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

Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
315
Southeast Wisconsin
So you had burnpots crack with the finned igniter, FF. I recall there were boiler owners who said they never had one go bad.
Gotta say the pressure igniter is awesome. It lights pellets in a minute.

We're sticking with oil here, my wife hates the look of the propane tank in the yard. A pellet burning friend near me made the switch to LP but his spouse made him put the tank 100 feet from the house.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
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.
So would you also be implying indirect DHW off the pellet boiler is inefficient compared to say a heat pump setup that isn’t drawing right off the pellet boiler.
 

Former Farmer

Minister of Fire
Apr 12, 2008
557
NE Wisconsin
I remember the same thing with the burn pots. I guess I was not one of the lucky ones.

I have the LP tanks tucked behind some evergreens. You really don't know that they are there.

The water heater that I was referring to was connected strictly for storage purposes.

My system is a little different than most. I have a Lennox CompleteHeat system which is a LP fired 35 gallon water heater with extra plumbing connections for using the potable water through heat exchangers for infloor heat via a plate exchanger and forced hot air via a water to air exchanger. I added the pellet boiler to the entire system via a plate exchanger to heat the potable water in the CompleteHeat water heater.

I think that the boiler is a good means for DHW since you need to keep it warm already and you are going to have heat loses regardless of the heating method.

I hope that all of this makes sense.
 

Solarguy3500

New Member
Dec 3, 2020
32
Western MA
I replaced my old oil boiler in 2015 with an Okofen (Mesys) pellet boiler with thermal storage. MA had a rebate of $10,000 on pellet boilers at the time, and they upped it to $12,000 if you got storage with it, so I got the $12,000 rebate.

The nearest company that had a bulk pellet delivery truck was over 1.5 hours from me so they had to charge a delivery fee. I got a 7 ton pellet bin so that I would only need 1 fill per year to minimize delivery fees.

I also got a heat pump water heater for DHW because I was about to install solar PV panels and with the low cost of electricity with the solar, it didn't make sense to burn pellets all summer just to heat water. I really liked that setup a lot, and to make it even better, the state rolled out alternative energy credits about a year after I installed my boiler and made eligibility retroactive back to a date before my system was installed so I was able to get paid on the back end for heating with pellets as well as the up front rebate.

We sold the house in 2019 and I love my new house, but I do miss that pellet boiler. Sucks going back to oil after having gotten rid of it once.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
18,358
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
I replaced my old oil boiler in 2015 with an Okofen (Mesys) pellet boiler with thermal storage. MA had a rebate of $10,000 on pellet boilers at the time, and they upped it to $12,000 if you got storage with it, so I got the $12,000 rebate.

The nearest company that had a bulk pellet delivery truck was over 1.5 hours from me so they had to charge a delivery fee. I got a 7 ton pellet bin so that I would only need 1 fill per year to minimize delivery fees.

I also got a heat pump water heater for DHW because I was about to install solar PV panels and with the low cost of electricity with the solar, it didn't make sense to burn pellets all summer just to heat water. I really liked that setup a lot, and to make it even better, the state rolled out alternative energy credits about a year after I installed my boiler and made eligibility retroactive back to a date before my system was installed so I was able to get paid on the back end for heating with pellets as well as the up front rebate.

We sold the house in 2019 and I love my new house, but I do miss that pellet boiler. Sucks going back to oil after having gotten rid of it once.
12k rebate! How much do these things cost?
 

Solarguy3500

New Member
Dec 3, 2020
32
Western MA
12k rebate! How much do these things cost?
The total cost of the project including the heat pump water heater was around 25k, so the rebate paid almost half.

In MA there is a utility sponsored energy efficiency program called MassSave that has a 0% interest loan for efficiency upgrades, including heating system replacement, so after the $12k rebate, I was able to finance the remainder interest free.
 
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faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
Going to ask about igniter replacement cost today. That may help my decision.

I still keep going back and forth between heat Pump or indirect.

Indirect is almost 1k cheaper to install but keeps boiler running all year.

With the heat pump I’m concerned even next to the pellet boiler, there won’t be enough heat in the basement during the winter to be efficient. Which means it will use a good deal of electricity to heat the water which in sure is more expensive than just using pellet heat from the boiler.(hopefully that made sense)

My understanding is the heat pump hybrid will also have a longer recovery rate than the in direct.
 

Solarguy3500

New Member
Dec 3, 2020
32
Western MA
Going to ask about igniter replacement cost today. That may help my decision.

I still keep going back and forth between heat Pump or indirect.

Indirect is almost 1k cheaper to install but keeps boiler running all year.

With the heat pump I’m concerned even next to the pellet boiler, there won’t be enough heat in the basement during the winter to be efficient. Which means it will use a good deal of electricity to heat the water which in sure is more expensive than just using pellet heat from the boiler.(hopefully that made sense)

My understanding is the heat pump hybrid will also have a longer recovery rate than the in direct.
FWIW I never had to replace an igniter on the boiler in the 4 years I owned it until I sold the house. Speaking of selling my house, when we put it on the market, we sold it in 1 week and the buyer said the 2 main reasons she bought it were the pellet boiler and the solar panels.

About the heat pump water heater. How many people in your household? Is your basement very cold and drafty? We never really had a problem with the water heater not keeping up with the demand and we have 3 kids so there were always showers, baths, and laundry going. There were only a handful of times when both my older kids took a shower right in a row, we gave the baby a bath, then my wife and I both took showers, and the last shower would be a little cooler but still fine. You can set it in hybrid mode if you're worried about it and then if the heat pump struggles to heat the water, the electric elements can help out. Our basement was not heated (just the ambient heat off the piping from the boiler) and there was always enough heat in the basement for the heat pump to work with. Remember, the refrigerant and compressor are going to be doing the heavy lifting.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
FWIW I never had to replace an igniter on the boiler in the 4 years I owned it until I sold the house. Speaking of selling my house, when we put it on the market, we sold it in 1 week and the buyer said the 2 main reasons she bought it were the pellet boiler and the solar panels.

About the heat pump water heater. How many people in your household? Is your basement very cold and drafty? We never really had a problem with the water heater not keeping up with the demand and we have 3 kids so there were always showers, baths, and laundry going. There were only a handful of times when both my older kids took a shower right in a row, we gave the baby a bath, then my wife and I both took showers, and the last shower would be a little cooler but still fine. You can set it in hybrid mode if you're worried about it and then if the heat pump struggles to heat the water, the electric elements can help out. Our basement was not heated (just the ambient heat off the piping from the boiler) and there was always enough heat in the basement for the heat pump to work with. Remember, the refrigerant and compressor are going to be doing the heavy lifting.
Thanks for the feedback.

Currently there’s just two of us in the house, although we plan on growing the family soon. We also do enjoy longer warm showers in the winter if that matters.

The basement isdefinitely chilly. Not sure how drafty but the house is almost 100 years old so not exactly air tight. Plus it’s completely below ground and it gets cold as heck up here sometimes. That’s my big concern.

I have no reference for how much ambient heat the boiler will put off and if that will give enough heat to the heat pump. I imagine in regular electric mode the system would be less efficient, financially, than the indirect water heater.

How many gallons did you say your Water Tank was?
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,812
Northern NH
Unless you have insulated walls in the basement is always going to be ground temp which is borderline for HPHW heater.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
Unless you have insulated walls in the basement is always going to be ground temp which is borderline for HPHW heater.
No insulation in the basement and probably no plans to insulate.

Being in our area and knowing the climate, do you have input as to what system you would use?

Sounds like Indirect is the way to go, even though the boiler is running in the summer.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,812
Northern NH
I think the problem is in NH is you ideally want two hot water options for winter and summer. It was easy when folks could buy the surplus add on Heat Pump Hot Water heaters that integrated with electric hot water heaters from one of the Hearth members for cheap but think his supply ran out long ago. HPHWs work well in the 3 seasons in typical basement temps but they just dont like a cold basement in the winter. Thus you need a winter option and that is either an electric hot water heater or a hot water maker hooked up to source of heating hot water. A hot water maker is just a well insulated tank with a coil in its center that takes boiler water and heat up domestic hot water. Its heated as hot as possible and then a tempering valve blends cold water into it to get to the household temp.

A general FYI is that both hot water makers and electric hot water heaters are typically installed poorly turning them into inadvertent space heaters. Heat rises and cool settles so if the pipes out of either device goes straight up they will continuously conduct heat out of the tank and into the space above the tank. There are heat trap valves that can be installed or just instal loops of pipe above the tank that shuts off the thermosyphoning. It makes a big difference but most plumber s just take the easy way.

If you having a heating source that heats water, a so called hot water maker, an insulated hot water tank with coil in it is a nice option. I have one I got used and it holds hot water for quite awhile before I charge it up, then again I dont have much hot water demand and I plan my uses when I think I have enough water. I dump excess heat from my wood boiler when my storage temp is maxed out. I also have a solar hot water system that is close to 20 years old. It has what looks to be a regular hot water heater with a copper coil wrapped around the tank integrated into the insulation of the tank. It also has a single electric hot water element. If the temps over 50 degrees outside I run directly off the SHW, once it cools down then I used the preheated SHW to feed the hot water maker tank. I do run into issues in the spring and fall where I am running the minisplit for heat and not running the wood boiler but the outside air temps are bit too low. I just go down and flip the breaker on the hot water heater element to boost up my SHW temps. I could automate things but I already have a overly complex system. BTW I also still have an oil boiler that can run over to the hot water maker but since my power is free from my solar electric panels I dont use the oil boiler. No doubt if I ever go to sell the place I will strip out a lot of the systems as I expect the complexity would scare off most folks.
 

faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
After talking with our installer I decided on Indirect. He has a HPWH that is used in the Summer. Even in the best scenario he has still run out of water because of the slow recovery on the tank. Meanwhile he has never run out with his 30 gallon indirect setup because it can keep up with the rate of usage.

Between that information, the cost and knowing an totally idle boiler can have some issues, we went indirect. If I was to leave the boiler idle I'd have to get it serviced at the beginning of the summer every year to ensure no issues from condensation or ash absorbing moisture. This just seemed easier.

He also said he services or has installed 150 pellet boilers and even with the older units, 10-15years old, he has never had to replace the igniter.

It seems the only thing people replace in these is the auger motor in the hopper. Go figure.
 
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Mr._Graybeard

Feeling the Heat
Apr 27, 2012
315
Southeast Wisconsin
If I was to leave the boiler idle I'd have to get it serviced at the beginning of the summer every year to ensure no issues from condensation or ash absorbing moisture. This just seemed easier. ...

It seems the only thing people replace in these is the auger motor in the hopper. Go figure.
Speaking to service at the beginning vs. end of summer, my Harman stove guy recommended leaving the ash in the unit until fall. He said it is a good sink for moisture. Of course my boiler does not pack the ash away in a suitcase like some of the Euro models do, so a little surface rust in my Harman's ash pan won't gum up the works. YMMV. Also, I like to put some Damp-Rid in the combustion chamber to keep the humidity down. I believe the product is basically calcium chloride, which is widely used to melt snow and ice on sidewalks in the winter. It's pretty cheap in a 20-lb. bag vs. Damp-Rid.
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,010
Sand Lake, NY
I haven't run my Windhager for a while since oil prices went down and pellet prices stayed the same. Six tons in the basement. I charge up the 120 gallon buffer tank with my oil boiler. When I clean the cast iron Burnham oil boiler, it looks pretty good which I attribute to the longer run times because of the tank.

I haven't done any math on economies, but the pellet boiler is ready to go. Of course, then I'd have to clean that, lol.
 
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maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,656
Nova Scotia
I think I would go heat pump water heater with electric element backup (is that what they call hybrid?) over keeping boiler hot all summer. I would even go conventional electric over keeping boiler hot all summer - that's what I eventually decided to do even with already having wood boiler + storage. But can pellet boilers work as cold start boilers? That might influence a bit. But also around here, pellets are not cheap, at all. Likely the most expensive heat source, aside from resistance electric.
 
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faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
I think I would go heat pump water heater with electric element backup (is that what they call hybrid?) over keeping boiler hot all summer. I would even go conventional electric over keeping boiler hot all summer - that's what I eventually decided to do even with already having wood boiler + storage. But can pellet boilers work as cold start boilers? That might influence a bit. But also around here, pellets are not cheap, at all. Likely the most expensive heat source, aside from resistance electric.
Ended up going indirect for the reasons listed above. The Pellet boiler can do cold starts but of course, it's ideal to keep it running once started but cold starts don't cause issues with the boiler.

It's so interesting how widely heating costs vary. Electric is fairly high near me and Propane is about 2.81/gal last I checked. With 1 ton of pellets coming in at $269 delivered, it is about half the price of Propane for the equivalent amount.

Heating oil I'm not sure but we're switching from Propane.

Biggest downside is our stove uses propane so we will still need a tank, however, instead of having the monstrous Propane tank we currently have, I'm going to have the gas company swap it for a much smaller tank. Save myself from the eyesore a bit!
 

bdud

Member
Sep 19, 2013
167
Franklin, MA
The Pellet boiler can do cold starts but of course, it's ideal to keep it running once started but cold starts don't cause issues with the boiler.
Yes a pellet boiler can do cold starts but it does not heat instantly like an oil feed boiler, it takes times for the pellets to ignite and then get to heat. A storage tank I think would be a requirement.
 

bdud

Member
Sep 19, 2013
167
Franklin, MA
I had a Windhager pellet boiler installed in late 2013 and have used it every winter / cold season ever since. In the summer we use a Nyle a stand-alone HPWH connected to a 130 gallon solar style hot water storage tank for our hot water. When the pellet boiler is switched on, the HPWH is turned off and the boiler heats the a storage tank (100 gallons I think) which heats the hot water storage tank as required. We have had no issues with the Windhager and maybe clean it twice a year, takes ~20 minutes. Our house is ~2,000sqft in MA and I had a custom silo built that holds ~3.5 tons which is sometimes enough to get us through a complete year, this is supplying the heat, hot water and a Harman pellet stove.
The HPWH which is in the basement does a great job keeping that area cool and sucks out the humidity better than any dehumidifier we had used before. The Windhager I am sure like other pellet boilers, has a multi-element ignitor so if one ignitor fails another will continue.
So glad to get rid of our oil boiler. I have a bulk pellet delivery company not far from me so that makes life easier.
 
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faultymechanics

New Member
Oct 15, 2020
83
New Hampshire
Just a quick update. We closed on the house yesterday, wahoo! Boiler is being installed the week of the 11th.

Will be tense until the install is finished. Current system isn't reliable at all and since it takes a week to install the boiler I'm going to have electric heaters keeping the house warm enough so the pipes don't freeze. Here's to hoping one of those electric heaters doesn't burn down our new house.