Replacing a OWB with a Pellet Boiler Questions

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New Member
Dec 15, 2021
Central NY
Hi all,

I've appreciated the knowledge I've gained from forums over the years, first with some wood stoves, and recently with an OWB boiler that came with my new home. I'm now in a place that I need some more individual guidance and support with my heating situation.

I gave the OWB a chance the tail end of last winter and a couple months this winter and am certain it needs to go. Its a Central Boiler Classic from '98 - basically a big metal box that holds a fire with a water jacket and looks like a old time freight train spewing smoke everywhere, not to mention I smell like wood smoke all the time, enough that I get random comments in stores like 'smells like someone burns wood!' I also think it might have sprung a leak recently, which may mean it needs to go more immediately (will begin another thread on this topic).

It heats our 2400 sq ft home and a separate building that has a shop on the first floor heated to 50 degrees and an apartment above that we have friends and family stay in 1/2 the time, the other half it's heated to 50 degrees. Both floors are 1200 square feet each, for a total of 4800 square ft. The boiler is plumbed to underground lines that go to heat exchangers and a forced hot air system for each of the spaces (House, Shop, Apartment), each with their own thermostat.

I looked into gasification/advanced cordwood boilers a bit with storage, but realized I will not be cutting my own wood and sourcing it from others is a losing proposition in quality, price, and work. So I turned towards pellet boilers. In my search I came across ME energy systems boilers and loved the idea of their boilers and the bulk delivery of pellets.

I have a number of questions:
  1. What is it like to switch out an OWB for a pellet boiler? I was thinking of putting it in the basement of my house and connecting it to the FHA systems and the lines that go out to the other buildings. Is anyone heating multiple buildings with their Pellet Boilers?
  2. Given that the lines are 20+ years old, should they be investigated/tested, or perhaps immediately strongly considered for replacement?
  3. I'm having trouble finding an installer for a ME Energy Systems Pellet Boiler. I don't want to do it myself. Has anyone worked with a non-trained HVAC company to install a system? How did that go? What would I look for?
  4. Bulk wood pellets: are they generally available throughout the northeast? I'm in Central NY, an hour south of Utica, near Oneonta/Cooperstown.
  5. If not, I'd be open to bagged pellets. Anyone gone this route with a pellet boiler? How's it working out?
I'm sure I have more, but those are the major questions. Thanks for any pointers, insights, and experiences to share!
Maybe a possible route is to install a 10'x10' shed where the OWB is located and install the new pellet boiler in the shed. This way you can keep using the underground piping to the house and other heating infrastructure
Windhager has a pellet boiler model BioWIN2 with a 450 Lbs pellet hopper. This is then a bagged option.
Windhager also has the full automatic option with bulk pellet delivered pellets.
Not many installers in NY. Most our customers do self install.

Windhager BioWIN Lite with 440 Lbs hopper.jpg B.jpg
I would definitely factor in replacing the under ground lines given their age. It's one thing to send wood heat in the ground. Quite another to send pellet heat into the ground. $$$$.
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+1 on the lines. Pellets in my area aren't as expensive as they are out east, but I'm still averaging about $220/ton over the course of a season. You don't want to waste any of that.

Moreover, the biggest residential pellet boilers I see on the market are about 110,000 BTU. A boiler that size heating 4800 sq feet in two buildings would be stretched very thin, IMO. There are bigger commercial units, and some that burn alternate fuels like wood chips or corn, like the Froling T4 or Windhager PuroWin. Central Boiler has an outdoor pellet burner, but their website is light on details like efficiency and BTU output. Not encouraging.

Maybe you could add a mini-split heat pump to your outbuilding if your goal is just to keep the temp there above freezing automatically. Add a wood/pellet stove for when you need room temp in the apartment.

To me, heating two buildings from a central point with pellets would be expensive and troublesome. There are better options.
Love our MeSys Pellet Boiler. Have had it for just about a year now to heat our hot water and home. Obviously a bit different from the furnace they offer.

I did want to say that MESys requires trained HVAC employees to install. As far as I know they will not sell them to un-trained HVAC. That being said, maybe you can convince some HVAC people to take the training.

I wouldn't recommend installing a device like this without a knowledgeable hvac specialist available...but that's just me.
I think you are putting the cart before the horse until you figure out if there is bulk supplier in your area. There are not many of them out there as its big investment to get into it. the number I heard locally was in the $15 to $20 K range for supply and install of a pellet boiler with bulk fuel tank in the basement tied to a hydronic based heating system. I would be hard pressed to recommend and outdoor install. A pellet boiler only feeds heat when needed. There will be a lot of stand by loss outdoors. Indoors the standby loss is lower and the heat is heating the house not the outdoors.

There are much larger pellet boilers sold and installed they are used for commercial and institutional users. If there are some of those large boilers nearby there is usually justification for a local supplier to invest the money into bulk delivery. Dependent on the heating demand, precision dried chip boilers start to become economic to install. Froling Energy has PDC facility in southern NH.