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What to consider when replacing wood furnace for new h eating system

Post in 'The Boiler Room - Wood Boilers and Furnaces' started by James Moses, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. James Moses

    James Moses New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2
    Good afternoon everyone,

    this is my first post but I have been a frequent lurker on this site the past few years. When It comes to heating I am a novice and would like some more seasoned advice as I am contemplating making a change as far as home heating goes.

    I live in a 100 year old large home (approx. 3000 sq. ft). The ceilings are 10 ft and there is a unfinished basement used only for our furnaces and electrical panel. We have insulated the upstairs by removing all the plaster and lathes and putting fiberglass insulation. I blew 8 inches of cellulose insulation into the attic and covered that with 12 inches of fiberglass for good measure.

    Down stairs we insulated partially with fiberglass in areas we totally remodeled and partially with cellulose blown in. There is probably two rooms that have still yet to be insulated. Also, all of our old windows were removed and vinyl inserts put in so we could maintain the old woodwork.

    Currently we heat with a wood furnace with oil backup that heats via forced air. I live in Nova Scotia Canada where winters aren't terribly cold, most often it doesn't get colder than -10 degree C. This heating season I only started burning my wood in early December (typically I was burning just about 10 cords per year) and I have been burning almost a cord of wood a week. Usually I would start burning in November and stop in mid to late April and only burn 10 cords.

    This isn't because I keep my house extremely warm either. Basically that is holding my house at between 68 and 72 degrees.

    I don't know what the issue is and at this point and am just about past caring. What I am wondering is if an indoor wood boiler would burn less wood than I am burning now. I don't even know the name of my current furnace (it was in the house when I bought it) but it isn't any kind of gasification system (which is what seems to be what I am looking for).

    What I would like is a system that could fit in my basement (but the ceilings are very low < 6') and that could operate via forced air to start with the intent to switch over to radiant heat in the future to save money. With quadruplet 3 year olds I am on a tight budget so cost is a factor, but I really want a system that will keep the place warm.

    What I am looking for is some input as to what the best brands are out there, how dependable they are, what costs look like for the units, whether they can be installed as a DIY or need to be done professionally, are there any that could fit in a basement less than 6' clearance.

    I am also looking at potentially working my way backwards and would like some input on that. What I mean by that is potentially starting with buying the radiators, moving on to the piping and installing that and last of all purchasing and installing the actual unit. That way the less expensive things would be addressed first and when I finally had the money for the unit it would just be a matter of installing that. Would that be a viable option or would it not work out. I also would like to know what type of pipes are used to deliver the heated water (is it just regular pex or something different).

    So I have lots of questions and have done research, but basically what i find is sites with a vested interest in making a certain product sound better than others rather than giving an honest opinion of it. I would like to hear from people who are actually using these brands and what they think and any advice to consider when looking at converting to one. Thanks in advance and sorry for all the questions, but I really don't know a lot about this type of thing.

    I also wouldn't be opposed to hearing other ideas I haven't considered either, so don't hold back.

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  2. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2010
    Messages:
    1,042
    Loc:
    Upstate NY
    Welcome to Hearth!

    I would figure out if something has happened as far as a gasket or air leak, or if you just have a different wood species that is causing your wood consumption to go up so much. Do you mean face cord of wood, or full cord? If you are burning a full cord per week, thats a problem....

    You can heat your house with the wood boiler if you add an additional hot water coil in the ductwork after your oil furnace. That way you still have backup oil, but can heat with wood when it suits you. Also, you can work on the radiators/radiant and other stuff while you are still saving money by heating with wood. Getting radiators first is a bad idea in my mind, since you will be paying for stuff that has no use yet. Buy things you can use right away, and add on as time and funding allow.

    Your self-install question depends on how handy you are. I paid to have mine put in because I knew it would take me too long to do on my own. Others here have done all of their own installation. So yes, its possible.

    The 6' question is probably boiler dependent. Some will fit in that limited space, others might not line up too well and maintain the clearances they need. There are a LOT of good boiler choices. You can look at Eko, Biomass, Econoburn, Tarm, Varmebaronen, Viagas, Effecta, Attack, Irleh, and Im sure there are more. They all have pros and cons, but they should all work. If you want one that is pretty minimal as far as tweaking, look for one with lambda controls. They are as close to push button heating as you can get with wood in my opinion (Note: I dont own a lambda boiler, but am happy with my choice).

    I see you didnt mention any storage. You can get away without it, as some users here have, but I would strongly suggest you add that as part of your system.

    The other thing is to get some wood split and stacked now. These boilers like DRY wood, so the sooner you can get the stacks seasoned, the better!
  3. James Moses

    James Moses New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2013
    Messages:
    2
    Thanks for your input, I appreciate it very much. I will answer your questions in case the answers give way to more subsequent questions. First, I mean a full cord (128 cubic feet) so there is definitely something going on with my furnace.

    As for the heat coil you mention, do you know roughly what something like that would cost? Perhaps that is the route to go first while saving money for a complete change-over. I could continue using the forced air until radiators and plumbing are installed.

    As for how handy I am, Iwould say I am pretty handy when it comes to certain things. I have built my own garage, built our cottage (all the plumbing, most of the electrical minus the entrance and all the carpentry etc) but I have never done anything furnace related. As far as doing the plumbing related to the furnace I imagine it is basically just running the water lines to the various areas of the house which would be easy, but when it comes to how it actually hooks up to the boiler it may be more than I can handle as I don't know what that actually involves.

    I should say also that I would like it to heat my domestic hot water as well. Do you need a special hot water tank in that case or would it just draw from your hot water storage (if you had storage...that is probably a dumb question, but I have no idea how this works).

    I should say also that I don't necessarily need it to go in my basement, I just wanted it to go there to avoid running underground lines. I have a lot of room in my garage that it could go. I am wondering also whether something actually has to be burried. I am sure some of the reason for burrying the lines is for the insulation that the ground provides, but if you had a crawl space could you run the lines in that and still insulate them sufficiently to keep from losing heat? That would be much easier but may not be a poosibility, I just wanted to make sure.

    Finally I am wondering how long wood should be seasoned for burning in one of these boilers? Currently I only season my wood for about 7 months with this furnace but right now am in the process of spliiting and stacking my wood for next year (so I should have about 10-12 months on that bunch). I have seen people say they like dry wood, but what would be the issues if it wasn't super dry? Also, as to storage that is something I would like to have but that seems like something I can add on after the fact. Is that indeed the case or do you have to do it all at once?

    Again, thanks so much for your input and any more you (or anyone else has) would be greatly appreciated.
  4. Clarkbug

    Clarkbug Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2010
    Messages:
    1,042
    Loc:
    Upstate NY
    Wow, if you are burning a full cord per week you have a serious issue going on. Something is waaay off.

    I dont know what a coil like that would cost, unfortunately. Im sure someone here knows, but Im not one of them.

    If you have built your house, you can install your own boiler. The finer points are things to ask here, and the forum can help you, but it sounds like you have the mechancs down just fine.

    It can heat your domestic hot water, and many people do. You can either install a side arm on your existing HW tank, or you can run an indirect hot water heater thats specifically made to heat your water (its a tank within a tank, or a tank with a coil in it). How do you heat it now?

    If you install it in your garage, you cant have it be your garage anymore. Fumes from vehicles and whatnot dont mix with a boiler well, so its usually against code. But, if your garage was insulated, or if you wanted to build a lean-to on the back of it to put the boiler in, it might work out as a good place to keep your firewood stored (I dont know how you do it now). You can put the lines in a crawl space just fine. You bury them for a few reasons, namely so they arent just on the ground, but yes, also to keep them insulated and from excessive heat loss. But no reason you couldnt just put them in a crawl space under the house.

    The wood seasoning question really depends on the wood. Standing dead ash you can burn in a few months sometimes, oak needs three years or more. The 7 months isnt enough time to get optimal performance out of your boiler (trust me, I know that one first hand). You would want to give it at least another year, if not two. If not super dry, it is just harder to maintain gasification, since a gasifier burns the smoke. Water doesnt burn, and its mixed in with the smoke, so it impedes the burn. Also, you have to use BTUs to get the water in the wood out, and thats BTUs that arent going into your house. So its takes more wood for the same heat.

    Having storage depends on your boiler. For my particular boiler, I had to install storage with it according to the manufacturer. Others (Woodgun, Econoburn, Eko, Tarm Solo) will let you get away without storage, but users here will tell you they are easier to live with usually if you add it in.

    Keep up asking questions, and you will get it all figured out!
  5. hobbyheater

    hobbyheater Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2011
    Messages:
    1,006
    BoilerBob likes this.
  6. BoilerBob

    BoilerBob Member

    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2011
    Messages:
    94
    Loc:
    SW Nova
    http://www.psg-distribution.com/index-en.aspx
    The psg line has local suppliers/installers in NS, and you hear good things on here about these furnaces.
    You would save lots of wood and hard work. I live in NS, and burn 5 to 6 cord, no oil. In an old non efficient boiler.
    And spend a lot less $$$ than changing the whole house to hot water heating.
  7. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2006
    Messages:
    1,865
    Loc:
    Ashland OH
    James, your home sounds like ours. 10' ceilings, mid 19th century but only 2400 sqft. I would guess your home is balloon framed, very hard to stop air infiltration. Have you investigated and airsealed the attic? When we bought our home and updated the furnace, we were having issues heating our home. I went into the attic and found 32 open cavities, all from interior walls. The heat was being funneled from the basement to the attic. I figured the total size of all the holes was equivilent to a 6' hole. After sealing these holes, we dropped probably 20% off our heating demand. There were fiberglass batts stuffed in the cavities and covered with cellulose. I ended up using sheetmetal and fireproof caulking to close the areas. We still have a couple of rooms to gut and insulate, our home is still on the drafty side.

    If your burning a cord a week, get an energy audit done with thermal imaging. Unfortunately fiberglass doesn't stop airflow, and I suspect that's what's causing your high heating demand. I would get this fixed before upgrading to a boiler or new furnace. I know your looking at possibly getting a boiler, but look at the Max Caddy from PSG. It's a large woodfurnace with a blower that modulates off of plenum temperatures. It's one of the largest clean burning furnaces on the market. There's also the optional hot water heater. Good luck with whatever you choose.

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