further into that. We are loosing heat through the basement and fixing that will help quite a bit I think.
  18. ihookem

    ihookem Minister of Fire

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    Well, an 1860's house is a lot harder to insulate. Guess ya just do what ya can.
  19. OldStoneHouse

    OldStoneHouse Member

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  20. EffectaBoilerUser (USA)

    EffectaBoilerUser (USA) Member

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    Based on the numbers you give it certainly sounds like it would be a wise choice/investment. Yes, there is physical work required with wood but the exercise is not a bad thing either. I look forward to getting all my wood prepared in the early spring and then watching it all summer as it gets seasoned.

    Pellets certainly require much less physical work but are also more expensive than cord wood in most areas of the country.

    If your looking at both wood and pellets you might want to check out the wood gasification boilers that burn both wood and pellets using the same boiler investment. I think its only a few hundred dollars to add the necessary items to the initial wood boiler purchase which will allow you to add a pellet burner in the future (and allow you to use the same physical wood boiler).

    Make sure you take things slowly and do your homework!

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