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Help w/ Long Term Plan

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by avc8130, Aug 15, 2012.

  1. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    ~2 years ago I moved into a new house in the "sticks" of Northern New Jersey. We immediately became wood burners running a Jotul Oslo all winter in an attempt to reduce our oil use. I am starting to put together my "long term plan" to convert to 100% wood use for my house. Here is our current setup:

    ~2500 sq ft RANCH. 1/2 of the house is 1980 "typical" construction. 2x4 walls, Anderson double-pane casement windows. Attic is well insulated with blow in. The other 1/2 of the house is 2003 construction. 2x6 walls with well insulated attic. This 1/2 has vaulted ceilings. The basement under the "new" 1/2 is also finished (ceiling access still possible).

    Current heating setup:
    Hot water baseboard, oil-fired w/ 1995 boiler. 5 zones:
    1. "Old house" living space.
    2. 2 BRs in "old house"
    3. 2 BRs in "new house"
    4. Master suite in "new house"
    5. Finished basement (this has 3 fan assisted radiator units)

    Current wood setup:
    Jotul Oslo located in family room in the "old" area.
    FPX insert in finished basement.

    Current heating strategy:
    We run the Jotul 100% to capacity. Full loads any/all day the oil burner is firing. This keeps the main living areas of the old section warm Zone 1 never calls for heat. With some creative fans it also keeps Zone 2 heat demand at a minimum. Zones 3 & 4 are heated with Oil. We fire the FPX whenever we are in the finished basement for heat and Zone 5 is set to 50F on oil to provide freeze protection. If the FPX is firing, we can reduce oil Zone 3 & 4 call for heat.

    DHW is provided with a Boilermate storage tank run on a separate zone from the oil burner.

    My interest in a centralized wood burning is growing rapidly as I still burn through ~600 gallons of oil annually supplying heat/DHW.

    I only have 1 flue in my basement, so any indoor solution would need to be a combo unit with oil backup. I don't have any way to power vent due to the lay of the land. We have no natural gas available and I have no interest in adding a propane tank for backup.

    The other option is OWB. If I go this route, it would definitely be gassifier.

    My main concerns:
    Will I be "ok" with my current heating setup (radiators) or should I start planning on a radiant install since I have full access to my floors from the basement?
    I realize storage would most likely be ideal (especially if I want to get DHW during the non-heat seasons), but could this be added incrementally later to spread the costs?
    Any general suggestions/guidelines to help me come up with an ideal solution?

    ac

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  2. Sounds like you are in the same position I was a couple years ago. I have an f600 and was still burning 1200 gallons though.

    Don't see anything wrong with waiting on storage -- I am currently adding storage for this year. My existing baseboard heaters will keep the house warm with cooler water temps unless it is below zero in all but one room.

    I'd keep your existing boiler and consider a class a chimney for a basement install or a boiler in a shed.
  3. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    Due to the layout of the house/basement adding a Class A isn't feasible. I really am limited to working either with my 1 flue, giving up my Jotul (not desirable as I like the atmosphere) or going "outside".

    No qualms with ditching the current oil boiler. It is approaching the 20 year-old mark anyways.

    ac
  4. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

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    Go with gasifcation and storage and if your electrical panel has the capacity (usually 200 amp service), switch to an electric boiler for backup. Oil boilers that get very little use can become very unreliable.
  5. Most combo units are not very efficient when burning oil. And may not be desirable for the resale value of your house. If you have separate wood and oil boilers you can always sell or take the wb with you.
    woodsmaster likes this.
  6. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    I hear that, I read that, but I find it tough to substantiate in research. Tarm claims 83% efficiency on oil. That is just as good as my current Well-McClain/Beckett oil boiler right now!

    The whole idea of this much "planning" is that I don't plan on moving. We are just settling and starting a family. The plan for this house is 20+ years. By then, resale value of my heating system will be the least of my worries! Even still, I logistically have NO WAY to add a 2nd flue for the wood/oil. The layout of the house/grounds just simply won't allow for it anyway that is acceptable to me.

    ac
  7. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    I second the electric backup option, that is if you are serious about keeping the wood going long term, your rates may differ, but resistive electric is the most expensive heat, but the least maintence. I have a Toyotomi (see sig) that is directly heating my summer DHW, it is derect vented, but you metioned not being able to do that..... You can bring the vent up into a first story closet then out a wall and box it in, at 145 mBTU, and is rated as a boiler or water heater. But I'd go electric if you have a 200A service, or Toyotomi/ direct vent (not power vent) if you want to have oil as backup.

    TS
  8. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    Unfortunately, as with most things related to NJ, we have some of the highest electric rates in the country. I can't see an electric boiler being an economical "backup" for my square footage. I can't imagine how that would be cheaper than a less efficient oil backup. I have done some quick internet searching. Finding an electronic boiler that could even come close to meeting my BTU requirement looks very difficult. 90k btu units look like they are 28kW. That is $4/hour to run at my electric rate!

    I am quite familiar with the maintenance of an oil fired boiler. One of my good friends is a service technician. We maintain my current oil burner annually in about 2 hours. No big deal really.
  9. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    I found a Tarm Excel 2200 for sale locally. Seller claims it is 1 year old and was only used as an oil boiler (this appears apparent based on how pristine the wood chamber is). He is selling because he is moving and he wants to get some of his cost back. Asking $8500. Thoughts?
    ac
  10. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

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    Have you considered a pellet boiler , with a large hopper ?
  11. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    I watched enough people in my area flip out 2 years ago when the price of pellets went through the roof to know that I don't want to rely on someone else for my fuel. I like the idea that I can chop a tree down in my yard and heat my house.

    I thought more and more about the electric. The more I think about it, the more I don't like it. We had 6 days without power last year during the winter. It really wasn't a big deal for me. We used the wood stove and my backup generator could easily handle the oil burner to heat the rest of the house/DHW. I don't want to have to add the cost of a whole house backup generator just to have heat/DHW in the event of a power failure.

    ac
  12. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

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    Sorry I could not be of any help!

    Wood is our primary source of heat. Electric is only a back up should we go away in the winter. The electric boiler has been on less than 100 hour in the last 365 days. When oil was our back up source, it got used so infrequently that our furnace oil was turning to jelly. We also have very inexpensive hydro here at $.068 per KW.Hour for the first 710 KW.h and when burning wood we rarely exceed that number.
  13. McKraut

    McKraut Member

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    I have been using a Tarm Excel for 18 years that I installed in our basement. It has been a great boiler and has never let me down. I burn 5 to 7 cords a year and only use the oil back up when we go on vacation. Unfortunately, parts of the burn chamber are starting to show a lot of wear. Because of this,and after 18 years of hauling wood into the basement, and my wife complaining about the extra dirt and dust upstairs, I decided to build a shed and put a new boiler in it. I was looking to get another Tarm, but current financial circumstances would not allow it. I bought an Eko after doing a lot of reasearch and getting advice from the guys on this site.
    If you have any questions about the Tarm, or support for the Tarm, don't hesitate to contact me.

    Bob
  14. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    Bob,
    Thanks for the post!

    That is exactly my plan also. I will fire the wood whenever I am home, but the seamless switch to oil if I go on vacation or just can't get to it one day is ideal for me.

    Luckily for me I have plenty of space in my unfinished basement for wood. The access is also great through a Bilco door and 6 steps. I won't have to move my wood more than 20 total walking steps from storage to burner.

    Were you running storage with your Tarm?

    ac
  15. McKraut

    McKraut Member

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    AC,

    I cut a window in my basement wall and built a wood chute to get the wood in the basement easier. That was great when the kids were home and helpful, but as they've gotten older, they're no longer around when I need them. It also means that I lose half of my basement to firewood. Even with the Eko in the shed, I will still keep the Tarm as an oil backup.
    I did not have any storage with the Tarm. When I installed it, storage was just becoming a topic. I didn't even consider it at the time, and as time went by, I never felt I needed it. During heating season, I loaded the boiler in the morning when I went to work, and would reload 12 hours later when I got home. Even with our old, poorly insulated house, the Tarm would keep us very warm. I never minded loading the stove, I love fire, and I love burning wood.
    I burn dry wood (I've never measured it, but it is dried for at least 18 months, usually longer) and from visual inspection the metal in the boiler is still in very good shape. The only problems I had were with the plates on the loading door. The bolts corroded and the insulation was coming off -- this led to a constant dripping of creosote from the door. I wanted to buy a new one but it was too damn expensive for just a piece of insulation. I rigged my own set-up and it has served its purpose for the last 3 years. This was the only corrosion I have seen.

    If you need anything else, let me know. I don't know much of the technical stuff with boilers, but I do have the on-hand experience. Don't hesitate to contact me. I have to get outside and keep working on my shed. Heating season is just around the corner.

    Bob
  16. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    Bob,

    Have you found the Tarm to be "efficient" running on oil? Everyone seems to claim it won't be, but since it is a "backup" I am not too concerned.

    2 loads daily is fine with me. I do 3 with 2 wood stoves now so this sounds like a lot less "work".

    What type of heat were you feeding with the Tarm? What temp water did you run?

    ac
  17. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Perhaps this has already been discussed but how much "free wood" do you have access to? It sounds like you have a pretty healthy heat load in your home if you're burning 1,000 gallons of oil at the same time as a stove running 24/7 most days.

    Before you get too far ahead with system planning have you addressed wood processing? Do you have room for two years worth of wood on your property? A gasser (if that's what you end up with) needs wood that's been cut/split/stacked for a good 18-24 months in most cases. A nice dense oak can take even longer. If you end up needing 8 cord per year do you feel you have enough space for 16 cord of wood?

    You don't have to search very long to see how prolific the topic of "wet wood in a gasser" is most every fall here in the boiler room. Very few users, myself included, take the dry wood topic very seriously the first year. But we all live and die by dry wood in years 2 - XXX.
  18. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    The problem with my wood stove use is that I can't get the heat to circulate well in my house. I do GREAT heating the "old" part of my house. The stove room is 90F+, the rest of the old area is 75F, but it does NOTHING for the other 1/2 of the house.

    Wood storage is not a problem. I have plenty of acreage to store 100s of cords if desired. I have multiple tree services that keep me well stocked with wood.

    Wood will NOT be a problem.

    ac
  19. McKraut

    McKraut Member

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    I only had the efficiency tested back in 1995 and I was very happy with 88%. Over the years I used, on average, about 70 - 100 gallons of oil a year. I have the burner tuned every other year. The only comment the burner man made to me was that he recommended that I use the burner for 5 to 10 minutes a week to burn off any deposits off the burner. One year I did not use any oil, and the nozzle was partially clogged with ash. Each Sunday, during my weekly clean out, I would allow the oil burner to run to bring the boiler up to temperature, then I would switch back to wood. I had my cut in set for 160* and the cut off for 180*.
    My house is an old, very poorly insulated, farmhouse. It was built in the late 1890s. We added on to it, so our total size is close to 3600 sq ft (that includes the attic we built out for our son's bedroom). I used baseboard throughout the whole house, except in the basement. I found several cast iron radiators in a neighbor's junk pile, and I cleaned them out, cleaned them up, and have used them without any problems. I prefer the heating qualities of the big radiators, but my wife did not like the way they looked in the room (I think it decreased the ability to move furniture around to fit her tastes). I used the basement zone as my heat dump because it has the largest volume of water. (As an aside, I decided that I am going to put in radiant floor heating next year for our living room and kitchen -- they stay cool because of the winter breezes we enjoy)
    I also have a dhw coil in the Tarm. Biggest drawback with the dhw is if it is very cold outside, the boiler was usually working its hardest in the morning with a new load of wood, at the same time we had the largest need for hot water (showers). All in all, a minor inconvenience.
  20. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    Bob,

    88% sounds AWESOME. My current Beckett/Weil-Mclain does ~82-84% year after year. So much for "the combos are horrible efficiency".

    160-180 is a pretty standard setting for hot water baseboards.

    I am glad to hear of the successes you had. Especially without storage as that is my initial plan. I am thinking about getting up and running this year without storage and then considering adding it next year or later.

    I was figuring on keeping my boilermate hot water storage setup for my DHW for the time being. The on-demand coils always seem more hassle. We don't use too much DHW as of now. We only have 2 showers/day and maybe the dishwasher every other day. That won't change for a few years.

    ac
  21. Coal Reaper

    Coal Reaper Minister of Fire

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    avc,
    i am in very similar situation in warren county, nj. moved in april, 2400sq.ft. on 11 wooded acres on top of mountain, hit with wind coming across the delaware valley. your house sounds like mine: 1989, poured foundation, drop ceiling in basement (future radiant?), supposedly well insulated for the era it was built, lotsa double-pane andersons. previous owner going through 1200gals/year maintaining 72-74*. too much for my wallet! a brand new oil boiler was put in before i bought the house so i will see this winter if it is better with efficiency on new unit. i am working on gathering a wood supply and hope to have something installed to run next season. def want a gasifier. i have a 25x50 barn about 100' from house. not really interested in an outdoor unit as the yard is narrow and i want to store wood behind the barn anyway so it might as well be in the barn where i can hide from honey-do list while i am "tending the fire". also have 2 car garage under house. so i am thinking unit in barn with storage in basement. garage is also a possibility i suppose, but the only place for chimney is under deck so i would have to re-model that. also kicking around the idea of building something garn inspired with some downdraft flair...
  22. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    It does sound like we are in a similar situation. We went through ~600 gallons of oil last year, but my house was anything but warm! We had the t-stats at 64F for only the zones we were in, when we were in them. The wood stove was rocking, but the layout just doesn't let the heat move.

    I too have a 30 x 50 building on the property. Very well insulated. If I went OWB I would be running lines to it with a Modine style blower. I still might consider that with the IWB. Heating that space is a low priority to me as I don't use it much actively in the winter and parking my truck in it seems to keep it above 50-55F in all but the coldest days.

    I am leery about putting anything inside any structure without a UL listing. I don't need any issues should there be an incident with my insurance.

    I guess that is one of my big questions:

    We are planning on sheet-rocking the "new" basement ceiling to finish finishing (lol) the space. Do I run Pex in the joist bays for possible future conversion to radiant or just plan on sticking with my baseboard?

    ac
  23. Others could probably explain it better but I believe those efficiency numbers are Combustion efficency. Any properly set up oil gun should have a combustion efficency in the mid 80's. I could probably point a Beckett burner at my jotul and claim 84% efficency. But it wouldn't heat my house efficently.

    Oil boilers are designed to be thermally efficient as well. They have fire boxes and heat exchangers optimized for oil guns. Combo units are generally designed first as wood burners with oil guns stuck on the side or back of the unit. The fuel to fluid efficency suffers when using oil as a result.

    Anecdotally, most I have heard from that use combos with oil regularly complain about ineffiency. Not really an issue if you plan to always use wood except for emergencies or vacation.
    Taylor Sutherland likes this.
  24. avc8130

    avc8130 Minister of Fire

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    I was thinking that might be the case. So I did some more research. It does seem MOST of the combo units are exactly as you state: an oil burner just stuck in the firebox. It is clear to me that would be less than ideal.

    However, the model I am specifically looking at (Tarm Excel) seems to have essentially 2 separate heat exchangers. 1 for the oil and 1 for the wood. It looks like it is essentially 2 appliances, merged together to share the water jacket and flue.

    As I have stated, if I was so worried about "efficiency" of the backup I would be relegated to an OWB due to my flue/fuel constraints. To me, the intent of the wood boiler is to USE IT FOR WOOD. The oil is there for the <10% of the time I am unable to burn wood.

    ac
  25. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    I'm still kinda thinking on this subject myself. Although I could probably fit another flue in the pipe chase (could you just build a pipe chase too, and make it big enough to cover both flues?), I'd still have to move the oil tank somewhere else in the basement, as well as probably move the BoilerMate and some associated piping. I've been thinking propane - you can put a tank underground and you'd gain additional space for the wood boiler as well as be able to vent out the wall. Propane runs cleaner and doesn't degrade over time like fuel oil could. Around here it's still more expensive than oil though, but not much. With that Tarm, I imagine you could use that BoilerMate which would be better than the coil, esp. in summer.

    I've even been thinking Mini Split heat pump/air conditioners too.

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