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NH Replacing oil with wood - opinions?

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by Emily Hinton, Jan 31, 2013.

  1. Emily Hinton

    Emily Hinton New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2013
    Messages:
    1
    My home in New Hampshire is 1110 sq ft, plus 560 sq ft of unfinished walk-up attic. I have a small crawl space, not easily accessible. I currently have a closet that houses my forced hot water oil boiler. The boiler was installed when the house was built in 1994, I have only been the owner since March 2011. The lot is tiny, 1/10 acre.
    I've had to have a lot of work on my boiler in the past 2 winters, this year was bad. A LOT of money out of my pocket. It's time for a replacement. So here's my situation. I'm a single mom, it's just me and my 1 year old son in the house. I have very little time and money. In the research I've done, I think my preference seems to be leaning toward seeing if I can replace my oil boiler with a wood fired of some kind, but I have no experience with this.
    Can I REPLACE my oil system with wood? Can I heat my water off that, just like my oil boiler does, or would I have to get something separate to heat the water? Any recommendations on brands or products? Does the wood need to be kept in a dry place, or can it be kept outdoors?
    Additional concerns: I hope to finish the attic someday and would like to make sure that whatever I get can also heat the attic comfortably as well. Also, since I have no experience with pellet, wood, or coal heating, I have no idea about hot/cold spots and I'm curious about feedback on that. Since I have very little time, the amount of time to maintain the unit or maintain the heat is a concern. Ash/dust created by the unit is something I would also need to consider.
    I have so many questions, and I don't know who to ask. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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  2. Chris Hoskin

    Chris Hoskin TarmSalesGuy

    Joined:
    Aug 29, 2008
    Messages:
    441
    Loc:
    Lyme, NH
    Hello Emily, based on your description of your home and lifestyle, I would not recommend a wood boiler. Further in no circumstance would I recommend a wood boiler as the only heat source in the house. A wood boiler may need to be tended two - or even three - times per day, and you never know what comes up in life that might keep you from being able to do that. It is very important that there is some kind of automatic back-up heat source like a propane or oil boiler in place in the event that you have to work late or you want to go visit friends or family over Christmas.

    My suggestion is that you repair, or better yet, replace your current oil boiler. I assume you have a hot water baseboard heating system? Depending on the type of heating system you have and how much space you have in the boiler room/closet, you may want to consider a propane boiler. Propane MIGHT be more expensive to run, but requires less maintenance. Once you have a reliable oil or propane boiler in place, then I would consider either a wood stove or a pellet stove. Given the size of your home, almost all the heat you need could be provided by a free standing wood or pellet stove. A wood stove is, generally, less expensive than a pellet stove and firewood is less expensive than pellets. However, given your busy lifestyle and young son, I think a pellet stove may make the most sense for you. Most pellet stoves can run a day or so before you need to add fuel to the built in hopper and they only need to be cleaned every week or two. Be sure that the stove installer shows you how to maintain the stove so that you can do it yourself - and do it regularly - regular cleaning is very important to the efficiency and reliability of a pellet stove. As I say, a wood stove will be less expensive to buy and the firewood fuel is less expensive too, but firewood needs to be stacked up a year ahead of time so that it is dry when you use it and the stove will need to have fuel added two or three times per day. If your son were a few years older, firewood might be a good choice, but based on where you are now, I think pellets are probably your best bet.

    We are also located in NH (Lyme - just north of Hanover/Lebanon) and I would be happy to talk to you about this more if you want to give me a call or email. Having been around in the heating business in NH for a long time, we may know someone we can recommend to come make specific recommendations. Chris 795-9113 or chris@tarmusa.com
    sloeffle likes this.
  3. peakbagger

    peakbagger Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Messages:
    1,603
    Loc:
    Northern NH
    I live in NH, check with your electric utility and get a low cost energy audit done. You pay something upfront (around $100) but if you implement any of their recomendations, they reimburse the fee and the utility pays for the half the costs of the upgrades, in some cases they will pay half the cost to replace the boiler with a more efficient one. You dont have to do all of the recomendations and they rank the ones that are the best payback. If your house wasnt insulated well when it was built (many werent) they may be able to cut your usage by 30 to 50%. The utility will even finance the work. There are also may be various incentives and grants out there you qualify for and usually the auditors can flag them to you. Saving energy is the best investment you can make compared to switching heating systems.

    Many folks have switched to propane from oil. The propane furnaces take up a less space and they can be more efficient than an oil boiler plus the fuel normally costs less. A big plus is that propane boiler needs less maintenance so you dont need to have an annual cleaning like an oil boiler. You may also be able to get a direct vent propane boiler installed which will free up your chimney to install a small wood or pellet stove. In your case, you would probably need to buy wood versus getting equipped to cut and store it so a small pellet stove is probably a better option (but you will have to clean it more often than a wood stove). small wood stove vs pellet stove is judgement call but I expect if you get your house tightened up and possbly a newer more efficient furnace you may be able to wait a bit on the next step.

    One thing to keep in mind is that most mortgages dont allow wood only heating, you need a backup like oil or propane.

    If you are anywhere near Plymouth, you may want to check out this group http://www.plymouthenergy.org/. They have lots of resources. There is also a small group in Berlin NH called BAREI and possibly others around the state. Sort of a neighbors helping neighbors program.
  4. jdp1152

    jdp1152 Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2012
    Messages:
    759
    Loc:
    Massachusetts
    If aesthetics aren't a major concern, might want to look into an energy star ductless heat pumps with some type of pellet stove supplement/back up. Size it as though the attic is finished and you can just add a unit there later. Only heat the rooms you need to, no delivery to deal with, and as easy as setting the temp. The pellet stove could be your back up for power outage or to keep electric bill a bit lower.
  5. flyingcow

    flyingcow Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2008
    Messages:
    2,326
    Loc:
    northern-half of maine
    Emily, your in good company here. take the suggestions, and take your time to decide what to do. Good group here.
    Welcome!!
  6. otsegony

    otsegony Member

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2006
    Messages:
    31
    I would second the suggestion on the wood or pellet stove, one or the other will easily heat a house of that size. Also, if the unfinished attic area is directly over the heated area that should be able to heat the second floor as well. All this is at much less expense and complication than a wood-fired boiler. You can store cordwood outside, preferably up on pallets and the top (but not the sides) covered with old plywood or the like. Particularly if you have a small property you should figure out a wood management system in advance (where the wood is received, where it is stored and where it goes into the house) to minimize moving wood around and make your life easier. If you have a stove you can than use the oil boiler as a back-up and replace it at your convenience. Propane fired boilers are much less to cost to maintain, but the cost of the fuel is still much higher than oil in my area (check total heating cost, not per gallon cost which is always lower). Good luck and stay tuned!
  7. tbuff

    tbuff Feeling the Heat

    Joined:
    Dec 7, 2007
    Messages:
    389
    Loc:
    Central NJ
    I'd say, based on the cost of oil and propane. Look into a multi zone ductless split as jdp recommended, they're a bit pricey but efficient, go electric on your hot water and install a wood or pellet stove.

    Welcome to the forum, sorry to hear about your boiler issues.

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