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Geothermal is out! Need advice on the boiler route

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by denvershepherd, Mar 24, 2012.

  1. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    Hello,

    Just got my second estimate back for a geothermal instal and it was over a 100K as well. I tried to explain to both companies that there is no reasonable time period payback in those amounts but they said it is what it is. Anyways...someone at my work mentioned wood and coal boilers so here I am. I'm just starting to educate myself on them so go easy on me ;)

    I live at 7800 feet in Colorado in a 3300 sq foot home (built in 1975) that I moved into in June of 2011. My wife and I are just finishing up our first winter. It is heated entirely by electric baseboard and the old hot water heater is also electric. Natural gas is not available. I'd like to retrofit the house with in floor hydronic heat and it looks like I'm going to be going with a product called Warmboard (sub floor and pex tubing in one) as the means for doing that. I like what I've read about a product from AHS called the "wood gun" which is a wood gasification boiler that seems quite efficient. I was thinking about going with coal but the price of that seems to be always on the climb and since I have access to virtually unlimited free wood at my property, it seemed like the more logical choice. Having said that, the wood IS pine so I'm not sure if that type of wood is going to work well in the wood gun or not? We would also need a separate propane powered system that would automatically take over if we were away for a couple days or if I let the wood run out for whatever reason.

    I have some more detailed questions but I wanted to get some general responses from you (the experts) before I go on.

    Thanks,

    Neil

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  2. dogwood

    dogwood Minister of Fire

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    Neil, I would suggest you try and make up a list of the available wood gasification boilers. Most are mentioned on this site. Read up on them all. You need to decide if you want to have your boiler inside or outside. Some of the more reputable indoor models I'm aware of from this site are Garn, Tarm, Froling, Effecta, Econoburn, Wood Gun, Eko, and others. There are a few reputable outside wood gasifiers too, Portage and Main, and I think Econoburn has one as well. I am less familiar with them. This list is hardly inclusive.

    I would suggest you look into various heat delivery system alternatives for your home. If your home is already built, retrofitting all your floors with Warmboard would be costly and a huge, disruptive undertaking. If I were you, I would look into hydronic panel radiators, commonly used in Europe, and ideally suited for use with a wood gasification boiler, especially if you go with storage (another topic for you to explore). They can be had in various styles to suit various decors, and can use independent thermostatic valves on each radiator. They would be a much easier retofit. Many panel radiators can operate at lower water temperatures giving you longer times between firings if you use storage.

    You might go to your local library and order on inter-library loan a copy of John Siegenthaler's "Modern Hydronic Heating". Its a standard reference work often recommended here. Do your research first. You're off to a good start researching and writing questions here.

    Colorado is beautiful up in the mountains. Great choice for a place to live. Good luck.

    Mike
  3. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    I would recomend panel rads or low temp baseboard since you already have baseboard. Lots of good gassers our there. I'd deffinitly recomend storage. It makes the boiler a lot easier to use and clean. I looked into geo before I
    bought My boiler. They wanted 30,000 to do just my house. I spenthalf that and heat the house and shop. I
    like my biomass a lot. The wood gun seems to be a great boiler to. Definitly take a look at the garn if you have room for it. They tend to be a little more money but are very easy to use. the frolling is a top of the line gasse made by tarm. The Effecta is another cutting edge boiler That like the frolling and Garn tend to cost a little more than most
    of the other boilers. Good luck. You have your research cut out for you.
  4. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    Good advice above. The Wood Gun or other gasification boiler will burn any wood, pine included, so long as it is dry (20% moisture content), which is usually achievable in one full summer of cut, split and stacked wood, with good air circulation. I burn pine almost exclusively in my Tarm and have done so for 5 heating seasons.
  5. henfruit

    henfruit Minister of Fire

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    I do not think the frolings are made by Tarm?
  6. willworkforwood

    willworkforwood Feeling the Heat

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    Welcome to the boiler room. It begins to get a bit more "quiet" here as the heating season ends, and you may not receive lots of replies to your questions. But in the archive of past threads you can find tons of information on just about anything you might want to know about wood boilers. As mentioned above, pine burns fine in gasifiers, but you will need to process more firewood due to the lower btu/volume ratio (versus hardwood). But that's immaterial because you have no choice in the matter. And the typically fast seasoning of pine will work to your advantage, especially in the first year. Speaking of which, the best thing you can do right now is begin processing firewood for the upcoming year (as fast as you can). You're in a great position time-wise to bring in a boiler for the upcoming heating season, and you still have lots of time for research. But gasifiers work well only with seasoned firewood (20% or less). Burning wood with a higher moisture content can result in operational issues and/or poor performance. So if you're serious about bringing in a boiler, then getting firewood cut, split, and stacked is you're #1 priority right now. Good luck with your project!
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  7. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    Maybe not. I Know they are sold by TARM BIOMASS.
    Edit: I also see they are $5,750.00 cheaper than last year with the spring sale.
  8. henfruit

    henfruit Minister of Fire

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    That is there pellet boiler. I see you recived a flyer also.
  9. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    100k for a Geo install? Holy crap. From inquiries I've made here, I would be looking at around 30k, which would include some retrofit distribution work - I think just over 20k without any distirution work. But even at that, I also ruled out Geo for my situation.

    You're in the right place - there is a ton of info on here. Just spend the next few weeks reading & digesting as much as you can to firm up your questions.
  10. dogwood

    dogwood Minister of Fire

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    Neil, how is your house configured? One story, two? Basement? What type of budget are you looking at for you new heating system? Don't mean to be intrusive, but it would help site members give you more appropriate recommendations tailored to your situation and budget.

    Mike
  11. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    I want to second what has already been mentioned above. If its nice out, start cutting/splitting/stacking, and when it rains or is dark, you can search through threads here for ideas and to help refine your choice. Good luck!
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  12. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    It's kind of a strange layout. It's 4 levels. The 1st level is a garage that was converted to a living space. The 2nd level is the kitchen , dining , and main living room. This level has 25 foot ceilings. The 3rd level is a bathroom and three bedrooms which has 9 foot ceilings. The 4th level is the laundry room , master bedroom and master bathroom. The second level (the 25 foot ceilings) has two walls that are around 80% windows (south facing thank goodness). In terms of budget I was kinda expecting the geo to be around 30-35 thousand so I guess the budget is still in that ballpark..
  13. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    I think the drilling is what killed me. I live on a huge rock so the loop would have to be a vertical one and drilling through rock is not cheap!
  14. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    I mentioned the hydronic panel radiators to my wife but she has her mind set on replacing all the floors in the home with some type of stone/tile and our concern is that without the in floor radiant heat the tile will be cool and maybe uncomfortable in the winter? I don't know if this is true or not. I agree that the Warmboard is not the cheapest as we have already got quotes from them, but from what I've read it is a very good product. Anyone here use it?

    I see plenty of messages in here regarding "Storage". Is the purpose of "Storage" so that when more hot water is called for to heat the house the boiler will not have to fire up again and instead the hot water is taken out of the storage tanks? Using this method don't you run the risk of heating the water in the storage tank to only have it cool off by the time it is needed? I'm sure I'm missing something fundamental here because everywhere I've read people mention that you should have "Storage". Also, I may be looking at the wrong storage tanks but when I Google for "500 gallon hot water storage tanks" the cheapest one that comes up is a little over $34000. Is that really what these storage tanks cost or am I looking at a completely different type of storage tank?
  15. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    So this cut, split and stacked wood, can I store it outside exposed to the rain over the summer? We get a lot more sun than rain here in Colorado mind you. Do I need to build some kind of wood storage unit? Do they sell such things?
  16. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    Denver sheperd, As far as your floor being warm, that depends on the temperature of water you need to heat your house. Not all radiant floors feel warm such as in a well insulated house. You would have to do a heat loss calc. to determine the temp of water you need to heat your rooms. As for storage tanks many of use make our own out of
    propane tanks. Used 500 gallon goes for around $200.00 or you can buy new for around $2,000.00 I think. There are some 400 gallon pre insulated tanks made for boilers that are around 4 - 5 K. You dont have to have covered wood storage for all your wood but it is nice to keep a cord dry and warm by the boiler and of course a wood shed is nice to have.
  17. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    Oh ya, storage allows you to burn your wood up at full speed creating a hot clean burn. then after the fire is out when you have a call for heat it draws water out of the tank. Most people insulate the tanks good to minimize heat loss. If the tank is in the living space any heat loss would be to in the house. I have my storage in a shed with the boiler and the tanks and shed are well insulated. It works nice. Im currently burning 1/2 a load every 3 days for Domestic hot water. That is another advantage to storage. You can search the old threads for lots of info on storage and every thing else.
  18. dogwood

    dogwood Minister of Fire

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    Neil, like mentioned above, you don't want to be burning all the time. You heat your storage tank by running your boiler full bore, which is the most efficient way to fire a gassifier. And then when the tank, say a thousand gallon propane tank for your sized home, is up to temp, 180+, you then heat your home by circulating the tanks heated water to your heat emitters. When the water in the tank gets to a low enough temperature that won't effectively heat your home, maybe a third to half day or more later, depending on the time of year, you load and fire up the boiler again. The lower the water temp your heat emitters can utilize the longer you can go between burns.

    Panel rads can have useable temps down to 120::F or more, if I remember correctly, which is exceptional. Not sure about radiant floor heat. You can plumb your system so you heat your home directly from the boiler as the the boiler is recharging the tank. Go to the Tarm Biomass site and look at their book of plumbing schematics: http://www.woodboilers.com/admin/uploads/public/WoodBoilerPlumbingSchematic0111Web.pdf. Check out this article in Idronics Magazine too: http://www.caleffi.us/en_US/caleffi/Details/Magazines/pdf/idronics_10_us.pdf.

    With the budget you are talking about you should be able to get a state of the art system. I'd be thinking of a Garn (integral storage) or Froling, or other high end boiler, with plenty of storage. Check out their websites. I was quoted $1,200 for a brand new 1000 gallon propane tank, paid $800 for one used.

    You can cover the top only of your stacked wood with a a roll of clear plastic (vapor barrier from Lowes or Home Depot) if you don't have a woodshed. By the way, I have 3/4" oak flooring upstairs, and ceramic tile downstairs in the kitchen and bath on an insulated slab in a 3000 sq. ft. home and the floors are never cold. I'm in my stocking feet as I type this. On the other hand I hear radiant floors are particularly comfy and unhappy wives particularly discomfitting.

    Mike
  19. huffdawg

    huffdawg Minister of Fire

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    Wow 100k . a friend of mine has geothermal , he heats 5000sq ft. he paid $30'000 he has the one with the tubing installed in trenches dug about 6 feet deep. For 100k they must have quoted for the drilled type. seems like they would be drilling to the earths core for that price.
    My friend pays $300.00 per month on equal payment plan for electricity.
    Huff
  20. willworkforwood

    willworkforwood Feeling the Heat

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    Although some cover firewood year round, the consensus is to leave it uncovered until the Fall rain/snow shows up in the long-range forecast, and then top cover only. A wood shed is certainly a nice-to-have, but not required (I, and many others here don't have one). Figure out how you will be bringing the wood in before beginning to stack - it's not a happy thing to haul it 300' over ice or snow-covered ground. If you have done little or no firewood in the past, read "To Fell A Tree" by Jeff Jepson, before starting in with a chainsaw. That will get you off to a good and safe start. And, you can also read and post questions on the "Wood Shed" forum about anything related to processing firewood, and the 'Gear" forum on anything equipment-related.
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  21. woodsmaster

    woodsmaster Minister of Fire

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    The wood is more work than geothermal but you will have a lower electric bill with a boiler and hydronic emmiters.
    The 300 huff quoted is right in line with a friend of mine that has geothermal. I heat more space then him and have half the electic bill. The money I save on electric comarably would buy all the wood I use. Of course you still have to move wood and load the boiler but nothing is free.
  22. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    I have practically a whole book of numbers from the GEO estimate in regards to the heat loss calc, but I think the number you are after is the "Total Heating Required"? The number they have is 78148 Btuh (I think this is British Thermal Units per hour). How that translates into what temperature I need to have in the water I'm not sure.

    Back to storage for a moment.... For the in floor radiant wouldn't I need to have a glycol mixture flowing through the pex pipe to avoid freezing in the event of a power outage? If the water did have glycol would I have one storage unit with glycol used specifically for the pex tubing and another storage for DHW that just had regular hot water? I wouldn't want to be taking a glycol shower ;)

    Neil
  23. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    Nice information on those links, thanks.

    Are Garn and Froling considered "better" than say an AHS wood gun? What would make these products superior? I'm sure there are certain boilers that are better than others just like a BMW would be considered superior to say a Saturn. No offense to any Saturn owners. ;) With all the knowledge you and the other members on here have regarding boilers, I would be interested to hear if there would be a clear cut winner on choice if money were no object.

    I looked at the Garn and it looks great but its 9 feet long and the utility room in my house is only 10' by 9' so it would be super tight. I'm not opposed to knocking down the wall and expanding the utility room if I have to but is a 10'X9' utility room going to be sufficient space to get a wood boiler and storage in place in your opinion?

    I hear you on the wives comment. I got an ear full when I declared GEO was off the table.

    Neil
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  24. denvershepherd

    denvershepherd New Member

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    Ya, it seemed high to me as well but I guess when you are drilling straight down through solid rock the price tag goes up :( I'm encouraged more and more as I read more about these wood boilers though :)
  25. infinitymike

    infinitymike Minister of Fire

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    Denvershepherd, Welcome to the forum, You are in the right place and are asking great questions.
    You will definitely find a tremendous amount of information here.

    Typically you wouldn't have glycol in the system unless the Boiler or storage tank were outside and at risk of freezing. There are some guys here who have there boilers hooked up to a backup power source such as a battery pack.
    Thats a good question about the separate tanks for heating and domestic water which I don't have a confident answer for. What I do know, is that with or with out gylcol the heated water from the boiler NEVER mixes with the domestic water anyway. The only way for contamination would be for the heating coil to deteriorate allowing for the the fluids to mix. What the possibilities of that happening, I don't know.

    Take heed to the advice given about getting your wood cut/ split/stacked (aka c/s/s). I started this first heating season with poorly seasoned wood. It was c/s/s in Sept. and I started burning in Nov. I limped through the whole season.
    Before you start cutting your firewood, you may want to do some research on the the different units and their firebox dimensions. The Wood Gun is 27" deep so I have all my wood cut to 24" . It is recommended that your wood is as close to the size of the firebox as possible.

    The Wood Gun is a beast and works well with out having storage because of its unique ability to "turn off" the fire and "relight" the fire. However, I plan on getting storage in the very near future.

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