Boiler advice

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
I had a guy come out to see my project and offer advice on certain aspects.

He’s now strongly advising me to cancel my order of a Switzer boiler based on a conversation he had with Gary and answers Gary gave him to some questions he had.

He seems to be concerned with the fact the boiler is made of carbon steel vs stainless. He also says it’s antiquated technology and that the diameter of the exit of boiler that hot water flows to is too small and that it’s not efficient at all to try and move that much water through a small opening.

Any thoughts?

I did look at Heatmaster and those are made of stainless - but don’t have the storage that Gary’s boiler has.
 

TCaldwell

Minister of Fire
What are this persons qualifications, the question about stainless is more of a concern for a smoke dragon without storage for the firebox area. The system is pressurized, closed so corrosion shouldn’t be a problem.
What size is the supply bung?
I’m sure Gary will provide third party references from actual users you could follow up with.
I know Gary personally, been to his shop and have had numerous discussions about his boilers, he’s a stand-up guy that backs his product, installs and doesn’t leave until your satisfied.
 

gfirkus

Member
Nov 28, 2014
58
central wisconsin
I had a guy come out to see my project and offer advice on certain aspects.

He’s now strongly advising me to cancel my order of a Switzer boiler based on a conversation he had with Gary and answers Gary gave him to some questions he had.

He seems to be concerned with the fact the boiler is made of carbon steel vs stainless. He also says it’s antiquated technology and that the diameter of the exit of boiler that hot water flows to is too small and that it’s not efficient at all to try and move that much water through a small opening.

Any thoughts?

I did look at Heatmaster and those are made of stainless - but don’t have the storage that Gary’s boiler has.
If this guy doesn’t own a Switzer himself, it’s all speculation on his part. How many bad reviews had you heard from owners. I absolutely love mine.
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
Thanks for responses, guys.

Agree with both of your comments -
I’ve spoken with Gary on multiple occasions and he is extremely knowledgeable and a super nice guy.

Have never read a bad review about a Switzer.

This guy that was over there is an engineer and his main concern was the diameter of the supply. I want to say it’s 1 1/4” - I’ll confirm.
 

gfirkus

Member
Nov 28, 2014
58
central wisconsin
Thanks for responses, guys.

Agree with both of your comments -
I’ve spoken with Gary on multiple occasions and he is extremely knowledgeable and a super nice guy.

Have never read a bad review about a Switzer.

This guy that was over there is an engineer and his main concern was the diameter of the supply. I want to say it’s 1 1/4” - I’ll confirm.
I am using 1” pex for supply and return. I haven’t had any issues.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
4,712
Northern NH
I have welded steel water tube boiler that I got used. I have 20 years on it and it was burned hard by the first owner. I also work on large industrial boilers for a living on occasion and many are over 50 years old. I do not know the Switzer but with proper design a welded steel boiler should not be concern. Stainless can also last if designed correctly but there are some poorly designed stainless boilers that were crap over the years. It all comes down to the designer and fabricator who built it.
 
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Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
The gentleman referenced in the original post just wrote me an email , and these are his words:

A gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds. That boiler, full of water, would weigh 14, 577 pounds, or roughly 7.25 tons. Plus of course all the rest of it,which I would guess weights what, about a ton?

The interesting fact is that it also takes 8.33 BTU to raise the temperature of water 1 degree Fahrenheit. He stated that his boiler runs at 180-200f. So you would be using 245,000 BTU just to get it up to temperature. Unless you super-insulated that whole boiler, you would be using almost all your energy just to maintain that water at that temp. And that doesn't include the water in the system itself, meaning the hydronic portions, which would be tiny by comparison.

But compare that to a typical modern boiler than has about 2 gallons of water in it. I'm agonizing over whether or not I need my 80 gallon tank in my system. I want to sell it, but then I think it would be really handy to install some solar hot water heating panels. I've wanted to try that for years, and I have all the stuff on the shelf except for the glass. But my tank is highly insulated, and is not much bigger than a water heater.

Conclusion: the wood fired boiler from Gary is a massively inefficient system. Wood has high BTU value, but look at all the labor and other inputs that go into it. Don't get caught up in his terminology that it is a "gasifier" All wood burners are gasifiers. Wood burns by giving off combustible gases. The gas ignites, not the wood itself. You are converting one form of stored energy to a second medium....gas...and then igniting it. That is why a flame appears to be dancing above the wood. Because it is. Sounds like great advertising copy though.
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
I too am an engineer and your friend sounds like many of us do fresh out of school. He may not be wrong about his various pieces of book knowledge but his conclusions demonstrate inexperience in this area.
That’s what I’m gathering; thank you for confirming.

When he was at the project he was talking way above my level of comprehension on numerous topics - but I suspected he was most likely wrong about the wood boiler not being a viable option for my overall goals.
 
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Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
16,366
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
That’s what I’m gathering; thank you for confirming.

When he was at the project he was talking way above my level of comprehension on numerous topics - but I suspected he was most likely wrong about the wood boiler not being a viable option for my overall goals.
On behalf of all engineers I’m sorry. We do that for a couple of reasons. Trying to impress someone so that he thinks we’re smart enough to trust, or an actual smart engineer that fails to “know his audience” and assumes you also are an expert. I’m sure he means well.

This is a major purchase and very few people have experience in residential wood boiler design and use.
 
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gfirkus

Member
Nov 28, 2014
58
central wisconsin
There are many interesting facts in his statement. I am a simple man and know that today I used 1 -1/2 wheelbarrows of bass wood (my summer wood) that raised 1400 gallons of water from 118 to 178 . This will cover my family of 5 for about 6 days hot water use. The boiler is insulated with what Gary includes and nothing more.
 

E Yoder

Feeling the Heat
Jan 27, 2017
320
Floyd, VA
If it's insulated well, where does he think the heat is going? Heat has to go somewhere, it doesn't disappear.
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
If it's insulated well, where does he think the heat is going? Heat has to go somewhere, it doesn't disappear.

Any comments on the following:

1. I'm sure Gary's boiler works fine. Yes, once the oxygen is out of the system, it is not an issue. But, if you put in another backup boiler, you will get metal contamination from the carbon steel into your other unit, and they have very small orifices, and even the fire tube designs have issues with this. Like HTP, Triangle Tube, etc. That is what kills boilers over time. Send them to any early grave. Then you get to buy another. If you do that, you should put a water to water heat exchange between the two systems so the propane boiler is isolated. Extra cost. And, you should do robust filtering on the line between them. I am just getting ready to do that on mine, just to filter the incoming water.


2. Yes, you can pump out of a 1.25" pipe, and it will work. The problem you have, whether you know it or not, is that you are reading reviews from other people who are happy with their systems, and you know ZERO about their bills, and costs. What you have Dan, is a situation where you have decided to heat with wood, and you are trying to justify it. Pure and simple. And that is your prerogative. But you are unaware of the math involved, You need to educate yourself as to what you are getting into.

Typical boilers for home use use 1.25" out of the boiler, because the actual heat load are not that big. There is a direct correlation between pipe size, and heat transfer rate, and also feet per second of pumping rate. Gary's boiler is at one end of the extreme, and a wall hung Triangle Tube at the other end. Gary is aiming at high mass, super high storage btu, and very high temperatures. If you want to heat with wood, then you are doing everything else wrong in your design. The floor system you want, concrete with tubing is a low temperature high mass system. If you put HOT water into it you will have to open every window in the house all winter long, or shut it off for long stretches. OR, you will have to use a very large mixing valve, and mix the hot water with cold water to temper it. You can put 180 degree water into concrete, but over time, it will destroy the wood floor. They are not to have over 130 degree water. So why make 200 degree water?

Also, everyone now tries to run low temperature water because it is much more even heat, the boiler is more efficient, and because it can be controlled more closely. Google the Heating Wall, and look at the post by SW18X called "Pipe ID and flow/btus." It is right on the money for your situation. Read Hotrods comments. He is the guy at Caleffi. One of the top guys anywhere.

If you put in Gary's boiler, have it built with 2" NPT fittings, and run the largest pipe size you can over to your delivery system, or likely to your SuperStore tanks I think you need. If you use the water right off the huge boiler, you have to temper it period. I happen to have such a valve sitting on my shelf, Tekmar, with automatic 3 and 4 way computer controlled actuators. They are worth thousands of dollars, but tell your plumber about me, because he will want to buy them. I have a 2" and a 1.5" The 1.5 has never been used. They last forever. I can save you about $1500 on that alone. If you don't do this, and run even 1.25" pipe, you can transfer a lot of heat at high temperatures, of course, but you don't need high temperatures! So you have the added resistance to flow compared to larger pie like 2", and you have to pump cold water too. If you read that listing I told you to look up, just look at the difference, for example, between 3/4" and 1". It is huge. You do NOT want to pump at high rates. It make s a lot of noise, cost a lot of electricity. If you run big pipe, you can run a much smaller pump. I have a whole bunch of these pumps sitting around, by the way. I've been donating them to my local Masonic Temple, so they can use them to heat 40,000 sf buildings.

Your plan, as described to me, was to put in wood, and put in a backup boiler. To make sense of this, you MUST understand that they are diametrically opposed to each other, if one of them is low temp hydronic. If you go with Gary, it might actually make more sense to just go with old fashioned cast iron radiators, or modern wall hung radiators. But, at those temps, they get hot enough to burn kids. At our giant Victorian, we pumped 150 degree water into our cast iron radiators, 110 into our underfloor aluminum panels, and 90 into our concrete slabs. In my home now, I'm going to use 123-130 into my wall hung radiators, and about 80-90 into slabs. What will you need with 180-200 degree water in the Gary boiler?

If you are dead set on that, get the smallest one he makes, and get yourself several of the Superstore insulated storage tanks instead. Like 4-6 of them. They come with 2.5 inch fittings, which should tell you something about Gary's design. You will be way ahead in the game. Put them in some place convenient to your distribution system, and run the largest diameter pipe you can from the wood one to those storage units. And then get yourself some Caleffi or Uponor manifolds like the one I showed you. Or, find a UL approved wood fired boiler that is much smaller and can be indoors.

Do you know what this makes me think of, because we both like old cars? Look at the motor in you Mopar, or the one in my AMX. Heavy cast iron. Horrible gas mileage. Powerful by the standards of those days. But, by today's standards, they are boat anchors. Any small, aluminum block today, with a turbo can run circles around ours, and get 18-30 mpg while doing it. My 63 Vettes got like 13, I just looked at 4 AMG's the solar guy owns that are all around 650-775 hp and they get like 24 mpg, and are 0-60 in 2.7 seconds. Top speed probably pushing 200. I love old cars, but even a 4 cylinder can outrun either of ours now. Gary's boiler is vintage iron. The wall hung boilers are modern.

Dan, you are trying to make a decision that is going to have repercussions for ever. First, you don't even need a wood fired system, you want one. Okay, that is fair. But, if you do so, and also plan to put in a back up, they have to work together, or the whole system combined will be a giant cluster-f--k. And it will cost a fortune to run. I don't see how heating with wood will ever pay for itself. You have to pay interest on that money to your Dad, spend a ton of money doing it. It makes sense to use your 2 wood heaters in your fireplace, because they can keep your house warm, and can be run as much as you need to. You commented that they heat you out of the house really quickly. The system you are thinking of buying is a giant unit designed to sit far away, and heat up millions of BTU of water, but distribute it though a system designed for the opposite. Invest that money instead. Or, use it to put in a PV system, and at least generate your own electricity. Those do pay for themselves.

My final line: you are asking the wrong people the wrong questions. Please read that thing on Heating Wall.

NB: The biggest mistake I ever made in heating was in putting in that 275 gallon tank in our basement, and using the 2 boilers to heat it up, and then run off that tank to heat the house. It sat there and just heated up, and cooled down It was a huge mistake. You are looking at a system that is about 6 times larger than that, and my house was almost 14,000 sf.

AT 200 degrees, that Gary boiler will store nearly 3 million BTUs, not including the thermal mass of the tank itself. If you go that route, I'd advise you to insulate the entire shell of the room it is going into to a high degree with rigid insulation. Then cover all that with some non flammable material like galvanized steel. If the boiler was inside, I'd fill the entire room with sand.

—————————

Thanks in advance
 

TCaldwell

Minister of Fire
There’s a lot of fake news above regarding biomass heating and the requirement for a 2 inch supply port for a residence. The poor 2 inch mix valve at the low flow rates would have no authority whatsoever.
 

TCaldwell

Minister of Fire
I think it would really help if this guy could see a gasification boiler with storage supplying a outdoor reset temp through a properly sized 3 way valve to a residential distribution system.
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
I appreciate the responses.

@Highbeam , any comments from an engineer’s perspective on this latest email?

My project includes approx 7600 sf of concrete floors with radiant hydronics.

1750 gal Switzer, and propane backup boiler. Mini splits for A/C and heat during mildly cold temps.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
16,366
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
I appreciate the responses.

@Highbeam , any comments from an engineer’s perspective on this latest email?

My project includes approx 7600 sf of concrete floors with radiant hydronics.

1750 gal Switzer, and propane backup boiler. Mini splits for A/C and heat during mildly cold temps.
I’m a licensed professional engineer but not a mechanical (heat/pumps) engineer so I must defer to these folks with more knowledge and experience.

I can see that while you may have decided to heat with wood and are trying make it work, your friend has decided against wood heat and is just poo pooing.
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,025
Nova Scotia
I also have an iron ring on my little finger, and am somewhat embarrassed after reading what you have posted. There is lots of ignorance on display there.
 

gfirkus

Member
Nov 28, 2014
58
central wisconsin
I would say he may be right with the pay off comment. I installed my boiler so I don’t have to rely on propane like 2014 (I think) when prices were at 5$ Gallon. At current prices I’m probably at 15 year payback ‍♂. I quite tracking costs half way thru install. I may have “underestimated “ cost. If I had to buy wood, I never would have done it.

I run a mixing valve on my 3/4” dhw line 2’ from heat exchanger exit on back of boiler. Supplies all the hot water we need. I also installed a mixing valve on the 1” pex supply line next to boiler. Line runs approximately 70’ to heat exchanger in furnace. I’m sure that really limits flow, but will give me good heat down to about 125 degrees or so. I also heat 1500 ft of slab in unfinished bsmt part of the winter. Works great. That runs through a second mixing valve to take 180 water down to 100 ish for slab.

What he doesn’t understand is storage. Last winter -30 to -40f nights , -5f day temps I made 1 fire a day. Spent a total of 15 min of my time to start and reload once and boiler ran for 5 hrs. Most winter days with high temp around 20f I will go 2 days between burns.

I think I’m done commenting on this thread. It seems this fella is one of those guys that is always right , even when he is wrong. If you have any other questions on my system, feel free to message me.
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
I also have an iron ring on my little finger, and am somewhat embarrassed after reading what you have posted. There is lots of ignorance on display there.
I wish I had the knowledge / experience that would enable me to filter the info I receive, myself. I grew up throwing logs into my Dad’s wood burning stove ; this wood boiler / hydronic application is completely new to me.

I knew I’d be able to QC the information on this site, however. A lot of knowledgeable people here, and I always find valuable help when I have questions.

Thanks again
 

Sukhoi29SU

New Member
Nov 20, 2017
48
South Beloit, IL
I would say he may be right with the pay off comment. I installed my boiler so I don’t have to rely on propane like 2014 (I think) when prices were at 5$ Gallon. At current prices I’m probably at 15 year payback ‍♂. I quite tracking costs half way thru install. I may have “underestimated “ cost. If I had to buy wood, I never would have done it.

I run a mixing valve on my 3/4” dhw line 2’ from heat exchanger exit on back of boiler. Supplies all the hot water we need. I also installed a mixing valve on the 1” pex supply line next to boiler. Line runs approximately 70’ to heat exchanger in furnace. I’m sure that really limits flow, but will give me good heat down to about 125 degrees or so. I also heat 1500 ft of slab in unfinished bsmt part of the winter. Works great. That runs through a second mixing valve to take 180 water down to 100 ish for slab.

What he doesn’t understand is storage. Last winter -30 to -40f nights , -5f day temps I made 1 fire a day. Spent a total of 15 min of my time to start and reload once and boiler ran for 5 hrs. Most winter days with high temp around 20f I will go 2 days between burns.

I think I’m done commenting on this thread. It seems this fella is one of those guys that is always right , even when he is wrong. If you have any other questions on my system, feel free to message me.
It’s not all about cost / payback to me, either.

I have good memories of my Dad and I collecting firewood. Not only was it good bonding time with my Dad, but it also taught me a good lesson in work ethic, and being rewarded for hard work. I want the same for my son. Too many kids these days don’t get that.

It also keeps me active, and is a good source of exercise. It’s a lifestyle choice- for numerous reasons.

I’m sticking with my plan to use Gary’s boiler. I appreciate the details about your system. This guy’s engineering talk and confidence in what he was saying was at least enough to make me want to ask questions here. It is a significant investment and although I know I want to burn with wood - I did want to make sure this was a viable option for my application / plan.
 

TCaldwell

Minister of Fire
Wood is definitely a lifestyle, and if your comfortable with that, your half way there.
If Gary is doing the install, you’ll gain pertinent knowledge specific to your system that should give the needed reassurance.
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,025
Nova Scotia
I wish I had the knowledge / experience that would enable me to filter the info I receive, myself. I grew up throwing logs into my Dad’s wood burning stove ; this wood boiler / hydronic application is completely new to me.

I knew I’d be able to QC the information on this site, however. A lot of knowledgeable people here, and I always find valuable help when I have questions.

Thanks again
Don't get caught up in his terminology that it is a "gasifier" All wood burners are gasifiers.

There is so much that is off-base in what was posted up above - I don't have the time or patience to go through it again. But the bold above shows he knows very little about modern wood burning/heating, or wood burning in general. I hope he doesn't talk that far outside his knowledge in his day job.

I have no experience with Switzer, but I have read only good things about them. From people who actually own & operate them. That is not to say that one is for you - you would need to assess fully whether it fits your needs, desires, situation & system. Example - there will be some heat loss from it no matter how well it is insulated. So personally, I would not put one in an otherwise unheated space or in a space where standby heat loss wouldn't be utilized somehow.

(BTW - 'Hotrod' that he mentions above is also a valued forum member here.)