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What’s the best back-up heat source to wood burning?

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by beanbone, Dec 13, 2008.

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  1. beanbone

    beanbone New Member

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    Hi -

    I just got a Hearth Stone Heritage! That's the good news.

    My oil fired, steam furnace just cracked! That's the bad news.

    I want my wood stove to run most of the time, but I need a back-up heating source. Replacing my furnace is incredibly expensive ($8,000), gas is not available, and I have steam radiators.


    I have received some incredible advise on this great forum - So here's another question -

    What system should I install for a back-up to wood? Electric? Convert steam to hot water? Solar ? (I'm in the northeast).

    Thanks!

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  2. beau5278

    beau5278 Member

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    The cheapest to install would probably be electric,another thing with electric,if you install the strips that have thermostats on each strip,you can adjust temperature to suit individual rooms,the down side is,it's probably the most expensive to use.
  3. Slow1

    Slow1 Minister of Fire

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    How often and how do you expect to use this backup? For example, do you stay home all winter or do you tend to take trips (weekends or longer?) where you will need to have your backup keep your house warm enough to keep it from freezing? have to consider this when considering cost and reliability.

    I would not consider solar to be a good backup as it too will need a backup for poor collection periods so you will then have to pay for yet another system you don't plan/desire to actually use.

    Do you plan to 'die in your home' - i.e. are you ever going to sell your home before you die? If you do ever expect to sell your home consider if you are going to end up having to buy that oil boiler at that time anyway to be able to make buyers interested... if so, then may as well pay up now and keep it as your backup rather than wait until last minute and have to pay for something you will never actually use.

    I don't know about NY area, but up here in MA we have some pretty good programs available for replacing ancient heating systems with new 'energy star' systems. This includes a very low interest rate loan as well as rebates. Perhaps you can benefit from some program(s) like that in your area to get your system replaced? At least you have the benefit of having your stove to keep you warm so you have time to think about it and consider options rather than being in a panic and having to take whatever anyone can get installed (at whatever price) today.
  4. pen

    pen There are some who call me...mod. Staff Member

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    ditto.

    While my furnace has fortunately (knocking on wood) not cracked yet, it is 45 years old and in the "could go at any time" stage of its elderly life.

    Since either my wife or I are home most of the time, wood is our primary heat. However, the oil is our back-up. But considering its age the the inevitebility of what will happen with the system, we have decided to switch to electric.

    This will be cheaper for the installation and allows the user to select room temp in individual rooms if desired and really becomes user programable.

    Also, even though fuel prices are down and electric prices seem expensive in comparison right now, electric has the best chance at staying stable in the future as it is made here at home.

    Personally, I am willing to pay a bit more to use supplemental heat that comes from the US and will most likely remain the most stable over the next 30+ years.

    pen
  5. beanbone

    beanbone New Member

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    Slow 1 -

    Thanks for the advice... My initial thought was electric. I've been told that steam systems are not only expensive to maintain, but they also take longer to heat up, so it might not be a good back up. I was hoping when I sell the place in 10 years to look into whatever alternative incentives that may augment my electric system.
  6. LeonMSPT

    LeonMSPT Minister of Fire

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    Just spent more than a boatload of money replacing a steam heating system with forced hot water, oil fired. I am more than satisfied with the outcome, especially since 25% of what I spent was invested in a wood/coal add on that now heats the entire three unit apartment building, domestic hot water (indirect water heater off oil boiler) and all.

    Wood/coal goes below 140 degrees, the oil burner comes on until it's back above 140 degrees or the demand is satisfied. Never really runs at all, even last week when it got down to zero, when the wood/coal boiler is going.

    Finding that coal hold a fire better and maintains the temperature more evenly than the wood does. If every zone in the building is calling for heat, the temperature will drop enough to trigger the combustion fan, but otherwise it simply keeps up. When the fan stops, the temperature just sits there.
  7. Hanko

    Hanko Minister of Fire

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    You know there are new tech electric base board heaters that have an oil or gel filled tube that are very efficient. I have them in my shop, and Ive installed them on two other jobs, and they work very well. There kinda of pricy, and your house needs to be tight with good windows.
  8. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Sorry Hanko, that's BS. All electric heaters are 100% efficient so if you spent extra for "new tech" then you were robbed.

    I also run a heritage and have electric backup heat. Mine are those electric wall heaters that were installed to replace baseboard resistance heaters at some point in the past. Each room has its own thermostat and I installed programmable thermostats in the kids' bedrooms so that they can get heat at night only if needed, the rest of the stats are set to 60. The non-ducted electric heat has been great. They are cheap to install, individual thermostats, no duct losses, and sit essentially flush with the wall so no tripping hazard. None of my heaters have run yet this year since I replaced windows and did a major insulation upgrade. If they run it is because they are needed and my power is only about 11 cents per KwH so no big deal. We all should have a backup heat source that is dependable, just in case we get hurt, sick, or need to leave the home.

    My state considers these heaters to be a "primary" heat source so you can get a mortgage. They don't always give a mortgage on a home with wood heat only.
  9. Hanko

    Hanko Minister of Fire

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    while all electric heaters are considered 100% efficient. The gel filled units have proven to maintain heat out put longer there fore reducing the amount of time in operation. So you have installed these units and find no difference than standard baseboard heater? I doubt it. I have. Why do think the high end boiler Mfg's (Tarm for one) recomend water storage. Same principal
  10. beanbone

    beanbone New Member

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    Pyro -

    It sounds like you have mini split ductless heat pumps. If so, I've heard that they're much more efficient then baseboard gel or traditional convection. Is this the case? If so, what brand do you have installed. I'm thinking I may go the heat pump way.
  11. colebrookman

    colebrookman Minister of Fire

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    We use a direct vent propane heater as back up. Just enough to keep the pipes from freezing. It also has a blower but it runs as well with a pilot light if the electricity goes off like the last 4 days. But we hardly ever use it; just a back up.
    Ed
  12. SteveT

    SteveT Feeling the Heat

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    I agree 100% with Slow1.

    My last electric bill was 21 cents per kilowatt hour. I believe that if I had electric heat and was trying to sell my house the value would be lessened by a small fortune so that the new owner could do the conversion. Unless you are near certain that this house won't be sold, and that you'll STAY committed to wood heat even if oil/gas prices continue lower, I'd put in a high efficiency replacement (gas, oil or multi-fuel) and take advantage of utility company, state and federal rebate programs.
  13. LeonMSPT

    LeonMSPT Minister of Fire

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    Haven't always been one, but I am now a physical therapist. Something that may not always occur to people is that they may not always be fit to maintain a solid fuel fire. Make sure if you get sick, have shoulder surgery, back surgery, or some other problem, that you have a way to be warm. ;)

    I've built fires, hauled wood and coal, and loaded stoves, for patients who didn't have anyone there. Someone was coming, but they'd have been froze before anyone got there.
  14. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Again, BS. You can't get something for nothing and are correct that all electric heaters are 100% efficient. You can fill your baseboard with gel or make it out of soapstone so that it has more thermal mass and will stay hot longer but you will NOT get any more heat out of the gel heater than you put in through the power meter. Think about what you're saying.... first is that all are 100% efficient and second that gel produces more energy than you put into it by magic!

    Boiler mfg's use water storage so that the boiler doesn't have to cycle as frequently. One long burn is more efficient than 5 short ones.

    ALL electric heaters give you the same amount of heat per KwH of electricity.
  15. Dune

    Dune Minister of Fire

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    I would install a new natural gas boiler and keep the steam heat. This is the most enviromentaly freindly system, which also holds good resale value. There is nothing wrong with steam heat by the way. The only way I would get rid of steam would be if I were switching to radiant floor heat. Most heating tech.s that don't like steam just don't know how to work on it.
  16. LeonMSPT

    LeonMSPT Minister of Fire

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    Just got rid of a dinosaur in my basement. It was a 200K Weil McLean steam boiler, installed sometime in the early 90's. Was getting smelly and smoke coming out of the seams in front of it. Had a heating contractor come see it, and he said, "Nice boiler in its day. I can fix it so it won't smoke and will work as well as it did when it was new. All you need is a new firebox and a tune-up. Going to likely burn as much oil as ever before."

    We discussed numerous options, and dad being a retired master plumber, master oil burner man... he advised maybe consider before putting too much money into it. Also limited to what I could do for alternative heat, as my other chimney was tied up with an oil fired hot water heater, that was installed about the same time the oil burner was.

    Long and short of it was, tore out the steam and put in forced hot water with baseboard radiation. Radiant heat in the floor not really an option in a 150 yr old farmhouse converted into a 3 unit apartment building. Contractor did some different things, that are working out well so far. Cut the house into the smallest zones possible and piped most of the radiation in 1/2 inch, with ten zones. Installed a 40 gallon indirect hot water heater, on the first zone off the header in 1 inch. Then we piped and set up the wood/coal boiler.

    The steam boiler used to run for ten to fifteen minutes before you got heat. There was one thermostat in the entire building, in my den. When I burned my fireplace insert, had to keep the door closed or freeze the rest of the building as it would never call for heat. The new boiler is a 180k, fired at 130k. Old boiler was hooked up with a smokepipe you could nearly put two of the present ones in. New boiler runs for five minutes... cold start so if no demand it only maintains 120 degrees for domestic hot water.

    Would have had major savings without the wood/coal burner. I didn't mind steam heat, if it's one thing it's HOT. I did mind paying to heat up a mile of steel pipe, and a header made out of 6 inch steel and a million pounds of cast iron radiators, before I could get heat. Not to mention, it takes as much heat to transition 212 degree water to steam as it does to heat it to 212 degrees from 32 degrees. Overall, not a tremendously efficient way to heat a home.

    In defense of it, had it been sized and zoned properly, it would have been more efficient. Would have cost as much to do that, as it did to replace it. So I replaced it.

    It's 45 degrees here tonight, coal fire's been burning since about 6:00 am... just added about ten pounds of coal to replace what idled and domestic hot watered away today. Cold front coming through now, so the demand will be coming.

    Spent alot of money, but feel like I got my monies worth. I'll burn a fraction of the oil I did for the last five years. Should have done this years ago.
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