Wood boiler questions. Sizing, thoughts, etc. seeking HELP!

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DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
This is my first post. So let me start off by thanking the many knowledgable members of this online community. I have learned so much already by simply lurking around and reading everything I can. Unfortunately, the more I learn the more I realize I am way over my head with this little project that I am undertaking.

First an accounting of the state of things. I've been contemplating a switch to wood heat for a while now because - as with so many others - my oil bills are astronomical. Additionally I like the idea of being a bit more self sufficient. My buildings and heating systems are as follows:
  • Coastal Maine on a small hill so very exposed to the elements.
  • lots of woodland so limitless, essentially free, wood. Just have to go and get it.
  • Primary home:
    • ~7500 square feet
    • newish construction.
    • very well insulated. all blown in closed cell foam
    • all radiant heat on all floors in 2" of concrete.
    • tall ceilings and lots of windows
    • currently heated by Weil Mclain 160k btu oil furnace
    • burning about 2200 gallons of #2 fuel annually.
    • because of the radiant the house is always kept at exactly the same temp. it barely fluctuates a degree regardless of the outside temp.
    • DHW on furnace as well
  • Attached "barn" structure
    • gym area
      • ~2000 square feet
      • older construction methods.
      • fiberglass insulation
      • not kept heated all winter but that will change when the new system is installed.
      • currently heated by Hallmark model LB140 forced air furnace. 140k BTU (I think)
      • usually burn 500 gallons or so of kero a year but the space is rarely heated as it takes so darn long to come up to temp with the current system.
      • very tall ceiling in half of the space (20+')
      • Currently I turn the system off completely when not in use. With the new system I anticipate keeping this area at 40 degrees and turning it up when I want to use it so the ability for it to come up to temp quickly is important.
    • garage area
      • ~2000 square feet.
      • currently not heated but will be after install of new heating system.
      • in the process of insulating. it will be well insulated with closed cell foam most places.
      • will be kept at a constant 45 degrees or so.
    • wood shop area
      • 1200 square feet
      • newish construction
      • well insulated with blown in foam in the ceiling and combo of fiberglass and closed cell foam in the walls.
      • currently not heated but will be kept at 40 or so and brought up to temp when I want to use it, so it to will need to be able to come up to temp quickly.
I built a 40 x 30 unheated addition on the north side of the barn last fall to house a new wood furnace and wood storage. I started construction a bit late and ended up not being able to pour the floor as winter set in earlier than expected. So I abandoned the project until this summer.

My original plans were to install a Central Boiler E-Classic 3200 (possibly with unpressurized storage) in the woodshed addition and tie it into my primary system in the house. Leaving my old system basically as is for backup. I was also planning to pull the Hallmark furnace out of the gym and replace it with some kind of fan coil unit so I could keep my existing forced air ducting while using my new furnace. In the garage and wood shop I was planning to use some type of hot water based modine space heaters. The gym, shop and garages would not have backup heat. If the wood furnace goes out - with the current design - those areas would go cold. Which I have no problem with.

Over the course of the winter I've had time to mull all sorts of alternatives over. I've read about the Woodguns, Tarms, Garns, etc. I've considered wood chip systems and even trying to go all solar. In the end i've basically come full circle back to my original plan. Given that the summer is half over and I don't want to run in to the same issue I had last year its time to make some decisions and get this project under way.

SO... I'm hoping for some thoughts and suggestions from the community. I'm not wedded to any system, design, etc at this point. If there were ever a good time for major revisions now would be it. I would like to have a reliable system that will manage my heating needs and hopefully not require tending more than once a day except for maybe the very harshest of days. I don't intend to run the system in the summer for DHW though if I had a storage system maybe I could. Basically, at the moment, I have a relatively clean slate and want to do this right the first time.

Thank you all in advance for reading this long post. Any advice would be much appreciated. If I've left anything out please let me know and I'll attempt to clarify.

Ben
 
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flyingcow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2008
2,545
northern-half of maine
just get your wood cut/split/stacked. needs to be seasoned a year.

my guess you'll need a minimum of 15 cord a year ti replace the 2200 gals of oil. If you had went with a typical OWB been over 25 cord of wood.
 

DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
Hobbyheater - thank you for the reply and the welcome. I like the Garn idea. Do you think the 2000 would be adequate? I would like to avoid having to fill it to often. Is there a disadvantage to going with the larger (3200) unit aside from upfront cost? I'm assuming I would gain the ability to fill it less often?

Flyingcow - thank you for the reply. I have been working on that. Albeit slowly. I have about 20 cord that was ready for last season and another 10 or so i've prepared this summer. I should be good for wood when I finally get a system up and running. I hope. I'll be disappointed if I burn over 25 cord or so.
 
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flyingcow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2008
2,545
northern-half of maine
Contact the Garn dealer. He's a good one to put the questions to. He Ives coastal side of state.

Good to hear about your wood. I basically replaced 1000 gals of heating oil with 6.5 cords of wood.
 

Tennman

Minister of Fire
Mar 4, 2009
991
Southern Tenn
That's a lot of square footage Ben. Sounds like basically you want to continuously heat ~9500 sf with the other spaces heat as necessary. Forgive my presumption, but with a property as you describe you've probably been or are still pretty successful at something meaning your time is probably valuable. Going into my fifth year using our wood boiler, my wife and I still love running our wood boiler, but the reality of age, my son moving away, and business demands means I can't process all my wood needs. This year I'm buying about 70% of the wood for part of this (2014/2015) and most of next (2015/2016) seasons. Our home is an inefficient 5,000 sf but in a far more temperate climate (average winter mean ~37F) than yours. I can see from an operational cost standpoint of buying all my wood, there's probably a cross over point where a pellet boiler may be less expensive to run and vastly more time effective. Obviously, if you can process your own wood; cut, split, stack, move to boiler, load etc.... there's no less expensive method. But if you only have so much time, you can either work to make money or work to save money. In my case, I'll probably always have our "stick" boiler to process blow down, etc from our land. But if today I couldn't operate our wood boiler, I'd install a pellet. There's a testimony from a guy in Alaska posted now. Wood's absolutely the cheapest if you have the time to process. If you can process your wood great, but if not estimate your operating costs based on buying chords of wood locally and compare that to operating a pellet boiler for your 9500sf. Read about the BioWin and Frohling pellet boilers. Welcome. Great site here with lots of very knowledgeable folks. You found the right place.
 

JP11

Minister of Fire
May 15, 2011
1,452
Central Maine
I don't quite have all the outbuildings to heat.. but my home load is similar. with similar systems.

Don't know how far downeast you are.. but I'm willing to 'show you mine' to see what I've done.

Send a PM if you're interested. I'm away often, but home 4 or 5 days at a time.

JP
 

Karl_northwind

Minister of Fire
Feb 13, 2012
529
Central Wi.
I would second the GARN 2000. Rock solid reliability, high efficiency, electric backup, and why not throw a windhager in there for out-of town times, or peaking overnight if you need it. :)
karl
 
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DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
Contact the Garn dealer. He's a good one to put the questions to. He Ives coastal side of state.

Good to hear about your wood. I basically replaced 1000 gals of heating oil with 6.5 cords of wood.
I put a call in today. Hopefully I'll hear back soon and can get a dialog started. That is encouraging seeing 6.5 cord replace 1000 gals of heating oil. If I could get even close to that I would be thrilled.
 

DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
That's a lot of square footage Ben. Sounds like basically you want to continuously heat ~9500 sf with the other spaces heat as necessary. Forgive my presumption, but with a property as you describe you've probably been or are still pretty successful at something meaning your time is probably valuable. Going into my fifth year using our wood boiler, my wife and I still love running our wood boiler, but the reality of age, my son moving away, and business demands means I can't process all my wood needs. This year I'm buying about 70% of the wood for part of this (2014/2015) and most of next (2015/2016) seasons. Our home is an inefficient 5,000 sf but in a far more temperate climate (average winter mean ~37F) than yours. I can see from an operational cost standpoint of buying all my wood, there's probably a cross over point where a pellet boiler may be less expensive to run and vastly more time effective. Obviously, if you can process your own wood; cut, split, stack, move to boiler, load etc.... there's no less expensive method. But if you only have so much time, you can either work to make money or work to save money. In my case, I'll probably always have our "stick" boiler to process blow down, etc from our land. But if today I couldn't operate our wood boiler, I'd install a pellet. There's a testimony from a guy in Alaska posted now. Wood's absolutely the cheapest if you have the time to process. If you can process your wood great, but if not estimate your operating costs based on buying chords of wood locally and compare that to operating a pellet boiler for your 9500sf. Read about the BioWin and Frohling pellet boilers. Welcome. Great site here with lots of very knowledgeable folks. You found the right place.
Tennman, thank you for the reply. I do value my time. More and more as I get older. So it is a serious consideration, and one I've given a lot of though to. I have a small wood harvesting operation going on the property basically annually and it is part of the agreement that I get my firewood needs fulfilled. Meaning appropriately sized logs delivered to my processing area. I'm planning to purchase a wood processor if I actually purchase a wood boiler so I'm hoping that will minimize the labor in an otherwise very labor intensive step in the process. Additionally I've been working on a system of storing and transporting the processed wood in bins that I can move with a track loader or tractor.

At this point I am still relatively young and am looking forward to the ritual and labor of stoking the fire and processing the wood. Admittedly I have a bit of a romanticized notion of the whole process at this point - having not actually done it yet. We will see how long it lasts.

I have looked in to the pellet stoves and certainly there is simply no contest when comparing required labor input. What I didn't like is I can't simply go out in the woods and collect pellets. I really like the idea that the wood boiler gives me some added independence if I so desired. Additionally I wonder about he long term feasibility of pellets. They are not particularly inexpensive, and are also very resource intensive to manufacture. This aspect led me to look at wood chip furnaces in stead of pellets. I think if I were to shift away from the stick boiler it would be to some type of automated wood chip boiler with a live floor storage system.
 
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DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
I would second the GARN 2000. Rock solid reliability, high efficiency, electric backup, and why not throw a windhager in there for out-of town times, or peaking overnight if you need it. :)
karl
I'm warming up to the Garn as well. I really like the reliability part. I would think I'd stick with the oil as backup for the time being - given that I already have it and its all piped in.

So what is the deal with the electric backup part? I haven't seen much info online about it. Anyone have experience with these?
 

JP11

Minister of Fire
May 15, 2011
1,452
Central Maine
Yeah, you for sure should look at the projects that others have.

You really need to plan out EVERY step of the wood gathering. You've already got rid of a bunch of the risk (people get hurt felling trees), a bunch of the mess, and a bunch of the work.

It's not insurmountable.. you just need to have eyes open. I personally like the removal of the RISK of fuel price inflation by growing and processing my own fuel. I make biodiesel, will soon produce my own power, and cut my own wood.

JP
 
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flyingcow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2008
2,545
northern-half of maine
On the wood side. I at first could buy tree length at $95 a cord. Now its at 125 a cord. I prefer to buy processed at 185 a cord now. By the time i cut it up and split, money wise its a wash on the cost of wood. A tree length cord(weighted cord) different than a stacked cord. I would buy 12 weighted cord(60,000lbs) and it would stack into about 10 1/4 to 10 1/2 cords.
 

DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
On the wood side. I at first could buy tree length at $95 a cord. Now its at 125 a cord. I prefer to buy processed at 185 a cord now. By the time i cut it up and split, money wise its a wash on the cost of wood. A tree length cord(weighted cord) different than a stacked cord. I would buy 12 weighted cord(60,000lbs) and it would stack into about 10 1/4 to 10 1/2 cords.
That seems like a high price to be paying for tree length. I don't blame you a bit for buying it already processed for an extra $60 a cord. I'm hoping to never be in the position of needing to purchase wood. The foresters simply drop it off at my processing area with the forwarder on the way by. Its simple for them and works well for me.
 
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Tennman

Minister of Fire
Mar 4, 2009
991
Southern Tenn
Getting logs dropped near your processing site is huge. I'm working to reduce my touches. Early on I "touched" a stick 6-7 times between the woods and the boiler. Your approach will cut that in half at least. I intend to use the same approach eventually. Flying cow does it now. Can't disagree with your logic since having a harvester saves a huge amount of risk, heavy handling and time. Worst case, hire some one to help you split. My wife and I still enjoy running the boiler, but my back doesn't enjoy processing much anymore. Several good boiler options and in almost 6 years of hanging out here can't remember a disgruntled Garn owner, remarkable product history. But there are others, Frohling, Vigas, Etc. seeing and touching systems is a huge help. Go slow and enjoy.
 

DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
Yeah, you for sure should look at the projects that others have.

You really need to plan out EVERY step of the wood gathering. You've already got rid of a bunch of the risk (people get hurt felling trees), a bunch of the mess, and a bunch of the work.

It's not insurmountable.. you just need to have eyes open. I personally like the removal of the RISK of fuel price inflation by growing and processing my own fuel. I make biodiesel, will soon produce my own power, and cut my own wood.

JP
I like the hedge against fuel price inflation as well. Would love to produce my own power. I planning on that being my next step - after nailing down this heat issue.

Getting logs dropped near your processing site is huge. I'm working to reduce my touches. Early on I "touched" a stick 6-7 times between the woods and the boiler. Your approach will cut that in half at least. I intend to use the same approach eventually. Flying cow does it now. Can't disagree with your logic since having a harvester saves a huge amount of risk, heavy handling and time. Worst case, hire some one to help you split. My wife and I still enjoy running the boiler, but my back doesn't enjoy processing much anymore. Several good boiler options and in almost 6 years of hanging out here can't remember a disgruntled Garn owner, remarkable product history. But there are others, Frohling, Vigas, Etc. seeing and touching systems is a huge help. Go slow and enjoy.
Thats how I was looking at it as well - trying to reduce touches. Of course it's all just a plan for me at this point - no real practice to draw from. Just the annual - and completely manual - processing of a cord or two for the basically cosmetic fireplaces in the house. Which was more than enough to realize that I would need a drastically different approach to realistically process 20+ cord a year.

The product history of the Garn is very appealing. Of all the things I don't want its something that is unreliable. I'm looking forward to talking to the Garn dealer. We will see how that goes. Looks like the unit cost is similar to the boiler I was looking at which is good. It took a few months for me to get my head around how expensive these units are.
 
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flyingcow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2008
2,545
northern-half of maine
Basically the garn is the same price as s gasser w/storage. Just all in one package. Some will point out s bit less. No need to pipe between gasser and storage. But that being said I like my set up well. And I like my palletized wood system.
 

flyingcow

Minister of Fire
Jun 4, 2008
2,545
northern-half of maine
pallet wood.jpg

Since I've done wood like this( 5 yrs i think) here's what I've found. Any variation of a 3 sided pallet works. I've got some made up that have a 2x4 across the top to hold together, works good, but not as easy to acess like these. The ones in the pic were made by a buddy of mine that buys pallets by the trailer load and refurbishes pallets for resale.He buys at least (3) 53ft trailer loads a week, sometimes more. He uses his seconds to build these for me. He's all set up, takes him no time to do. Avg life span of these for me is 4 to 5 yrs. Than they need to be rebuilt again or thrown on the burn pile. I've looked building metal ones, it gets pricey. Right now for me, I'll keep using pallets. These hold 60/62cu/ft. I round them up when leaving outside for a yr. Then before winter sets in, peel off the wood for the ones that will be stacked on bottom.

I have a 75hp tractor, plenty of FEL capacity to do this. Matter of fact if i wanted to I could stack 3 high. The typical 40hp tractor will be able to carry the pallets, but go low and slow, on smooth ground. Stacking?? If you got the ballast right and know what you're doing,you can, but it'll be touchy. Unstacking seems to be worse than stacking. Cabbed tractors will make it harder, cant see high or low easliy. Thats where I do damage to the pallets, moving from outside to inside. I can't see the forks when sliding under pallets. Been stacking the pallets with cribbibg underneath, that does help alot. What has helped the most is to use a friction strap across the tops of pallets before moving. Takes the strain off of the sides.

If you think you need 20 cord a year= 40 (3 sided pallets) pallets....keep one yrs wood ahead, now you're talking 80 (3 sided pallets). I've got a nice high graveled spot to loose pile wood on. Might just do that for a year also, to cut down on the pallets. Oh, I've also got a 6 1/2ft grapple for my tractor that I can use to take split wood that is delivered and put into bigger piles for less of a foot print.


Or you can skip all this and get a pellet boiler with a hooper:). Then take all your wood you like to process and sell for cash.:cool:.
 
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DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
View attachment 136059

Since I've done wood like this( 5 yrs i think) here's what I've found. Any variation of a 3 sided pallet works. I've got some made up that have a 2x4 across the top to hold together, works good, but not as easy to acess like these. The ones in the pic were made by a buddy of mine that buys pallets by the trailer load and refurbishes pallets for resale.He buys at least (3) 53ft trailer loads a week, sometimes more. He uses his seconds to build these for me. He's all set up, takes him no time to do. Avg life span of these for me is 4 to 5 yrs. Than they need to be rebuilt again or thrown on the burn pile. I've looked building metal ones, it gets pricey. Right now for me, I'll keep using pallets. These hold 60/62cu/ft. I round them up when leaving outside for a yr. Then before winter sets in, peel off the wood for the ones that will be stacked on bottom.

I have a 75hp tractor, plenty of FEL capacity to do this. Matter of fact if i wanted to I could stack 3 high. The typical 40hp tractor will be able to carry the pallets, but go low and slow, on smooth ground. Stacking?? If you got the ballast right and know what you're doing,you can, but it'll be touchy. Unstacking seems to be worse than stacking. Cabbed tractors will make it harder, cant see high or low easliy. Thats where I do damage to the pallets, moving from outside to inside. I can't see the forks when sliding under pallets. Been stacking the pallets with cribbibg underneath, that does help alot. What has helped the most is to use a friction strap across the tops of pallets before moving. Takes the strain off of the sides.

If you think you need 20 cord a year= 40 (3 sided pallets) pallets....keep one yrs wood ahead, now you're talking 80 (3 sided pallets). I've got a nice high graveled spot to loose pile wood on. Might just do that for a year also, to cut down on the pallets. Oh, I've also got a 6 1/2ft grapple for my tractor that I can use to take split wood that is delivered and put into bigger piles for less of a foot print.


Or you can skip all this and get a pellet boiler with a hooper:). Then take all your wood you like to process and sell for cash.:cool:.
flyingcow - I like the pallet idea. I've been working with my brother - who is an engineer and excellent welder - to design steel bins that can be stacked. But you are correct - it looks like quite an investment in time and money. I may end up doing the wooden pallet bins for the time being. I do have some equipment around that can lift heavy loads so moving the pallets should be no real problem once I actually have the bins designed and built.

I'm sure there is going to be a fair amount of trial and error and process refinement over the first few years. I really want to get the boiler and heating systems designed and installed properly the first time.That would be huge for me. The ~$8k I hopefully will save annually in oil should go a long way toward building a nice system for processing, handling, and storing the wood.
 

Karl_northwind

Minister of Fire
Feb 13, 2012
529
Central Wi.
flyingcow - I like the pallet idea. I've been working with my brother - who is an engineer and excellent welder - to design steel bins that can be stacked. But you are correct - it looks like quite an investment in time and money. I may end up doing the wooden pallet bins for the time being. I do have some equipment around that can lift heavy loads so moving the pallets should be no real problem once I actually have the bins designed and built.

I'm sure there is going to be a fair amount of trial and error and process refinement over the first few years. I really want to get the boiler and heating systems designed and installed properly the first time.That would be huge for me. The ~$8k I hopefully will save annually in oil should go a long way toward building a nice system for processing, handling, and storing the wood.

I haul a pair of pallets to the woods, one on the front forks, one on the rear pallet mover. the pallets have a hoop made of 38" high "hog panel" heavy wire fencing on top. as well as a splitting maul and a half sheet of plywood. I fell, buck and split in one spot per log, and toss the wood in the cage on the pallet. then I drive back to the house. the pallets are free, the hoops are $20 each, (and when I'm done with them I can use the fence to keep my hogs in) my 33 hp tractor will stack them 2 high, and some rubber roof keeps it dry. I don't touch it again till I burn it.

if you want to do chips, look at Heizomat, From germany. you'd need a chipper, and they're not cheap (but what of quality is?) but you'd be able to pretty easily make fuel once or twice a year for a day, and be done with it.

Karl
 
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DowneastMaine

Member
Jul 31, 2014
12
Maine
I haul a pair of pallets to the woods, one on the front forks, one on the rear pallet mover. the pallets have a hoop made of 38" high "hog panel" heavy wire fencing on top. as well as a splitting maul and a half sheet of plywood. I fell, buck and split in one spot per log, and toss the wood in the cage on the pallet. then I drive back to the house. the pallets are free, the hoops are $20 each, (and when I'm done with them I can use the fence to keep my hogs in) my 33 hp tractor will stack them 2 high, and some rubber roof keeps it dry. I don't touch it again till I burn it.

if you want to do chips, look at Heizomat, From germany. you'd need a chipper, and they're not cheap (but what of quality is?) but you'd be able to pretty easily make fuel once or twice a year for a day, and be done with it.

Karl
Any chance you could post or PM a couple pictures of your pallets? Sounds like an interesting an relatively simply solution.

I looked in to the Heizomats. Even went so far as to travel to southern Maine to see them at the annual bio heat expo.They are very impressive and definitely very expensive. The feeding systems all seem to be sensitive to chip size consistency, moisture content, etc. And I believe there is only one dealer in the entire US. I could be wrong about that though.
 
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Karl_northwind

Minister of Fire
Feb 13, 2012
529
Central Wi.
Any chance you could post or PM a couple pictures of your pallets? Sounds like an interesting an relatively simply solution.

I looked in to the Heizomats. Even went so far as to travel to southern Maine to see them at the annual bio heat expo.They are very impressive and definitely very expensive. The feeding systems all seem to be sensitive to chip size consistency, moisture content, etc. And I believe there is only one dealer in the entire US. I could be wrong about that though.
They're new to the US. That is true, and they are pricey, although I'll challenge you to find anything made in Bavaria that is either cheap or not well built. There is a reason though. They're built like tanks, (actually in an old tank factory...) and will last the rest of your life.
the smaller and more efficient the boiler the more particular the feedstock is. as Heinlein said: "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" you will pay for your heat one way or another. Time, sweat, money, etc....

I'll snap a photo of the pallets tonight.

karl
 
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