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New guy with some new guy questions

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by CurtisStetka, Nov 1, 2012.

  1. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Loc:
    Barto, PA 129504
    Hi, everybody.

    I'm slowly going through the content here, having just discovered this forum.

    I live in the 19504 zip code, south eastern Pennsylvania. I've got a 200+ year old stone farmhouse which I currently heat with a wood stove in the living room and an ancient boiler in the basement. It's 2600 sq ft with big cast iron radiators. That boiler is on its last legs and desperately needs to be replaced. I think it's at least 40-50 years old. Any heating professional I've had look at it is always kind of shocked and says "wow, have't seen one of these in a long time..." or something equally disconcerting.

    I'd love to replace that boiler with a dual fuel thing that could burn fuel oil or cord wood. I'm leaning toward a gassifier (hope that's the right term) based on some of the reading I've done here so far. I find appeal in the prospect of a more effecient burn, having to load it less frequently, etc.

    I would greatly appreciate some pointers. Specifically, if anyone knows an installer in this area, I'd greatly appreciate being put in touch with them. I've been calling around a bit but so far, no joy. None of the installers I've called have experience with this sort of boiler, which surprises me given the high availability of firewood in this area.

    Also seeking recommendations on product. I really like the look of the BioMass 40 boiler as seen on this page: http://www.mainewoodfurnaces.com/products/wood-gasification/ If anyone has any experience with that pro or con, I'd love to hear about it. Or, if there's something else that I should be looking at, please let me know.

    Thanks!
    -Curtis

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  2. ozzie88

    ozzie88 Member

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    maine
    Hello, I can say you are on the right path here. There are alot of very smart people on this. A gasser is good way to go with storage a must. Here is a web site might give you some info on different boilers and ratings etc. http://www.hvac-for-beginners.com/wood-boiler-ratings.html I built my gasser from scratch with storage but it does work well,just not fancy. Good luck!
  3. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Thanks, ozzie. I'll definitely check that out.

    Can I please ask why you say storage is a "must"?
  4. Floydian

    Floydian Feeling the Heat

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    Southwestern VA
    Hello Curtis, and welcome!

    A couple of Q's:

    Can you achieve the comfort level you want in this house?
    How much wood and fuel oil do you go thru in a year?

    You're on the right track regarding gassifcation boilers but keep in mind: they MUST have dry wood, <20% moister content.

    I couldn't even think about spending the big bucks on a gasser without seeing several in operation. I highly recommend this if possible.
    My family visits the Lancaster area once a year and I found a couple boilers to see in person.
    Dean @ http://www.smokelessheat.com/ in Lebanon sells Biomass, EKO, Attack and imports Varmebaronen. I went there with Biomass as my top choice and ended up with a vedolux 37 FWIW.
    I hope to fire it up soon!

    Also, Dean is great and the trip would be worth it IMO.

    Noah
  5. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    Upstate NY
    Welcome to the Forums Curtis!

    Lots of information here, which can be good and bad. But we can try to help you wade through it.

    The cast iron radiators are nice, in that you can use all sorts of water temps to get your house warm in the winter. Good start.

    You will want to get started on a heat loss calculation for your house, so you know what size boiler you would be looking for. Also, what do you have available for a chimney? Size/height?

    I believe Wood Gun makes a unit that will burn wood and oil, but most folks here lean towards having two separate units, due efficiency gains. Again, that will probably depend on what you have available for space, money, and chimney flues.

    Lots of folks here have a BioMass, so you can get plenty of responses. Plenty of other info here. http://www.newhorizoncorp.com/ Just know that everyone can recommend a different boiler, lots of opinions about whose is best, or what works or what doesnt. It really depends on how hands on/off you want to be, and how much you want to spend.

    And as an FYI, I bought my boiler from SmokeLess Heat, who is about an hour away from you. Might be worth giving them a call. Not that you would have to buy one of their boilers, but they can probably tell you who in the area would be willing to install.


    EDIT: Beat me to it Noah! Dang!
  6. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Hey! Thanks for the recommendation on that place in Lebanon. I will definitely check that out.

    To address the questions...

    1. Can I achieve the comfort level I'm after?
    Not exactly. :)
    We do okay when the outside temperature is above 30 heating with the wood stove and operating small electric heaters in the more remote corners of the house. Below that temperature outside, the stove can't keep up and I have to fire up the boiler. That is able to heat the house very comfortably. I have really maxed out the insulation that is possible in the house.

    2. How much wood/oil do I burn?
    I don't have exact figures for that. Last winter was mild. I built myself a woodshed that stores nearly 6 cords. I burned through that entirely before the end of heating season. I didn't have to turn on the boiler that often, but it was unusually warm last winter. I cannot recall getting the tank filled. It's a 275 gallon tank and we maybe used about 3/4 of that (it was full at the start of winter).

    The winter before was rougher but I hadn't done insulation under the first floor yet (just got 2 inches of foam sprayed on there this past year). So my oil consumption was higher and I burned through my stock of wood sooner.

    I should say that one thing I'm looking for is doing away with the wood mess in the living room. While I do enjoy cutting and splitting wood, I'm also not really able to get ahead of things and have my wood truly season as much as I'd like. I've got my 6 cords together by mid summer and then have to start burning only 3-4 months later. It would be great if I burned less wood so that I could maybe only use half of my woodshed per season.

    3. Chimney specs.
    It's a 6" flue. The chimney sweep guy says the existing terra cotta is shot so I will very soon be having a new liner put in. I was actually holding up on that until I did this new boiler research to see if I need to do anything special to accomodate it. Height? Um... two stories?

    4. Space
    The boiler room isn't that huge. Never measured it but I expect there would be enough room for two units if it comes to that. The awesome part is that there's a nice exterior entrance and it's on the side of my house facing my woodshed! Thinking ahead when I built that...

    Guys, thank you so much for the feedback and taking the time with a newb who doesn't know the lingo or the lay of the land just yet.
  7. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    15856_176141757084_6743773_n.jpg
    I was't able to find a completed picture, but here's a pic my wife took of me building my woodshed a few years ago. I can get about 3 cords on each side. It would be splendid to only have to use one side per season so that the wood was seasoned over a year by the time I got to it. Maybe I'm just dreaming.
    tfdchief likes this.
  8. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    About the link above 'wood boiler rating' - don't put ANY stock in their ratings. They have a little bit of background info, but they are missing manufacturers and at least some of their ratings are completely upside down.

    If you will not be using backup much at all, you could also consider an electric boiler for backup & getting rid of oil all together. It might free up a chimney? Almost everything you need to educate yourself is in these pages - it just requires a lot of reading time & applying all the differences & considerations to your specifics & situational requirements. I wish I was only an hour from Smokeless Heat. :)

    EDIT: I think I'd get a wood shed addition in my planning too. ==c
  9. ozzie88

    ozzie88 Member

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    maine
    I guess I shouldn,t say a must but most people have storage. Any wood stove gasser or not likes to run wide open, Most people dont like to have to run fires every few hours, And if going to heat DHW you need a tank,coil,or something anyways. With weather like now say 30-40 daytime and teens-20 at night i run my boiler every 2-3 days for around 3-4hours, Thats it, it just seems so much more easy way to not have to be running boiler all the time. When it below zero out I run once a day or day&half, Boilers dont like to idle or just set there with coals in them smokeing.But everybody has there own way of what they like to do. Get all the info you can then make a choice.
  10. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    Curtis, if you find a unit that will basically eliminate your oil consumption(like we did) then the efficiency of the add on oil burner is not exactly a high priority.
  11. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    This is exactly what I'd love to be able to do!

    I basically have to replace the current boiler. It is at the end of its life and should have been retired decades ago. I can't even imagine how horrifically inefficient it is.

    I like the idea of oil backup because A) we do like to go away during the winter, and B) we often lose power for several days at a time during the winter (just got our power back a few hours ago, having lost it Monday evening).

    Part of my master plan for Team Stetka Headquarters is to get a standby generator to be able to power, among other things, this hypothetical new boiler during those extended outages. I hear what you're saying about dispensing with oil altogether, but it's not like electricity is that cheap either. And oil is more practical as a backup for when the power grid is down.

    You guys are making me real excited to visit that place in Lebanon. I believe I've talked my wife into a trip next weekend.
  12. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

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    Curtis,

    one of the things you will need to get in the habit of is getting your wood done NOW. You cannot use one of these gasification boilers with wood that has only seasoned a few months unless it was standing dead or something along those lines. Wet wood makes them just not work. So seriously, if you have wood cut now, that would be for NEXT year, not this year. Wet wood will completely ruin the fun of a new heating system. (yes, I just said the fun of a heating system).

    So you may want to take that into consideration when you look down this path.

    I would also say you could keep your wood stove for the shoulder months, when you just want to take the chill out of the living space. My wife and I are actually thinking about a pellet stove for just that reason. But it would be nice to keep the wood mess out of your living areas.

    Another random question for you... Are your radiators hooked to that old boiler with big pipes? I mean like 2"? Or do you have smaller pipes and a circulator pump? Im just wondering if your house is old enough to have a gravity hot water system. If so, you could pipe things up such that you could heat your whole house without needing power, which would be handy for events like hurricanes....

    Also give some thought to how you want to set up the heat in your house, as far as zones, if you want to make any other changes to your system other than the boiler, etc.
  13. Having a 6" flue will limit your boiler choices somewhat. Some brands have 7 or 8" flues. I was told 'no problem' just use a reducer by one dealer. My local code enforcement officer didn't think that was such a great idea.
  14. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Good input, Clarkbug, thanks! Yeah, I've already read in about a dozen threads on this site the importance of having well seasoned wood with a gassifier boiler. Hmm... I suppose I could clear some space in the garage for a big heap o' wood. With Hurricane Sandy doing her thing around here there are lots of trees down in the neighborhood. Maybe the boy and I will go out chainsawin' this weekend. :)

    The current system has smaller pipes and a circulator pump. I suppose I physically could do some zones with the heating but it would be a big effort and expense. Each radiator does have a valve on it so I have some 19th century style zoned heating already.

    This is great stuff - lots of things I haven't even considered yet. Now I'm of a mind to wait on this project until next year. I feel like if I'm too anxious to make a move in time for this heating season I've got a bigger chance of making some miscalculations and not having adequately seasoned wood anyway. This should be my Winter of Ruminations.
  15. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Thanks, MFM. And there's why I had been holding back a bit on getting the flue liner installed. If I really need a bigger flue, now is the time, although I don't relish that expense either. The chimney dudes gave me an estimate of $1,700 for putting a 6" pipe in the existing chimney or $2,800 to build a new one with an 8" flue. Is there any advantage to having a wider flue even if a 6" will work for the hypothetical new boiler?
  16. If you're comfortable with heights you can put in a liner yourself. And save a thousand or more. When I was looking I ruled out all the boilers that didn't use a 6" flue, figured I'd put the money into the boiler instead of the chimney.

    I don't see any advantage to a larger flue. I don't know why companies use the same size for their 25 kw boiler as their 60 or 80.
  17. 711mhw

    711mhw Feeling the Heat

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    Curtis. the Wood Gun uses a 6" chimney and is built only a little west of you over in Chambersburg below HB. They have a helpful website http://www.alternateheatingsystems.com/default.aspx and can direct you to local contractors.I do like my unit and seeing that you are so close to them, it's too easy no to at least check them out.
    Keep reading and start (at least) bucking your wood to legnth. It's ok out in the weather at this stage and it will start to dry.
  18. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    Don't rush. Forget this year. Or.. replace your oil boiler with a new, efficient, small ish for your house Direct vent.

    Then you run it.. and use your woodstove. Spend a year getting WAY WAY WAY ahead on your wood. Spend a year on here researching.

    Get the chimney right.... Let the checkbook recover... then get your boiler and storage.

    That's what I'd do anyway. Two boilers.. Mess all in the basement.

    JP
  19. Floydian

    Floydian Feeling the Heat

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    Curtis, if that's the case your going to need figure out a way to make one of these work: http://garn.com/ "This one goes to eleven";lol

    I know its not realistic for your basement, I just couldn't resist after I saw the sweatshirt.

    Storage is definitely needed for maximum efficiency and year round DHW but I think the convenience is why most people want it. I am really looking forward firing when I want to instead of when the house wants me to. And no fire going overnight or when no one is home will give me some peace of mind.

    How much you will be able to utilize storage depends largely on the supply temps your radiators need to keep your house warm. If you need 160::F+ temps, a small to medium buffer tank could serve you better than a large storage set up. Maybe monitor some temps in your system this winter if you can.

    And your wise to take your time. That must be why I have taken sooo long with my set up!:rolleyes:

    Noah
  20. CurtisStetka

    CurtisStetka New Member

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    Thanks, guys. I will check out that Wood Gun place too since it's so close. The prospect of something that goes to 11 is awfully intriguing though. :) If something is worth doing, it's worth overdoing.
  21. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I've had good dealings with these guys in Lebanon PA. Don't know how close that is, but he knows his stuff. Used to be active on this forum, too.
  22. muncybob

    muncybob Minister of Fire

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    If you have to build a new one do you have the room to put up a double chimney? If I had the room to do that I would have and then I would have kept my old oil boiler and had the wood only boiuler in the other flu. Don't know your area, but I have seen several used oil boilers on CL here for fairly cheap $$. The wider flu for the 6" liner may allow you to insulate?
  23. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    My thoughts lead me to consider propane for your backup if you are also thinking of a backup generator, which would most likely be propane as well. Small wall hung condensing boiler would also be VERY efficient with your CI rads. Easily direct vented through plastic pipe, and allows you to use existing flue for wood. There are many units of larger size that still use a 6" flue. Dropping a stainless liner in an existing chimney is not hard at all if you can get on the roof, consider renting a bucket truck for a weekend and doing it yourself and spending that cash on the boiler as has been said. I like the idea of useing as few fuels as you can, if LP is already there for backup......

    TS
  24. JP11

    JP11 Minister of Fire

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    Good idea..

    and.. cheaper than my direct vent idea. Propane standby generators need a big-ish tank for gas availability. I'd bury a 500 gallon... and you're set for generator or backup home heat.

    JP
  25. BoilerMan

    BoilerMan Minister of Fire

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    I was thinking of your genny JP. I've installed quite a few Generac auto start setups around here. Most people have a couple of 120gal and the tanks just sit there and do nothing............

    TS

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