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Gasifier dilemma

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by stupe, May 3, 2012.

  1. stupe

    stupe Member

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    I've been poking around this forum for about 5 years now and I'm about to pull the trigger on an indoor wood boiler. I'm in the process of building a wood shed/boiler room addition off the back of my house so I need to make a boiler decision soon. I have burned wood in a wood stove for the past 15 years (still burn through 1300 gallons of propane a year) so I'm no stranger to constantly feeding a wood stove but I read about everyone starting a fire every day to start their gasifiers. I hate to sound lazy but throwing a few logs in the wood stove every few hours is much more appealing than having to start a fire every time I want my gasifier to run. I understand the storage tank idea (which I plan to do) and why gasifiers like to run flat out all the time but does anyone keep their boilers running all the time by throwing a log on every once in a while or do you let it burn out every day? I'm starting to think a pellet gasifier would be better suited for me then a wood gasifier just for the shear fact that I don't want to start a fire every day. My wood stove currently runs from November to April and I let it go out maybe a dozen times. Thoughts?

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  2. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

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    For today's gasification systems, boiler and storage sizing gives the convenience of only having to load and fire once daily.
    For myself, my heating with wood and hot water predates gasification and storage. Heat storage eliminated the problem of controlling combustion to match the varying heat loads of the home.
    Eliminate standby smoldering and you will greatly reduce the amount of wood you will burn. With burning a gasification boiler all out, you also eliminate any possibility of a creosote fire!

    Pictured is the inside of a gasification boiler's chimney after burning 2 1/2 cords of wood!

    Our second boiler, which was not a gasification unit, was run first without storage; experienced a 40% drop in wood consumption when storage was added.The Jetstream boiler which replaced our second boiler again cut our wood comsumption in half .
    I'm a believer in gasifiacation and storage!

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  3. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    Stupe

    I've been running my Vigas like you mention. More from my desire to "play around" with it than to gain peak efficiency.

    I'm in year one.. so subpar wood is the issue. I COULD load up the firebox and 8 times out of 10 it would be fine. Instead.. I get a bed of coals going and throw on 4 or 5 sticks at a time (maybe a quarter the firebox). I'm probably opening it up once an hour when I'm kicking around the house.

    This way... I get to stir, check out how the nozzle is covered, and experiment. I imagine that once my wood is better.. I could fill it and walk away if I wasn't going to be around the house.

    JP
  4. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    Upstate NY
    Its really not too bad to have to start the fire every day. My boiler shuts off the fan when the flue temps drop, so there is usually a bed of coals in there from the previous firing. Sometimes they fire back up on their own when the fan is on, or other times I hit them with a propane torch for a few minutes, then load up and Im done.

    Ultimately its a lot of money to spend, so you should pick what fits best for you. Do you have to pay for your firewood, or is it "free" to you?
  5. stupe

    stupe Member

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    Loc:
    Lake George, NY
    I would have to buy my wood which would cost about $1000 per year. I could buy it in full length logs much cheaper of course but I'm past that stage of my life (plus I have a bad back).

    I was considering the Biomass 40 because they seem to be somewhat inexpensive right now but then I'm reading that folks are constantly "tweaking" the draft and fan speed to get the flame to burn optimally. It's 2012 and we're still manually making adjustments? I would think the controls are sophisticated enough to figure that out by now based on flue gas O2 or something. Maybe I just have high expectations...

    I really like the Varmebaronen but they seem pricey, but you probably get what you pay for. Seems like a really nice unit. A biomass type boiler seems to be the way to go because I really don't want to be locked into one type of fuel source.

    So you guys with 500 gallons of storage - do you find that one ~4 hour burn is enough to charge the whole tank or do you have to fire the boiler twice to heat it up sometimes on really cold nights? Just curious.

    Anyway, maybe I just need to come to grips with starting a fire once a day and quit whining about it. I'm sure there's a learning curve to all this and I'll eventually figure it out. Maybe once propane hits $5 a gallon it will light a fire under my ass and I'll get this thing installed.

    Thanks for the advice.
  6. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    You need a Lambda boiler. All auto. Varies fan and draft fans every few seconds. Mine's a Vigas. Happy as can be with mine. It's charging my storage right now.

    JP
  7. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    I remember talking to a person with a Tarm boiler when I was just starting to look at wood heat and I asked him how much of a hassle is it to start a fire each day. His response was that he starts a fire once per season. I didn't relaize what he was talking about until we got our boiler. Excluding the shoulder season, we get a fire going once and when the heating demand is high enough we never have to start another fire unless we had shut down the wood and changed to oil because we were gone for a few days. Just keep hot coals in there and add wood. After the "learning curve" you sorta know when it's time to get more wood onto the hot coals.

    Now with storage, you'll be starting more fires since the boiler will be shut down frequently and you are relying on the storage for your heat. This is probably the best way to approach heating with a wood boiler...it's certainly a lot more convenient.

    But, starting a fire for us is very simple. At first we were using paper and kindling with a few small splits then coming back after 15 minutes or so and loading up with larger splits....seemed like a lot of work to me. Now we throw in a few small splits with larger ones on top and I hit it with the Mapp gas torch for about 30 seconds or so and walk away...EZ-PZ!
  8. Karl_northwind

    Karl_northwind Member

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    Loc:
    Central Wi.
    You could consider the Effecta Lambda boilers if you're going to do storage. they have the additional feature of being able to attach one of their pellet burners on the side for heating capacity when you're away or unable to load wood.
    they do have the automatic controls for the primary and secondary air.

  9. You don't need to play with air settings on a non lambda boiler. Once you get them set initially you just leave them alone. It might take a few fires to get it right for your particular chimney/draft. I havent changed mine since the first few weeks of running the boiler.

    It's a ford/Chevy debate as to wether or not the added cost and complexity is worth the small gain in efficency.
  10. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

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    Refractory design of a boiler should also be a consideration. The Jetstream boiler's secondary burn nozzle (pictured) was easy to replace and is also easy to make. When the nozzle disintegrated, only the nozzle needed to be replaced. In over thirty years of operation, refractory repairs have worked out to $30.00 per year.

    The Vigas boiler for example: http://www.ahona.com/Vigas/Vigas Manual Feb 2010.pdf in section 14.3 shows this nozzle as easily replaceable and if necessary, easy to make andthe boiler can also come with the " lambda control ".

    Attached Files:

  11. skfire

    skfire Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
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    304
    Loc:
    NEPA
    After one year with the Froling FHG-L, I have t say the boiler is impressive.

    Minimal maintenance and very easy.
    In 532 hours of use, I cleaned the HX&turbs twice(did not have to..only thin fly ash), and took out very small amt of ash out of the lower camber.
    In the heart of winter(what winter?) I cleaned it out maybe...every 3 weeks and it took about 10 minutes.

    I light once a day(sometimes don't have to light it..the coals left are enough..even after 20hrs or so).
    The whole process form loading to lighting and walking away takes about 10 minutes and I do not think about it until the next day. The wife started getting into it as well and by next year she will be running it. Very easy and basic operation, no adjustments or calibrations.

    Overall my experience has been thumbs up all the way and I highly recommended it, but to each his own and variables aplenty.

    Good luck in your selection and process.

    Scott
  12. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    I light a fire every day or two. It is very easy to do. With dry kindling and wood it only takes a few miniutes. The fans
    also help get the fire going fast on my boiler. I havn't change the air settings for about a year now. It's nice not to have to be a slave to the stove 3 or 4 times a day. Just 5 min. once a day and no more messing with it.
  13. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    "I was considering the Biomass 40 because they seem to be somewhat inexpensive right now but then I'm reading that folks are constantly "tweaking" the draft and fan speed to get the flame to burn optimally. It's 2012 and we're still manually making adjustments? I would think the controls are sophisticated enough to figure that out by now based on flue gas O2 or something. Maybe I just have high expectations..."

    Yeah... you do! I went the Hyundai route (low cost) for my first boiler because I wasn't sure I could live with the lifestyle. You'd like a Mercedes but want to pay for a Hyundai..... Now that I know heating with wood is not only practical but actually enjoyable for me if I knew then what I know now I mighta bought a something fancier. But the fact is, on the "cost effective" end of the boiler spectrum the EKO and BioMass are outstanding for the money. If you know you'll be in it for the long term, heck yeah Froling.... if ya don't.... well it depends on how much money ya got laying around. Don't be biased by the posts of folks asking how to tune/run their boilers. This is where EVERYONE with these things comes to get em working. Isn't that why you're here? I'm totally happy now that I have dry wood and learned how to make her talk. But, doesn't mean I don't now lust after a Froling..... or what's that other cool boiler with brains.... Viagra??
    Gasifier likes this.
  14. Fred61

    Fred61 Minister of Fire

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    My take on heating with heating with gassers is totally different than yours. Seems that for you, lighting, tweaking, reloading,etc is a chore that you don't wan't to endure. In my case I'm simply awe struck every time I burn, that I'm burning a fuel that's as primitive as dirt and still have such good control. You want to burn a fuel that has been used since the beginning of time but you want to control it with a few keystrokes. You want all the controls available but you want the lowest price boiler. I light a new fire everyday and only burn for four hours and the unit gets shut down. It's little to sacrifice for what I'm getting for such little effort. FWIW, I haven't changed the settings in three years.
  15. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    With my current boiler, I only have to light one fire from October to April.

    I have to tend & feed it every two hours during the day, but never have to re-light it.

    Man, I can't wait to get rid of this thing...
  16. henfruit

    henfruit Minister of Fire

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    Tennman you are getting your V' s mixed up Vigas =wood heat Viagra = hard wood
    Gasifier likes this.
  17. stupe

    stupe Member

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    Loc:
    Lake George, NY
    Maybe I just don't realize how easy it is to start a fire in a gasser, my only reference is a wood stove. I just know I'm not lighting my wood stove with a propane torch. So based on everyone's response I guess it's not a big deal. Everyone I know with an outdoor wood boiler keeps them running non-stop so I guess I was a little shocked when I learned folks let their gassers go out after each fire. I just need to get my head wrapped around that concept.

    I'm not looking for the cheapest boiler with the best controls. Maybe I said it wrong. I just assumed they all had somewhat sophisticated controls. I've worked for Honeywell for the past 15 years as a controls engineer so when I see a 60 year old 500 HP coal fired boiler get new O2 trim with microprocessor control I just assumed residential gasifiers had similar type controls. Speaking of primitive - ever seen boiler operators light these big coal fired boilers with newspaper and kindling?! I always get amazed by that. Not very high-tech.

    Anyway, I've learned a lot from this site and I appreciate everyone’s advice. I'm sensitive to everyone's passion with dialing in their boilers and I didn't mean to offend anyone. I'm a tinkerer too.
  18. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    Thanks hen fruit. Geez u ever try to type yur handle from a iPhone. Any way I'm glad u got my joke. Good reply. Not all woodies are old station wagons. Any who stupe. You haven't upset anyone. I'm one of the gasification boiler users that doesn't start a new fire but maybe once every several weeks. Because I don't have storage yet. But next year I'll be doing the new fire thing because my boiler will finally be able to run flat out when I add storage this summer! Just get the new fancy Viagra boiler one of the guys above has, not much more money, great control and is good with soft wood. Sorry couldn't help myself.
  19. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    Stupe,

    If you have a bad back and dont want to deal with the wood that much, pellets are a nice option. There are a number of boilers that will burn them (including the Varmebaronen if you buy the additional parts for it), and its got the nice constant level of heat. Plus you usually dont need to get storage, which helps save on your first costs for sure.

    As others have said, you can pretty much go from having no controls to the full lambda (O2 feedback) controls setup, or anywhere in between. Depends on what you would like to pay for, and what your level of hands on would like to be.

    Just think of gasifiers as a batch burn appliance. You want to get all of the BTUs from the wood to the water as quickly as you can, and then use them from storage as you need them. The outdoor boilers try to regulate the fire with an on/off mode of control, and so the fire should always be burning.

    LG isnt too far away from me if you wanted to see one of the Varm's in person. I know there is one person relatively close by to me who has a Tarm, and Im sure there are some others around in the area if you wanted to check them out.
  20. TCaldwell

    TCaldwell Minister of Fire

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    Stupe,
    Consider that 90% of the batch fired wood boilers sold today in the usa are open loop with regards to combustion effiency and the controlls are designed to maintain water temps. The root cause is that fossil fuel costs are not high enough yet to support combustion controlls commonly used in other countries on gasification boilers, or for that matter industrial boilers here. As you already know throwing a few splits on a boiler that is close to temp and will soon be closing combustion air is of little value, wood needs to burn uninterupted close to it's stiometeric value of 7% o2 [ closed loop] with the excess btu's into storage to be efficient, this will yield a honest 82-85% net effiency with a 300deg flue temp. I am currently seeing these results on a daily basis with my o2 controlled garn boiler. Burning wood is a lifestyle, the 10 minutes a day I spend loading and lighting is something most of us look forward to. With your process control background a spare udc controller, you would be ahead of the curve.
  21. kopeck

    kopeck Minister of Fire

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    Maine
    Lighting my Tarm Solo Innova is very simple and the whole process takes me about 10 minutes. The secrete, at least in my boiler, seems to be the newspaper. Once I stopped skimping on it and used 3 to 4 full sheets (New York Times sized) I get a fire going every time, no problem. Also, don't try and use the glossy stuff, it doesn't work worth a hoot.

    You have to take into account where you live and your heat load when you talk about how often you have to light the boiler. In the winter, for me it's twice a day. Right now I'm lighting it once a day but that even varies. If the sun is out and the temps climbing above 50 I can go longer, recently it's been rainy and cool so once a day does it.

    The air settings haven't been touched on my boiler since I found something that works. Maybe I'll have to play with them again when I startup next fall but it's not really a big deal. Not discounting the Lambda boilers, a neighbor has a Froling and it's and impressive unit.

    Something else to keep in mind is boiler design. A lot of the forced draft boiler have issues with smoke pouring out the door when it's open. My Tarm doesn't have this problem, the Frolings don't either. I can't speak for the others out there but I've heard people complain about the EKOs and boilers similar to the EKOs. A smokey basement sucks....

    K
  22. taxidermist

    taxidermist Minister of Fire

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    This is what made me buy one 4 years ago!
  23. flyingcow

    flyingcow Minister of Fire

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    Stupe,
    keep asking questions, you're not offending anybody.

    i have the same unit as Kopeck. 10 minutes is all it is, sometimes less. Throw in kindlin', 3 or 4 pieces of paper, light. Grab wheel barrow and fill it with wood. (My pallets are right outside the door) by the time I get back into boiler room the kindlin' is crackling. Throw in wood, all done. shut door and leave. I will refill the boiler if it's bitter cold out, but only as much wood as I think I need. i'm done for at least 24 hours. Have not tweaked my draft settings for 3 yrs? I burn all rock maple. beech. Seasoned well. Also, i use seasoned cedar for kindlin'

    But, i have storage. If you don't have storage, once you get used to your heat loads I don't think you'll be starting from scratch every day. Storage for me is more of convenience than anything. It does help with efficiency some. But if i try to drive my tank to the top temps all the time, IMO, that wastes a little wood. Only time i drive my tank to the top temps is in mid January when it's really cold, but my heat load is pretty high too. I have a typical insulated house on top of a windy hill in northern Maine.

    I would go with Lambda control type units. The only one offered when i bought was a Froling'. At that time it was almost twice the $$$'s as my Innova.

    i went with a gasser because of cost of wood. I wanted to spend as little as I could for fuel. Yeah sure, i have to start a fire once a day in the middle of winter. Once every 2 or 3 days in the shoulder seasons. Once every 5 days for DHW in the summer. (but remember, i have storage). I am happy with the whole set up.

    Plus figure I put all my wood on pallets and move around with FEL loader of tractor. Now thats being down right spoiled.:cool:
  24. stupe

    stupe Member

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    Lake George, NY
    Well...I spoke with Mark over at Ahona. That guy can talk. He's very passionate about wood boilers and he's a wealth of knowledge. Great guy to talk to.

    I appreciate everyone's honest opinion and I'm sure I'll have more questions as things move along.
  25. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    Stupe.. They don't come any better. HE is why I bought Vigas. Conversations with him have gone much like this message board. I go back and re-read threads now and SO MUCH more sinks in. I just couldn't grasp a lot of the stuff the first time around. I think I'm firmly in the Sophomore class now. :)

    No matter what boiler you are even thinking about. Get a couple years of wood ahead NOW. Best thing you could do is have good, DRY wood to mess with once you're up and running.

    JP

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