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Recommendations for a Small Efficient Boiler

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by MagicManAmps, Jan 3, 2014.

  1. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    My wife and I are looking into a outside wood boiler unit for our home. We are looking at keeping the cost down as much as possible vs building our own unit. Right now we are using a forced air propane furnace to heat approximately 1000 sq ft. Fuel usage during heating season (Mid October to mid April) is about 400 gallons. We live on 40 acres of wooded land and would like to utilize that versus the rising cost of LP. So what manufactures and models can you recommend ? We have looked at Hardy and WoodMaster already locally and didn't like what we saw for the price that was being asked.

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  2. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Is that 400 gallons for the whole winter? I think I'd be hard pressed to justify a wood boiler, indoor or out, for a place that size with that amount of heating fuel used. Is a wood stove out of the question?
  3. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    Yes the 400 gallons is for the whole winter providing its a mild winter, we have used as much as 600 before. They are expecting propane cost to hit $4 a gallon here soon. I know cutting and splitting firewood takes time, but its not a large out of pocket expense. A wood stove is out of the question unfortunately, one is space limitation, second is we have an 18 month old daughter that was born extremely premature. They don't want her being exposed to smoke or excessive dust (ash) due to under developed lungs.
  4. Chris Hoskin

    Chris Hoskin TarmSalesGuy

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    There is no such thing as a small, efficient and cheap outdoor wood boiler. You have a pretty small heating load so an outdoor boiler is much too large anyway. The other option would be an indoor boiler with thermal storage of 600 gallons or so, however, given your budget constraints I would suggest this is not appropriate either. I would suggest your best bet would be a brand new, name brand woodstove. What ever you end up with, be sure to use DRY WOOD. With only 1000 square feet to heat, it would be easy to over-size a woodstove too, so don't make the mistake of "bigger is better". Good luck with your hunt and let us know what you end up with!
    Fred61 and heaterman like this.
  5. PassionForFire&Water

    PassionForFire&Water Minister of Fire

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    What's the budget?
  6. Bob Rohr

    Bob Rohr Minister of Fire

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    Wow, those LP predictions seem awful high? I am in SW Missouri and filling up all the tanks this week for $2.09. My LP supplier does not see any large increases in the near future. If we have a mild winter the LP prices always plunge come spring as the local dealers end up pay storage fees at the bulk plant, for unused pre-purchases.

    Consider buying a second LP tank and loading up in the summer or when prices drop.

    A wood or pellet stove inside might make sense with that small heating load.
  7. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    Guys, I can't have an indoor stove.
  8. Tennman

    Tennman Minister of Fire

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    6 years ago I was exactly where you are now, except propane $/gal was nearly double where it is now. For performance /$ it's hard to beat the systems sold by New Horizons; EKO, BioMass, Attack. I was going to get a Hardy like all the happy owners in our area, but found this site and started to get educated. For the size of your home one of the smallest boilers will probably work. A good rule of thumb is to double the boiler cost for a working system. If I were you I'd start watching for a used EKO or one of the other credible indoor gasification boilers, build a small shed to put it in and hook it up to your existing propane forced air system. Your propane then becomes your backup just like our home. Just forget making your own... No way you can do it as inexpensively as buying a used boiler from someone who's tired of feeding a wood boiler. In general I've seen used boilers sell for 30%-50% of new price and sometimes much less. At the moment your annual heating bill is less than $800/year. That means for a 3-4 year payback your budget is about $3k which is quite low to install a new system. An all new system to heat your home I'd guess in the $5k range at least if you did most of the work yourself. Bottom line you have 6-8 months to get an education, find a used boiler, collect wood and be ready for next year. Go to the New Horizon site to get a reference point for inexpensive wood boilers. I'd avoid the types of boilers you see advertised in magazines like Popular Science,etc. read here for a month or so and you'll be a far wiser boiler shopper. Sorry for so long but if you were my son this is what I'd be telling him.
    MagicManAmps and hobbyheater like this.
  9. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    If anything inside is out of the question, you might consider looking for a used IWB, and putting it in a small outbuilding close to the house. People are replacing boilers quite frequently, or yanking them in favour of going natural gas or heat pump. A large shed, or small shop, maybe insulated - make it big enough & you can use it for other purposes too. It gets tricky if you want to use it as a garage though - wood burners & fuel storage don't mix well. I would definitely go that route over an OWB, and you might be able to incorporate some water storage in the house to go with it? In the basement - if you have a basement?
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  10. arbutus

    arbutus Feeling the Heat

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    Several people here are running Eko boilers, which the New Horizons store has for $4000. This is an indoor boiler, so you would need a good insulated shed for it. http://www.newhorizonstore.com/Category/54-gasification-boilers.aspx

    If you are a customer of a large national supplier that starts with Ameri, buy a tank and start shopping around. LP here in the UP where we just had a propane emergency is only $2.50 a gallon with a local supplier.
  11. willworkforwood

    willworkforwood Feeling the Heat

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    I'm guessing that the prices you're seeing for the outdoor units probably are not "installed" price. If so, when the cost of underground and indoor piping, controls, and installer labor is added, the cost may be 2X what you're seeing. IMO, I don't think you will find a (low)cost-effective wood burning solution. Beware of low-cost units - they will be garbage, and are highly likely to rot out in a very short amount of time.

    Have you researched the possibility of natural gas coming to your area? If you can switch to NG, even if it's a few years down the road, that could change your strategy completely.
    Also, have you done a complete evaluation of your building's insulation and infiltration? It's not unusual for a small investment toward improving the envelope resulting in a large payback on the heating/AC side. Reducing infiltration in particular can make an amazing difference. One worn out door sweep can let in a huge amount of cold air, and be costing you $$ every minute of the day. Slowly walk the perimeter of your building on a windy day, holding a candle. Move it past every door, window, outlet, and any other break in the walls, going high and low covering every square inch of opening. When the flame moves, you probably have found an opportunity to save $$.
    hobbyheater likes this.
  12. heaterman

    heaterman Minister of Fire

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    A few facts: Not trying to throw water on your fire here but you are up against the physics of getting heat from wood and then transferring it without losing half of it in the process. The laws of physics do not bend for anyone.

    There is no such thing as an efficient outdoor wood burner. Not bashing them or anything like that. There is just no such thing and never will be. Heating equipment should always be installed inside a conditioned space if you are concerned about efficiency.

    Any outdoor wood burner is going to be to large for a 1000 square foot structure and will idle a lot which will reduce what efficiency there is even more.

    When you factor in costs for a correct and efficient installation, you will find that any new indoor boiler is going to set you back $7,000 to $10,000. That being the case your honest payback is going to be down the road at least 5-7 years given the fact that there will be maintenance and ongoing expenses with the boiler, pumps, controls etc etc. This makes weatherizing and insulating your house a much more "appetizing" way to go because you spend the money one time and you're done.

    If at all possible, I would look into a small indoor wood burner or a pellet stove. If neither of those can be done I would tell you straight up that you are not a good "candidate" for burner wood if you were my customer.
    Next on the list would be to investigate buying your own LP tank which will allow you to shop around for best pricing on fuel. If you can find a used 1,000 gallon tank you could probably get by on one fill for the entire year. That would allow you to purchase your fuel during the off season, May through July, at prices that are substantially less than in season rates.

    Without knowing the entire scope of your house layout and other factors, I'd say a good quality pellet stove would be the best way to go for you. Don't buy one from the likes of Lowe's,HD, or a farm supply store!!!! No parts when you need them. Ever. No service when you need it. Ever.

    If you can find a dealer for Ravelli pellet stoves, that is a good one.
    Vizsla and hobbyheater like this.
  13. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    I still like the idea in post #9. :)
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  14. Floydian

    Floydian Feeling the Heat

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    Hi MagicManAmps,

    I agree with other about weatherizing first and foremost. Air sealing your ceiling is likely the place to start.

    What do you pay per Kwh of electricity and what are you paying per gallon of propane?
    Depending on this and the layout of your house, a mini split heat pump could work very well for taking a big bite out of your propane bill. A quality unit in SE Ohio should have a seasonal COP 3+ which means 3 parts air source to 1 part grid power. Gotta crunch the numbers to really know what makes sense for your situation.

    Its also possible your existing duct work is not all that efficient, especially if you have any ducts that are not within the conditioned space. A mini split will not suffer this energy penalty and will also get you AC and some dehumidification.

    Maybe in a couple years your daughter will be fine with a wood stove and this would be a nice complement to a mini split HP and allow you to utilize your local fuel source-always a good thing IMO.

    One thing for sure, if you are planning on burning cord wood in the future then start cutting, splitting, stacking now!

    Noah
    hobbyheater likes this.
  15. Fred61

    Fred61 Minister of Fire

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    I see a lot of suggestions for insulating in the above posts but IMO the house already must be pretty tight when you consider the amount of propane consumed. I can understand wanting to take advantage of the wood resources available but it's a dilemma when your heat load is that low. Your payback date and your boiler replacement will be about the same. In my situation, I've been rebuilding and tightening up the house every year for six years and every piece of insulation I install stretches out my payback date.

    Perhaps installing a conventional boiler in an outbuilding and 500 gallons of storage in the basement would be best. With a light load the installation could be simple by batch burning and distributing the heat only from storage. Any of the heat escaping from storage would waft up into the living space. With 40 acres you will never need to worry about depleting your wood supply even with a conventional boiler. one or two hot fires a day would be adequate.
    MagicManAmps and hobbyheater like this.
  16. Vizsla

    Vizsla New Member

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    I see several decent indoor older models very cheap in ohio, and that would be your only inexpensive route. And that's if the wood is cheap or free. Best money spent is upgrading insulation or draft stoping. No way any outdoor boiler is gonna help. From all the horror stories I've read, almost all have problems and not many are cheap. Just figure out the cost of the logstor supply lines and see if your still interested in anything outdoor.
  17. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    I like this idea, why did I not think of this before ? I have a 300 gallon heavy wall tank I was going to use if I built a unit. Could I build a smallish building, insulate well, and keep the inside boiler and storage tank in it providing insulation is adequate ?

    House is pretty tight guys, went through a couple years ago and installed all new sweeps and seals on the doors and windows,used a lot of spray foam, insulated crawlspace walls with rigid foam board and laid down plastic as a moisture barrier.

    I know my situation isn't ideal, trust me I would love to have a wood or pellet stove inside, but I can't, so this is my compromise.
    I can do the install myself, I figure $1000 for lines, pump or pumps, and water to air exchanger for furnace. If I build the shed or if I run an outdoor unit I am only going to need 30 feet of lineset to do the install, this is allowing a 10 foot gap between house and said unit for safety.

    Wood is free as can be, and I have already been cutting and stacking this year. We have had several wind and ice storms in the area the last few years. I have about 10 cords of oak and cherry already cut and stacked and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I would guess I have 20-30 more cords of wood already laying down to be harvested, mostly red oak, cherry, walnut, and a few poplar.

    I know most of you think this isn't feasible or sensible, but to me it is. I would rather invest in a unit that will provide me with mostly free heat once the initial cost is recovered than I would to keep paying the gas company every year. What happens if the gas prices double in the next 2 - 3 years ? Here I am still stuck paying those prices, I would rather not take that chance and invest now if possible.

    Thanks Again for all the knowledge and help !
    huffdawg likes this.
  18. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    Can you point me in the direction of said cheap used models ? Craigslist isnt turning up much for me ?
  19. Whitepine2

    Whitepine2 Burning Hunk

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    Did you ever think about cutting and selling your wood and using the $ to for fuel. If you can get $200 a cord 5 cords
    will give you $1000 if you burn yourself you still gotta cut it anyway. If you can let it dry 2-3 yrs. you could get more
    about $300 cord that's 33% better than any investment out there today. Just a thought

    Whitepine2
  20. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    Since this won't be happening right away, I would keep my eyes open for used propane tanks for storage. Check all scrap yards in your area, that's where I found mine.

    Is there any way you can get a tank in the house? Do you have a basement? Since you think you can get a unit outdoors, but pretty close to the house, my thoughts would be to have an IWB outside in an insulated outbuilding, and storage indoors. That way most of your heat loss would be to your house. I would put antifreeze in the boiler, and run the lines inside to a HX that would then heat your tanks. That way you'd be protected from freezing, and only have to burn in the boiler when your tanks run low on useable heat. In other words, batch burn to storage. When not heating storage, the boiler just goes cold. But it shouldn't freeze anyway if it's in an insulated building and you burn every day or two. And when you do burn, the boiler will burn wide open with no idling - cleaner & more efficient, even with a non-gasser. You should need a minimal amount of antifreeze if you confine it to the boiler & the lines to the house. Then run your heating lines from the storage to the HX in the plenum. I overlooked that you have hot air heating, which requires that extra HX but might be small consideration in the long run. You will also be able to heat your DHW with another HX. You would also need a large expansion tank to go with the storage, that can be a small propane tank - mine is a 110 gallon one. BUT, if you decide on open unpressurized storage, you won't need an expansion tank and might fit one into places you couldn't fit a pressurized tank - but that would require yet another HX though. Maybe one you could make out of copper coil if you can find some of that.

    For a boiler, I would make sure what I got had decent heat transfer efficiency - that usually means a boiler with firetubes. Even if you can't find a gasser. My father has an older Kerr with firetubes. It is a PITA when used as designed since the tubes need regular cleaning from idling, but I wouldn't hesitate to hook storage to it & batch burn with it. It produces a lot of heat for an 'old smoker'.

    I would also find it hard to not burn wood if I lived on 40 acres of it, no matter how small a house I lived in. And it's not always strictly about short term ROE when it comes to wood heating. Take the time you have between now & next year to learn as much as you can, scrounge for components, and plan things. As long as you consider everything, you should be able to come up with something. I think that's the main concern of everyone here - a lot of guys come through here with big plans & ideas but have overlooked a big factor(s) that they can't see right in front of them, and we don't want to see someone end up way worse after a big time & expense investment than they were to start with.
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  21. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    So are inside units fired on demand or do they use an aquastat ? I am assuming on demand since they have very little water reserve ?

    And there is no space to get a water storage tank inside, having a 1000 sqft house is nice to keep costs down, but with 2 adults, a 18 month old, and two dogs we have no room for anything extra. lol
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2014
  22. heaterman

    heaterman Minister of Fire

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    If you can consider an indoor boiler in an "outdoor" building, with some storage.....now that makes sense. Payback will still be down the road but that is a much better way to go than an outdoor wood burner.
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  23. Vizsla

    Vizsla New Member

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    Use " search tempest " to search craigslist, amazon , oodle and ebay all at the same time. I found 3 yesterday. There's even a Tarm in Indiana, but the guy obviously restores them and wants top dollar. I think it was a 30 yr old 40 for $2600 if I remember right.

    Check your code too, we can't have a wood burning anything within 100' of the house. I think between the pumps, HE and air handler you will have over $1000 with the new EPA lead law anything brass & copper is going thru the roof, almost doubling price. I'm not positive but a 100' small roll of logstor is over $1800-$2500. I don't know if you can get smaller length.
    Selling firewood is looking pretty good....
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  24. willworkforwood

    willworkforwood Feeling the Heat

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    Actualy that's not it at all. Most of the replies you get here are from guys who have had wood boilers installed for multiple years, and results that we're very pleased with. You are obviously on-board with the wood processing side, which is one of the 2 big aspects of this. It's the cost side that I'm seeing as the red flag in your case. In your OP, you mentioned having a problem with the price of a Hardy or Woodmaster; which I guesstimated would be around 5K.

    I don't think you will be able to do what you're planning for even close to 5K, even if you can find a quality used wood boiler in decent shape. There are a bunch of things that cause the net cost to skyrocket - materrials for an outdoor shed is one example that comes to mind. I don't know about you, but I get a bad case of sticker shock just about every trip to the box store.

    All I am saying here is that you should consider what a significantly higher cost will mean to your project. I'll just throw 10K out as a number for you to consider. But it also might be more, largely depending on the used boiler price. Can you get extra funds somehow during the upcoming year? If not, my concern is that you will be forced to take shortcuts in areas that will cause you lots of grief long-term and maybe even short-term.
    But perhaps you will prove me wrong and get a quailty boiler project done for 5K or so. And if that happens, I'll be more than pleased to tip my hat to you!
    MagicManAmps likes this.
  25. MagicManAmps

    MagicManAmps New Member

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    It wasn't so much the dollar amount of the Hardy or Woodmaster as much as the quality of build for the price. I feel they are poorly built and use poor materials. That's why in my original post I was asking for make and model suggestions from guys that do have experience with other stoves. If I have to spend 5K + on a stove then I will save my money over the next year or two and do so eventually, but those two stoves are not worth what they get for them. In my case I am just trying to keep the bottom line low as possible to benefit the turn over time on investment.

    I have most the material available to make the shed needed laying around already luckily, I know what you mean about sticker shock at lumber stores. My father as well as my neighbor are contractors, I scrounge a lot of good usable material from them after a job is done. My installation material cost on the unit is going to be minimal, roughly $1k, I have already priced most everything I would need out.

    So if I follow the above suggested idea of a inside unit then realistically lets say I do have to spend $1K on the shed for materials I don't have, $1k on installation parts and plumbing, I can buy a brand new EKO Line-25 unit for $4k right now. That puts me roughly at $6k installed for a brand new gassifier boiler, in a building, with 300 gallons(possibly more if I can find another tank for free or cheap) of water storage. Roughly the same price it would cost me to get the Hardy to my door ?

    I think at this point my game plan is to keep cutting and stacking firewood over the next year and maybe sell some of it off to pay for the project. Continue to save money and buy parts and supplies when bargains are found. I will keep my eyes open on the forum's, craigslist, eBay, etc for a nice used unit and if it doesn't happen before next winter then maybe I will begin shopping for a new unit.

    Thanks Again for Every Ones Help, Suggestions, and Information so far.

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