My quest for inexpensive heat.

Status
Not open for further replies.
Hello All, I wanted to thank everyone here for all the advice I had gotten over the last few years. I was hoping to help someone else with the story of how I found affordable heat.

My search for affordable heat started when I bought a 2800 sq. ft. home away from natural gas lines. The house has 2x6 walls but cathedral ceilings throughout. It has a large open foyer that makes it difficult to save money by selectively heating sections of the home.

The first year I kept the house around 65 when occupied and 58 when away. We burnt 1100 gal or oil and 100 gal propane (stove in FR) that year. In short, we paid $4500 to be cold and it was on average a warm winter.

The next year I convinced the wife to purchase a Harman XXV. It replaced the propane stove but the location was not ideal to heat the whole house. It is a long rectangle and the XXV is in the narrow end of the rectangle and it is a bit difficult to get the heat to the far end of the house. We kept the stove on 24/7 and set it at 70 when occupied and 65 when unoccupied. We burnt 6.5 tons of pellets and 460 gal of oil for a savings of about $2000. The ROI would be 2 years. The cons were the heat distribution, filling the stove (2-3 bags a day), cleaning the stove every weekend and the dust (from cleaning, scraping clinkers and filling stove w/ cheap pellets). This was a good solution when comparing the pros and cons.

That winter I decided to research on replacing my oil boiler. The efficiency after a cleaning was 77%. (also has a power vent so that eff. is much lower in use). My wife insisted that the boiler would be low maintenance (filling/cleaning) and I was looking to save money. I was looking at outdoor wood furnace and oil, propane and pellet boilers. The oil and propane boiler would have minimal cost savings. Wood was going to be too much work and I would have to buy wood. That left the pellet boilers. Out of all the pellet boilers I researched I really liked the Windhager BioWIN series of pellet boilers. They automatically knocked off the ash from the heat exchangers. It has an auger system that moves the ash into an ash box which can easily be removed and dumped the ashes every 2-3 ton (the BioWIN tells you when it is time). This unit is it will modulate its heat output from 100% to 30% meaning it will adjust the size of the fire to your house’s needs this increase the efficiency by decreasing that amount of starts. It also monitors the temperature of the exhaust gas and cuts back to avoid losing heat up the chimney. The unit is robust enough that you can change between different types of pellets without any manual adjustments.
Our plan was to keep the oil boiler as a backup (we also were worried only having a pellets boiler may scare off potential buyers when we decide to sell the house) and go all out on the pellet boiler system. We replaced all the piping around the boiler. We also added a Turbomax hot water store. This is reported to increase the efficiency of the boiler by not having to turn on and off as frequently. I am sure we could get a whole thread on the subject of pro and con but pragmatically it stores the heat so all the zones have instant heat while the boiler is starting up. It takes about 15-30 minutes, I think, for the boiler to get up to full output, so the instant heat works great. I also have a 4 ton bulk pellet storage that feeds into the boiler. For all that are interested I bought this from Vermont Renewable Fuels. I know when I see quality steel work and they sell a great product and have great customer service.

The boiler is using fewer pellets than I had originally anticipated. My daily average is 57 lbs for Nov., 85 lbs for Dec. and 100 lbs for Jan. When I was only burning oil, I used 4.2 gal/day in Nov. and Dec. and 5.3 gal/day for Jan. and Feb. Prices vary but if you assume $250 a ton for pellets and $3.90 a gallon for oil I will be saving somewhere between 6 to 9 dollars a day. So with all of the add-ons in my system the ROI should be less than 7 years. Our house is now comfortable if not on the warm side and I do not have to daily scrape clickers and fill pellets. Cleaning and filling is now reduced to 3 - 4 times a year. If anyone has a house that you cannot get a pellet stove in a central location and you are looking for something automatic and simple to use you should look into a BioWIN. I cannot say enough good things about this boiler, it is great. 20130811_181410.jpg
 

Attachments

hyfire

Minister of Fire
Aug 3, 2013
649
Ont, Canada
You did the right move, I would love to have a set up like that. What is the base cost on the boiler itself?
 

STIHLY DAN

Minister of Fire
Jan 15, 2013
1,431
So NH
Nice job, how long can you go without feeding it? A whole week?
 
You did the right move, I would love to have a set up like that. What is the base cost on the boiler itself?
The base cost of my unit BioWIN 260 was $8,500. You could purchase the boiler without the automatic pellet feed to save money during the initial investment. Then add the automatic feed when you have the resources.

Also considering that an oil boiler for my house would run 5K and the best efficiency you can get out of that is 86%. If you use 1100 gal and the efficiency of your old system is around 75% you would be saving approximately 140 gal of oil or $500. So the ROI is 10 yrs. for just the boiler
 

STIHLY DAN

Minister of Fire
Jan 15, 2013
1,431
So NH
Thank you!!
The forth picture is a 4 ton bulk storage. I get about 100 days out of that. The way it looks I will to fill the bulk storage twice a year.
Wow, you could take a month long vaca in January and not have to have a frozen house or someone coming to take care of it. That is awesome.
 
  • Like
Reactions: woodsmaster

STIHLY DAN

Minister of Fire
Jan 15, 2013
1,431
So NH
The base cost of my unit BioWIN 260 was $8,500. You could purchase the boiler without the automatic pellet feed to save money during the initial investment. Then add the automatic feed when you have the resources.

Also considering that an oil boiler for my house would run 5K and the best efficiency you can get out of that is 86%. If you use 1100 gal and the efficiency of your old system is around 75% you would be saving approximately 140 gal of oil or $500. So the ROI is 10 yrs. for just the boiler
There are 2 efficiencies on boilers. ! combustion, 2nd overall heat transfer. The 2nd that many people don't think of is the most important.
 

PastTense

Member
Sep 18, 2010
44
Iowa
What about Stihly Dan's comment: for how long a period would you be comfortable going on a winter vacation with this setup? Or would you shutoff the water...?
 
What about Stihly Dan's comment: for how long a period would you be comfortable going on a winter vacation with this setup? Or would you shutoff the water...?
If there was 3-4 tons of pellets in the bulk storage and I just emptied the ashes before I left. It could easily do a month without being worried about it.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: woodsmaster
There are 2 efficiencies on boilers. ! combustion, 2nd overall heat transfer. The 2nd that many people don't think of is the most important.
Yes the second is the most important but if I am replacing one oil boiler for another newer one and the over all system stays the same then the difference of the combustion efficiencies will be the only change. So I can say a system that used 1100 gallons oil with a 75% eff. boiler would use about 960 gallons when I replace that boiler with a 86% eff. boiler for the same heat delivered to the system. The numbers are not perfect but this is all I have for quick number to know the savings will be small if i stayed with oil.
 

STIHLY DAN

Minister of Fire
Jan 15, 2013
1,431
So NH
Yes the second is the most important but if I am replacing one oil boiler for another newer one and the over all system stays the same then the difference of the combustion efficiencies will be the only change. So I can say a system that used 1100 gallons oil with a 75% eff. boiler would use about 960 gallons when I replace that boiler with a 86% eff. boiler for the same heat delivered to the system. The numbers are not perfect but this is all I have for quick number to know the savings will be small if i stayed with oil.
By no means am I suggesting to stay with oil. But here is an example of a side job I did.
Removed an 85% efficient wiel McLane gold boiler. Replaced it with an 85% Budarus boiler, no change in piping at all. The budarus used 2 whole tanks less on oil for the year, went back and hooked up an outdoor reset to it and they saved another tank. They went from 5 1/2 tanks a year down to 2 1/2. No changes to the house either.
 

Dana B

Feeling the Heat
Mar 17, 2013
434
So. New Hampshire
Great to see that you're also having a positive experience with the Biowin Markus. What will you be using for DWH in the non heating months?

There is a lot of discussion here about the heating appliance and fuel source itself as the main focus when trying to save money on heating and DHW costs. While this is certainly a good topic for discussion I'd like to point out that one thing often gets overlooked when discussing boilers and oil vs everything else is that for your home to be as energy efficient as possible you must look at it as a system rather than just focusing on the boiler. By this I mean we must consider things like proper and adequate air sealing and insulation, proper and adequate distribution elements (is there enough linear feet of baseboard and is it placed correctly), proper drafting and airflow, are you taking advantage of the solar energy outside of your home, are you using energy efficient appliances, are you doing temperature setbacks when appropriate etc etc etc

In my personal quest for cost effective energy solutions in my home I have learned that the heating appliance itself is just the starting point and that the holistic approach is the best approach as it will save you the most $$$ in the long run. Let's face it, you can have the most cutting edge heating appliance but if you have crappy, compressed, wind blown R19 fiberglass batts everywhere in your home with no air sealing then you have an incredibly inefficient home where energy use is concerned.
 

chken

Minister of Fire
Dec 7, 2013
1,136
Maine
Thank you!!
The forth picture is a 4 ton bulk storage. I get about 100 days out of that. The way it looks I will to fill the bulk storage twice a year.
Thanks for the story of your install. While reading it, I was expecting you to use 10 tons of pellets to replace that 1100 gallons.... okay, I just figured it out. That old oil burner was 75% efficient. the difference is that the Biowin is probably about 85% efficient, so you now use about 8 tons. Is that correct? Do you qualify for a rebate in Mass?
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,009
Sand Lake, NY
Markus, very nice! I have a BioWin 100/150 on order and might copy your system! How large is your heat buffer and how is it working? How about the indirect? To echo Dana, how are you heating DHW in the summer? know the recommendation is that you don't need a buffer tank, but I would still like to use my wood insert, and I think a well insulated heat store tank like you have might do the trick.

Also, can you tell me something about what looks like circulator pumps?
 
Great to see that you're also having a positive experience with the Biowin Markus. What will you be using for DWH in the non heating months?

There is a lot of discussion here about the heating appliance and fuel source itself as the main focus when trying to save money on heating and DHW costs. While this is certainly a good topic for discussion I'd like to point out that one thing often gets overlooked when discussing boilers and oil vs everything else is that for your home to be as energy efficient as possible you must look at it as a system rather than just focusing on the boiler. By this I mean we must consider things like proper and adequate air sealing and insulation, proper and adequate distribution elements (is there enough linear feet of baseboard and is it placed correctly), proper drafting and airflow, are you taking advantage of the solar energy outside of your home, are you using energy efficient appliances, are you doing temperature setbacks appropriate etc etc etc

In my personal quest for cost effective energy solutions in my home I have learned that the heating appliance itself is just the starting point and that the holistic approach is the best approach as it will save you the most $$$ in the long run. Let's face it, you can have the most cutting edge heating appliance but if you have crappy, compressed, wind blown R19 fiberglass batts everywhere in your home with no air sealing then you have an incredibly inefficient home where energy use is concerned.
Thanks Dana. I am doing setbacks at 5F but I have an adult and a 1yr old in the house all day so I am not saving too much through this. I did get an energy audit before the install and I have followed their advice. I agree with the sealing which is an ongoing job and very important. I also updated all the ceiling fans and keep them on all winter moving the air around. I found the fans help a lot especially with cathedral ceilings.
I plan on using my old oil boiler for DWH during the summer. Since I will not need a lot of heat in the summer the oil may be more efficient for the short blasts of heat. I also want to fire up the oil once a year to make sure everything is still working rather than waiting for an emergency to find out its dead.
 
  • Like
Reactions: flyingcow
Thanks for the story of your install. While reading it, I was expecting you to use 10 tons of pellets to replace that 1100 gallons.... okay, I just figured it out. That old oil burner was 75% efficient. the difference is that the Biowin is probably about 85% efficient, so you now use about 8 tons. Is that correct? Do you qualify for a rebate in Mass?
You are right about my ton use. I have burnt a little over 6 ton with the Biowin so far this winter. I still use my pellet stove to get the family room very warm in the evening but I only used a little over a ton for that. I did get a grant for the boiler that helped get the stove this year rather then a few years down the road. It also help me to decide to go all out on the install.
Windhager has data that states the efficiency of the boiler is 92.9%
 
Last edited:
Markus, very nice! I have a BioWin 100/150 on order and might copy your system! How large is your heat buffer and how is it working? How about the indirect? To echo Dana, how are you heating DHW in the summer? know the recommendation is that you don't need a buffer tank, but I would still like to use my wood insert, and I think a well insulated heat store tank like you have might do the trick.

Also, can you tell me something about what looks like circulator pumps?
Velvet,
The thermal store is a 120 gallon Turbomax 109 made by Thermo2000. It works well. It gives instant heat when the zones ask for it rather than waiting for the pellets boiler to fire. At first I was not going to get the store but the MA grant required it. They also calculated the capacity of at least 10 gallons/10,000 Btu/hr (or as space allowed). That may be a bit more than I need but I can only complain about its cost ($3800).

The circulators are the modern (they push rather than pull the water like my old ones did) tjey are three speed 1/25 hp. Pex supply sells them http://www.pexsupply.com/Grundfos-59896343-UPS15-58FRC-3-Speed-Rotated-Flanged-Circulator-Pump-1-25-HP-115-volt-4702000-p
 

velvetfoot

Minister of Fire
Dec 5, 2005
10,009
Sand Lake, NY
$3800.gulp. NY don't do no pellet boiler grants. But, maybe I could save a few bucks since my boiler has a lower output.

Yes, my current circulators pull down to the oil boiler return. It looks like it'll get a complete makeover.

Thanks for the info.
 

heaterman

Minister of Fire
Oct 16, 2007
3,374
Falmouth, Michigan
What about Stihly Dan's comment: for how long a period would you be comfortable going on a winter vacation with this setup? Or would you shutoff the water...?
I have to say this is one thing that REALLY impressed me with the Windhager. It is truly engineered, built and controlled to function as a stand alone, primary heat source. That was the number one factor in my search for a pellet boiler to sell in my business.

After operating one in my own house since early last year, I would not give a second thought to connecting it to a bulk storage bin and leaving for a month in the middle of winter. It has been dead reliable.
I have observed no operating failures in any of the units we have installed. The only variable has been the pellets themselves. One user had the firepot shutter stick due to foreign matter in the pellets and I just recently observed clumps of ash in the firepot at 3 different jobsites (none of which had shut off or failed to operate) and found all 3 users were burning fuel from the same supplier. Obviously a pellet content related occurrence.
I'll say again that every one we have installed has proven to be dead reliable.

My "favorite farmer" now has over 20 tons through each of the 2 BioWins we installed for him last September. The only thing done to those boilers since installation is routine cleaning every 800 hours of operation. They simply sit there and run at maximum or near maximum fire all day, every day.
 

Dana B

Feeling the Heat
Mar 17, 2013
434
So. New Hampshire
I have to say this is one thing that REALLY impressed me with the Windhager. It is truly engineered, built and controlled to function as a stand alone, primary heat source. That was the number one factor in my search for a pellet boiler to sell in my business.

After operating one in my own house since early last year, I would not give a second thought to connecting it to a bulk storage bin and leaving for a month in the middle of winter. It has been dead reliable.
I have observed no operating failures in any of the units we have installed. The only variable has been the pellets themselves. One user had the firepot shutter stick due to foreign matter in the pellets and I just recently observed clumps of ash in the firepot at 3 different jobsites (none of which had shut off or failed to operate) and found all 3 users were burning fuel from the same supplier. Obviously a pellet content related occurrence.
I'll say again that every one we have installed has proven to be dead reliable.

My "favorite farmer" now has over 20 tons through each of the 2 BioWins we installed for him last September. The only thing done to those boilers since installation is routine cleaning every 800 hours of operation. They simply sit there and run at maximum or near maximum fire all day, every day.

When I've cleaned mine so far I've only actually cleaned the burn pot. I was looking at the owner's manual the other day where it mentioned cleaning the draft fan. Have you been doing that as part of your routine maintenance?
 

Dana B

Feeling the Heat
Mar 17, 2013
434
So. New Hampshire
I have a 1 sq. ft vent to the outdoors in my boiler room. The vent is approximately 6 ft from the boiler.

The reason I asked is because I had my basement rim joists spray foamed and it seems to have thrown off the drafting/combustion. I've had my basement window open several inches for a few days now and the boiler seems to be performing better. It looks like I may have to pipe in some external air. It's a small matter but one I need to address before the start of the next heating season.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.