New to the scene- need advice

  • Active since 1995, Hearth.com is THE place on the internet for free information and advice about wood stoves, pellet stoves and other energy saving equipment.

    We strive to provide opinions, articles, discussions and history related to Hearth Products and in a more general sense, energy issues.

    We promote the EFFICIENT, RESPONSIBLE, CLEAN and SAFE use of all fuels, whether renewable or fossil.

HBlizz

New Member
Jul 8, 2021
1
New Brunswick, Canada
Hi everyone, just purchased a new home and need to make some heating/hot water installations. My previous home was in a community which was exclusively natural gas so am trying to weigh the pros and cons of my new heating options (electric, oil, wood)

Current house system- Right now there are 2 boilers... an oil boiler installed 2002 and an indoor wood boiler installed 2006. I am not sure the usual lifespan of these things but they don't look they were maintained that well. Previous owner used mostly wood with oil as backup but in summer I think used the oil as they still needed hot water.

We get incentives in my province for installing energy efficient systems. Around here this mostly includes heat pumps that provide heat and AC electrically. I think this is a good idea in theory but my house has a strange layout and will still need an alternate heating system for some rooms. I will like go with a hybrid system using a heat pump or 2 to heat the main living space with the boiler system for the other side of the home (bedrooms, garage, granny suite).

Updating the oil makes me wary because of the leak risk and insurance companies here give people a hard time about them. I like the idea of wood as it is sustainable and very easy to find in my region but I am not sure if my wife is sold on the extra steps of it if I were to die haha. I also would have space for an outdoor boiler system which intrigues me because the old owner has half of the basement for wood storage which could easily be converted into 2 bedrooms. Electric boilers are another option but I wonder about the efficiency of heating a home like this using that system.

For my hot water setup I was thinking about adding a electric hot water tank (another incentive program) for summer and using the boiler to heat the water when also heating the house (In eastern Canada so heating the home at least half the year if not more).

In all reality though I am open to any ideas and thoughts you have.
 

E Yoder

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2017
597
Floyd, VA
There's a lot of detail that would have to be looked at to decide the most efficient and cost effective system for you. I'm familiar with outdoor boilers so I'm coming from that angle. Sounds like an outdoor boiler could be tied into your existing oil boiler and an electric water heater using two flat plate heat exchangers. Then all the mess is outside.
I understand some guys prefer the indoor wood boiler route. Each has pros and cons.
A friend of mine installs some really efficient mini split wall mount heat pumps. They're amazing compared to the old ducted systems of 15+ years ago.
 

clancey

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2021
1,736
Colorado
Why I think they have those mini split systems for air and heat and they run by electricity which is so much cleaner and simpler but they are expensive. I would get a hot water heater with electric to keep it simple for your wonderful wife..I also would get a stand by generator for a back up run by maybe LP or something or maybe even solar if they have that just for emergencies. mrs clancey
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
6,605
Northern NH
It would be helpful to know what sort of wood equipment you have, One thing to consider is that a poorly installed indoor wood boiler can get close to the lousy system efficiency of an outdoor wood boiler. Many folks burn partially green wood and that doubles the amount of wood you need to store. Generally dependent on the wood species available to you, it takes two years for wood to be fully dry. Many folks at best buy wood in the spring and think its going to be dry by fall. Barring special approaches to drying wood that is going to mean about a 1/3 increase in wood usage plus more creosote in the chimney. If you buy wood, assume its wet unless the seller is charging a premium for kiln dried wood. Wood does not appreciably dry in log length so plan on two years after its been cut and split.

Many indoor wood boilers can last 20 to 30 years and some are designed to be rebuilt at intervals. Others were just plain not well built. Some were poorly installed, if you see a lot of smoke stains on the face of the boiler above the loading door its probably a poor install.

The key to a proper indoor boiler operation is a thermal storage tank, the bigger the better. I have 550 Gallons and wish I had 1000 gallons. Many indoor wood boiler firms will not guarantee their product in an install that does not have storage. Storage will cut your wood usage by 20 to 30%. Upgrading from a quick and dirty install to proper install with storage may cost you $5000 to $15,000 dollars.
Odds are you didnt get a winters worth of wood cut split and covered properly when you bought the house, therefore unless you are very lucky the wood you will cut yourself or buy will be too wet for this winter. If you do try to buy dry wood, you need to buy a moisture meter and understand how to use it. The log needs to be within a certain range or temperatures. You need to make a fresh split and take the reading in the center of the split, not at the ends. So odds are you are burning oil for the winter.

Minisplit air source type units are great for moderate temperature zones but the efficiency drops down as the temp drops. If your electric power rates are steep and you have winter temps below 20 F (-6) then you should have a backup to cover you for cold temps. Yes the units may put out heat down to -12 F or lower but they are running at about the efficiency of baseboard heat and the heat they are producing is pretty marginal. They also will be defrosting quite often and that can get annoying. Down the coast in Maine some folks are using vented space heaters like Toyostoves that burn #1 fuel oil as the backup but they are space heaters so if uniform house temp is important stick with oil and baseboards. Geothermal does not have the temperature limitations of air source units but the systems are expensive to install. Dependent on you heating demand you may need three 300' wells drilled and they are not cheap if you are on rock The normal geothermal system heats hot air so you need a hot air heating system which may need upgrading as the air temp is lower than from oil. There are warm water systems starting to become available but they only put out 130 F at best which is too low for standard radiators, that means you will need to replace all your baseboards or add a lot more of them. A hot water buffer tank (300 gallons) is also recommended. If you get outfor less than $35,000 you did well.

IMO, the best fit is good indoor boiler for the cold of winter with minisplits for shoulder season. The minisplits also air condition which is starting to be needed even up north. At a minimum they are useful or dropping the humidity. They are about $3,500 each installed if there are local installers. Your power company may have rebate on the cost for both minisplits and geothermal.

The other option to consider if there is local source is a pellet boiler. It does not need thermal storage and the care and feeding is far less if there is firm that does bulk deliveries. If not than you need to store and move around a couple of tons of pellets over a heating season to feed a hopper. The trade off is the pellet price is higher per BTU than stick wood but far less worries about wet wood.

Note I did not recommend an OWB, the manufactures may state impressive efficiencies but they are steady state and do not include the substantial loss in sending the water from the OWB to the house and back and the standby losses when the house is not calling for heat. At best an OWB is going to need 50 to 100% more wood to heat the house to the same temps as with an proper indoor boiler. Yes its outside to keep the wife happy but someone needs to dress up and go out and feed it in potentially nasty conditions.
 
Last edited:

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,809
Nova Scotia
Need to know more about exactly what you have now. And a lot would depend on how much of yourself you want to dedicate to maintaining an adequate supply of properly prepared firewood. And feeding and maintaining it.

I would first lean to installing a couple of cold climate mini splits, and upgrading the oil to a new cold start boiler. Said without knowing anything about the stuff in my first paragraph.
 

Bad LP

Minister of Fire
Nov 28, 2014
1,791
Northern Maine
I'm not from Canada but I've never had any issues for burning oil or inspections for same. It's not my first choice as you can't cook with it but for heating it's hard to go wrong with it. Cost isn't great but wait till you build a working indoor wood boiler and proper storage with controls if you want to choke a little. That installed and working wood boiler cost buys an awful lot of oil or LP.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Highbeam

chew72

Member
Oct 27, 2009
88
NS, Canada
I'll add that I believe the insurance companies in Canada will not except air source heatpumps or wood boilers as primary heat. You'd need to keep the oil or have propane or electric to keep them happy.