Is a pellet boiler the best option?

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New Member
Oct 31, 2022
Hi there!

Long story short, my oil boiler and tank are on their last legs, so I'm looking for replacement options. With the price of oil in CT over $5/gal and my house being >200 years old, I'm looking for alternatives. For background, our house has had significant work done to it, so insulation is improved (from none to some, anyway! haha), we heat roughly 1900 square feet now but with the attic finished by end of next year, it'll be more like 2200 in an old colonial style house with roughly 900 sq foot main living area x 2 floors serviced by hot water radiators (look like baseboard heat but are cast iron and run the full length of most exterior walls) and the attic being about half that size. We have 2x100gal propane tanks we own, and about 6 acres of woods around us, so... we have options.

Questions I have for people:
How many square feet do you heat, and what size system do you have? For average use (65-70 thermostat), what is the rate of feed?
Do you have internal/external storage? How many tons? Did you buy a special container or build one?
How long have you had your system? Would you buy it again?
Is your system also supplying your domestic hot water?
For someone who has had old wood stoves but never pellet or a new gasifier wood stove, is this a reasonable option re: maintenance/troubleshooting?
Have you had it serviced, and if so, how is the customer service? Is this a system, like oil, where you should have it tuned up yearly? Or more often?
As we'd probably opt for bulk deliveries, what's the going rate per ton in southern New England? Is it the same companies going to ME/VT/NH?

Honestly, I feel like I've dived into a new world of "biomass" heating options, so if I sound clueless, it's probably not far off the mark. LoL

My husband and I have also looked into OWF- we do not have the time to be wedded to wood (FT jobs, farm, etc.), and IWD wouldn't work bc I work 24+h shifts and he can be gone in the winter plowing for >24h at a time, so... having to reload our primary heat source wouldn't be an option for long periods. Geothermal won't work with our hot water system, and solar is an option we are also looking into. If there are other options, I'd love to hear them.

I'm in touch with Maine Systems, Pellergy, Tarm, and MBTEK. The systems and install seem to be quite a bit more expensive than replacing with oil or gas furnace, but as plan is to stay for at least 9 years (student loan payoff! woot!), the timeframe to break even seems to be reasonable, especially if oil stays about the same price. Ideas? Opinions?
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I see you are also in CT. I can't tell you about pellet boiler systems, but it is definitely a great choice. I can tell you about my experience so far. I took on my own biomass heating project this Spring. It's almost completed now. You will be disappointed with the level of support (meaning zero) for biomass heating systems other than traditional freestanding wood or pellet stoves in our state. I reached out to over 20 HVAC companies, and some stove shops, and not a single one wanted to touch my wood boiler project, or had any idea what I was talking about. Expect to do this project yourself. Those companies you referenced in NH/VT are great, but won't come down this way to do the install, nor have licenses to do so. They gave me some advice as well for my journey.

I installed an Orlan Eko 25kw gasification boiler with 300 gallons of thermal storage over the summer myself, only because I had no other choice after investing in the equipment. I fully expected any local hvac guy could plumb it up. Boy was I wrong. The plumbing was brutal, after fixing 20 leaks or so... mostly due to my inexperience. It is piped parallel with my oil boiler which has a tankless coil and 3 hydronic baseboard zones. I haven't fully tested it yet, fingers crossed it works. It does fire and heat up the tank during my test burn.

You will see a thread I posted about installers in CT and get some insights there about what you might be in for. There is one guy in NE CT who could help you who I referenced there. Not sure if he knows about pellet systems though, but they essentially operate the same as any other boiler.

My application is this:

2527 sqft 2 story colonial, well insulated
53k BTU heat loss on a 0 degree day
5GPM tankless hot water coil with 1.25gph oil burner, 3 heating zones
Orlan 25kw (85KBTU) gasification boiler
300 gallons thermal storage
6" insulated flue of about 27'

You generally want to slightly undersize a biomass heating system so it can run full bore most of the time. Not as critical with pellets. A small buffer tank would serve you well for efficiency.

My bottom line - be wary of this project if you are not 100% capable of doing it yourself or can't find someone who has done it before locally.
Lotsa questions, maybe my experiences can answer a few of them.
I have a Harman PB105 boiler, heating a 2300-SF, century-old farmhouse in southern Wisconsin with a 25-YO addition. Like a friend says, it's like heating a corn crib. Insulation is fair (at least there is some!), but I burn at least 6 tons of pellets every season, my 10th with the pellet boiler. The house is on a windy hill in a climate area I'd assume is more severe than Connecticut's.

The Harman boiler has been a winner for me. I give it a pretty good cleaning every six weeks or so. I have never needed to call anyone in for service. Last spring the boiler backing plate started leaking, which required a new gasket. Otherwise I've replaced one igniter and an auger motor that I probably should have claimed under warranty as its case was leaking oil. The boiler easily cut my heating bills in half.

Harman doesn't make the PB105 anymore but parts are easily available as most are shared with other Harman units. A year or two after I got the Harman, Windhager brought the BioWin line to North America. It is certainly more advanced than the Harman and seems like it requires less maintenance. The forum sees few complaints about the Windhager and lots of raves. If the Windhager was around when I was buying I probably would have gone that route.

That said, the PB105 has the allure of simplicity and the engineering quality that Harman is known for. It handles poor-quality pellets effortlessly. They're still on the market, both used and new. If you're thinking of buying one, make sure it has the pressure igniter that went into later models. It was a big improvement.
I built my system myself
If you take your time and do it right it can be painless.
I had one leak on a soldered fitting that was reused.
Over 200 threaded connections,over 300 soldered
i used hemp on my threaded connections,takes twice as long to do it right but zero leaks.I am so sold on hemp i use it on anything that has threaded fittings now.
I had the best guy in the Yukon help with the design.I told him what i wanted and he built it on the floor of his shop by laying out the fittings between the components. Then he shoved them up and sent me home with box's of fittings.
I got back home 100 miles away and emptied the box's and wondered what i had got myself into.I had never had anything to do with a hydronic heating system.
I ended up doing the same thing and laying out the fittings on my boiler room floor and went at it.
A couple months later the system was filled and fired.Been working great for the last 14 years.The only thing i have done other than adding rads in the house was adding a Y strainer before my heat ex changer.
Every fall all that has been required besides annual maintenance is start the fire.
A word of advice clean your flu tubes while they are warm.I tried when mine were cold and the hard coating on them just laughed at any atempt to clean it off.
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Do you heat with oil or propane?
How many gallons? (the more accurate, the more accurate the heat load calculation)
Preferably for the last 3 years
It's baseboard I understand; not that it matters.
Whats your ZIP code?

Easy heat load calculation based on local heating degree days HDD
Gallons used for current condition of your house and local weather conditions
Do you have bulk pellet suppliers in your area? That is a real problem in NH, there are only two suppliers I am aware of (one in Bethel Maine). At least one company got out of it in the Conway area. Its a big investment for the bulk truck and the silos and not enough demand. Definitely a chicken and egg situation. I heard somewhere where some one had installed a bulk tank and had to feed it bags by hand.
I see you are in touch with who are assembling OkoFEN pellet boilers (out of Austria, where half the major brands are from), who can tell you if they have dealers in your area. It's definitely easier if you can get bulk pellet delivery too, but some models can be hand loaded from bags. (Here in SE Vermont, the bulk dealers are Lyme Green out of Lyme, NH, and Sundri out of Greenfield, MA.) The OkoFEN/MESys Pellematic we had installed last summer so far has been great so far. We're in a house about the size of yours, but only half as old, also updated with insulation and with baseboards. We got the 20KW model. A pellet boiler should generally be cleaned every year, but does not need tuning like an oil boiler. It's been general practice to oversize oil boilers, in terms of output. Pellet boilers are better when right-sized, in terms of efficiency. In other words, whatever the BTU output of your oil boiler, you're likely better with something smaller when burning pellets, since it burns best when not cycling as often.

The one thing you may run into is installers are having trouble getting all the boilers in to meet current demand, what with most of the manufacturers being European and the crush of demand for alternative heating there this winter.
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