Calling all Pellet boiler owners, how’s it going?

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
38
New Hampshire
I’ve read a few different threads on here from 2012-2015, regarding pellet boilers.

Now that you’ve owned them for a good few years, what are your thoughts and recommendations?

Looks like my wife and I will be getting one for the new house. I’m trying to get some info from people besides the companies themselves.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
17,995
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
I’ve read a few different threads on here from 2012-2015, regarding pellet boilers.

Now that you’ve owned them for a good few years, what are your thoughts and recommendations?

Looks like my wife and I will be getting one for the new house. I’m trying to get some info from people besides the companies themselves.
Good idea. Would love to see more current info too.
 
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AndrewChurchill

Minister of Fire
Mar 31, 2008
686
Vermont
I have a Pellergy PB1525 with a 500 gallon storage tank. It's attached to my Buderus G215 boiler. I have it set up so I can switch between pellets and propane in less than 5 minutes.

It works well and I've used pellets for 4 out of the past 8 years. Burning propane this year since it's cheaper than pellets.

They no longer make that type of burner anymore since it emits too much particulate.
 
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faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
38
New Hampshire
I have a Pellergy PB1525 with a 500 gallon storage tank. It's attached to my Buderus G215 boiler. I have it set up so I can switch between pellets and propane in less than 5 minutes.

It works well and I've used pellets for 4 out of the past 8 years. Burning propane this year since it's cheaper than pellets.

They no longer make that type of burner anymore since it emits too much particulate.
Not that I don't believe you but it seems wild to me that propane is cheaper for you to burn this year. Average price is $2.90 per gallon in Nh, can't imagine it is too different in NH. Seems crazy to me, even with Propane prices being lower I was estimating saving $1500-$2000 a year on heating fuel switching from Propane to Pellets. House uses just a under 1500 gal of propane a year.
 

3fordasho

Minister of Fire
Jul 20, 2007
942
South Central Minnesota
Not that I don't believe you but it seems wild to me that propane is cheaper for you to burn this year. Average price is $2.90 per gallon in Nh, can't imagine it is too different in NH. Seems crazy to me, even with Propane prices being lower I was estimating saving $1500-$2000 a year on heating fuel switching from Propane to Pellets. House uses just a under 1500 gal of propane a year.
My summer propane fill was .89 or .94/gallon - of course it's usually cheaper here in the midwest but we did have that spike in 2014/15 where some were paying $3 to $4 a gallon. Pellets here are right at $4.99/40lb bag so that puts pellets at $20.67 per million btu and propane at $13.38 per million btu. In your area with $2.90/gallon propane you are at $41.27 per million btu.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,633
Northern NH
I dont own one. I do know MeSys had a early manufacturer that they imported that didnt work out. Way too much cleaning and service required,. They went with a more expensive import when the Northern Forest Initiative made pellet boilers practically free in Berlin NH a few years ago. I think MeSys did all the installs and do the deliveries. There was another firm in NorthConway that had a delivery truck several years ago.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
17,995
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
Looking at the epa list of approved pellet boilers for 2020 there are only a few brands and of those, some have horrible efficiency ratings.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
38
New Hampshire
Looking at the epa list of approved pellet boilers for 2020 there are only a few brands and of those, some have horrible efficiency ratings.
You’re definitely not wrong there. The contender from MEsys hits 77% and the Windhagen is even a bit lower than that at around 65% (not looking at exact numbers). Pretty wild that some are 50% and that’s considered efficient at all....


I'll add it's worth noting all these efficiencies were done without thermal storage. I've read positives and negatives on the topic but what's interesting is MEsys is the only company who really doesn't suggest thermal storage. The companies that do suggest thermal storage seem to be the ones with lower efficiency ratings which makes me wonder how all of that comes into play.
 
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AndrewChurchill

Minister of Fire
Mar 31, 2008
686
Vermont
I locked in at $1.60 per gallon in May.

The last time my PB-1525 was tested is was running at 83% efficiency which is pretty good considering the propane burner is running at 87% efficiency.

I actually have two of these units and I had one set up at an apartment building I own. The apartment didn't have storage and while it did heat the building and DHW it used more fuel than the house I live in.

The apartment is a 2400 sq/ft duplex and I would burn about 13 ton of pellets per year for heat and DHW. I live in a 2400 sq/ft house with a 864 sq/ft attached, heated garage with an apartment of the same size above it and I only use 11 ton of pellets for heat and DHW.

But at the house I have a 500 gallon storage tank. The tank on an average day needs to be charged 4 times a day and the burner runs for a little over 5 hours per day.

Up at the duplex the burner would fire on average 30 times a day. That puts a lot of strain on the igniter and I would have to change that at least once a year. The other issue up there was the boiler was small and I had to get clean it out every 10 days or it would plug up.

My summer propane fill was .89 or .94/gallon - of course it's usually cheaper here in the midwest but we did have that spike in 2014/15 where some were paying $3 to $4 a gallon. Pellets here are right at $4.99/40lb bag so that puts pellets at $20.67 per million btu and propane at $13.38 per million btu. In your area with $2.90/gallon propane you are at $41.27 per million btu.
 
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Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
This is my eighth heating season with a Harman PB105 pellet boiler in our old farm house. It has been our mainstay heat source during that time, with our Burnham oil boiler acting as backup. Over that time I have replaced one igniter and an auger motor; several cracked burnpots were replaced under warranty.
Other than that is has been pretty trouble-free. It takes four bags of pellets in the hopper, which it will consume in a day when it gets really cold. Today, breezy with the high temp around 40, it burned a little over two bags. Mediocre pellets are no problem, the Harman eats them all. Its pressure ignition system fires it up quickly and dependably.
Harman claimed the boiler is 85% efficient. I have no storage per se, although the water circulates through the oil boiler at all times, providing a heat sink of sorts.
Since the burn in a pellet unit is thermostatically controlled, a storage tank isn't necessary IMO.
BTW, I ran across a deal on pellets in my area, $204/ton.
 
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AndrewChurchill

Minister of Fire
Mar 31, 2008
686
Vermont
I installed a Harman PB105 in my previous house. Once I figured out a couple of minor issues it ran great. It's still there but since I sold the house in 2012 none of the new owners, now on the third one, have run it.

This is my eighth heating season with a Harman PB105 pellet boiler in our old farm house. It has been our mainstay heat source during that time, with our Burnham oil boiler acting as backup. Over that time I have replaced one igniter and an auger motor; several cracked burnpots were replaced under warranty.
Other than that is has been pretty trouble-free. It takes four bags of pellets in the hopper, which it will consume in a day when it gets really cold. Today, breezy with the high temp around 40, it burned a little over two bags. Mediocre pellets are no problem, the Harman eats them all. Its pressure ignition system fires it up quickly and dependably.
Harman claimed the boiler is 85% efficient. I have no storage per se, although the water circulates through the oil boiler at all times, providing a heat sink of sorts.
Since the burn in a pellet unit is thermostatically controlled, a storage tank isn't necessary IMO.
BTW, I ran across a deal on pellets in my area, $204/ton.
 

gthomas785

New Member
Feb 8, 2020
59
Central MA
My dad got the MeSys AutoPellet about 10 years ago. No storage. There was definitely a learning curve as far as maintenance especially since the local techs were on the same curve at the same time, but they were supportive and kept at it. I know he has had one draft inducer and one auger motor replaced under warranty. Now overall he is happy with it and glad to be done with oil heat.
 
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faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
38
New Hampshire
This is my eighth heating season with a Harman PB105 pellet boiler in our old farm house. It has been our mainstay heat source during that time, with our Burnham oil boiler acting as backup. Over that time I have replaced one igniter and an auger motor; several cracked burnpots were replaced under warranty.
Other than that is has been pretty trouble-free. It takes four bags of pellets in the hopper, which it will consume in a day when it gets really cold. Today, breezy with the high temp around 40, it burned a little over two bags. Mediocre pellets are no problem, the Harman eats them all. Its pressure ignition system fires it up quickly and dependably.
Harman claimed the boiler is 85% efficient. I have no storage per se, although the water circulates through the oil boiler at all times, providing a heat sink of sorts.
Since the burn in a pellet unit is thermostatically controlled, a storage tank isn't necessary IMO.
BTW, I ran across a deal on pellets in my area, $204/ton.
I installed a Harman PB105 in my previous house. Once I figured out a couple of minor issues it ran great. It's still there but since I sold the house in 2012 none of the new owners, now on the third one, have run it.
Unfortunately the Harmon units aren't EPA approved for 2020 so I wouldn't be able to get the state rebate :( I appreciate your feedback though, helps to get more information regarding efficiency of all units with or without thermal storage.


My dad got the MeSys AutoPellet about 10 years ago. No storage. There was definitely a learning curve as far as maintenance especially since the local techs were on the same curve at the same time, but they were supportive and kept at it. I know he has had one draft inducer and one auger motor replaced under warranty. Now overall he is happy with it and glad to be done with oil heat.
This is likely the system I will end up with as the support in this area is highest for the MEsys AutoPellet. Our school also uses them and I was able to see how they function first hand, and their units are probably 6-7 years old now.

Really appreciate all the information everyone is providing. Keep it coming if you got it!!
 

NHJoe

New Member
May 31, 2019
3
Littleton
I am starting on my second season heating with my Pinnacle PB150 pellet/corn boiler (manufactured in 2008). I purchased it on Craigslist to replace my Harmon SF260 wood/coal boiler. I burned coal in the Harmon and liked the heat and somewhat easy maintenance. I did not like getting rid of the annual ton of coal ashes. The Pinnacle like the Harmon is connected to the oil burner through which hot water is continually circulating. The PB150, like most or all of pellet boilers of this general design, is no longer made and it is not difficult to understand why this is the case. It does not have an igniter so it is designed to continually burn on either the burn or pilot cycle. There is no automatic ash removal so the fire pot requires a daily scoop out. It must be shut down and cleaned about every three to four weeks. The cleaning includes removing the ash from above the heat exchanger, brushing out the fourteen fire tubes, removing and cleaning the draft motor and fan, and finally removing the ash and soot from the fire pot and burn chamber. This pellet boiler is not for everyone. Being retired and having the inclination to do all this stuff - I really like burning my Pinnacle PB150. I especially enjoy my morning coffee in front of the stove. The initial learning curve was a bit frustrating but I had help from the Pinnacle Stove Sales people in Canada. Learning how to adjust the fan speed during the pilot cycle was the key for me. Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to reintroduce the Pinnacle PB150 pellet boiler.
 

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
While the Harman PB105 isn't as low-maintenance as some of the European boilers, it's not too bad. I clear off the heat exchanger tubes daily (there are external handles for this) and scrape the burnpot maybe every other day. The ash pan is huge and gets dumped only about three times a season. Since I burn the cheapest pellets I can find, I clean the combustion fan about every six weeks and clean the flue every couple months, usually with a leaf blower.
 

NHJoe

New Member
May 31, 2019
3
Littleton
I was seriously considering a Harman PB105 back when I was shopping for a used pellet boiler. There was one available locally. I read much of what was posted on this forum and decided that burn pot bubbles, ignitor issues, among other things, were more than I wanted to deal with. My decision was to go pellet boiler primitive with the Pinnacle PB150. It appears that the PB105 issues were solved and then Harman stopped making them (I can't remember if this was after Harman was sold). If I knew then what I know now, I would probably be using that PB105. But then what would I do with all my spare time?
 

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
Yeah, they finally ironed out the bugs and then gave the model the heave-ho. I recall talking to a guy who had an early version with the finned igniter and he never was able to get the unit to ignite reliably. The pressure igniter was a big improvement. Even the crummiest pellets need only about 90 seconds before they light.

I may be wrong but I think the pressure igniter may have led to the burnpots cracking. I know some owners have never had a problem with it. I think Harman replaced mine twice under warranty.

I'm not sure there ever was a significant market for pellet boilers in this country, where most homes are heated with forced air. A pellet furnace is a lot cheaper that a boiler, especially when you factor in the plumbing work. Europeans seem to prefer hydronic heat, as do I.
 

Marshy

Minister of Fire
Dec 29, 2016
824
NY
Wow, sounds like all of the pellet boilers are high maintenance compared to cord wood boilers. Yeah I know we have more prep work in making the cord wood but it would be interesting to compare the price point of BTU's if you purchased firewood vs purchased pellets...

Anyways, I am completely happy with my cordwood boiler made by Froling and would steer anyone towards their based on my experience with their cord wood boiler. Storage is a must though. Good luck.
 

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
No storage needed with a pellet boiler. Combustion is 100% controlled.

No need to hold fuel for years till it's dry enough to burn, either. I can pick up a ton of pellet fuel today and burn it tomorrow.

I see it as a matter of cost vs. convenience. I pay more per BTU for pellets than cordwood would cost, but I suspect it's not that much more if I'm buying good, low-moisture firewood. It's a whole other game if you're cutting your own firewood, then the wood boiler is the big winner. But then there are the hours spent harvesting, stacking, etc. BTDT.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
17,995
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
No storage needed with a pellet boiler. Combustion is 100% controlled.

No need to hold fuel for years till it's dry enough to burn, either. I can pick up a ton of pellet fuel today and burn it tomorrow.

I see it as a matter of cost vs. convenience. I pay more per BTU for pellets than cordwood would cost, but I suspect it's not that much more if I'm buying good, low-moisture firewood. It's a whole other game if you're cutting your own firewood, then the wood boiler is the big winner. But then there are the hours spent harvesting, stacking, etc. BTDT.
I see the logic but am mostly convinced by the first sentence. Controlled and variable combustion.

For beginners like me, this whole storage and heat exchangers and separate pumps and stratification and floor space complications of a cordwood boiler, not to mention the huge cost all in, make pellet boilers appear to be much more plug and play.

I just want to sent cold water to a thing and have hot water come back. I want that thing to burn some type of very cheap fuel.

If only there were more options.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
38
New Hampshire
Just got a quote for the Okofen pellet system about 5k cheaper than the first quote. Methinks the wife will like this new change as the price really ends up being around 2k more than a propane setup after all the rebates.

Very excited, I think this will sway the wife to pellets!
 

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
Pellet boilers and wood gasifiers seem to have one parallel -- the innovation comes from Europe. I have no personal experience with Okofen, Kedel or Windhager, but their designs seem focused on creating efficient units requiring minimal maintenance. I see that Okofen is using condensing designs, which should increase efficiency. Looking at the MeSys website, they appear to be using Okofen designs and a bottom pellet feed, which I like. Bottom feeds clear ash out of the burnpot without any additional mechanisms like agitators. My Harman has a bottom-feed burnpot. I wouldn't want a top feeder for serious heat output.

We used to have quite a few Windhager fans on the pellet forum, but I haven't heard much from them lately. The boilers were high tech, but IIRC they fed pellets from above.
 

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
311
Southeast Wisconsin
Another point I hadn't thought of up till now: Many Pellet heaters can be direct vented -- that is, you can stick the flue straight out of a vertical wall with no elevation necessary to create draft. My Harman is set up for direct venting, which leaves my chimney open for my old Burham oil boiler. I think the Windhager requires a vertical run in the flue. Not sure about the others.
 

Former Farmer

Minister of Fire
Apr 12, 2008
543
NE Wisconsin
I may be wrong but I think the pressure igniter may have led to the burnpots cracking. I know some owners have never had a problem with it. I think Harman replaced mine twice under warranty.
I still have the finned igniter. It has been reliable over the years, I only had to replace it once. I think I was up to four firepots being replaced under warranty because of the bubble, cracking issues.

I don't use it much now because of propane prices being a cheaper source of heat. I had my propane tanks filled for $.75 per gallon this summer and have enough for the entire heating season.

For a cost comparison, propane runs me $8.75 per Mbtu versus wood pellets at $210 per ton would be around $16 per Mbtu.

As far as storage for a pellet boiler, don't do it. I tried it with a 50 gallon water heater that I had and it ended up actually using more energy to keep the storage hot as well. A pellet boiler is a variable output heat source that can burn efficiently at different rates.