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Polution And Outdoor Wood Furnaces

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by Fire Bug, Jan 27, 2008.

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  1. Fire Bug

    Fire Bug New Member

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    Hi, Everyone,
    I am curious with all the talk of polution from woodburners and how much better the new ones are than the older models, how do these outdoor wood furnances rate?
    In my local newspaper, these furnaces are stirring up a great deal of conroversy conserning smell and smoke it cities as well as rural areas.
    Some areas are banning them, some areas, you have to have so many acres of land, some places they have to be located a set number of feet from the property line.
    This is realy becoming a hot topic and I believe it is going to get even more attention as these furnaces become more popular.
    John

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  2. RedRanger

    RedRanger New Member

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    Controversial,because they are not subjected to EPA testing. When and if, that happens,we might see them all built like Tarm.

    Maybe the Mods will move this post to the boiler room where Eric has extensive knowledge on this subject. IMHO,Tarm is the only one that I am aware of that is decent as far as polluting goes. And that is only from reading about these units, never owned nor want to own one of them.
  3. Fire Bug

    Fire Bug New Member

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    DI DO On The Ownership Part!
  4. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    The new ones are no different than the old ones - in general. There are starting to be some better designed models, but I doubt they account for any decent percentage f sales. The EPA refused to regulate them (the EPA has been largely gutted), and instead came up with a "voluntary" standard. It works this way - if the manufacturer wants to voluntarily make less money, they can spend some on R&D;and get a cleaner unit - but nothing makes them do it.

    So expect lots of problems at the state and local level.
  5. sled_mack

    sled_mack New Member

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    I had an OWB before I got my EKO. (My EKO is in a shed where the OWB was before.)

    I got the EKO to reduce my wood consumption, not reducing smoke. But, I think there needs to be some happy medium when people install them. Mine was located where the neighbors could not see it, and rarely did the smoke blow over their houses. If it did, it was high enough they did not smell it. Likewise, I did not get any smoke in my house.

    But, I've seen other installations where houses are very close together, the OWB has no extended stack, and the smoke just hangs over all the houses. I can't imagine that the neighbors are not upset with that installation. And every time I drive by, it is billowing out smoke.

    I think there are good and bad places to install them. And, there are good and bad ways to operate them. I see others, of the same manufacturer, that do not smoke all the time. Like anything else, a few bad installations bring a bad rap on everyone else.

    The only possible upside to all of this is that it may force the OWB mfg's to start building cleaner and more efficient. The downside is that in our messed up legal system, it could bring problems for everyone who burns wood. Just wait - it won't be long before they try taxing the wood you burn. Think it's crazy? If you home-brew biodiesel, you still owe the tax on the amount you put in your vehicle.
  6. Fire Bug

    Fire Bug New Member

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    I have to agree with you that their are pro & cons to these furnaces and their operation and installation.
    Personally, when I walk out of my house at night and I smell of a distant neighbor burning their wood stove, it gives me a cozy feeling that I miss by haveing put in my propane stove. I think the smell of the spent propane smells alot worse than burning wood.
    As far as a tax on wood, sooner or later the politicians will get around to it. Burning wood, I feel is the only way left that an individual can save some money by only supplying thier labor and cutting thier own wood. I have nothing against wood burning.
    I didn't know that the government didn't regulate the emissions output of these but they do on inside stoves and inserts.
  7. Nicholas

    Nicholas Member

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    Problem isn't smelling wood burning.
    Problem is when the OWB puts out a smoke cloud that hangs 5' off the ground a 1/4 mile round.
    Does'nt amtter if You own 5 acres, if Your toxic cloud covers 20.
    A nursery installed one in Dunkirk just off Rt 4, I have seen it so bad the hiway came to a crawling slow down decause the smoke was so thick over the road.
    Don't know what the answer is, but if My nieghbor installed one and it smoked Me out, I would put a 50 cal through it.

    Nick
  8. Bob Rohr

    Bob Rohr Minister of Fire

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    A lot of the problems re operator error related. When folks chose to burn wet and green wood, as well as their garbage, downwinders will really squwak.

    There is no reason why the emissions can't be cleaned up. Remember the Earth Stove from decades ago? It had a catalyoic convertor option to clean up the emissions. So do most of the automobiles we drive.

    Do you want cheap prices or clean air and happy neighbors, as we all live downwind.

    hr
  9. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I tried using an add-on cat with my old boiler and it didn't work. I suspect if they could make them work in OWBs, some would have one designed into them. I don't think that's the case.

    But I agree that much of it boils down to how they're operated. There are some relatively clean-burning OWBs on my commute to work, and some woodstoves that are always kicking out a big plume of smoke.

    But the fact remains that without secondary burn, you're going to be way less efficient, and there's no way that I'm aware of to achieve secondary combustion in a conventional OWB. Not like they haven't tried.
  10. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    It's certainly true that the vast majority of severe problems are caused by improper operation, although these units are designed and sold on the idea that you can load them up with a huge amount of wood and then let them smolder so that you don't have to fill them very often. The dealers promote the idea that they'll burn green wood, and that a load of large green logs will burn for a long time. Seems like all of this contributes to the probability of improper operation.

    A small number of them on large lots with tall chimneys would reduce the immediate effects, but I expect that as fuel prices increase there will be a lot more wood heating systems. Imagine a suburban street with an OWB in every back yard. Even operated perfectly with dry wood, I think it would be intolerable.

    Wood smoke in moderation may be nostalgic, but study the atmosphere in London in the late 1800s if you want to get a sense of the effect of a lot of private fires in close proximity. Much of what was burned in London in that period was coal, which arguably burns cleaner than wood BTU for BTU.

    We need to figure out how to scale up alternatives to oil/gas so that we don't get unacceptable side-effects.

    I just talked my neighbor out of buying an OWB. Instead, I'm helping him install a gasifier. One small step.
  11. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    The real problem is that you can do it, but everyone else cannot! If even a small percentage of houses used these, we'd be in big trouble as far as air quality. So there is always a difference between personal behavior and societal behavior.

    You certainly don't have to (yet) conform to societal behavior, but at the same time it does exist and enters just about every facet of our lives. We live in the "modern world", even if we live in the wilderness.

    It ain't Al Gore telling you not to smoke up the valley, it is your neighbors like our friend here with the 50 cal.

    The problems with OWB's are not something that came from the top down (regulators, government, etc.) - they have come from neighbors of people who use these things. To some degree, freedom stops when your behavior affects others in a negative way.

    Not my opinion, just the reality. And I do somewhat agree with the premise of the reality.
  12. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    My hope is that as the current generation of OWBs begins to wear out, they'll be replaced with cleaner-burning, more efficient alternatives. Econoburn is supposed to be coming out with an outdoor version of their gasifier. Zennon has an outdoor version of the BioMax & there are some other viable alternatives to conventional OWBs right now. I think the biggest threat to this whole process is a lack of information, and to some extent, the spreading of misinformation in the sales process. It's nice to have a place like this to try to sort it all out.

    For example, the moisture content of your wood is a huge consideration with most gasifiers. As good as they work with the right fuel, they don't work at all with green wood--or even with wood that most people would consider "dry." If you sold somebody a Tarm or an EKO and they tried to get through the winter on wet wood, you wouldn't have a very happy customer.
  13. wdc1160

    wdc1160 New Member

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    This is a quote from another post on the boiler room. I don't know how to do a "good" redirection on this board so I copy and paste.

    In case you thinking about skipping this article. The first sentence likens smoking in close proximity to people the same as burning wood in close proximity to people.

    And this woman published this article in one the highest circulated newpapers in the country-- on its Sunday edition.

    Enjoy. And read the comments.

  14. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    This thread raises some interesting points and I think it's a good opportunity to explore what this forum is all about and what we want it to be in the future. Bear in mind that I'm just one voice in a group of very competent and thoughtful members, and one-third of the moderating staff.

    For me, the Boiler Room, like the rest of hearth.com, serves two main purposes:

    1.) To help people get the most out of the wood-burning or coal-burning appliance that they have;
    2.) To help people decide which wood- or coal-burning appliance to buy.

    That about sums it up for me. So, if somebody has an OWB or a conventional wood-fired boiler, we should be trying to help that person operate in the cleanest and most efficient way possible. Similarly, if somebody is thinking about buying a new wood-fired boiler, or upgrading from something else, we should be giving them the information they need to make the right decision.

    I think it's important to understand that not everyone is in a position to drop $10,000 or more on a dream gasifier setup. And not everybody is interested in fooling around with some finicky-but-high-performance piece of equipment. I know many fine people who own and responsibly operate OWBs. I think anyone who burns wood is performing a patriotic act--whether they realize it or not--by not consuming fossil fuels. To me, any wood burned is better than any imported fuel burned. Period.

    So I think everyone ought to be welcome here.
  15. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    "So I think everyone ought to be welcome here."

    Certainly......the thread started when a member asked how the OWB's rate (as far as smoke), and spoke about the problems which are happening all over the country because of municipalities being forced to deal with them. That is a real issue which we can't glance over.

    Heck, I remember when Eric got mad at me and others for suggesting he might want to upgrade his old Royal! We have a lot of members with old non-EPA woodstoves (smoke dragons, classics or whatever) who are regulars.....they also sometimes feel like they are on the outside looking in, as others discuss the color of the secondary burn!

    After all is said and done, we are just a discussion forum. It's not personal in any way, and hopefully folks don't take it that way. If asked to suggest a new unit, I will usually recommend clean and higher efficiency (naturally), but at the same time I understand a lot of people burn wood to save money - and nothing saves money as well as that 25 year old fisher that is still chugging away.

    Our motto should be "Learn How To Burn", because as even the EPA stats show, the operator and the wood (and technique) are often the most important variables.

    Of course, I WILL still jump up and down when folks burn tires and carpet. No way I'm going to be THAT laid back!
  16. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    That's what gives me all my empathy, Craig.

    I think you understand that it's an evolutionary process and one that tends to be perpetuated across this entire board. If somebody checks in and says, "I've got an old Franklin stove and that's all I can afford," the general reaction is to deal with making the old Franklin burn a little better, instead of alienating the new member with a bunch of negativity. Then, after the member gets somewhat hip to the whole concept, somebody suggests trying to find a better used stove, like some old Earth Stove in the $200 range. Then, after a year or two, the member is pretty up-to-speed on wood burning, and we ease him or her into an Englander or a good used VC or Jotul cat. In three years you've got another responsible wood burner, instead of somebody who got intimidated back to fossil fuels by intolerance. How many gallons of fuel oil, ultimately, have we saved?

    The shining example is nofossil, who talked his neighbor out of an OWB and into a gasifier. One approach would have been to groan like hell and call the cops. Another would have been to pop a cap in the guy's new rig. Instead, he took the time to reason with somebody threatening his family's health and well being, and gave him enough incentive to reconsider (i.e., helping him hook the damn thing up).

    There's no downside to showing tolerance and sharing information, IMO.
  17. EricV

    EricV Feeling the Heat

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    I love this board and read it several times a day.

    I have to say though I don't agree with the money issue. A gasification boiler setup really isn't too much more money than an OWB. The savings in wood will more than make up for the additional cost.

    The problem is there is no way an OWB of current designs will ever be efficient. The fact that the fire is in a huge firebox to obtain infrequent reload intervals means the fire is going to smolder at some time. And the fact that the fireboxes are just barrels surrounded by water means that the temps can never get high enough to obtain any decent efficiency.


    I have a friend about a mile from me that has 2 small girls and huge problems with a neighbor of his burning god knows what and he has no recourse. He is slightly downhill from the OWB and a good distance away, at least several hundred yards. they guy even had the nerve to ask my friend for any old magazines and newspapers so he could burn them in his boiler. He came close to meeting his maker.

    I know the state (NY) is working on very strict legislation for OWB's. If people cannot be responsible for harming others then I guess the state needs to do it for him and others.

    That's just my opinion

    Eric
  18. ISeeDeadBTUs

    ISeeDeadBTUs Guest

    I have not burned wood in a wood stove in about 25 years, but I assume they are more efficient than the Ashley and the RoundOak I used back then. But based on my observance of how my GreenWood (suposedly EPA rated, designed for indoor use, actually installed outside at my house) responds to the operator, I can tell you this:

    Operated properly (not over-filled, no green wood, no garbage, 'visibly dry' hardwood) I would bet I smoke less than the latest, greatest EPA wood stove. This past week, when cold dry air makes water condense VERY readily, I found that I got white smoke for 5-15 minutes after a load. That is three times a day, so say 45 minutes of white smoke. Plus some wisps during idle. I would be very interested to see someone heat 4,000[/] for a day with less smoke. My oil boiler would smoke that much during 24 hours!

    I drive around. . .A LOT! I produce more emissions from my car than my home heating. And when I'm driving, I see many OWB and stoves/fireplaces smoking. My unprofessional opinion is, the stoves and/or fireplaces pollute more than the OWBs. Obviously, I don't know what model s they are, not how they are being operated.

    Jimbo
  19. sled_mack

    sled_mack New Member

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    Regarding the comment posted earlier about all woodburners sticking together-

    I agree, up to a point. If someone comes here wanting to know how to best use what ever he has bought and installed, I think we will all help as much as we can. It's in all of our best interest to do so. If we self-regulate ourselves to the point the govt doesn't need to step in and enforce restrictions, we will all be better off.

    But, if that fellow woodburner has an improper installation, burns garbage, tires, and what ever else will burn, it shouldn't (and wouldn't to me) matter what he is burning it in. Defending someone like that just makes the whole situation worse. We need to step up and say that this person is irresponsible in his burning, or we are considered guilty by association. Even then, if the guy says he wants to change, we should help him with that change. If he sticks his head in the sand and says it isn't his problem, then he is on his own.

    Let's face it, if you live in a close neighborhood and burn wood, people around you are going to smell it from time to time. When I got this EKO, I was glad no one lived close by, as the first few fires were not all that pretty. I might have even had more smoke than my old Taylor a few times. Obviously, if someone moved next to me now, there would probably be times that they would know I have a wood burner, mostly starting or reloading, but I don't think it would be a problem for anyone.

    Education is key. But how do you educate those who wich to ignore you?
  20. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I think the tone is pretty well set around here. Most--if not all--of the people who stick around and contribute seem to be on basically the same page. I don't see anyone looking to pick a fight or take a big dump on our little party. Everybody seems to be interested in either learning or sharing information. And if not, they don't last long.

    I hear you on the ugly parts of getting up to speed with the 60. It was a little embarrasing at first because I had told people that this thing was going to be "smoke free." It is now, but not without some learning and perfect-making practice. So what else is new? One thing I have noticed, though, is that the little smoke I get on occasion actually smells pretty good. More like toasted wood than acrid wood gas. The old boiler would stink up the neighborhood under the right (wrong) conditions, even when there was no visible smoke. When I got sick of telling the neighbors "I'm working on it," I decided it was time to upgrade.
  21. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    The problem becomes folks who bought their "other" units in the last few years....they would have to spend extra money, and really could not do anything with their old one other then sell it to someone else (result is NO reduction in smoke).

    So the long term view...which is what most regulations (like EPA for stoves and cars) tend to address, is what folks replace their current units with when it wears out. That is the place that EPA and the OWB manufacturers failed us. So there are local issues (neighbors) and then the total issue (whether this is a "source" that needs regulation).

    The EPA or states DEPs regulate pretty much EVERY source of biomass (and other) - the truth of this matter is that the OWB's slipped through a giant loophole (being outside, and NOT being classified as outdoor burning OR as boilers, etc.).

    What the EPA did find out in their tests is that is WAS possible to burn these fairly clean. But that takes education, which is why there are some projects and guides about this now.

    In my area it isn't a big problem....but the local newspaper often has stories about problems with OWBs (and they name the names of the offenders!).....these stories run at least 10 to 1 in terms of frequency to "good" news about wood, pellets and biomass heating. In the end, that is not good PR for the industry (and I tend to look at things that way, given my involvement).

    Eric, you didn't tell us the neighbors were complaining! Ah, the truth comes out. When you were yelling at us, you really were pissed at them!
  22. EricV

    EricV Feeling the Heat

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    I'm not sure I follow this. I'm not and wasn't yelling at anyone nor is there an OWB anywhere near my house. Either in sight or smell.
  23. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I only had one complaint (after four seasons of operation) just about a year ago, and that's what pushed me over the edge. From then on, I only fired the Royall when the wind was right, and on more than one occasion pulled burning chunks out of the firebox and shut it down when the wind shifted unexpectedly. When I put that boiler in, I kept them apprised of what I was doing and explained that it was going to take some time to work out all the bugs to get it to burn clean. They were pretty cool about it. Over the next couple of years I tried just about everything, including an add-on cat, and finally concluded that it was pretty hopeless. You'd have to ask them, but I suspect the smoke bothered me more than it bothered them.

    I've never been pissed at my neighbors and I don't think they harbor any bad feelings toward me, other than probably thinking that I have Appalachian American tendencies with all that firewood in the backyard. But I suspect they're happy with the way things turned out. I showed them the EKO in operation, which tends to blow people away the first time they see it and understand where the smoke is going. The guy is an ex trial lawyer who now works for a NYS Supreme Court judge, so I'm sure they could have shut me down any time with about one phone call to the right public official. My goal in life is now to get them into a gasifier and supply all their wood. They have a bigger, older house than me and a heated pool to boot. I bet their gas bill is over $1,000 a month--on average over 12 months.

    I wasn't really pissed at you guys, either. Or if I was, it obviously didn't stop me from hanging around. I still don't think woodsmoke is a bad thing if it's not hurting anyone, and when it blows back into the woods and settles to the ground (like mine did 90 percent of the time), it's benign. I think not using fossil fuels is a bigger issue than localized air pollution which, as we all know, can be corrected.
  24. Woodrat

    Woodrat New Member

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    Craig-- I (and probably most of us "Classic" stove owner/operators out here in the real world )agree with what you say-although I would delete "OFTEN" from the statement about variables.

    You're equally right about us feeling "outside looking in"-- but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. Most all of the frequent posters and contributers seem to be sincerely caring individuals who want to help people and promote clean/responsible woodburning habits. It's just hard for me to reconcile that "picture" I have of you all with the almost complete lack of helpful information regarding alterations to older stoves to make them perform better. Ridicule and disinterest are not particularly effective in promoting positive change (IMHO)
    Don't you all think most of us would like to be in the enviable position of getting more heat for less money & work?????
    Best wishes--Woodrat
  25. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Well there's no place here for ridicule, IMO. But I think disinterest is probably inevitable, since the people with newer systems probably have their minds in a different place. It would be nice, I think, to get a critical mass of users in all categories of central heat to have a self-sustaining discussion. Bear in mind that we've only had the Boiler Room since last November, and it's been growing pretty fast but we're a long ways from a complete forum. So I hope you and other "classic" owners will hang in here for awhile and help build a niche that works for you. Shoot, I hung around the old Hearth Room for about four years with my old Royall 6150, and most people had no idea what I was talking about half the time. Nobody was particularly taken with the idea of a 25-year-old conventional smoke dragon boiler eating up 20 cords of wood a season, either.

    So let's talk about getting a cleaner burn with an OWB. I can point to at least three installations around here that produce less smoke than wood stoves in neighboring houses. I pass these setups every day to and from work, and it's a fact. And the one guy is burning dead green wood in a CB.
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