Unplugged Energy Independence

Do gasification boilers work?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Wed,Sep 10,2014 @ 10:17 AM

Flex Fuel furnaceIt depends on how you define work. Work in terms of saving money? Work in terms of efficiency? Work in terms of producing heat? The answer is yes, to all of those. Mike Greason once told a joke about heating with wood; he said, "You want to get warm from the fire, not from running back and forth to the wood pile." I think we've accomplished what Mike set us out to do, in more ways than one.

We heated with oil and have a few oil fired boiler, along with a large older home. Our hot water is electric and we use a lot of it with a teenage daughter. We installed a WoodMaster Flex Fuel furnace about a year ago. Our decision to try the Flex Fuel furnace comes on the heels of $5,000 and $7,000 a year heating oil bills that are just too high for our family. "Thermostat Anxiety" I like to call it.

The Flex Fuel choice was based on my cousins's nudging, he has an outdoor wood boiler. He has a similar old home that cost just too much to heat. I was torn between choosing the convenience of pellets and the free wood from thinning our woodlot to heat our home. My decision was made when I saw the Flex Fuel. I no longer had to be torn between my frugal side and enjoying the convenience of pellets. It burns wood or pellets.

I have a never-ending desire to be more responsible in my use of energy. Years ago, I had an eye opening conversation with a fellow on a plane who had a unique insight into the future of global energy that is not available to the general public.

This past winter I was on business in the Midwest and took a detour up to WoodMaster in Minnesota, to learn about the Flex Fuel furnace before I purchased it. The two days I was in Minnesota the air temperature was minus 37 degrees both days. I had never been to Minnesota, it is a very flat open area. We drove for two hours on a country highway as straight as a ruler without hitting a stop sign before finding WoodMaster's corporate office in an industrial park. There was a sea of outdoor wood boilers around their offices. I was surprised to see how many there were. Thousands of them lined up like little soldiers in the arctic air.

We met the WoodMaster staff, which is mostly family, are very inviting, and really love what they do. Warren and Lynn took me through a two day adventure with the Flex Fuel furnace. It is a very advanced piece of heating equipment. It is computerized, and is European technology they are producing here in the USA. Before learning about the furnace, we had to learn about our homes BTU loss and what we would be heating. Lynn and Warren insisted we have the facts before we jump into the furnace.

The Flex Fuel boiler is much smaller than I expected, it looked more like a new car in a showroom. Inside there is a large circuit board with a lot of connections. It's called the Flex Fuel because it can burn wood and pellets, and can be programmed or installed in many different ways to fit any installation. It can heat a home, water, hot tubs, garages, outbuilding and driveways.

Flex Fuel furnaceWe purchased a 30kW Flex Fuel and installed it at our home. We built a shed for the Flex Fuel. I also figured I'd be bringing wood from the woodlot to the house and I didn't want to track in the dirt that comes from firewood. The shed is 10 feet by 10 feet. This left a little extra room for some pellets and wood to be stored. I even built the roof a little long with an overhang to have a place to store wood out of the rain and weather. I also added lighting to allow us to get to the shed easily in the long dark days of winter. After building the shed it was time to set the boiler. I had to use our log truck to set the boiler in place, it weights 1,400 pounds. There was some work inside the house adding plate exchanges to the boiler and water heater.

After we finished the install, we could not wait to try the boiler. We went right up to the woodlot and found a standing dead ash tree, which was our first source of heat. The ash tree burned very well. We'd been burning wood in the boiler for a month or so before a business trip took me away again. What was I to do? The boiler needs to be loaded almost every day depending upon the outside temperature. Ask my family to load the boiler? I decided to throw some pellets in the bin and see how this boiler runs on pellets. Away I went, nervously trusting the Flex Fuel and an untested bin of pellets. I have a family member next door who agreed to check the house and make sure it was warm. I returned three days later from my business trip with a fully heated house and some pellets left in the bin. Success!

I learned I really enjoyed the convenience of pellets. They burn evenly and I only have to visit the shed about every 3-5 days. This is important for me. I travel quite a bit and did not hve time this year to stockpile wood. I did however find time to help my cousin Billy store up 14 cords for his outdoor stove! When I was burning wood, I found we only needed about 4-5 pieces of standard firewood a day to heat our house. I liked burning a mix of pine and hardwood. Our buffer tank is large, so burning the pine works well for us. We have lots of pine and I hate seeing it go to waste. Burning hardwood produces more heat, but again, I have endless pine thinning.

The Flex Fuel heats our water too. This is where we noticed unexpected savings. Our electric bill is down about 30% every month. We found this added benefit to be the most delightful part of using the boiler. The hot water never runs out. We can shower, run laundry and do dishes without ever having to think if we have enough hot water.

I love pellets, they are easy, burn well, and leave me to do other things. Next year, I'm sure I'll burn more wood, as my schedule is not as full as it was this past year. It is work to pick up bags of pellets and load the bin, but certainly less than gathering, splitting and stacking wood. We are contemplating installing a large grain bin and auger to get a truckload of pellets for next season. That remains to be analyzed on the dollars and cents though. I am very proud we only ordered a hundred gallons of heating oil for emergency use. When we got stuck out of state in a snow storm this winter season, our emergency oil came in handy. Our oil boiler kicked on when the pellets ran out. I don't miss the huge oil bills and calling around to find the best price for oil.

Do gasification boilers work? We certainly are saving money in the long run. I estimate we will save about $4,900 a year in oil costs and about $225 a year in electric costs. It will take us about four years to recover our investment and begin saving the money we are spending. We will keep the thermostats wherever we want them and the hot water will run as long as we want. I find that buying the pellets and splitting wood involve some physical work, but it feels good physically, and in my soul. We certainly have not found an overall permanent energy solution for our country. Until then, I'll do my part right here, in my little corner of it.

Article written by Charles Bulson. Charles Bulson is a proud NYFOA member.

Topics: affordable fuel, alternative energy sources, affordable heat, affordable heating source, residential wood heat, expensive winter heat, woodmaster, flexfuel, high efficiency furnace, woodmaster flexfuel series, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, WoodMaster FlexFuel, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, wood master, home heating, alternative home heating, gasification boilers, gasification boiler

Amid soaring propane prices, a rising interest in alternatives

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Feb 11,2014 @ 10:40 AM

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While sky-high propane prices are causing hardships for many businesses and homeowners, they’re also helping generate interest in renewable alternatives such as wood, solar and geothermal.

Companies that sell solar thermal, geothermal and wood furnaces are reporting an uptick in phone calls and inquiries over the past few weeks as propane customers in the region suffer through near-record prices and localized shortages. (photo courtesy Solar Skies)

The evidence is only anecdotal at this point, and most said the buzz hadn’t yet translated into new sales, but at least one shop is ramping up production in anticipation of new orders.

Northwest Manufacturing, which makes wood-fired furnaces under the WoodMaster brand, started offering overtime this week to workers at its factory in Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, as it attempts to double production. It also plans to make up to six new hires.

“It’s been just a blur since [three weeks ago],” said Todd Strem, the company’s sales and marketing manager. “It’s definitely affected us in a positive way.”

This is typically a slow time of year for heating system sales, Strem said, but WoodMaster’s dealers are reporting a steady stream of people stopping in to ask about the furnaces. The company’s website traffic has more than doubled in the last month.

At Strandlund Refrigeration Heating & Cooling in Mora, Minnesota, salesman Rod Herwig said they’re fielding more calls than usual from people curious about geothermal systems.

“I can’t say it’s overwhelming, but to be honest, yeah, there’s more interest right now than there has been for a bit,” Herwig said. “And now is usually our quiet time.”

Herwig estimated that they’ve received six or seven phone calls in the past two weeks from people seeking quotes or other information about geothermal systems. During busier months, it’s typically only four or five per month.

It’s too soon to say whether that interest will translate into new sales and installations. Herwig suspects that will depend on what happens to propane price in the coming weeks.

“We’ll know six months from now,” Herwig said.

It’s the same story at Solar Skies Manufacturing in Alexandria, Minnesota. The company manufacturers solar thermal systems for hot water and space heating.

“We can feel the interest level has picked up in the last two weeks,” said CEO Randy Hagen. “It’s too early to convert that into new orders yet, but our quoting level for those types of customers has definitely increased — a lot.”

A solar thermal system won’t entirely eliminate a home or business’s heating bill, but a typical system might cover 65 percent of water heating or 30 percent of space heating.

The price for a system varies significantly depending on the size, features and location, but an average cost for a residential system is around $10,000, Hagen said. Some of that cost can be offset with state and federal incentives.

However, amid a spike in propane prices, the payback time on solar thermal, geothermal, and wood heating systems looks much better today than it did at the start of winter.

Northwest Manufacturing sold a WoodMaster system to a school in northeastern Minnesota that was previously heated with propane. Strem said the original payback time it calculated for the school was around six or seven years.

If propane and wood pellet prices were to stay where they’re at — a big “if” — Strem said the school district could break even on their investment in as little as two years.

The Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, a Minnesota nonprofit that manufactures and sells subsidized solar furnaces to low-income families, isn’t yet sure how the propane pinch will affect its program, but program manager Shannon Wheeler said it certainly underscores its importance.

“It makes that work all the more necessary,” Wheeler said. “Our families that are on propane and also have a solar air heat system … are not going through their propane as quickly and hopefully don’t have to refill with these higher prices.”

How long propane prices stay high will likely determine how much of this winter’s interest in renewable alternatives can be converted into new installations later in the year.

Said Strem: “It’s going to make for an interesting year if this continues.”

Article written by Dan Haugen from Midwest Daily News.

Topics: woodmaster, pellet fuel, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, renewable fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, natural energy, WoodMaster boiler, renewable energy, wood furnace, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, WoodMaster Commercial Series

Getting gouged by propane prices?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Jan 30,2014 @ 09:54 AM

alternative heatingGetting gouged by propane prices? If so, you're not alone. Some 14 million Americans who rely on propane have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already low inventories, energy officials say.

Now is a better time than ever to switch to alternative energy. Free yourself from the rollercoaster of fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

Don't just take our word for it. Here are some recent articles from around the U.S

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Scott Walker declares state of emergency on propane shortage.

Citing another wave of frigid weather bearing down on Wisconsin and dangerously low supplies of propane, Governor Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency. Walker directed all state agencies "to assist as appropriate" in helping residents deal with the propane shortage, which has sent prices soaring and left some users struggling to find a supplier who will provide fuel.

Nearly 250,000 Wisconsin homes heat with propane, many in rural areas not served by natural gas lines.

The shortage — attributed to a colder-than-normal winter, the shutdown of a key supply pipeline earlier in the season and heavy use of propane by farmers to dry grain last fall — has sent prices for many customers well above $5 a gallon. Read the full article here.

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Midwest faces propane emergency as more cold weather moves in.

Millions of residents in the Midwest and Northeast who rely on propane to heat their homes are facing a severe shortage and spiking prices as another wave of freezing weather heads east. Now, states across the region are deploying emergency resources as a result.

Blame for the propane shortage lies with the wetter-than-usual fall, which meant that farmers used more propane than usual to dry corn crops; an unusually cold winter; and a temporary shutdown of a major pipeline for maintenance this year.

As a result, propane prices are setting new records. The average price of a gallon of residential propane for the week ending Jan. 20 hit $2.96, according to the Energy Information Administration, up 60 cents from mid-October, the highest price ever recorded by the agency. Prices in the Midwest are even higher; on Friday, prices ended at $4.30 a gallon in the Midwest, down from a peak of about $5 a gallon. Read full article here.

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Propane shortage slams farmers.

A propane squeeze caused by January’s bitter cold has put the hurt on Minnesota’s livestock industry, as farmers scramble to find costly fuel to keep their animals warm.

Some turkey growers are being told by suppliers that the propane spigot might get turned off if the cold keeps up over the next week.

Shortage worries are particularly acute in the ­turkey industry, and Minnesota is the nation’s leading turkey-producing state, with about 250 growers.

Fuel suppliers have told some farmers that they have “five days left of propane,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “The big concern is availability.”

Farmers — along with propane users of all stripes — are paying huge premiums for the fuel these days. Wholesale spot prices in Minnesota have gone from about $3.75 per gallon a few days ago to just south of $5 a gallon. Last fall, the propane price was $1.55 per gallon, and most of the run-up since then has occurred this month. Read full article here.

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U.S. propane shortage hits millions during brutal freeze.

Millions of Americans are feeling the pinch of a propane shortage this week as brutal cold exposes the supply vulnerabilities of a fuel that heats homes, schools and businesses across wide swathes of the United States.

Prices of the fuel, a liquefied petroleum gas, have rocketed to all-time highs in Midwestern states, distributors are rationing supplies, and some schools have shut due to a lack of the fuel during this year's second bout of Arctic weather.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued emergency orders suspending the limits on the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road for 10 Midwestern states and 12 Northeastern states, a rare regional order. Read full article here.

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Prolonged cold blast worsens propane shortage across Midwest.

America’s chronic cold is creating a significant propane shortage across the Midwest — leading Wisconsin to become the latest state to declare an energy emergency in advance of more arctic air blasting eastward this week.

Some 14 million Americans who rely on that type of fuel have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already-low inventories, energy officials say.

Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Alabama, have already declared energy emergencies — which helps to loosen transportation rules so that out-of-state truckers can drive longer hours to make needed propane deliveries. Read full article here.

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Now is a great time to research alternative heating products. Take the time to learn about the products available to you and the changes the EPA will be making to the wood burning industry.

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NH Introduces Non-Residential Wood Pellet Rebate Program

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Dec 31,2013 @ 11:27 AM

WoodMaster Commercial SeriesNew Hampshire has released a rebate program for commercial and industrial bulk fuel fed wood pellet central heating systems.

Key Components of the Rebate Program:

  • The rebate will cover 30% of the costs of purchase and installation, up to a maximum of $50,000, for investments in non-residential bulk fuel fed wood pellet boilers and furnaces of 2.5 million BTU or less.
  • An additional rebate for 30% of the costs of thermal storage tanks, up to a maximum of $5,000, is also available.
  • The budget for this program is $629,000 for state fiscal year 2014, ending June 30, 2014.
  • The new program also requires rebate recipients to "benchmark" the energy performance of the building that will house the new heating system to demonstrate opportunities for additional efficiency improvements.

Read the full description of the rebate program here.

Read the terms and conditions of the rebate program in Step 1 of the application form here.

Topics: energy-efficient fuel, alternative energy sources, wood pellets, commercial boiler, commercial boilers, Commercial Series, woodmaster, energy-efficient heating, renewable fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, natural energy, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, WoodMaster Commercial Series, alternative home heating

2012 Census Shows Wood Heating Continues Growth Streak

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Wed,Oct 02,2013 @ 09:55 AM

US Census mapAccording to recently released U.S. Census statistics, 63,566 more families used wood or pellets as a primary heating fuel in 2012 compared to 2011, which amounts to an increase of 2.6 percent, making wood again the fastest growing heating fuel in America.

From 2000 to 2010, wood and pellet home heating grew by 34 percent, faster than any of the other heating fuels, including solar and natural gas. Oil and propane use declined between 2000 and 2010, and the decline continued in 2012.

Today, 2.1 percent of Americans use wood or pellets as their primary heating fuel, up from 1.6 percent in 2000. An additional 7.7 percent of U.S. households use wood as a secondary heating fuel, according to the 2009 EIA Renewable Energy Consumption Survey.

Nearly 2.5 million households use wood as a primary heating fuel, making it, by far, the dominant residential source of renewable energy in the United States. In comparison, only about 500,000 of U.S. homes have solar panels and less than 50,000 use solar thermal heating. Solar thermal heating dropped by 2 percent in 2012 from 2011, according to the new Census numbers.

The states with the biggest growth in wood heat from 2011 to 2012 are Delaware (35.1 percent), Rhode Island (29.6 percent), Nebraska (24.6 percent), New Hampshire (18.5 percent) and New Jersey (17.7 percent). However, other states experienced declines. Among the important wood heating states of Washington, Oregon and California, the decline was very small, but there were more significant declines in Illinois (5.2 percent), Idaho (5 percent) and Colorado (4.8 percent). Over a 12-year period, the prevalence of wood heating has increased, often very significantly, in every state except Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii.

Topics: wood pellet, wood pellets, wood heat, wood heating, woodmaster, WoodMaster FlexFuel, wood pellet heat, outdoor wood furnace, outdoor wood furnaces

U.S. Government Winter Fuels Outlook Includes Pellets and Wood

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Oct 23,2012 @ 01:59 PM

According to the Alliance for Green Heat, EIA Administrator Sieminski says wood pellets represent a "significant opportunity" for consumers to save money.
October 10, 2012 - The U.S. government released its annual assessment of prices and availability of heating fuels today and for the first time it included information on pellets and firewood. After gas and electricity, wood is the third most common heating fuel in America, but the annual Winter Fuels Outlook had never discussed it prior to the 2012-13 heating season.

The Winter Fuels Outlook is put out by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent statistical and analytical agency within the Department of Energy. Reports published by the agency are the premier source of energy information in the country and are used to guide economic policy and educate the public.

During today's press conference, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski mentioned the "significant opportunity" for consumers to supplement their oil heat with wood pellets, as well as with electricity.

The inclusion of wood and pellets in the Winter Fuels Outlook came after over a year of discussions and meetings between the EIA and a coalition of wood and pellet groups. Senator Shaheen (D-NH) also raised the importance of pellets as an alternative to oil in New England with Administrator Sieminski.

According to the EIA, wood and pellets now produce more residential heat in the US than propane and nearly as much as oil. Wood produces 0.5 quadrillion Btu (quads) per year, propane 0.49 quads and oil 0.6.

EIA projects that average household expenditures for heating oil and natural gas will increase by 19 percent and 15 percent respectively over last heating season. The agency expects the country will experience colder temperatures compared to last year's mild winter, with oil and gas prices remaining virtually the same.

In terms of wood and pellets, the report said:
Wood consumption in homes has risen over the past 10 years, reversing a trend seen in the last two decades of the 20th century. In 2009, U.S. households consumed about 0.5 quadrillion Btu (quads) of wood. Household fuel oil consumption, by comparison, was only slightly higher at 0.6 quads. In homes across the United States, wood is most commonly used as a secondary source of heat and is second only to electricity as a supplemental heating fuel. Twenty percent of New England homes (1.1 million) used wood for space heating, water heating, or cooking in 2009 (EIA, Residential Energy Consumption Survey, 2009). This is nearly twice the national rate. Almost half of all rural households used wood in this area of the country. In contrast, only 12 percent of urban New England households used the fuel.
According to data previously published by the EIA, the average American household heating with wood consumes two cords of wood per year. This number includes homes that use wood or pellets as a primary, secondary or occasional heat source. The EIA also documents that consumption in rural areas is more than twice that of urban areas. The EIA estimates that 91% of homes that heat with wood use firewood, 8% use wood scrap and 6% use pellets.

Wood use also trends strongly with income level, according to EIA survey data, with households making $20,000 or less using more than twice the amount of wood as households making $120,000 or more. 

"The EIA's focus on wood and pellets is an important and timely step in the right direction," said John Ackerly, President of the Alliance for Green Heat, a non-profit consumer organization based in the DC area. "The next step is for states to start including the price of pellets in their monthly fuel price reports," Ackerly added.

 

Topics: affordable fuel, alternative energy sources, alliance for green heat, affordable heat, affordability of wood heating, affordability of heating with wood, woodmaster, Pellet furnaces, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, wood pellet heat, outdoor wood furnace, outdoor wood furnaces

Wood Pellet Heat is a Viable Energy Alternative

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Mon,Sep 17,2012 @ 10:47 AM

wood pellet heat

According to ecoRI, oil has long been the primary heating source across much of the Northeast. However, the number of households seeking viable alternatives such as wood pellet heat to expensive oil has continued to rise since about 2008, when the price skyrocketed to more than $4 a gallon in some places.

Sales of pellet stoves and furnaces consequently have been increasing in the United States as more Americans seek affordable alternatives to costly home-heating oil. Attempting to find much-needed relief from record-high prices, consumers are willing to pay the upfront cost for pellet stoves.

In general, pellet stoves pay for themselves in about four years. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot charged $4.18 for a bag of 40 pounds this past winter in the Providence area. Pellets are usually delivered on a 1-ton pallet of 50 40-pound bags that costs between $200 and $300. On average, it takes 2 to 3 tons a year to heat a home, which translates to spending about $900 to heat a typical three-bedroom home with a pellet stove.

Wood pellet heat also offers price stability, as buying an entire year’s supply of pellets in bulk avoids the often-volatile cost of heating oil. For instance, a 250-gallon tank of oil at $3.50 a gallon would cost $875, but the price of oil constantly fluctuates.

Pellet fuel can substitute home-heating oil as an economically viable source of thermal energy for both residential and commercial applications. Pellet stoves first emerged in this country in the 1970s as a response to fuel price instability, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute, a trade group based in Arlington, Va. Pellets typically are made from wood waste produced at paper and saw mills and at furniture manufacturing plants.

Wood pellet heat offers consumers efficiency and environmental benefits over cordwood. Pellets burn more cleanly and more efficiently than wood, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute, because they effectively generate more heat while emitting less pollution.

The sharp rise of heating oil prices has fueled a consumer thirst for viable alternatives such as wood pellets. Pellets so far have replaced about 8 million barrels of oil annually, according to the Pellet Fuels Institute. Such energy displacement helps stimulate the American economy while enhancing national security and helping protect the environment.

Interested in wood pellet heat? Check out the Flex Fuel, Force20, and our newest money-saving product, the Ultra Series.

Contact Us for more information today!

Topics: woodmaster stove, wood pellet, wood pellets, woodmaster, pellet fuel, pellet furnace, alternative energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, wood master

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