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Simple solution? Oil fired FHW

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by babalu87, Nov 8, 2007.

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  1. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    HA! Fastest post in the east (blows smoke off of index finger).

    Right now, electric is almost dead even with oil in terms of cost.

    I'd be careful about meddling with the market, whether liberal, fascist, neocon, or fruitarian. We are in a global economy, and we do not set, control, or have much influence over the price of a barrel of crude oil. Limiting the price that can be charged for fuel oil woul have several likely outcomes, few of them good:

    1) There would be less incentive for end-users to switch to other alternatives (like wood)
    2) If the profit margin is squeezed too much, it will inhibit investment in infrastructure and improvements to the production and distribution.
    3) If the cost of crude oil becomes too high relative to the allowable price for the refined product, you will have massive shortages. No one will produce a product at a loss.

    Just my $.02

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  2. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Sorry, I didn't mean to start an Ash Can debate. I disagree with your all-or-nothing, apocalyptic, end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it-if-we-help-some-poor-slob-get-through-the-winter characterization of my proposal, but we can take that up in the Can if we're so inclined.
  3. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Sorry as well - raw nerve for me. I spend way too much time trying to help companies do the right things despite well-intentioned regulations that make it next to impossible. I also lived through wage and price controls in this country. Not an experiment to be repeated.

    I would HEARTILY (watch how I deftly get back on topic) support programs to guarantee loans for alternative energy solutions such as the one this thread is based on. I suspect that there are many installations that would make economic sense in the long run and where the barrier is the up-front cost. If it were easy to do the conversion and pay off the loan with a portion of the savings, we could do a lot of good and not have the same risk of unintended consequences.
  4. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    You've just illustrated why solar HW is generally a very nice investment for people with oil as their current heat source.

    You should be able to get a very nice solar thermal system installed for $4,000 that would cover roughly 80% of your annual needs. (keep in mind large tax credits at fed level and many states)

    If you put $4,000 in the bank at 5% in a CD (getting harder to do w/rate cuts) you'll make $200/year to start and then you'll pay tax on that interest income, so you'll probably net out about $120-$160 after taxes, or 3-4% net return.

    If you put $4,000 in solar, you'll save about $480 of after-tax income that you no longer spend on oil. At $3/gallon, you're looking at a 12% net return in your first year. This will blow away what you could get with any comparable "safe" investment. The risk involved is that energy costs plummet before you've obtained these savings for the 30 year expected life of the system. But even then, say oil drops to $1/gallon, you're still making 4% return - probably equal or better than the bank. And if energy prices increase further, your avoided costs and hence return on investment increase as well.

    People on natural gas or in the midwest where electricity is currently cheap often find it doesn't pay off quite so well but it's likely an OK proposition. For northeasterners on oil, it's a great move.

    -Colin
  5. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Do you think that kind of long-term investment helps or hurts home resale value? It would be a selling point for me, but I'm probably not the average homebuyer.
  6. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    It's a good question - I have seen a couple studies that say you recoup what you put into it, but I suspect that varies tremendously with the price of energy, whether it is a clean professional automatic system vs. homebrewed job, regional attitudes towards "green" energy, current political tilt, what end of the market you're in... Right now, I'd bet it's a big plus in our area based on those factors.

    California is one market where solar PV may be getting common enough that people can start analyzing purchasing decisions with better comparisons of with/without solar in large neighborhoods where "comp" analyses are easy.

    7 years ago when I moved to NY, I didn't put a lot of stock in it when I saw it on one house. I didn't know any better, there was zero mention of it from the owner or in any of their listing materials to educate me on it, my realtor said oil was $1/gallon (which it was) and that I could heat a house for less than $1000/year including hot water. Even when we built, I would have made some very different choices up front had I been able to forsee what has happened since with fuel costs. I admit my ignorance in hindsight :)

    My lesson from that is at minimum, somewhere in the listing/marketing materials or even at the house itself, I would highlight some of the energy efficient features to get the potential buyer thinking about the added value. For that matter, I might even consider leaving a brochure w/our average annual energy use figures and suggest buyers ask for the same records from any home they look at. They would probably be in for a rude awakening in some of our McMansion suburbs in wide open fields where co-workers are paying $500-$1000/month in heating and cooling bills. I know I would ask for that information, but I'm probably no longer a "typical" buyer from all my hearth.com liberal brainwashing :lol:

    -Colin
  7. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    I've long resigned myself to the idea that no 'average' buyer will be interested in my house. When the time comes, I hope that some techie type falls in love with it. It has a ton of things that would be features to some and turn-offs to others.

    Until alternative energy systems mature and the support infrastructure comes of age, I think that you can't assume that any of these things will add bankable value.

    I have a friend who bought a house a few years back. In passing, she mentioned that it had 'some strange wood furnace' in the basement when they bought it. They never used it, though they did install a very nice designer-approved enamel woodstove on the main floor. Turns out the thing in the basement is a Tarm gasifier, very early model. Unfortunately, I think rust has gotten to it, though I'm going to check it out. The sellers never said anything about it to them.
  8. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    Eric
    Electric rates are set and certainly wont fluctuate all that much but are they really as efficient as they say? What about recovery time etc. Coincidentally, the only "hard" data I can find is......................... from propane companies LOL

    I will certainly go with some solar but $4K??????????? I can build something for MUCH cheaper.
    The real eye opener for me was this year.
    I took most of my showers from one of those solar showers this year. PLENTY hot for sure on sunny days and that is about as simple a system as can be.
    Some glass from a crappy slider, a few circulating pumps, some thermostatic controls , some reefer tubing and black paint and I am half way there ;)
  9. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    What a great avatar, nofo. A friend of mine did that, too.
  10. Nofossil

    Nofossil Moderator Emeritus

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    Thanks. I didn't do this one - just a random picture that I found. I do have a few Saturns parked next to a pair of huge trees that I'm going to be taking down soon. Here's hoping it's not foreshadowing...
  11. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    Electric is straightforward - you pay for it after the wires leave your house meter into your house. Unless you have undersized wiring that is heating up and wasting power, the only place it should ever convert to heat is inside the heater at the electric resistance element. So 99.99% of the electricity converts to heat in the water - then it's just a matter of how well the tank holds it. Recovery time, etc doesn't enter the equation - it's just how much of the power goes into the water. In any fired system, some of the input energy goes up the flue.

    A solar storage tank costs ~$800-$1000 for 120 gallons of storage including an internal heat exchanger and backup electric heater element. Commercial panels run another $1000 or so each and 2-3 is the typical requirement. Other major expenses are a controller ($100 for a simple barebones one w/no temp display), if you mount on a 2-story roof, a fairly pricey high-head Taco bronze circulator (~$300), and quite a few valves and runs of food-safe tubing (no garden hoses) to interface into your existing system assuming you want flexibility to go between solar only, solar preheating to oil, or complete bypass of solar.

    The difference you'll see with the commercial panels is that you get loads of heat even on cloudy days when it's cool outside for at least 8 months a year. During much of that time, a homebrew system is not going to do much for you. It will also likely need to be removed if you have to sell your home. Particularly if you put the stuff out on your lawn running tubes out of your basement window to save on pumps and such :)

    A system like this:
    http://www.kingsolar.com/catalog/mfg/package/ksdb-40.html

    is likely to far outperform anything you can homebuild in terms of the length of season that it will produce hot water. Complete setup using your existing tank runs $2200 before rebates that may cut it to $1000 in some states.

    My take on this project is that it is rare you get to have the government pay 55% of the cost of parts and labor for home projects, so when they do, I'm all for it. On the other hand, since they didn't want to pay for my woodstove/hearth, I took that work on myself.

    -Colin
  12. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    Back when I was seriously considering solar, I came to pretty much the same conclusion, probably with your help, Colin. I started out planning to build something from scratch, but eventually came to the conclusion that it was worth putting some money into good collectors, and then cobbling everything else together myself.

    I finally decided to put my meager resources into a new boiler, but it was fun to research and think about a solar project.

    When preparing my boiler install, I found that it's a lot of fun to shop for pumps, fittings, valves, etc. on Ebay. If you know what you want and you have some time to wait out the deals, you can get new stuff for a fraction of what you'd pay retail at Home Depot or a plumbing/heating supply house. One main caveat being knowing what you want. Another one is that stuff you buy from a third party on Ebay is probably not going to carry a warranty, at least not one you can claim very long after the sale. My point being that new bronze pumps go for a lot less than $300 on Ebay. A cast iron Taco 007, for example, goes for $30 to $35, and that's with integral flow control, compared to $80 or $90 retail. Copper fittings are available in oddball lots, but if you find one with the parts you need, you'll wind up paying comparably less for them, as well.

    By this past spring I knew what I needed, then spent the summer shopping for it online. By August I had everything I needed to do the install the way I wanted. It was a lot of fun, and nice to save money in the process.
  13. cbrodsky

    cbrodsky Member

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    Eric -

    I in fact got a great deal for my on-demand hot water re-circulator following your suggestion to look on e-bay - $50 instead of the list price of well over $300! It's amazing what can be found there.

    -Colin
  14. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I hate to publicize it because I don't want you guys bidding against me, but sometimes I can't help myself. My handle is Oldforge1, btw.
  15. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    My thought on solar is even with the best system money can buy where I live is not conducive to a return on a solar investment.
    Arizona, Texas, California etc. sure but the SE corner of Massachusetts doesnt get much sunlight during the course of a season with stalled fronts, fog etc. Its almost like trying solar in Scotland.

    If I can at least assist my current HW heating system in heating the water to shower temps,I am ahead of the curve.
    Having a storage tank for that hot water will increase the length of my boiler firings making that system more efficient as well.

    I'm telling you those solar showers on the back deck were a wake up call. All I did was refill it after using and put it on a deck chair in the back yard, even on partly cloudy days that bag was plenty hot for a summer shower.

    I'm not dreaming of full solar hot water, especially in the "Winter" season but just heating the well water to room temperature would be a start. Heating water from 47 degrees up to 140 degrees eats up A LOT of BTU's

    Not discounting solar and if I had 4K sitting around I might think of it , besides, building things is fun :)
  16. Eric Johnson

    Eric Johnson Mod Emeritus

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    I think there's a wood-fired boiler in your future, babs.
  17. babalu87

    babalu87 New Member

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    No way!
    I will never give up the wood stove

    I almost bought an outdoor boiler ........ then I found out someone I knew had on in NH and decided that I didnt have enough acreage to feed the monster.
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