Bring back or replace?

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Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
Hi there, new to this forum and newer to wood boilers. We have lived in our home for 3 years, bought it from the original owner who built it in 92. The Heat is hydronic baseboard, 4 zones/circulators, and a slant fin oil boiler as well as a burnham wood/coal boiler (model sfb-101). I work away quite a bit so our go to has been the heating oil for our heat. Overall its been fantastic aside from new relays and an aquastat, but i may be moving up and will be working out of the office vs in the field. Ive been thinking with prices i may start using the wood boiler, but it hasnt been run in over 7 years based on the previous owner which he used it full time until the old age kept him from doing so. He has since passed away, and i am clueless with this unit. Its not something im doing right away, but something i want to maybe get going next winter when i settle in to my job. I posted a few pictures, but looks like the damper is shot, the latch for the handle is broke, the chain in the front is not hooked up and itll probably need a new vent/gauge. Any idea where to start? Or look into? My only other option is possibly just replacing it with a newer indoor unit that is approved and possibly a gassification setup. They are both in the lower unfinished basement, there is plenty of room, piping is there and no holding tank. Any opinions are appreciated on opinions of where to start and or repalcement options

Edit: on a side note, the house is 2800 sq feet and insulated well

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Last edited:

salecker

Minister of Fire
Aug 22, 2010
1,795
Northern Canada
By the looks of it you are not starting with an efficient wood burner
It would get you some experience burning wood,most of the experience will be cutting and feeding it,remeber to use dry wood .
It looks like it is ready to go and probably worked OK for the previous owner.
 
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hedge wood

Feeling the Heat
Mar 1, 2009
300
Eastern NE
I am in the camp of do a little fixing and get what you have going and see if you like cutting wood. I would only burn it with dry wood. Cutting wood is a life style and before you spend ten to thirty thousand on a new system you better be sure your ready to burn wood for the long haul.
 
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mike van

Feeling the Heat
Apr 24, 2013
369
Kent Ct
That wood unit looks a lot like the Harman SF260 I ran here for about 15 years - I still hold the unofficial record in Kent for unreported responded to chimney fires. The trouble with those thermostat controlled units, is when the water temp gets to a certain point, the damper door closes. The fire sits there and smolders, until the temp goes down, then the door opens, and smoke, smoke, smoke - and on & on - 'till its runs out of wood. I could fill the valley here on some days. Never again. If I was you, the only money i'd spend on that unit would be removing it. Just my 2 cents.
 

Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
By the looks of it you are not starting with an efficient wood burner
It would get you some experience burning wood,most of the experience will be cutting and feeding it,remeber to use dry wood .
It looks like it is ready to go and probably worked OK for the previous owner.
Yes sir, we have a good size wood shed that was built thankfully, along with storage under the back deck and a ramp to this boiler room. We have wood from last year that will be ready as well and i cut once in a while leftover from my mill setup. I know this is far from efficient with its age, just not sure its worth saving and trying to get going again, or bite the bullet and look into a newer unit
 

Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
I am in the camp of do a little fixing and get what you have going and see if you like cutting wood. I would only burn it with dry wood. Cutting wood is a life style and before you spend ten to thirty thousand on a new system you better be sure your ready to burn wood for the long haul.
Yepp we have some seasoning now, lots of room, im just co sidering since oil prices have shot up. I have a setup now to cut wood and plenty of storage. This unit has me clueless with thermostat controlled setup or if i ahould move on to a newer one
 

Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
That wood unit looks a lot like the Harman SF260 I ran here for about 15 years - I still hold the unofficial record in Kent for unreported responded to chimney fires. The trouble with those thermostat controlled units, is when the water temp gets to a certain point, the damper door closes. The fire sits there and smolders, until the temp goes down, then the door opens, and smoke, smoke, smoke - and on & on - 'till its runs out of wood. I could fill the valley here on some days. Never again. If I was you, the only money i'd spend on that unit would be removing it. Just my 2 cents.
Thanks mike, yea i am clueless like i said on these. I grew up with normal wood stoves but never a boiler. Heck it might work but again im not sure with teying to find parts or puttibg more money if itd he worth it or just look for a newer indoor unit thatd be more efficient
 

mike van

Feeling the Heat
Apr 24, 2013
369
Kent Ct
Also, the soot all up the front of the unit tells me it didn't draw well, chimney maybe full of creosote? Mine sure used to be. Filling the basement / house with smoke every time you open the door won't win you any points. If you decide to put a different unit there, is it easy to get wood to it? Or do you have to wheelbarrow it? Been there, done that too.
 

bigealta

Minister of Fire
May 22, 2010
706
Utah, NJ
Most of "the pleasure" of burning wood is being able to see and feel the fire and heat from your burning device. I'de opt for a woodsove somewhere in your living area. It's a no brainer if you have or can make a good spot for one.
 
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Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
Also, the soot all up the front of the unit tells me it didn't draw well, chimney maybe full of creosote? Mine sure used to be. Filling the basement / house with smoke every time you open the door won't win you any points. If you decide to put a different unit there, is it easy to get wood to it? Or do you have to wheelbarrow it? Been there, done that too.
Actually had all three checked with a camera. Surprisling enough it was super clean, but no cap. We have a full size door that is in the room and there is a concrete ramp up to the ground level so that is a huge plus.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,200
Northern NH
I have its twin, its a Burham SFB wood/coal boiler. I live in far colder area in Northern NH near the Canadian border and Berlin NH which frequently sets low temp records in New England. If you get down on the floor and look up at the grate through the ash pit, it should have a coal grate and a rotary shaker. I got mine used and this assembly came in several damaged pieces. IMHO, it was really a coal boiler design converted for wood.

A friend welded up a fixed grate and that is how I use it. (I just burned the grate out after close to 20 years) Mine was poorly installed in its original home (I got it for free). I started from scratch and redid the controls but the originals are pretty simple. I think I have a copy of a manual for it or at least for a similar boiler. I cannot see the left side in your photos. There should be a second relief valve set at 12 psi that dumps water in the firebox if the mechanical safeties do not work. IMO it is a "tank" vastly overbuilt but as noted, it is not a super-efficient design.

The odd thing is mine had a similar sooted out front panel above the loading door. Its flue was reduced down from 8" to 6" and then into a wye fitting with an oil burner vent on a short stack so it had draft issues. Mine did not have a barometric damper and I would consider removing it from yours if it has draft issues. Alternatively, you could cover it tightly with foil and see how it runs once you get it hooked up. I ended up taking the front panel off, givint it light sand and sprayed it with similar blue color. I have a bit of soot stain but nothing like it was. My temp pressure gauge was slightly melted but still works.

The bad news is without thermal storage it can be a "smoke dragon" and creosote producer, very similar to an outdoor wood boiler. If you look inside at the top of the fire box there should be 4 steel baffles diverting flames towards the front of the firebox. I do not know what Burnham made them out of but standard steel plate only lasts 3 or 4 weeks in heavy heating season before they droop down and fall out. I just pull them out and bend them back until they get too thin. I get a batch made up at local steel supply place every couple of years. I think a lot of folks removed them. They improve efficiency. When I first got it, I hooked it through the oil boiler and locked out the oil burner gun while using the oil boiler controls to run the zones. I only used it in very cold weather or when I was away for the weekend with the temperature set back to warm the place up.

The fundamental problem with this design (there were several different suppliers of simialr equipment) is when run on wood, it is set up to burn full bore or nothing. As long as you are pulling the heat away from it, its fine but once you stop pulling heat away, it quickly heats up and shuts the air damper down. The aquastat on the left is the control for the motorized air damper on the left. The chain is hooked to the lower air damper door. The lower damper door is not air tight and there is the hole in it so it does not go out but it does smoulder and puts out a dark plume of CO containing gases and potentially creosote up the stack. Once there is a call for heat the damper opens back up again. If the air damper closing does not work, the aquastat on the right opens a overheat valve that either goes to a dedicated dump loop or radiator or it bypasses any zone valves and goes to one of the house loops. If that does not work (usually because someone is running it with the lower ash pit door open bypassing the air damper control), then the 12 psi safety relief valve opens and sprays water on the fire to put it out (and makes a mess) and then finally a standard 15 psi pressure relief valve will dump to the floor. BTW because its a bottom grate design you can get away with running less than perfectly seasoned wood. Since it runs hot, the creosote usually stays hot enough to make it out the stack before condensing That means a lot of heat is running up the stack but that is the trade off.

I do not see an expansion tank, the boiler holds a lot of water and a typical household tank is too small. I have two standard sized tanks but a jumbo tank is better. If you do not have enough expansion volume the water will find a way of leaking out, usually via a relief valve but sometimes a pump gasket.

So for a couple of years I used it without storage on weekends and cold evenings. I cut my oil use compated to my prior Fisher with far better heat distribution but it was too much hassle for most folks. I still was using oil at that point. After 3 years, I installed storage and stopped using oil entirely. I have 500 gallons of storage in an American Solar Technics vented versus pressurized tank. There are pros and cons to the two types of tanks but in my case I could not get a 500 gallon propane tank in my basement while I could easily assemble an AST tank. The AST tanks are rectangular versus round so they take up less room. There are rumors that the owner of AST is selling out, he is member of Hearth.com but drop him an email at his website to get the story. Tarm in Lyme NH also sells various tanks. I have not really used oil for 6 years. I just heat up the tank for about 1 to 2 hours at night and then run the heat for the house off the tank. Ideally, I wish I had bigger tank as in cold weather it means an evening burn and a morning burn. I have about 1500 square feet of heating space (a floor and half) and use 3 1/2 to 4 cords a year (my house is tighter than most). I heat my hot water via am Amtrol hot water maker to about 180 degrees and that carry's me for a couple of days. I have solar hot water for 9 months a year so I only need to heat hot water when running the boiler. Note I also have slant fin, if I went with low temp emitters in place of the slant fin, I could run my storage down to much lowet temp which would effectively raise the storage tank BTU capacity but its not worth it as my wood is for free.

BTW, the original design was that the circulator pump ran 24/7 as long as the boiler had power, if it was not piped correctly this could cool down the oil boiler and cause it to run. I added an aquastat on the pump so that it does not run until the wood boiler is140 F. It also is tied to my oil boiler burner gun so the oil boiler will not run if the wood boiler is hot. I have complex relay based control system I designed from scratch to coordinate heating up the storage tank and making sure I do not overheat it. It also runs the heating system to pull heat out of the storage tank and use the existing Tstats and zone pumps to distribute the heat. The tricky part is if I turn the power off the wood boiler, everything automatically reverts to the oil system so that if a tech ever need to get the heating system running the wood system is completely transparent.

A flaw with the design is the overheat valve and circuit requires power to open which is useless in a power outage. The air damper will still close and the relief valves will still lift but modern designs have a valve that is normally open and held closed when the power is on. The stock Honeywell valve could be swapped with fail open valve and a relay.

So you have good start but to do it right with storage makes it better and then you can keep an eye out for a good deal on a gasifier to gain efficiency. If you can get it up and running and you are willing to be a "boiler slave" you can save some oil in colder weather.

I just picked up a Tarm solo 40 gasifier. It is larger heat output, I could replace the Burnham but odds are the Tarm will go in a new house.
 
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Jbdpayne

New Member
Jan 31, 2022
16
Midway, PA
How far away is that wood shed?
Id say about 75 feet. We have a sunroom with a sistern under it on the other side of the wall. Its uninsulated, so if i were to plumb, id have to run out the back near the back door, and try to avoid the septic tank and straight shot it to the shed
I have its twin, its a Burham SFB wood/coal boiler. I live in far colder area in Northern NH near the Canadian border and Berlin NH which frequently sets low temp records in New England. If you get down on the floor and look up at the grate through the ash pit, it should have a coal grate and a rotary shaker. I got mine used and this assembly came in several damaged pieces. IMHO, it was really a coal boiler design converted for wood.

A friend welded up a fixed grate and that is how I use it. (I just burned the grate out after close to 20 years) Mine was poorly installed in its original home (I got it for free). I started from scratch and redid the controls but the originals are pretty simple. I think I have a copy of a manual for it or at least for a similar boiler. I cannot see the left side in your photos. There should be a second relief valve set at 12 psi that dumps water in the firebox if the mechanical safeties do not work. IMO it is a "tank" vastly overbuilt but as noted, it is not a super-efficient design.

The odd thing is mine had a similar sooted out front panel above the loading door. Its flue was reduced down from 8" to 6" and then into a wye fitting with an oil burner vent on a short stack so it had draft issues. Mine did not have a barometric damper and I would consider removing it from yours if it has draft issues. Alternatively, you could cover it tightly with foil and see how it runs once you get it hooked up. I ended up taking the front panel off, givint it light sand and sprayed it with similar blue color. I have a bit of soot stain but nothing like it was. My temp pressure gauge was slightly melted but still works.

The bad news is without thermal storage it can be a "smoke dragon" and creosote producer, very similar to an outdoor wood boiler. If you look inside at the top of the fire box there should be 4 steel baffles diverting flames towards the front of the firebox. I do not know what Burnham made them out of but standard steel plate only lasts 3 or 4 weeks in heavy heating season before they droop down and fall out. I just pull them out and bend them back until they get too thin. I get a batch made up at local steel supply place every couple of years. I think a lot of folks removed them. They improve efficiency. When I first got it, I hooked it through the oil boiler and locked out the oil burner gun while using the oil boiler controls to run the zones. I only used it in very cold weather or when I was away for the weekend with the temperature set back to warm the place up.

The fundamental problem with this design (there were several different suppliers of simialr equipment) is when run on wood, it is set up to burn full bore or nothing. As long as you are pulling the heat away from it, its fine but once you stop pulling heat away, it quickly heats up and shuts the air damper down. The aquastat on the left is the control for the motorized air damper on the left. The chain is hooked to the lower air damper door. The lower damper door is not air tight and there is the hole in it so it does not go out but it does smoulder and puts out a dark plume of CO containing gases and potentially creosote up the stack. Once there is a call for heat the damper opens back up again. If the air damper closing does not work, the aquastat on the right opens a overheat valve that either goes to a dedicated dump loop or radiator or it bypasses any zone valves and goes to one of the house loops. If that does not work (usually because someone is running it with the lower ash pit door open bypassing the air damper control), then the 12 psi safety relief valve opens and sprays water on the fire to put it out (and makes a mess) and then finally a standard 15 psi pressure relief valve will dump to the floor. BTW because its a bottom grate design you can get away with running less than perfectly seasoned wood. Since it runs hot, the creosote usually stays hot enough to make it out the stack before condensing That means a lot of heat is running up the stack but that is the trade off.

I do not see an expansion tank, the boiler holds a lot of water and a typical household tank is too small. I have two standard sized tanks but a jumbo tank is better. If you do not have enough expansion volume the water will find a way of leaking out, usually via a relief valve but sometimes a pump gasket.

So for a couple of years I used it without storage on weekends and cold evenings. I cut my oil use compated to my prior Fisher with far better heat distribution but it was too much hassle for most folks. I still was using oil at that point. After 3 years, I installed storage and stopped using oil entirely. I have 500 gallons of storage in an American Solar Technics vented versus pressurized tank. There are pros and cons to the two types of tanks but in my case I could not get a 500 gallon propane tank in my basement while I could easily assemble an AST tank. The AST tanks are rectangular versus round so they take up less room. There are rumors that the owner of AST is selling out, he is member of Hearth.com but drop him an email at his website to get the story. Tarm in Lyme NH also sells various tanks. I have not really used oil for 6 years. I just heat up the tank for about 1 to 2 hours at night and then run the heat for the house off the tank. Ideally, I wish I had bigger tank as in cold weather it means an evening burn and a morning burn. I have about 1500 square feet of heating space (a floor and half) and use 3 1/2 to 4 cords a year (my house is tighter than most). I heat my hot water via am Amtrol hot water maker to about 180 degrees and that carry's me for a couple of days. I have solar hot water for 9 months a year so I only need to heat hot water when running the boiler. Note I also have slant fin, if I went with low temp emitters in place of the slant fin, I could run my storage down to much lowet temp which would effectively raise the storage tank BTU capacity but its not worth it as my wood is for free.

BTW, the original design was that the circulator pump ran 24/7 as long as the boiler had power, if it was not piped correctly this could cool down the oil boiler and cause it to run. I added an aquastat on the pump so that it does not run until the wood boiler is140 F. It also is tied to my oil boiler burner gun so the oil boiler will not run if the wood boiler is hot. I have complex relay based control system I designed from scratch to coordinate heating up the storage tank and making sure I do not overheat it. It also runs the heating system to pull heat out of the storage tank and use the existing Tstats and zone pumps to distribute the heat. The tricky part is if I turn the power off the wood boiler, everything automatically reverts to the oil system so that if a tech ever need to get the heating system running the wood system is completely transparent.

A flaw with the design is the overheat valve and circuit requires power to open which is useless in a power outage. The air damper will still close and the relief valves will still lift but modern designs have a valve that is normally open and held closed when the power is on. The stock Honeywell valve could be swapped with fail open valve and a relay.

So you have good start but to do it right with storage makes it better and then you can keep an eye out for a good deal on a gasifier to gain efficiency. If you can get it up and running and you are willing to be a "boiler slave" you can save some oil in colder weather.

I just picked up a Tarm solo 40 gasifier. It is larger heat output, I could replace the Burnham but odds are the Tarm will go in a new house.
Thank you for the info! Definitely a lot to take in, i do have the handle for the shakers, i know he used it up until about 5 years prior to us buying the home. Its definitely overbuilt and nothing i wamt my wife messing with. I found the manual online but it wasnt too in depth on a lot of it. We do have room in there, its mainly being used for some storage for tools at the moment, the ielings are about 9 feet high, but right around the corner there is about 10'x20' of space. He always used it for firewood storage along the wall
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,200
Northern NH
With storage, and adding a few temperature readouts, its not that hard to learn how to use it. Without storage it just requires a bit more watching than I care to do, it is not going to blow up but its just far less efficient and more potential for creosote.

With the AST tank, mine sits about 4'6" high. The top is not designed for anything to be put on it, but I built some removable shelves supported from the floor above with a gap between the top of the tank shelves. I store plastic tote bins full of kindling and construction materials above mine so its not all wasted space.