From oil to wood pellets: New England’s home heating future

For many of us living in New England during the first winter of oil prices above three dollars a gallon, discussions of information technology have given way to discussions of home heating technology. We’re at the beginning of an adoption curve here that will rival earlier waves of adoption — first of iron woodburning stoves, then central heating systems fueled by coal and now mostly oil.

Our future fuel is biomass, in the form of sawdust and other recycled wood waste compressed into pellets that look like rabbit food. They burn cleanly and efficiently in airtight stoves that use augurs to feed the pellets slowly and steadily from hoppers into surprisingly small combustion pots.

Like several of our friends, we jumped on the bandwagon last year. Ours is an insert that converts an otherwise useless fireplace into a heat source that’s displacing a sizable chunk of our oil usage. Another friend uses a standalone unit which, because pellet stoves produce so little exhaust heat, is vented through a wall without requiring a tall flue. Two other friends have pellet stoves in their basements, one heating a small house passively and another heating a larger house through its pre-existing forced hot air ducts.

We’re all new to this game, so when we get together we compare notes on stove designs, pellet prices and quality, heat distribution strategies, cleaning and maintenance, and of course effectiveness. Everyone’s story is different. My friends who are leveraging their pre-existing forced hot air system have just about kissed the oil truck goodbye and are saving a lot of money. But they’re not quite as comfortable upstairs in really cold weather as they used to be. Others with hot water radiator systems, including us, aren’t doing nearly that well. We’re using Rube Goldberg arrangements of fans to distribute the hot air that the stoves blow, but that only gets you so far in an old New England house with lots of small rooms. For us, it’s a supplement that’ll pay for itself in a few years, but not a replacement. And we’re way less comfortable in parts of the house than we used to be.

Still, this technology represents a path to a sustainable future in which we use a locally-produced commodity to heat our homes much more cleanly and efficiently than wood ever did before, at a cost that’s already way below oil and will only look better as oil continues to skyrocket.

For most of us, though, it’s not yet a perfect replacement. And for all of us, it’s not automatic. A truck doesn’t show up at the house to pump pellets into a giant tank. We buy them by the ton, and they’re delivered on pallets bearing fifty forty-pound bags that we haul inside, stack, and then dump one at a time into our hoppers. The reload interval varies from less than a day in our case, to up to a week in other cases. Although these stoves produce very little ash — a few ounces per 40-pound bag — the ash removal chore also varies from days to months depending on the design of your stove. In terms of convenience, heating with pellets is more like heating with wood than heating with oil or gas. There’s hauling, there’s loading, and there’s maintenance.

But things will change. A home like mine, with an oil burner and hot water circulating through radiators, will use a boiler that heats the water with pellets instead of oil. These are emerging in Europe, but only starting to come onto the market here. I don’t know anyone who uses one to heat a private residence. But the Harris Center — a nature conservancy in the nearby town of Hancock — is heating 10,000 square feet for $1700/year using a pellet boiler. I was driving by Hancock today and stopped to take a look. The place was closed, but I saw the silo that stores and automatically delivers pellets. For the oil tanks in basements like mine, that’s the handwriting on the wall.

134 thoughts on “From oil to wood pellets: New England’s home heating future

  1. Robert L. Mitchell

    As a fellow New Englander we’ve considered alternatives to fuel oil, but we’ve stuck with oil for now.

    Today you have to be a bit of a commodities trader to heat your home.

    One way we’ve protected our cash flow is to spread out payments for oil in a 10-month budget plan – and we’ve used futures contracts as a hedge against oil cost surges. Most carriers allow consumers to pre-buy oil during the summer. They either store the oil for you or purchase a commodities contract on your behalf that guarantees the oil at a preset price (typically higher than the summer price but lower than the winter high). Usually pre-buys means just that – you must purchase all oil in advance. That’s difficult for most of us.

    The vendor we use offers a pre-buy but allows you to spread the cost across 10 monthly budget payments. In this way we hedge against inflation and maintain manageable bills (A $3.129 per gallon fillup when you have two 275 gallon tanks is a killer).

    For us, it’s all about cash flow. We considered adding 12 inches of insulation in the attic, the payback in cost savings was 7 years. Right now that’s not worth it.

    As for pellet stoves, you have the mess, the manual loading and the potential for auger jams that cause the unit to go out. That’s not a big deal for supplemental heating, but it’s serious business if you’re relying on it to heat your entire home.

    Here’s another issue: While oil burners use oil only until the boiler is at temperature, pellet stoves must continuously maintain the firebox. So in this way, I would think that they’re more inefficient in the consumption of fuel. To the extent that some pellet stoves burn more cleanly than oil, and that the cost per BTU for wood pellets exceeds that of oil burners that makes it attractive.

    If everyone in New England started using pellet stoves I suspect that we’d begin stripping away the forests here and prices for fuel would rise (An interesting excercize would be to estimate total heating oil use in New England and calculate the packages of pellets required and by extension the number of trees that must be cut. Is that sustainable?). In that situation I wonder if pellet stoves would still offer an advantage.

    Reply
    1. Margaret

      The firebox is run on many stoves, including mine by a wall thermostat and therefore does not run constantly but comes on and off just like my oil furnace. I have never had an auger jam in the four years I’ve used mine except for the time that I incorrectly set the wall guide. I am looking to change my oil burning furnace into a pellet burning one as I can build a silo in my basement and get them delivered in bulk.

      Reply
    2. Mark

      Hey, I’m not trying to be argumentative here, but you have some bad info. The cost per BTU of burning pellets doesn’t even come close to exceeding that of oil.Since you’re clearly one who can appreciate breaking things down into numbers, as am I, I’ll give you the correct info.

      A 40lb bag of premium hardwood pellets that sells for $3.88 at Walmart in Biddeford, ME today (yes today, I’m going there again this afternoon to buy some more) contains a minimum of 320,000 btu.

      A pound of premium hardwood pellets contains between 8000 and 9000 btu. Although 8300 is typical, I’ll use 8000 for this example since it’s the lowest possible value and will place pellets in the worst possible position for this comparison. There is no sales tax on pellet fuel, so that is not a factor.

      A gallon of #2 fuel oil that sells for $3.449 from R&R oil of Arundel, ME today contains a maximum of 140,000 btu. #2 Fuel oil typically contains between 135,000 and 140,000 btu per gallon. I’ll use 140,000 since it places #2 fuel oil in the best possible position for this comparison. There is no sales tax on fuel oil for residential use so that it not a factor.

      Based on the above current prices and btu values:
      Cost per 100.000 btu of #2 fuel oil is $2.46
      Cost per 100,000 btu of premium wood pellets is $1.21
      (assumes 8000 btu/lb on pellets)

      Prices will fluctuate on both fuels, so I usually say that heating with pellets costs slightly more than half of heating with oil, even though it’s really slightly less at this time here in Maine.

      Pellet appliances are typically MORE efficient than oil fired appliances. Not a lot more, but usually more. A typical modern oil fired boiler runs about 84% steady state efficiency. Many pellet stoves run in the low to mid 90s. My own converted pellet boiler runs 84%, unchanged from firing on oil according to my Bacharach combustion analysis kit. No efficiency gain there, but I cut my fuel cost in half.

      I do burn gasoline in my truck to bring the pellets home. In my case, I usually do it on my way home from work since I go right by there, so my fuel cost is negligable, but even if I had to drive 20 minutes each way to go get pellets, that’s $10.00 worth of gasoline in my little Ford Ranger, so it would barely effect the cost. (yes you really can put a ton of pellets in a Ranger if you drive carefully)

      Not all pellet stoves require that the fire be maintained at all times, many have hot air or hot surface ignition and can be controlled by a thermostat. It’s pretty much like anything else, you get what you pay for, but “sweat equity” does count in a big way with pellets. Buy a good stove that works well with cheap pellets. Don’t skimp here. You don’t want to be addicted to softwood pellets for $250.00 a ton because you found out after you bought the stove that the cheap pellets form too much clinker and you have to clean your burn pot daily.

      Do the research and find one that works well with cheap pellets AND has a thermostat. Install it as supplimentary heat and watch your oil bill shrink to nearly nothing while enjoying the knowledge that your oil system will take over if the pellet stove ever fails.

      I won’t be so arrogant as to try to calculate your return on investment for you, you obviously have the ability to do that and you have the variables that are unique to your home and lifestyle as well, but I think if you crunch the numbers on this, it’ll be worth your while. I’d be very surprised if your ROI is more than 2 years.

      I converted my boiler to fire on pellets and I cut my heating bill right in half from heating exclusively with oil.

      Last year I cut, split, and stacked 6 cords of hardwood from my woodlot and burned it in my wood furnace, using the oil system for hot water and as a backup, but there’s a limit to the practicality of “sweat equity”. 6 cords of wood is a lot of work. It was cheaper, for sure, even cheaper than pellets because I own the woodlot, but too much work to be truly practical. That’s why I went with pellets.

      Pellets make a nice compromise in this way, but you’re absolutely right, they aren’t something you can just set it and forget it. Handling 40 lb bags of fuel isn’t nearly as much work as most people think though. It’s like handling big bags of dog food. The bags are tough and will take some minor abuse gracefully. I can unload and stack a ton of pellets into the garage in 15 or 20 minutes by myself and I’m not a fitness freak by anyone’s standards.

      The auger jam thing is easy to deal with. Simply let it run out of pellets once a month and it’ll clear itself of fines after the last of the pellets are gone. The fines end up in the burn pot and they burn too, so it’s not wasteful. No fines = no auger jams. The absolute worst thing you can do to an auger system is to never let it run out of pellets because it will fill up with fines and jam.

      With proper forestry management practices, pellets are a sustainable renewable resource. The state gives tax breaks for tree farming and if everyone in the state converted to burning wood pellets, the sensible thing to do would be to continue to recycle waste product, but instead of raping the forests for the rest, farm fast growing pulpwood to make pellets from. It makes sense

      In all fairness though, pellets are not a carbon neutral resource. They create a carbon debt of about 25 years in the greenhouse gases they produce. Not ideal as an enviornmental solution, but a whole lot better than that of fuel oil.

      Reply
      1. Jon Udell Post author

        Thanks for your thoughtful response Mark! FWIW I have a hunch that Rob wrote the opposite of what he meant w/respect to relative cost/BTU, I think he meant to cite cost as a pellet advantage.

  2. D Darman

    We got rid of the oil boiler…and the oil tank.

    And we replaced it with a pellet boiler. It’s plugged into our existing heating system….radiators.

    I fill the hopper frequently.

    We installed the thing in the summer of 2007 in New Hampshire.

    Reply
  3. Jon Udell Post author

    “If everyone in New England started using pellet stoves I suspect that we’d begin stripping away the forests here and prices for fuel would rise”

    How to manage the resource properly will surely be an issue, but it’ll be a /good/ issue to grapple with, socially and politically and economically.

    “we replaced it with a pellet boiler”

    I would love to find out more about your experience with it.

    Reply
  4. Giacomo

    All the houses I lived in, in Europe, were heated by gas-powered boilers (except one which was 100% electric, horribly expensive). Not the best for sustainability, but it’s better than oil, and it reduces competition for oil anyway, which is good; I’m surprised you didn’t even mention it in your list of “waves of adoption”…?

    Anyway, I agree with Robert that the issue of managing the resource WILL come up as soon as this sort of thing really goes mainstream. As long as otherwise-wasted wood is used, it’s a good solution.

    Reply
  5. Ezra

    I am from Indiana, grew up in Northern Indiana and we heated exclusively, and passively, with airtight wood stoves. My sister currently heats her home with an external woodburning water heater that pumps the heated fluid (an antifreeze mix, not under pressure) into their home and via a heat changer (a tube within a tube affair) their old water heater doesn’t burn gas except in the summer. Their home is heated with circulated water registers, so the heat is produced outside, transfered inside, then throughout the house via the registers. I live in Central Indiana, Indianapolis, in a subdivision, so stacking 14 rank of wood in my yard would have my neighbors using to to build my funeral pyre, so heating with wood was out of the question. The house had a wood burning fireplace, and I but a corn burning stove into it. Corn has more energy than the wood pellets, and is available here in Indiana. If it weren’t for the infernal vaulted ceilings (and I have ceiling fans throughout, but it is still a source of waste) it would be my only source of heat. I can store an entire winter of corn in my garage, and the waste ash is basically potash, a good fertilizer to put back on any corn field. When I get around to building my own home, I will build with the plan to heat with an external burner (they look like little sheds) that can burn either wood (while I am young and capable of enjoying cutting, splitting, hauling, and stacking) and corn/pellets (when I am tired of all the effort). There are burners out there that are capable of being configured to burn these different fuels reliably (I would mention a manufacturer, but I am not certain it is appropiate here, if so, let me know and I will respond with it). Corn is plentiful, energy dense, environmentally friendly and if enough people start using it as a fuel, why couldn’t we expect to see a bulk truck driving through a neighborhood filling hoppers and automatic feeder tanks? American Product, American Consumers, American Jobs, Saving the Environment? Is there any downside? Some effort I suppose, but I KNOW I don’t get enough exercise, and with a 60 bushel automated feeder, I probably still wouldn’t.

    Reply
    1. Gerald

      Your writing that corn is environmentally friendly made me gasp. The growing of corn is one of the most environmentally destructive processes legally allowed in the US today.

      I was shocked to learn that as well, but in a class at the University of Alabama, taught by Dr. Ed Passerini I had my eyes opened. Dr. Passerini has written a book entitled The Curve of the Future and I recommend it to anyone who wished to be better informed about environmental issues.

      I could not find my copy so as to quote from it but I did find an article at a website (http://www.aei.org/outlook/28396)that details a fraction of what is wrong with growing corn. the following is excerpted from that website:

      Corn, according to the NAS (National Academy of Sciences), requires more fertilizers and pesticides than other food or biofuel crops. Pesticide contamination is highest in the corn belt, and nitrogen fertilizer runoff from corn already has the highest agricultural impact on the Mississippi River. In short, more corn raised for ethanol means more fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides in waterways; more low-oxygen “dead zones” from fertilizer runoff; and more local shortages in water for drinking and irrigation.

      Fertilizer runoff does not just pollute local waters; it creates other far-reaching environmental problems. Each summer, the loading of nitrogen fertilizers from the Mississippi via the corn belt hits the Gulf of Mexico, creating a large dead zone–a region of oxygen-deprived waters unable to support sea life that extends for more than ten thousand square kilometers. The same phenomenon occurs in the Chesapeake Bay, in some summers affecting most of the waters in the mainstern bay.
      ——————————
      End of excerpt.

      Growing corn also uses an incredible amount of water. It depletes soil very quickly, that is why the need for potent fertilizers is important.

      There are other reasons, I cannot recall them right now, that grwoing corn is deleterious to the environment. It is far from environmentally friendly.

      Reply
      1. Sandpoet Robbins

        Dedicated energy crops, like Miscanthus are efficient crops for pellet burning stoves. They require little/no fertilizer, are perennial(10-20 years before replanting), Yields are 15-25 tons/acre, grow on marginal lands(non-food),are a great habitat for wildlife and are sterile hybrids(noninvasive). Water use is minimal after year 3. Crops like this will be co-burned with coal, used for home heating and made into liquid fuel through Cellulosic Ethanol technology. Biomass satisfies 12 % of the worlds fuel demand and America is behind in the adoption of this crop. This year, the USDA has established the BCAP program to incentivize farmers to plant 200,000 acres of Miscanthus in 4 US states. See our company at:www.earthsenseenergyusa.com. Bulk deliveries to residences are planned. Bins, the equivalent of 30-50 40# bags are part of the solution to reduce consumer handling. Save money, help the planets health and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

  6. Jon Udell Post author

    “I’m surprised you didn’t even mention it in your list of “waves of adoption”…?”

    It’s a regional thing. In the midwest where I used to live, gas is locally available and a major factor. In the northeast, it isn’t locally available, so oil tends to dominate.

    “Corn is plentiful, energy dense, environmentally friendly”

    Yes. That’s another midwest vs northeast difference.

    “American Product, American Consumers, American Jobs, Saving the Environment?”

    Exactly.

    Reply
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  8. Dr. Douglas Watt

    Well, there are no easy answers to this one. I can tell you that I have been very happy with a wood gasification boiler, made by HS Tarm. It is probably not the most efficient of the wood gasification approaches, because it tends to run at a somewhat high stack temperature and doesn’t use as much surface area as the really sophisticated ones do for heat exchange (see the “Wood Gun”). However, I can pretty much heat my house for about four cords of wood and use the oil burner pretty much just to supplement it when I’m away or can’t get outside to use the wood. The problem of course is that it’s getting harder to get cheap cordwood in New England, and of course stacking wood, emptying the ash, filling the firebox, etc., etc., etc. can be a real pain in the butt particularly compared with just turning on the thermostat. However the savings are pretty staggering. At $180 a cord, using this compares pretty favorably to anything including even coal, and its cost per BTU is about nine dollars per million BTUs. Oil at $3.30 a gallon cruises on in at about $28 per million BTUs. Natural gas at $1.40 per therm seriously undercuts the price of oil at $17 per million BTUs but still doesn’t compare to wood. The long and the short of it is that if you don’t mind doing extra work, you can save a lot of money using a wooden gasification boiler, and still keep the convenience of central heating compared to pellet stoves. However they are not cheap, and wood gasification boilers run anywhere from six grand to 10 grand. I figure I’m saving about $2500 a year in fuel costs, so this will pay for itself in about four years.

    Reply
    1. Lil

      How often do you have to stoke your boiler? We are considering putting one in a new build but can’t find any information about this aspect of it. The people selling them say every 8-12 hours.

      Reply
      1. Jon Udell Post author

        That’s true. Depends on the outside temp. On a really cold night it’ll go 8 hrs max on a full load. When it’s warmer, it can go up to 12 hrs.

  9. Brad Clements

    I think you will all find this ‘quick’ analysis of wood heating illuminating:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3374

    Home Heating in the USA: A Comparison of Forests with Fossil Fuels

    “While there is seemingly a huge inventory of trees in our country, there is also a huge inventory of humans and their respective consumptive wants. Warmth and protection from cold are among the most basic of our human needs – quite simply, there are not enough trees for an annual growth harvest to provide more than a fraction of our current heating needs. I don’t really expect we will return to heating with wood, but the point of this exercise is to show that if the market should incentivize people to heat with wood, we have upper limits in expanding our use of wood for heating, and they are not too far from where we are now.”

    Reply
  10. Jon Udell Post author

    “if the market should incentivize people to heat with wood, we have upper limits in expanding our use of wood for heating”

    It’s not just wood. Pellets can come from a variety of forms of regionally-appropriate biomass. The final comment in that thread:

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3374#comment-279722

    says in part:

    [quote]

    Pellet stoves burn a small quantity of fuel fast. The newest ones are as efficient as the highest efficiency gas stoves.

    http://www.bixbyenergy.com
    http://www.hinkletown.com/bixby

    There are also commercial size pellet stoves made for retrofitting large buildings like schools. The stoves are placed outside and use heatexchangers to connect to the building’s present system.

    REAP-Canada has been researching biomass production and conversion. They have been burning both wood and switchgrass in a pellet stove. Their EROI for switchgrass production and pelletizing in S/W Quebec is 14.6. They have an interesting Powerpoint presentation up at

    http://www.reap-canada.com/online_library/Reports%20and%20Newsletters/Bioenergy...

    Pelletizing of switchgrass was done at a wood pelletizing plant, but if grass pellets as heating fuel takes off, I’m sure that pelletizing will ultimately end up being done right at harvest by the same machine. Remember, the word combine comes from “combined harvester” which reaped, threshed and separated all in one pass. This is a trivial engineering problem for ag engineers and farmers.

    Switching from anual grain crops to perennial biomass crops has huge positives for farmers: lower production costs, lower risk, lower capital needs, higher return. Biomass has the potential of giving a farmer three paychecks: the crop, carbon credits, wildlife habitat payments.

    [endquote]

    Reply
  11. Southern Maine Mark

    I purchased a pellet stove in late November. I purchased a fire place insert model and did the install myself. This included doing a reline of my chimney with help from my son. My house is about 2000 sq.feet. We have been very pleased with the performance of our stove, particularly with all of the cold weather in December and January. We keep our house temperature between 62-64(at night) and 64-68 (during the day)degrees.

    As mentioned in several of the other posts, your success in heating your house depends on a number of variables, particularly the layout of your house and location of your stove. My stove is located in a central location (with a central stairwell) on the first floor of a two story and it does a great job of heating the upstairs.

    My primary heat source is oil and my personal pleasure is watching my oil level just sit there! We use a little for heating hot water, but it barely has moved since December 3rd. I am on my second ton of pellets and this will get me through to the end January.

    As I see it my benefits have been lower direct heating costs, a warmer house, being more environmentally friendly and doing my part to reduce dependence on foreign oil. The drawbacks include the daily grunt work of loading the stove and the every 3-4 day emptying of the ash (for my insert model) and cleaning of the stove (I have this down to 20 minutes).

    Overall, I am very pleased with my decision to go to pellet heat! I recommend that you do your research and carefully consider your house layout, sq.footage, stove location and BTU requirements when thinking of going pellet.

    Southern Maine Mark

    Reply
  12. J.M.

    Is a ground-source heat pump an option? They are expensive, and they require that coils be sunk into your yard. However, they use very little energy and they provide efficient cooling in the summer. Can they produce enough heat for a New England winter?

    Ground source heat pumps might be too expensive to be worth it today, but I wonder if higher energy costs and economies of scale (as/if more people buy them) will push the price down enough to make them worth it.

    I was also surprised that more people don’t use natural gas. From what I understand, a lot of the natural gas present at oil drilling sites just gets burned off and wasted today because there is not enough demand for it. That has always struck me as a such a waste, especially with energy becoming more and more expensive.

    Reply
  13. Jon Udell Post author

    “Is a ground-source heat pump an option? ”

    Yes. One friend is using that method successfully. Another was unable to because the well on his property doesn’t deliver enough flow — you need to move a lot of water.

    Reply
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  15. Andy in Vermont

    Just over a year ago, 18 FEB 2007, I converted my oil burning boiler to burn wood pellets. I replaced the oil burner on the boiler with a wood pellet burner from Sweden. This approach retained my entire heating system, controls and all and was a low-impact conversion. In the past year I’ve burned over 10-tons of pellets keeping my 1400 sq foot house (built in 1910 with little insulation) warm and cozy. I’m now in the process of getting manufacturing rights to these burners and setting up to build them in New England. Even if it isn’t a huge money maker, the more people that can get off of oil and onto renewable wood pellets, the better!!!

    Reply
  16. bryan

    Hi All:

    This November I purchased pellet boiler and have been running ever since. I’m a plumbing and heating contractor and work with alot of alternative energy boilers. My unit is Harman pb105 boiler. It’s alot cheaper than my oil fired boiler in operating costs. Original purchase price with flue piping was $6000. I figure about three year payback. There are alot of maintenance ie cleaning and also stacking . Buying in bulk and silo storage is better than bags.

    Reply
  17. Jon Udell Post author

    I’m currently weighing two options: A pellet boiler, and a wood gasification boiler. I think the cost will be roughly equal. Likewise the environmental impact: I guess these new wood gasification boilers extract about as much heat and produce as little residue from wood as pellet stoves do from pellets.

    Given that both options will require stacking and maintenance, it’s not clear that the pellet option is much more convenient.

    I reckon the fuel cost is roughly the same too, but what I’m wondering is whether the future prospects for unprocessed wood may not be better than for processed pellets.

    Reply
  18. Andy in Vermont

    Hi Folks! I just got my web site up and running, published it on Friday (28 MAR 08). If you want to see more information regarding our system for converting oil fired boilers to wood pellets, check it out: http://www.pellegy.com

    We’re still a few months away from being able to ship to additional customers, but our manufacturing line is comming up and we plan on sending a couple units out for testing real soon. This will allow us to open up the market space a little more. Shoot me a note off the site’s link and we’l be sure to keep you updated on our progress.

    Reply
  19. Michael in Salem

    I’m considering a pellet furnace myself. A Harman PB105. The addition of a supplemental heat source would be welcome given the cost of heating oil. Would you be willing to share more details of your experience this last winter with the pellet heat and dispense some advise?

    Reply
  20. Andy in Vermont

    Michael:

    Buy pellets early if you have the storage for them. If you can set up for a bulk pellet delivery it will save you a lot of money, but you need to consider storage and handling. Pellets need to stay dry. The Harman PB105 is a nice boiler, but it only has a 160 LB hopper. This means a lot of time filling. Harman also has a larger bulk bin with integral feed conveyor as an add-on to the boiler. Ask about it and see if it is right for you (size, physical footprint, cost, etc.). Back to pellets: New England Wood Pellet in Jaffrey, NH will deliver bulk pellets within a couple hundred miles of their facility. If you can handle bulk pellets and the delivery rates, this is the way to go. I had them deliver almost 7-tons of pellets last year in one drop at the rate of just about $215/ton (delivery included). This will go up as oil prices do; however, there are more places getting into the bulk pellet delivery business such as Biomass Commodities Corp out of St. Johnsbury, VT. Pellet heat is great, but it is solid fuel heating and requires more intervention than that of oil, natural gas or propane, less than cord wood. As a supplemental heat source, pellets are outstanding.

    Consider about 1-ton of pellets for every 130-gallons of oil burned today. This is a very rough number, but reasonable for a back of the napkin calculation. Shoot me a note if you have more questions.

    http://www.pellergy.com

    Reply
  21. Thom Lloyd

    I am currently going through the process of selection of a pellet furnace to place in parallel with my oil furnace. I am considering the Harman PB105 or the pinnacle/Traeger PB150. Anyone have any information on these for comparison to the “company line” from the suppliers?? I live in a central Maine town in an older home which used 1670 gallons/year average for the past three years.

    Reply
  22. Sheryl

    As far as oil goes, many people are trying to go green by either reducing their oil intake, or shutting it all off and freezing. But there’s actually a cool new thing called Bioheat. It still uses oil, but it is now blended with biodiesel, therefore, producing NO greenhouse gases and reducing emissions. Working for NORA, I have seen the increase in “green” needs. Check out this site for more info on bioheat. Amazing stuff.

    http://oilheatamerica.com/index.mv?screen=bioheat

    Reply
  23. Jon Udell Post author

    > It still uses oil, but it is now blended
    > with biodiesel

    From the page you cite:

    “It costs just about the same as “regular oil.””

    Nonstarter for most of us. We need a fuel that’s way cheaper than oil, and that can also be burned cleanly. In New England that fuel is wood and wood products. The clean-burning technologies I’m aware of are pellet boilers and modern wood (gasification) boilers.

    Reply
  24. Dimitri Deharak

    I am just starting to Look into the the Wood/corn
    Pellet thing. I am looking for a conversion to my current OIL Drinker Boiler I also live in Vermont, In a very old Leaky House. The way Oil is Now I just cant afford to Run oil anymore
    And with the projected Cost to go up to 200bucks a barrel I am just not sure what i am going to
    with my Current situation. I use Oil 360 days a year I wish I had foward thinking when I instaled my Present Oil boiler 5 years ago at that time i would have gone with a pellet Boiler

    Reply
  25. bryan

    I bought the pb-105 boiler and have run it for one winter season. It has a 200lb hopper on it not 160lb and can also burn corn .Down side to corn is it is corrosive and leaves clinkers.produces more heat per pound than pellets but also have to contend rodent issues.I used pellets in mine.I had problem with igniter burning out.Its a Harman boiler. They had issues with all there stoves igniter’s. It took me 2 months to get the replacement.Harman’s attitude was just deal with it.There customer service attitude is poor.
    I’m a plumbing and heating contractor and if I put in new boiler for someone and couldn’t get part for 2 months my customers would have sued me.Overall the boiler works very well but needs to be serviced and cleaned often for best results. If you want hands off heating approach then this boiler isn’t the answer. You need to be somewhat mechanically inclined. Because if you have dealer service it , it will be minimum $135 service call.
    I burnt about 5 tons for 2,000 sq. ft. colonial with two zones of heat and indirect hot water tank at cost of about $1050 oil would have easily been $3500.

    Reply
  26. D Darman

    We put in the Harman PB105.

    In the first few months, it’s automatic igniter burned out 2 or 3 times.

    The retailer replaced them without question.

    Harman then sent the retailer a reconfigured burnpot with a new igniter.

    The PB105 worked fine after that.

    It does require some maintenance, such as cleaning the burnpot weekly.

    It also requires moving bags of pellets, and lifting them to burn in the boiler.

    In my mind, these are small concessions to renewable fuel and cleaner emissions.

    Reply
  27. Jon Udell Post author

    > In my mind, these are small concessions
    > to renewable fuel and cleaner emissions.

    Indeed. My order for an Orlan EKO-40 (wood gasification boiler) will be placed tomorrow. If all goes well, I’ll be loading firewood 2 or 3 times a day come next winter, and will be grateful to do it.

    Reply
  28. D Darman

    bryan,

    Yes, we got a reconfigured burn pot.

    It is similar to the original, but has fewer holes toward the narrow end.

    The new one has worked well…I think we got it in January.

    Your retailer should be able to get you one from Harman if you need it.

    Reply
  29. Karen H.

    Very interesting posts. I live in Keene and when I bought my house in 2003 it had an underground oil tank. That scared me a bit and I finally had it taken out in the summer of 2006. At that time I had to decide if I wanted to buy an oil tank or go with pellets and buy a pellet stove or furnace. I went with a pellet furnace. Everything seemed great at first — it would take me about 5 minutes a day to load the hopper, do some cleaning, etc., but that seemed a very small price to pay for efficient, relatively cheap heat. Unfortunately the furnace died after something like a month (would have been around February 2007). The installers replaced a part (can’t remember what, sorry) but it died again a month later (March 2007). I was so disgusted at that point, and so busy with work, that I just used little electric heaters for the next few weeks until the heating season ended. My work schedule got crazy and I never got the furnace fixed for winter ’07-08 – just used the heaters all over my house (a ranch of about 1,500 square feet). Surprisingly the electricity didn’t cost as much as I’d feared, but coming home to a cold house every day (I didn’t like leaving the heaters running when I wasn’t there) wasn’t much fun. I just bought 5 tons of pellets from Home Depot (great price) and am storing them in my garage, which means I’ll be going back to pellet heat for next year. Time to call the installers again. (Luckily the warranty is at least 5 years so it should be free to fix — it’s just a pain in the butt.)

    Do those of you who have the pellet furnaces have any tips on maintenance? I feel like I must be doing something wrong – surely it shouldn’t have died twice in 2 months.

    Also is anyone using geothermal heat? It’s not an option for me here in Keene (my lot isn’t big enough, for one thing!) but maybe for the future.

    Reply
  30. Thom Lloyd

    I have just finished sending out the deposit and reservation letter for a Maine Energy System Pellet Boiler. I have done as much research on pellet boilers as I can without going to Europe and going through the factories. The system put together by Maine Energy uses the oldest manufacturer of pellet burners (Janfire) in the world coupled with a Bosch boiler to create a system that needs only ash emptying 2-3 times a season and a single annual cleaning. I am ordering pellets directly from Maine Energy as well – 235/ton delivered. No oil for our family this year.

    Reply
  31. Erica Walch

    This is really interesting discussion. I have a 3500 sq. foot four story townhouse in Massachusetts. I spent about $4500 on oil this season — I have a REALLY old oil furnace (it was originally a coal burning one) and can’t afford to double my cost of oil. I’m looking into corn pellet burner (yellowsgreen.com) but they will have to be hotwater, not my current steam, in the radiators, which will require a lot of piping. I don’t know how often I’ll have to stoke the furnace. Any ideas/suggestions? I’m also looking to convert to gas.

    Reply
  32. Carla Howe

    We live in a 1922 New Englander with steam heat (you know those big old radiators) Oil is just about breaking us. Is there any way to put in a pellet stove in our basement with the current furnace to supplement cost. Forgive my ignorance on the matter. If that won’t work are there any other suggestions?
    Carla

    Reply
  33. Jon Udell Post author

    Carla, others on this thread have commented on their experience with pellet boilers that can complement an oil burner in a hot-water-based heating system.

    A year from now, I hope I’ll be able to comment on my own experience with the EKO wood gasification boiler that I’ve ordered but not yet installed.

    Reply
  34. Gtrgory

    I have an oil boiler which provides steam to radiators in a 1250 sqft home, 2nd floor. With the very high oil cost, I’d like to supplement the oil heating with a pellet stove installed into the fireplace in the L.Rm.. Any idea if corn is cheaper than wood pellets with a delivery to the Sturbridge, MA area (W. of Worcester, MA)?

    Reply
  35. Greg

    Hi,

    Currently, I have an oil furnace (forced hot air).
    I’m looking to buy the Harman PB105 boiler and connect it to a heat exchanger within my existing duct (either return side or in the plenem above my existing oil furnace). Has anyone done this. Also, I have an 80gal. electric hot water heater. I would like to use the Harman boiler for hot water in my house. However, how fast can it produce hot water when compared to and electric hot water tank? I plan on keeping the electric hot water tank as a backup.

    Reply
  36. Ginny

    I have thoroughly enjoyed the heat my Harman p38 pellet stove has put out since I got it in Jan. of this year. Kept the thermostat at 50 so the stove took care of all the heat I needed. Can’t wait til I can get a silo instead of lugging bags! I’m finding good hardwood pellets keep the cleaning needed each week or two to a minimum. Looking forward to eventually doing an alternative water heater as I rarely run my oil furnace for that.

    Reply
  37. Rolf

    I’ve been heating my house for 7 years with a wood pellet boiler providing hot water to some 15 radiators and for shower water etc.

    I have some 10.000 litres of pellet storage integrated in the basement of the house, enough to satisfy my boiler for one year of automatic operation.

    This is the future for New England and elsewhere in the U.S.

    Since I am a manufacturer of this type of technology, I see a coming demand of this technology due to high oil prices and general recession. I’ts time to drop new kitchens and travelling and focus on living cost and money savings and this will drive customers over from pellet stoves/oil boilers to complete pellet boiler systems.

    And by the way, there are a lot of trees in Canada and they are screaming to get rid of the huge amounts of pellets they are producing, the same goes for several other countries.

    Reply
  38. Jon Udell Post author

    > I have some 10.000 litres of pellet storage
    > integrated in the basement of the house,
    > enough to satisfy my boiler for one year
    > of automatic operation.

    Sweet!

    In my case, if all goes well, I’ll be loading firewood a couple of times a day into an EKO-40. This choice was driven by an urge to diversify sources. I already have a pellet stove for the living room. I wasn’t sure about committing to pellets — a manufactured product — on a grander scale. Yes there are lots of trees, but it’s my understanding that the first wave of relatively cheap pellet supply was based on availability of wood byproducts that could be repurposed, more than on harvesting of trees. When we get to the point where it’s all about harvesting, I figured I’d rather be one step closer to the source.

    And while the option to go fully automatic is wildly appealing, I couldn’t see accomplishing that on my budget.

    > It’s time to drop new kitchens and
    > travelling and focus on living cost

    Agreed. Things are about to get a whole lot more primal for a whole lot of people. Which will be good in the long run, I think, for a lot of reasons. Once we get past “Who moved my cheese?” and start dealing with the reality of our new situation, I hope a lot of things will start to move in right directions.

    In particular, I’m looking at the economic upside of:

    - putting people to work manufacturing modern/clean/efficient biomass-burning technologies in the US

    - putting people to work in a burgeoning industry of sustainable forestry

    - putting people to work in a burgeoning industry of home retrofitting

    Reply
  39. Susan

    I am trying to decide between an automatic pellet boiler to tie into our hotwater radiator, and which I hope will produce our hot water, or a geothermal.

    The geothermal, assuming the well will work, will perhaps not tie into the iron baseboard radiators–I’m not sure. Not keen on the duct work, and I don’t like forced air. Appparently it does not provide enough hot water, so that would need to be supplemented.
    I like the idea of not burning anything with the geothermal, but we’d have to burn something to get hot water, apparently.

    I was told that in Maine the ground loop system doesn’t work so well due to the frost heaves. Water will need to be discharged.

    The hot air is appealing for the air conditioning, but I’m not sure that we need it.

    I will talk to some geothermal installers shortly. The first one who came seemed more interested in selling the pellet-fired furnace.

    And with the pellet stove, we have to get the chimney lined, which is another drawback.

    If anyone has more info on the pros/cons of the pellet furnace, would like to hear.

    susan

    Reply
  40. Greg

    Hi,

    I was looking to buy the Harman PB105 but was told that Harman
    is unable to keep up with demand and will not be shipping any
    units until April of `09. For now I went with a pellet insert
    from St. Croix (The York), should be installed sometime in August. A little pricey but will help until next year when I
    try and buy the boiler.

    Greg

    Reply
  41. brent

    just a response to a comment i read here, contrary to what you may have been told, corn does not produce as many btus per pound as pellets does, corn is usually less than 7200 btus per pound as where pellets will burn anywhere from 7500 to 9000 btus per pound and at a cheaper price than corn (right now anyways), i am in the heating business so this information is acurate and not just my opinion; so in a nutshell, if you farm and have corn, sell it and buy pellets, you’ll save money on your heating bills

    Reply
  42. brent

    incidentally, buy a bixby stove if you want the best pellet stove on the market, hands down (i’m a dealer)

    Reply
  43. Jon Udell Post author

    I just checked the first comment in this thread, from my friend Rob Mitchell, posted New Year’s Eve 2007:

    “As a fellow New Englander we’ve considered alternatives to fuel oil, but we’ve stuck with oil for now.”

    I saw Rob recently. Their plan, six months later, for this upcoming winter, is:

    - Insulate the basement.

    - Shut down the second floor for the winter.

    - Buy a woodstove and lay in a supply of firewood.

    - Bang out a wall on the first floor to help circulate the stove’s heat.

    It’s crunch time here.

    Reply
  44. Rolf

    Hi Susan,
    The pro’s for a geothermal system w/deep well are following as far as I see it:
    Well proven technology
    Automatic operation

    The disadvantage is high investment cost and you are tied up to the price of electricity. This price will , in my opinion, follow the price for oil, gas and coal.

    If we are talking about a centralized pellet boiler in the basement or outside to heat many radiators and providing hot water for other utilities, then the pro’s are:

    - Pellet boilers are similar technology to oil or gas furnaces, you can use the existing radiators etc.

    - Pellets are fairly cheap and they will probably be cheaper in the long run compared to other alternatives.

    - It’s more environmentally friendly than geothermal systems if these operate on electricity made from coal or oil.

    The disadvantage is that you need to follow up the boiler and clean out the burner head etc. on a regular basis. It doesn’t take any longer than to wash some clothes.

    You can check out pellets.info, a Swedish pellets forum. On pellets.info/viewforum.php?f=39
    you can find pictures of different solutions.

    regards (matene dot com) Norway

    Reply
  45. Jon Udell Post author

    Rolf, I found and restored your comments, thanks!

    “The disadvantage [for geothermal] is high investment cost”

    Being heat-pump-based, isn’t it also happier in a milder climate than a more extreme one?

    “you are tied up to the price of electricity”

    Because you have to pump a lot of water to effect the heat exchange, right?

    “[pellets are] more environmentally friendly than geothermal systems if these operate on electricity made from coal or oil.”

    Yes, because they burn as cleanly, but are releasing carbon that would’ve been released anyway if the trees weren’t harvested and died a natural death. Versus coal or oil whose carbon would have remained sequestered.

    “Pellets are fairly cheap and they will probably be cheaper in the long run compared to other alternatives.”

    What about versus firewood though? I wound up buying a wood gasifier partly because I figured that it’s better to be as far upstream as possible. In a pinch I can buy a woodlot and produce my own, like a number of friends who own woodlots do. I can’t produce pellets.

    Reply
  46. Rolf

    Greg:
    The name of my pellet boiler is Ariterm. It’s a swedish pellet boiler with integrated burner. http://www.ariterm.se.
    It’s close to 7 years old. Today I would probably chose a burner from http://www.Ulma.se or a similar technology. The boiler from Ariterm is excellent but the burner is kind of old fashioned and needs to be cleaned fairly often.

    Thanks, Jon, for restoring my comments.
    A fluid to fluid heat pump needs electricity to lift the temperature up from what you are picking up in the well. The further you have to lift the temperature, the more electricity you use in a heat pump. Radiators need higher temperature to heat up the house compared to water borne systems in floors and this will increase the necessary electricity usage. An existing heating system based on boiler/ hot air furnace with radiators or hot air ducting is the ultimate basis for converting to pellets.

    When it comes to firewood heating in a boiler with accumulator tank, you need a lot of wood to heat up a large house during the winter. In bulk storage, pellets use around 1/3 of the volume compared to wood and is automatically fed to the boiler.
    It’s more comfortable and handy with pellets but more expensive if you can get firewood cheaply. I use firewood in a stove during week-ends in addition to my pellet boiler.

    I certainly believe that the US market for pellet boilers will explode the next 2 years.

    There are two major factors coinciding:
    Firstly the oil price have exploded and will probably increase further (ref. Goldman Sachs).
    Secondly I believe we are entering stagflation in the whole world starting out in the financial world where there have been no limits or regulations. This means that most people will start to save costs instead of spending money and they will aim to reduce the price of energy, for example by buying smaller cars. (GM is in deep shit).

    When the above occurs, this will be the time that I start making money from my new conveying technology for pellets. Yesterday I got an order from a school in Sweden for this technology, see http://www.matene.com.

    If anyone reading this is interested in making business out of pellet technology, I’ll be attending the http://www.bioenergydays.com in Minnesota late September together with other Scandinavian companies.

    Regards from Rolf in Norway

    Reply
    1. Eric Von Baranov

      I am confused about this talk of pellet boilers. I have been using two Austa Flam inserts for 20 years now to heat a 4000 sq house. I also have a forced hot air system. Generally part of the house is closed off in the winter knocking off about half the heating area.

      The combination is interesting. The one pellet stove runs all winter. We walk around in shirt sleeves. A thermostat on the Pellet stove is a must to save on pellets – about a 25% savings.

      But on really cold days I run the hot air furnace and the pellet stove. The fuel cost hardly shows up on the bill, but the hot air furnace bumps the heat from the pellet stove and circulates it. Often this combination is only run an hour or so. It is also very helpful when the stove has been off and you want to heat the house up quickly.

      Some times keeping it “simple stupid” is the best approach. I cannot imagine having more complexity. Further the having two pellet stoves of the same kind allows for easy trouble shooting – not that I have done much in 20+ years. But if one stove is down I just start the other one. The redundancy of two stoves coupled with the central hot air furnace for back up insures I am not living in a cold house.

      We lose electricity several times a year – always in a storm so I have connected one pellet stove to a battery back up that is kept charged from a trickle charger.

      Simplicity and redundancy is key to staying warm. Also the quality of pellets is a major component in keeping the stove to high heat efficiency. I buy the lowest ash producing pellets I can find. This can change from year to year for the same brand. I buy two bags and burn them. If the front glass in the stove is still clean I order three ton for the season. If not I move on to another brand.

      Good luck – oh and pellets are a renewable resource made from wood waste products. No worry about forest depletion. Price will take care of depletion.

      Reply
  47. Pingback: New England’s biomass-fueled home heating future, part 2 « Jon Udell

  48. Chris

    I’m loathing the fact that my wife and I purchased a pellet stove. We live in NJ and pellets are once again almost impossible to find this year! I hate this thing and wish we would have put in a messy old wood stove instead, I have loads of dead trees in the area.

    I HATE THIS THING!
    Chris

    Reply
  49. Steve

    First timer in So.Eastern MA.
    I purchased a Harmen insert two years ago.
    My wife and i love it.We go thru 2 1/2 tons
    a year for 1600sq ft. home.Also this year installed Andersen thermal windows and a
    System 2000 Energy Kinetics heating system.
    Hopefully will see major savings.Still putting off filling my oil tank hoping oil will go down further.Will let you know what
    savings i see.

    Reply
  50. EARTHEN DUDE

    ALTHOUGH I OWN A PELLET INSERT WHICH IS HIGHLY EFFICIENT AND SAVES ME DEARLY IN PROPANE COSTS, DEFINATELY AN ECONOMIC OFFSET, I AM SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING A GEOTHERMAL UNIT. ALTHOUGH, THE INITAL COST IS EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE AT 16K, THE FUTURE REWARDS FAR OUTWEIGH THE COST OF OTHER METHODS. MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU GET THE BENEFITS OF A/C IN THE SUMMER AND HEAT IN THE WINTER. THIS IS A RENEWABLE RESOURCE WITHOUT WASTE AND IN 8YRS IT PAYS FOR ITSELF ASSUMING YOU WOULD USE 2K A YEAR TO HEAT AND COOL YOUR HOME USING PROPANE

    Reply
  51. Robert Lamere

    I have a Harman PB105 wood pellet boiler that I want to use will my oil fired boiler. Would like to talk with someone who has tried this type of setup, looking for some information on the operation of this setup.
    Thanks Bob

    Reply
  52. Charlie

    Bob lamere; I am using the pb 105 pellet boiler with my oil boiler and it seems to be working well. I have it plumbed in series so I can shut it down in the summer months and use oil. My next move is to install one more shut off and bypass to completly take the oil boiler out of the loop to save on wasted B.T.U.’s. The pellet boiler needs to heat 10 gallons of water and the 3 cast iron plates every time a heat or water zone calls for heat. This is about 20 to 25 percent of the water volume plus the cast iron. This should make it that much more efficent. Hope this helps. Charlie

    Reply
  53. bryan

    Hey all:

    To those asking about steam conversion with some piping modifications the steam radiators could be used with the harman pb-105 boiler. If anyone’s looking to buy a pb-105 I have a one year old one for sale installation is possible as I’m a plumbing and heating contractor. I’m getting divorced wife has house and can’t maintain unit so I’ll be putting oil boiler online

    Reply
  54. Gary H

    I have a new install PB 105.. It is in series with old oil unit. I heat two zones plus hot water… I am using about 120 lbs of premimum pellets a day… Average outside temp is about 20 degrees… The guys that installed it set high temp to 180 degrees… No way in the world it will ever get there… Room temp with the computer runs about 154 to 165…I keep house set about 67…I know I am losing heat in oil boiler but hesitate to change setup as we travel for long week-ends and if pellets run out pipes might freeze… Anyone have any ideas how to bypass oil and have it usable either automatically or manually before I get ready to leave…

    Reply
  55. Mr Heene

    I recently installed a PB105 in series w/oil boiler. Setup works very nicely. Turn oil down about 20-30 degrees below pellet setpoints and ensure pellet low setpoint is above oil high setpoint. I have tankless DHW in the oil boiler. This also works just fine. I use about 80 lbs/day w/2500 sqft home, 1992 construction, with additional attic insulation. I’m in Massachusetts and it’s been lower than 20 degrees lately.

    Reply
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  58. Pingback: A conversation with Andy Boutin about Pellergy’s oil-to-pellet furnace retrofit « Jon Udell

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  61. Guy

    Hi,

    Just wanted to get some opinions about pellet stoves.

    We are considering buying a Harman Accentra Insert. The dealer gave me a quote of $4700 for the stove and related materials needed for install (Chimmney needs to be lined). This didn’t include labor which I may or may not do myself. Our house is about 3000 sq feet and has an open floor plan.

    Currently we heat with oil. Our average monthly cost is $385 a month based on the past year usage. We currently pay about $2.25 per gallon.

    Is this to much to pay based on what we will save? Should I look into less expensive stoves or a freestanding unit. I’m all for using less oil just want to make sure this will be a good investment.

    Lastly, wood pellets are going for around $300/ton from what I can see. Would the summer be a better time to stock up? Would the price be much less then?

    Thanks all

    Reply
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  64. Karen H.

    I wrote back in May about my pellet furnace (Harman PF105) dying twice in 2 months. The installer got it working again last month (January 2009) but it died yet again after less than 4 weeks. The installer’s son (who works for him) came out and took an hour and a half with me to go over every part of the furnace to make sure I wasn’t missing any maintenance I needed to be doing (as compared to his dad, who basically just said everything is in the manual). Apparently I wasn’t cleaning some areas properly, although I didn’t realize that from just reading the manual. (I’m a college prof so I’m not exactly stupid, but I am TOTALLY unmechanical and had been told that there was little maintenance with these furnaces. Wrong!!) I must say I feel like I understand the furnace better and hopefully that will translate into fewer problems, but just a warning, don’t go into this technology without realizing how very different it is from just turning on the thermostat (which is all I had been doing). I actually don’t mind loading pellets etc. (which I have to do once a day), but I wish the sellers and Harman’s promotional materials had been clearer about the very, very regular maintenance that is needed to keep these pellet furnaces/stoves in good shape.

    One other, more minor disappointment has been the comparisons to oil. Never mind that oil is cheap right now and probably would have been cheaper (or very comparable) to pellets for me this winter (I do know how quickly that can change), but I don’t understand how online sources suggest that a ton of pellets is equal to 125-130 gallons of oil. I was using way less than 500 gallons of oil per winter but am using 6-7 tons of pellets, which means a ton is comparable to maybe 80 gallons of oil at best. I’m wondering what others’ experience has been?

    As for when to buy pellets, I bought 5 tons last May from Home Depot and they were very reasonable ($209/ton plus $59 delivery no matter how many tons). Luckily storage isn’t an issue – I have a lot of room in my garage.

    At this moment, when the furnace is working great and I am nice and cozy, I am more or less happy with my furnace purchase. But it was a LOT more expensive than buying an oil tank would have been (to replace my underground one), and the cost savings are nowhere near what was advertised.

    Reply
  65. Jon Udell Post author

    Thanks for reporting back. It’s very helpful to hear about your experience.

    > I wish the sellers and Harman’s promotional
    > materials had been clearer about the very,
    > very regular maintenance that is needed to
    > keep these pellet furnaces/stoves in good
    > shape.

    As per my interview with Andy Boutin (http://itc.conversationsnetwork.org/shows/detail3984.html), we have yet to realize the level of automation that’s possible with solid fuels. That includes automatic feeding and also self-cleaning. It’s doable, and the know-how exists, but it hasn’t yet been applied in this domain.

    > I don’t understand how online sources
    > suggest that a ton of pellets is equal
    > to 125-130 gallons of oil. I was using
    > way less than 500 gallons of oil per
    > winter but am using 6-7 tons of pellets,
    > which means a ton is comparable to maybe
    > 80 gallons of oil at best. I’m wondering
    > what others’ experience has been?

    I’m wondering too. FWIW, in terms of raw energy value (BTUs), I just rechecked and according to the USDA Forest Products Lab:

    13,600,000 BTU = 1 ton of pellets

    15,300,000 BTU = 1 cord of seasoned firewood

    11,500,000 BTU = 100 gallons of #2 oil

    This aligns with the rule of thumb I’ve heard before, that a ton of pellets, a cord of wood, and 100 gallons of oil are rough energy equivalents.

    But there are a lot of variables, both in terms of the nature and quality of biomass fuel, and the method of combustion.

    > it was a LOT more expensive than buying
    > an oil tank would have been

    Yep. Likewise, for me, the investment I made in a wood gasifier won’t pay off nearly as fast as it would have had the price of oil not plunged. But I feel like I’ve bought insurance against future price craziness, and having a measure of predictability and control means a lot to me. So does shutting off the oil spigot, and putting dollars into the local economy instead.

    Reply
  66. Guy C

    Just wondering, they say that 13,600,000 BTU = 1 ton of pellets.

    Don’t pellet BTU’s vary depending upon brand and/or type.

    Could the fact that Karen used 6-7 tons be related to the pellet quality? I’ve heard some bad reports about pellets from Home Depot and Lowes. Check out this site for more: http://www.woodpelletinfo.com

    On another note. We have successfully installed our Pellet Stove. Went with a Harmen XXV. Very happy so far. Great to be less dependent on oil even if it is cheap right now.

    Reply
  67. Karen H.

    That’s a fair point about pellet quality maybe making a difference. I can’t remember the brand I got from the furnace seller/installer although I know it was very high ash (might have been Phoenix made in Quebec I think, which is what they just brought me — I’ll have a lot left for next winter). The brand I got from Home Depot was Nature’s Heat and it is very LOW ash. Unfortunately I only have a total of about three months’ experience with pellets so I can’t tell if pellet quality is an issue. OTOH, most of us buy pellet stoves/furnaces at least partially to save money over oil. If I had to buy higher-quality pellets for, say, $300+ per ton (I’ve seen as much as $430 per ton, which seems INSANE to me), then despite my desire to be more environmentally friendly, honestly I would seriously consider having an oil tank installed and going back to oil for MUCH less maintenance and bother. (I’m actually considering adding an oil tank as a back-up since I still have my oil furnace as well as the newer wood pellet furnace. If I ever decide to sell my house, it would probably help to have 2 heating options.)

    OTOH (again!), I do agree with Jon’s last comments about having more control and supporting the local economy. Those things are important to me too. Just wish I were more mechanical so I could have more confidence in being able to maintain/fix my furnace.

    Reply
  68. Heath

    To the original post:

    Where o where to begin. Well lets start with this. Comparing a oil boiler to a pellet stove is very unfair to the pellet stove those things are make only for supplemental heat unlike a boiler which is meant to be a primary source of heat. It is expected that a pellet stove will be turned off when people are not around. Also they do not have to maintain the firebox they have auto ignitions now and have moved out of the stone ages.

    There are also now wood pellet boilers that exist. These ARE primary heating methods and generally the hopper holds 200lbs and some manufacturers have expansion hoppers to hold 3/4 of a ton. These devices such as the harman pb105 (which i own) can do everything that a oil boiler does and save the planet at the same time! As far as wood consumption goes wood pellets are made from sawdust and there are no plants that produce only sawdust as long as we are using wood we might as well also use the sawdust for something constructive. Also last i remember its nearly imposable to grow oil unlike tree’s which can easily be grown and made into a controlled quantity. Pellet fuel is also far cheaper per btu than oil i believe the harman webside has a calculator but if you must do the math remember to compair in btu’s because otherwise you are trying to compair lbs and gallons which just does not work.

    To karen
    Yes pellet btu’s per ton do vary greatly. pelletsales.com has a table that shows many of the common bands and their average btu’s.

    Reply
  69. Karen H.

    Another update: the *($*@&%) Harman PF105 wood pellet furnace has died yet again. This time both the igniter and the feeder seem to have blown. So on my $5,000 purchase — $3,000 for the furnace itself and $2,000 for installation and tie-in to my existing hot-air duct system — I have gotten a total of less than 4 months of use in 2 winters, during which it has died 5 TIMES.

    I would NOT recommend this technology to anyone at this point. I am going to have an oil tank installed this summer and go back to oil for next winter.

    I HATE that it has come to this, but Harman doesn’t respond to anything and my local dealer charges me $100 every time they come out, even though the furnace is supposed to have a 5-year warranty. That warranty, like the furnace, is utterly useless.

    Reply
  70. Heinz Ruffieux

    Hi,

    I today by coincident found this blog. I am a Swiss who just changed the central heating boiler for a 4 apartment house from oil to pellets last October. I am completely amazed by this technology.

    By having a look at some above mentioned links and some googleing I find that the US pellets market is somehow under developed and one of you guys should take the opportunity and start a new business importing pellets technology from Europe! :-)

    In my opinion the pellets leaders are the Austrians due to their long term governmental support for biomass heating.

    Have a look what I installed:
    http://www.oekofen.co.uk/en/products/pellematic.html
    This is a FULLY automated version including a fully automated transport from the large pellets store (former oil tank) to the boiler.
    I have nothing else to do than emptying the ash can once per month.
    This very hard winter I already burned some 10-12 tons of pellets WITHOUT ANY interruption and WITHOUT ANY interaction from myself (except ash can).

    Please find below a link to a very nice video sequence from another supplier using the same technology showing the boiler and the pellets transport system in action:
    http://www.kwb.at/at/images/stories/Vsim/Vsim_en.mpg

    Of course those fully automated boilers cost more than the US boilers I have seen (9-12kEUR = 14-17’000$).

    In Europe such systems are currently VERY hot. All manufacturers announced new sales records last year!

    I can almost not understand why in US this is not yet such a hot business. As far as I understand from my US business trips, there is much more wood industry around than over here. So pellet prices must be very attractive.

    Anyone who can explain this?

    Best regards from Switzerland

    Heinz

    Reply
  71. Jon Udell Post author

    > I HATE that it has come to this, but
    > Harman doesn’t respond to anything and
    > my local dealer charges me $100 every
    > time they come out, even though the
    > furnace is supposed to have a 5-year
    > warranty. That warranty, like the furnace,
    > is utterly useless.

    I am very sorry to hear that. But thanks for reporting back. There are not many such reports available online as yet, which means yours will be found by people who are looking. Which is of no immediate help to you, of course :-(

    Reply
  72. Jon Udell Post author

    > This very hard winter I already burned
    > some 10-12 tons of pellets WITHOUT ANY
    > interruption and WITHOUT ANY interaction
    > from myself (except ash can).

    Impressive!

    > I can almost not understand why in US
    > this is not yet such a hot business.
    > As far as I understand from my US
    > business trips, there is much more wood
    > industry around than over here. So pellet
    > prices must be very attractive.

    Relative to $4/gal oil, very. Relative to $2/gal oil, no so much. And we have short memories about this kind of thing.

    Reply
  73. Heinz Ruffieux

    >Relative to $4/gal oil, >very. Relative to $2/gal >oil, no so much. And we >have short memories about >this kind of thing.

    Well I have to admit, that at current oil prices my business case would not fly over here either :-(

    But I am quite relaxed for my business case, since I recently read an article from a colleague of mine who is working in the airline sector about a potential soon “oil crunch”.
    In summary:
    “The result of the lack of adequate investment in the development of oil production by both international and national oil companies is that, in the future, oil production
    may not meet demand. Paul Stevens projects that oil demand will exceed
    production between 2009 (in the high demand scenario) and 2014 (in the
    low demand scenario)”

    Please note that this has nothing to do with the fact that the oil reserves will end at some point in time.
    The demand is now so high that with no money in the world enough oil can be produced anymore!!!

    This is somehow frightening – isn’t it?

    Cheers,

    Heinz

    Reply
  74. Rolf

    I agree with Heinz that the Oekofen and KWB are some of the best avaliable technologies today. One just have to pay a bit more for this type of engineered quality.
    I am an expert in pellet feed technology and I have seen a lot of ignorance in designs when it comes to miniature augers.

    Yesterday, I had 12 people from USA visiting one of my installations in Sweden. You can see http://www.bt.se/nyheter/naringsliv/pelletsteknik-lockar-amerikaner(1189303).gm
    but it’s in Swedish.

    There is a growing interest for automatic pellets heating systems in the US. But the price for oil and gas has to come up. This is where Obama will get money to the healthcare.
    rgds from Norway

    Reply
  75. Chris O -- LEFTY

    Just so you guys know so much of the information I have read here is either debatable or entirely just wrong. For one in response to post #77 100 gallons of heating oil produces roughly 13,850,000 BTU’s. In post #85 Heinz seems to fail to realize that currently there are 220 years worth of proven oil reserves (not including unproven/inaccesible sites). Do I think pellet/wood stoves are good heating sources, yes I do, but to act like they are in any serious way better than heating oil, natural gas, propane or electric is quite laughable (I believe everyone should use dual heating sources minimum). In all honesty I have done hours upon hours of study and when it comes to price, efficiency, ease and cleanliness no source I’ve mentioned above is far superior than the others (or in actuality superior in an undebatable fashion). By the way I don’t know if Americans realize that 90% of the worlds refinery processes are done in THIS COUNTRY. Also hundreds of common everyday products we use have crude oil remnants in them including birthday candles and toothpastes. So the next time you blow out your candles or brush your teeth think of those big bad foreign oil companies everyone spooks about.

    Reply
  76. Heinz Ruffieux

    >In post #85 Heinz seems to >fail to realize that >currently there are 220 years >worth of proven oil reserves >(not including >unproven/inaccesible sites).

    Dear Chris,

    It seems that you have not understood my message:
    I am fully aware of all the oil reserves. But my message was that soon the production facilities will fail to cover the demand due to fact that investments where too low in the past. Needed investments to cover the demand will go through the roof and so will the oil price as a consequence.

    Experts call this the supply peak and the oil supply crunch (see Google). They expect oil prices of some 200$/barrel between 2009 and 2014.

    Your statement about products using crude oil is correct. So let’s begin to use oil for appliances for which there are no alternatives and not just burn it in a boiler.

    I do not know if those experts are right or not but if they are (and their explanations seem to logically) it’s scary…

    Best regards
    Heinz

    Reply
  77. Rolf

    “So let’s begin to use oil for appliances for which there are no alternatives and not just burn it in a boiler.”

    I agree with you, Heinz.
    CO2 emissions from natural gas and oil may cause climate change and we need to use bioenergy for heating purpose.

    Reply
  78. Chris O -- LEFTY

    I apologize if I misinterpreted your message Heinz. The problem I have with the projections I always read is they are based on too many assumptions. Assumptions in economic growth, demand for oil, supply for oil and the lack of new technology. Basically these predictions that demand will outgrow supply have been around since the 1970s (if not earlier), and they always come up wrong. As I said I do believe everyone should use dual heating sources, say solar and gas. Or pellets and oil. Whatever works for them but there will be supply/demand issues for any source if it is overused.

    I do agree we should use fewer petrol products and push to lower CO2 emmissions. Problem with this is we all drive and don’t seem to worry when that is 100 times more of the equation than heating with oil or natural gas. Particulates from wood stoves and pellets are actually a problem for the environment as well.

    It would be nice if everyone drove a hybrid or the new cars that will come out running off of water. Bioheat will help the oil industry meet demand in the future and lower harm to the environment. As will oil made from tar and shale fields (although more expensive to refine).

    The projections I read that oil demand will exceed supply between 2010-2014 or whatever dates you want to use are actually based on a 4.5% global economic growth yearly from 2007 on. Well that’s not happening, and neither is the increase in demand they were predicting either.

    If you want to hear something scary…some scientific experts will also tell you that there will be close to epic environmental disasters in the year 2012 (based on the fact it is a solar maxmimum year in the most active cycle we have had in thousands of years and the fact we will have no magnetic field to protect us while the poles shift). Shocking this is the end of the Mayan long count calendar and some people believe it will be the end of the world. Now do I truly believe everything I read? Of course not and I think more of this is media and speculator info built up to play on peoples emotions. The only reason oil went to $147 a barrel last year had nothing to do with supply/demand and everything to do with investor emotions.

    Reply
  79. Tim

    Hello all, I am new to this forum, but not new to the problems of trying to keep a big old New England home warm. That is why we started a new company to bring Swedish pellet burners to the US market. Looking through the discussions, I can see some facts, some conjecture, and some falicy; so I will try to clear the air a bit.

    Maine Energy has a good system. Janfire burners a top notch, but they are very expensive, very complicated, and they did not invent the burner. Iwabo invented the burner in the eary 1980′s and have been innovating the technology ever since. That is why we offer their burner. Only 2 moving parts in the burner – one being the fan.

    Pellx revolutionized the burner industry when they came out with the “forward flame” burner. It looks like an oil burner and is now the most used and copied design in Europe. That is why we offer Pellx as part of our line.

    One european commentedthat they would buy a Ulma if they needed a new burner. We will also be offering Ulma burners under licensed manufacturing.

    So, if you are tired of the OIL roller coaster and looking forward to true energy indenpendence, hope is near.

    These appliances will be available throughout New England from reputable heating and hydronics distributors.

    Reply
  80. Guy C

    >In post #85 Heinz seems to fail to realize that currently there are 220 years worth of proven oil reserves (not including unproven/inaccesible sites).

    Can I ask what your source is for this information. I was under the impression that oil supply had already peaked. Not to mention that newer sources of oil will be more difficult to extract or refine. With demand growing how can oil last that long?

    >Do I think pellet/wood stoves are good heating sources, yes I do, but to act like they are in any serious way better than heating oil, natural gas, propane or electric is quite laughable (I believe everyone should use dual heating sources minimum).

    Heating oil maybe as efficient as wood or pellets, but most of our oil is imported. Most wood and pellets are domestic. This can create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign imports. Great benefits, I’d Say.

    Reply
  81. Rolf

    Amusing discussions.
    Here are some pictures of Minnesota bioenergy visit to Sweden early March. Regards from a Norwagian member of Scandinavian Cleantech Export Association.
    Those of you who want contact with any member company, just contact us through our website. We manufacture burners, boilers, feed systems etc.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/greenenergycamp/

    Reply
  82. Arik

    I thought you and your readers may be interested in this site – http://www.lowermyheat.com – it uses Department of Energy data, and data from people who visit the site and run the test, to help people determine if they are paying too much for their home heating source.

    If you have a minute – take a look.

    Reply
  83. Angel

    I have a pellet stove in my basement and when my furnace went I decided to put a pellet stove in my house as well. I love the constant even heat as my forced hot air system was horrible. Unfortunately, I realize I will have to have a new furnace put in anyway because how will I heat my house when I am away? I can’t possibly expect my elderly father or neighbors to carry 40 lb bags into the hopper everyday. :(

    Reply
  84. Rob

    i’m a wood pellet head and always had trouble finding good reviews of woodpellets and the stoves they were burned in. I have a lopi leyden and have taken the advise of others about how great a pellet was only to be disapointed when i burned that particular brand in my particular brand of stove. I’m a big fan of renewable energy and just launched woodpelletreviews.com. I would love to have some bloggers on it and get some good comments about pellets and the stoves they were burned in. feel free to check it out and leave some comments

    Reply
  85. tramp

    just found this site have been looking for info on different systems.many great stories on this site . i own a p68 pellet stove love it a little noisy a little dusty but great heat. looking to see if i can convert my oilburner (DeDietrich) to pellet my house is on a slab 2500 square feet and has radiant heat with 2 zones any info would be great thanks

    Reply
  86. josh

    I have an outdoor pellet boiler made by Central Boiler, I just finished my second year of heating with it.
    It has an 11 bag hopper so I only need to fill & clean once a week, and since it is hooked to my existing forced hot water system I was able to do the whole installation my self using a heat exchanger to transfer the heat to my oil boiler. this past winter I also added a pre-heater to my tankless hot water heater and saved quite a bit on gas as well.
    I saved a good bit on costs in ’08-’09, and almost broke even ’09-’10, possibly more savings after I find out how much I saved on propain.
    I most like the fact that I am employing mainers with my heating money as I buy maine made pellets.

    Reply
  87. Don

    I live in Salem NH. On Aug 13, 2008 our 1st oil delivery for the winter the cost was $860.90 for 208.5 gallons @ $4.129 per gallon! This was a real eye opener! Our house is a small split entry with approx 1100 sq feet upstairs. Since the attic had the original R7 (approx 2″) of Economy firberglass insulations when the house was built in 1962, I upgraded it to R4 foil under R19 criss crossed with R30 to bring the R factor to R53 slightly above the R49 recommended by the DOE for this region of the country. This and some newer windows saved 200 gallons of oil per year. However by adding an Avalon Astoria 45,000 BTU Pellet Stove in the basement we saved another 300 gallons of oil bringing our original 931 Gallons per year down to 421 gallons per year! That 421 is ONLY for hot water. We are much more comfortable with pellet heat than we ever were with forced hot water oil heat because in order to save oil we had the thermostat set to 68 and down to 62 at night in the bedrooms and 55 at night in the livingroom and kitchen with no heat in the basement. Now our basement is between 75 and 80 degrees while our living space upstairs in a very comfortable 70 to 72 degrees even on the coldest days last winter!! Most of the time we run the pellet stove on low. Here is the coldest day example: Early Saturday morning on 01-30-2010, The wind speed was 20 MPH and outside temperature was 4 degrees. I created a chart for the heat setting that go from 1 to 6. So for this day the chart says 6 for the heat setting. At that time, we had it set to 5 when we were asleep and 6 when we woke up for a little more warmth and comfort!! We have never been so warm and comfortable!!! To prove this I bought a commercial Cole-Palmer digital thermometer to measure the heat. The low no. 1 setting puts out 250 degrees and the high setting is over 600 degrees. Nothing I ever had can beat it! Also with the 115 lb pellet hopper, refills are far less frequent. So with millions of barrels a day spilling into the gulf, I know I have an alternative that will be a much better heat source for years to come and the $1500 dollar tax credit I just got is icing on the cake!!

    Reply
    1. Mike

      Don,
      We saw the exact same thing here. Heating oil hitting $4.50/gal and feeling cold all Winter with temp at 68 daytime and 62 at night upstairs and downstairs. So we ordered a stove and installed it in the living room. We have a 24′X 32′ Cape and have not run the heat on the first floor since we started burning pellets. We now have the downstairs running 72-75 daytime and 68 at night. We do have to run a little heat upstairs as the North bedroom is cold. (Insulation issues) The bottom line: We now burn 425 gals of oil per year vs 925 and overall we are warmer. Adding more insulation will help. Have a Warm Winter!!

      Reply
  88. Mrfuel

    Hello, We are a prospective fuel company looking for feedback on home heating markets and what our customers what in a home heating fuel. With the the instability in the oil markets heating oils price is just insane! Having a warm safe home should not be a luxury it should be a given basic need. We should not have to choose between heat or food or other basic needs this after all is the USA!

    So our question is how likely would you be to change over to a domestic fuel such as pellets which can be made out of wood or peat or Anthracite coal which is produced right here in Pennsylvania no war fought and it is abundant and burns clean with no real smoke or soot. Yes coal is a fossil fuel but so is oil and all the pollution that goes along with oil has to be figured into that too. Through our taxes we subsidize big oil so as to make it affordable at the pump all that is folks is a bait and switch! Solid fuel was the heating fuel of New England for many years before oil and should be again. There are brand new coal and pellet stoves, boilers and furnaces that can meet any home heating demand and save you a lot of money without compromising comfort during the fall and winter. Yes there is the initial cost of the new heating unit but those can be paid off in savings very quickly and we are working on possibly selling these heating units for at cost or very little over cost if you agree to a contract. The contract would be that we supply you with the said fuel at a set price for a given amount of time.

    We would love your feedback Thanks Green Energy

    Reply
  89. Firewood

    Thanks for this post and everyone’s great input. We’ve been struggling with how to best heat our house, it would be a costly conversion and we’re not sure if we would ever recoup our investment.

    Reply
  90. Jon Udell Post author


    I am confused about this talk of pellet boilers. … I also have a forced hot air system…

    That’s the key. I’ve got friends with a pellet stove that feeds into their hot air ductwork, it’s a great solution. If you’ve got a hydronic system, though, you need a way to divert the pellet heat into the hot water flow. Hence the pellet boiler.

    Reply
  91. Jon Udell Post author

    Yes coal is a fossil fuel but so is oil

    Indeed. I have friends with a coal hearth and it delivers wonderful heat at very little cost. I don’t have the facts to hand, but I just saw (at http://withouthotair.com/) the amount of coal an average American burns to generate electricity, and I’m certain it dwarfs what you’d need to heat a house.

    The issues with coal, I guess, are:

    - convenient/clean handling of the fuel

    - automatic ignition

    Reply
  92. Tom Hancock

    Well I don’t know if I am the first but I have converted my boiler to a pellet boiler with a PellX converision unit. The unit includes a pellet bunner, like an oil burner but with a larger hole into the boiler. The unit and control pannel operates on 110v 60hz electricity. The pannel allowes me to program the shut off temperature, a choice of 4 start up temperatures, the amount of start up pellets, the amount of operating pellets the air speed and max burn time. A 1.7m auger was included. This is a self start and shut off unit. I built a pellet storage bunker out of plywood that stores 1 ton of pellets ready to use. This heats my 5 zone ranch house and domestic hot water just like the old oil unit.

    Reply
  93. Kenmore

    Well said. I never thought I would agree with this opinion, but it seems that I’m starting to see things from a different point of view. I have to analyse more on this as it appears very interesting. One thing I don’t understand though is how everything is related together.

    Reply
    1. Tom Hancock

      All I can tell you is that I have a home that has several rooms with different temperature needs and I like to shower when I need it. My situation is that I want it now. When I touch the thermostat to give more heat I want it now, and when I touch the thermostat for less heat I want it now. I don’t want to wait or have more heat than I want. When you have a unit like an Oil burner it turns on when needed and turns off when not needed. This works for me summer, winter, fall or spring no extra heat to let out the window and no less heat for extra blankets. The answer to your question is that the amount of heat you put in must equal the heat you put out. The central pellet unit only puts in the amount of heat needed.

      Reply
    2. Tom Hancock

      Sorry to take so long to bet back to you. As I mentioned I use a pellet burner in my boiler. My boiler has 50 gallons tank of domestic hot water at all times in the boiler. The unit also has 150 gallons of hot water for my baseboard heat that is controlled by thermostats with individual pumps to each zone. The Ideal is to heat the water in the boiler with pellets from a burner that is automatic as far as starting and shutting off as well as self cleaning. Every 1000 # of pellets I need to clean the burner (about 15 Minutes) and every 2000# I clean the boiler ( ash from the burn area and ash from the heat exchanger about 1 hr +-. What I have is almost the same as an oil burner except for the cleaning. The thing that most people want to know is what does this cost to operate? Well I have lived in this house for 30 years and I would go through 1200 to 1500 gal. of oil a year for my heat and year round hot water. Last I checked Oil was $3.659 per gallon delivered or (say 1350 gal X $3.659 = $4940. per year.)I have just finished my first full year and I used 12 Ton of pellets at 250./ton = $3000. So I saved about $2000. on an investment of $3300. This next year I plan to invest in pellet making equipment and lower my cost to under $300. per year to heat. Let me know if you would like updates on this?

      Reply
  94. Jingchun Yang

    Dear Sir,

    We are badly in need of large amounts of biological granulated fuel. If you get our inquiry and you are interested in cooperating with us, hope you could give us your lower quotation on FOB of each kind of your production. Our end user will confirm quantity ASAP. And we sincerely hope to establish a good and long-term trading relationship with you.

    Website of our company: http://www.njxiangfa.com

    Look forward to your reply.

    Name: Jingchun Yang

    Company:NanJing XiangFa Import & Export Trading CO.,LTD
    Address:NO.151HanZhong Gate Steet,JianYe District,NanJing City.
    Postcode:200029
    Telephone:+86-25-58785542
    Mobile:+86-13914721643
    Email:njxfyang@vip.163.com

    Reply
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  97. gina

    I am in MA and tried to put in a pellet boiler but could not find an Insurance company to cover it. Would anybody mind sharing their Insurance Company’s name? Thanks

    Reply
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  99. Tom Hancock

    Jon,

    I just finished paying for my pellet mill and I am making arrangements for delivery. I will keep in touch.
    Tom

    Reply
  100. Karen H.

    Since I have complained more than once about my Harman PF105 pellet furnace (see above posts!), I thought I should write again to say that the furnace worked great all of last winter (I went through 6 tons) and so far this winter it has as well. Last winter I started using a different kind of pellet (CleanFire Hardwood from woodpellets.com) and that seemed to make a difference, so I ordered the same kind for this winter. So far, so good. (I have done little maintenance other than scraping the burn pot every week or two and emptying the ash can maybe once a month. I also have the whole furnace professionally cleaned once a year.)

    I never did get an oil tank to replace the underground one I had removed — just couldn’t figure out where to put it since my house is very odd in that it doesn’t have a basement, and I didn’t really want the tank in my garage. I will be installing a propane heater as a back-up for times when I am not home (the down side of the pellet furnace is that it needs to be fed every 1-2 days). If I sell this house, which I may in the next year or two, I’ll have 2 sources of heat so hopefully that will be enough for prospective buyers. And I still have the oil furnace if they want to install their own oil tank!

    Interestingly, when I refinanced my mortgage a couple of years ago, the appraiser just loved the pellet furnace. I know I got brownie points in the appraisal for my “alternative heating source” (I think that’s how it was written up).

    Reply
  101. Mark

    Oil burners CAN successfully be converted to burn wood pellets, but it takes a deep pocket or some thinking outside the box to make it happen. The Pelix burner setup is pricey. (I was quoted almost $5K) and does not address the issue of ash cleanout, leaving it to the design of the boiler.

    Importing a complete boiler starts at around $15K, so it’s a solution that makes rich people feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves for burning a greener fuel, yet offers little practical value for the masses.

    Since I don’t have deep pockets but I do have background in oil burner service (licensed), metal fabrication, and last but not least, microprocessor programming (yes, it’s a bit of an unusual combination), I’ve decided to build my own out of things that we can all buy off the shelf here in the US.

    The hopper began life as a 55 gallon barrel. I built an auger system by using a commercially available auger motor 2rpm CCW ($65.00 / Ebay). I bought 5 Rotodigger RD-2 garden augers (put them in a drill to bore holes in a garden to plant bulbs, etc.), cut them in a bandsaw and welded them all together to form an auger and made the housing out of 2″ black iron pipe. I put the barrel on a stand made from rebar and 1/2″ black iron pipe,

    I could have sliced and tapered the bottom of the barrel to make it feed every last pellet in the hopper, but it’s just as easy to pour an extra $4.00 bag of pellets into it to get the taper at the bottom instead of spending a whole day with a cutting wheel and a mig welder.

    The burner began as a piece of 1/4″ plate that I cut to fit the opening to replace the cover on my boiler where the oil burner gun bolts in. I made the burn pot by welding a piece of 4″ angle iron to the plate and lined the angle iron with firebrick that I bought at tractor supply and cut on a table saw with a masonry blade. The feeder tube is 1 1/2″ black iron pipe. I slotted the bottom edge of the firebrick with the masonry blade to allow air to be blown in between the firebrick and the angle iron.

    The intake plenum is a bit hard to describe without a picture ot it handy, but to summarize it, it’s a steel box on the outside of the plate that allows me to divide the intake air between over the fire and under the fire using a damper.

    The ignitor is the guts of a heat gun, available at any home depot or lowes store. It blows down a piece of 1/2″ black iron pipe that goes into the intake plenum and comes out just short of the upper (over the fire) inlet port so it heats the pellets until they ignite. I tried using the Chinese $20.00 heat guns from the local discount warehouse, but the brush holders in the blower motor fail in a week and a half.

    The combustion air blower is a blower fan from an old dishwasher. It was given to me by a friend and I don’t know the make and model of the dishwasher that it came from. Suffice it to say as a combustion air blower, it’s overkill. I’ve got most of the inlet plugged off and only need an opening about the same area as a US quarter.

    In my particular sutuation, I don’t have much of a chimney. I have about 10′ of type L woodstove pipe going through the ceiling and roof of my boiler room with vent cap on the top. Worried that I’d not have enough draft, I installed a power vent between the boiler and the flue to assure that I’d never back hot gases up into the feeder tube. I monitor the feeder tube temp anyway so if that power venter ever fails, the controller will shut it down and lock it out if the feeder reached 300 degrees.

    I’m sure the power vent is a contributing factor as to why I need so little combustion air from the blower and without the power venter, I’m sure I’d have the inlet open to something larger than a quarter, but it works reliably and it’s backed up by a failsafe in the controller so I’ll leave it set up like this. Someone else who has a good chimney may not need the power venter.

    A new power venter is a few hundred dollars, but this one was sitting in my shed for the last 15 years or so. I took it in, cleaned and inspected it, lubed the bearings, and most importantly I sealed everything on it with high temp RTV sealant so no sparks or hot gases can escape.

    The controller is the tricky part. It’s an off the shelf PIC microprocssor connected to solid state relays (Ebay, $6.50 each) by a darlington array. The PIC microcontroller won’t power the solid state relays on it’s own without exceeding the current ratings of the PIC, so I used a darlington array that will handle the current. It took me three days to build the circuitboard and write the software for it and another two weeks to get it fine tuned on the boiler. I’ve got about $200.00 invested in the controller, enclosure, relays, indicator lights, and all the related hardware.

    It’s been up and running for about 6 weeks now. Is it finished? Nope. Almost ready to start on phase 2.

    Phase 1 has been heating my home reliably and for about half the cost of heating with oil. I’ve been buying premium hardwood pellets for $3.88 per bag ($194 / ton) at Walmart. These are pellets from Maine Wood Products. I know there are other pellets out there with less ash, more softwood, etc., but these are the cheapest pellets I can find and they work just fine.

    So after running it for 6 weeks I’ve stopped chasing the gremlins out after week 2, but I still see some room for improvement.

    My boiler is a Biasi 4 section cast iron unit. It has a very tiny firebox that doesn’t hold a lot of ash. I have to clean it out twice a week during the heating season here in Maine (takes 15 minutes). In the space under the burn pot, I’ve got enough room for about 4 days worth of ashes OR… another small auger to draw out the ashes into a stainless steel container to hold them until I dump them. That’s going to be part of phase 2.

    Phase 2 will begin with another burner made from scratch. Instead of using angle iron and fire brick, I’m going to try using 316 or 310 stainless steel to make the burn pot and see how that holds up. 310 will take higher temperatures, but it’s also more vulnerable to crystal fatigue at high temps, so there’s one way to find out…

    Meanwhile, my stock firebox cover plate and my Riello burner for #2 fuel oil sit on the floor in the boiler room. I can convert it back to oil in about 20 minutes if I ever had the need to do so. You don’t run an experimental burner as a primary source of heat in the middle of a Maine winter without a backup plan…

    So this is heating my home comfortably and reliably. My feedrate for the pellets is measured at 12.38 lb per hour, this is comparable to a .75gph nozzle on a conventional oil burner running 100psi behind the nozzle. It costs about half as much as heating with oil.

    I’ve done a full cleaning on the boiler about a week ago, but it was not necessary. I did it just to see what was in there. My burner design burns the pellets from underneath with insufficient combustion air, The secondary air, most of which comes down the feeder tube with the pellets, causes the wood gases to burn above the pellets and the flames from that reach into the upper portions of the boiler’s heat exchanger and it burns itself clean. Other than a little bit of fly ash, there’s nothing in there at all. Even the caked on crap from burning oil is gone (I did not clean the boiler when I took out the oil gun and installed the new burner).

    So where is this technology going? I’ll never manufacture it to sell as a turnkey conversion package. I’d get sued within the first year. What I will do is sell parts for the DIY’er to build thier own once I’m convinced that my design is ready for that.

    Insurance is another issue. You aren’t going to get homeowner’s insurance with a DIY pellet burner in your boiler. Most european boilers don’t carry ASME ratings, nor are thier burners UL approved. Unless the political climate changes, you probably won’t have much luck with that avenue either. You might slip it by your local agent, who in turn might slip it by the underwriter unnoticed, but if anything ever happens to that boiler and it does cause a fire, you’ll need a lawyer to get your settlement check for sure.

    So I guess the moral of the story is that if you aren’t 110% sure that the thing isn’t going to burn your house down, then don’t put it in there to begin with. Wood stoves have been around long before the oil burner. It’s pretty hard for the insurance companies to categorically deny woodstoves, but they do make us jump through some hoops to have one. Converting an oil fired appliance to burn pellets is new and scary to them….

    Most of Europe is heating with wood pellets. Sweden and Finland are the biggest consumers of wood pellets in the world, but it catching on everywhere. Everywhere but here…

    Our government and out insurance industries all think that we Americans are too stupid to empty the ashes and to check the draft once in a while. Even though we have safeties on the controls to catch us if we forget, it doesn’t seem to be good enough for the people who dictate what we can and can’t have in our own homes.

    Right now this technology is widely available and at much more affordable rates in former Soviet block counties such as the Czech republic than it is here. Bosnia and Bulgaria have this technology readily available to them and we don’t. Now isn’t just that a kick in the Balkans….

    So yes, the technology is here, but it’s still taboo and will continue to be until someone with deep pockets wants it to be accepted here.

    Reply
  102. Jon Udell Post author

    This is what we used to call Yankee ingenuity. We need to bring it back in a big way. Thanks for sharing this excellent story!

    One question re:

    The Pelix burner setup is pricey. (I was quoted almost $5K) and does not address the issue of ash cleanout, leaving it to the design of the boiler.

    Are you referring to the Pellergy system (http://www.pellergy.com/)?

    Reply
    1. Mark

      No, the Pellx ( I misspelled it the first time) appear to be similar but not the same. The burner head could be identical except for the color, I’m not sure about that, but the control panel isn’t the same and the hopper looks different too. The Pellx is a Swedish import. The Pellergy claims to be made in Vt., but I guess it’s possible that they are importing the burner head and using thier own controls and hopper. Check out thier website at http://www.pellx.com

      Reply
  103. eDWARD

    Has anyone salvaged their oil tank (cut out and weld hinges on it) for use as a pellet storage continer? Have any ideas to re-purpose a 275 gallon tank?

    Reply
  104. Pingback: 12 Days of Xmas – 8 fuels combusting | aidg.org

  105. Pingback: Heating as a service: Xylogen points the way « Jon Udell

  106. http://geraldgiam.sg

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    OK, let’s start with handset style, all of the devices come with different casings, the Black – Berry Bold 9780 and the Curve 8520 have classic Blackberry bar form casings complete with full QWERTY keyboards, whereas the Black – Berry Torch 9800 has a slider form casing with slide out QWERTY keyboard and a touch screen. i – Pads are now the in-thing and having one is a status symbol.

    Reply

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