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Outside wood burning stove

 
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Hi everybody,
First time poster here.
I do not know much about woodburners but my neighbor has an outside wood burner for their house. I don't know the paticulars of what or how its heating inside their house but over the past year i notice that thing smokes alot.

How much should these smoke? We are about 300 feet away from it across the road and when we open the window our house smells like a bon fire.

I understand the thing needs to smoke but it pours out the exhaust pipe thick the whole time its running.

Am i crazy to think something is wrong with it?

My wife is freaking out about it, cause it constantly is smelling.

Any hwlp is appreciated.

Thanks,
 
pollinator
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Its most likely an Outdoor Wood Boiler that heats water that is then pumped into the house for heat. While there are newer gasification models that don't smoke as much, the vast majority of boilers are of the water jacket design which is notorious for being smoke dragons. So no there probably isn't anything wrong with your neighbors boiler just thats the nature of an inefficient beast.
 
pollinator
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Hi there Llibj Mi. Welcome to Permies.

Marc makes an excellent point. I would add that I believe that such a system could be managed more intelligently to reduce the impact. (Rant: Really, boiler owner? You can't treat a wood burner like an on/off gas burner. That's patently dumb. Smarten up.)

Back to the point: I say you are not crazy. I don't think it's acceptable for your close "neighbour" to constantly pollute your air like that.

I don't know what your options are -- it depends on your relationship with this person, and the rules in your jurisdiction (bylaw etc.).

Luck!
-Doug

 
pollinator
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They are inherently inefficient and then most are run as inefficient as possible for the sake of convenience.  Load them full of cold wet wood to last all day while at work or all night, then let it damper down and smolder the whole time. When it does need heat, it kicks on a draft fan (forge blower) and blows smoke signals because the water jacket quenched the fire before the smoke could burn.

They have their place, but just heating a home isn't it.  
 
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Timely post as we are evaluating whether an OWB (Outdoor Wood Boiler) would be appropriate for our old house. Smoking out neighbors would be an absolute show stopper for us and most of the issues with smoke I have seen is as pointed out due to smoldering. There are newer, more expensive OWB’s available that utilize a secondary gasifier system (as Marc points out) that reburns the smoke to more efficiently burn the wood, but I suspect even these stoves, despite the EPA certification, can smoke excessively in the shoulder seasons and when starting up. This issue can be further mitigated with more expensive stoves that are dual fuel where NG or propane can be used when smoldering is expected.

I suspect the op’s issue with smoke is a result of smoldering due to the fire being tamped down to prolong burn times and possibly wood with too high a moisture content. It could be the smoky neighbor is simply cheap and is burning unseasoned wood while loading the stove is easy and saving the seasoned hard wood for those long winter nights when you want a long, sustained burn that requires less trips to load wood into the OWB. I would suggest filming the smoke to collect evidence for a complaint to the authorities? I guess it comes down to where the OP is located; State, County, Town and if there are any laws that might apply to there situation.

Our idea for best practices IF we go with an OWB is as follows:

Use only dry hard wood when starting the boiler until a really good, hot fire is achieved.
Design the system with deeply buried lines to make it more efficient.
Design the system with a tall enough smoke stack to help mitigate any smoke affecting our neighbors
Design the system so there is adequate thermal storage to enhance performance.
Have alternative water and house heating for the shoulder seasons to mitigate smoke issues.
 
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James spelled things out pretty good, I guess it can be very annoying living too close to someone trying to heat with wet or green wood or if they just are not stoking fire in an efficient manner.
maybe chat the neighbor up and ask about what kind of contraption they got going there and find out what's going on and maybe you could help them get the smoke out of the fire. a lot of times just asking simple questions in a friendly manner with neighbors can lead to good communications.
 
pollinator
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Welcome to permies, Llibj Mi.

I would check bylaws and minimum chimney heights. If he doesn't have one and is too close to other structures, he might be required to add one. You could also have a conversation with your neighbour, and let them know that the way they operate their OWB obviates your use of your window and legal property if the conversation is anything but amicable and accomodating.

This issue seems to be a perfect fit for Rocket Mass Heaters. Build an outdoor RMH, or one for a shed that, incidentally, might hold stacked wood on its outside walls, drying in the waste heat. The burn works just like an RMH, a fast, high-temperature complete burn, while the mass acts as a heat battery and buffer for the transfer of that heat energy to the boiler. If a longer duration of heat retention is required, add more mass to the design. It will need more initial time to come up to temperature, but after that, it won't be the firing of the RMH but the opening of water valves that will instantly warm the neighbours' house.

So maybe build a better beast, and then show it off, and point and laugh at old smokey that eats ten times as much wood, and doesn't heat worth a damn by comparison. That's much more constructive than "hoping" there's an "accident" with their "outdoor water boiler." Mind you, they are so, sooo flammable...

But anyways, lots of good information from the posts above, as always. The best thing to do is to have a conversation. Let us know how it proceeds. I hope you get to use your window soon. Good luck.

-CK
 
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Hi Llibj,  Welcome!   Have you spoken with your neighbour at all about your problem in a kind friendly way? Sometimes I can look at a situation and think that it may seem so obvious to me that there is a problem, but to another is not even a consideration. To find out the facts of where they are coming from can break a lot of misconceptions. Are they approaching it with a strong attitude about it saying that they can do whatever they want or are they just unaware of how to run it properly?
 
Llibj Mi
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Wow, thank you everybody for the very informative posts.

I really appreciate it.

Well the reason we have noticed this is because they have just moved in about 1 year ago. The original owner used to use that burner all the time and was never this much smoke pouring out.
It looks like the exhaust stack is about 10 feet off of the ground. I will check again on that.

I have not spoke with them about it since we do live in a rural area but we are still somewhat near our neighbors.

Didn't want to stir the pot quite yet until i knew there was a mandate or somthing being operated wrong or township rule or anything.

But my wife says she is going to talk to them if i like it or not. So im trying to get some facts first.

I know i dont want to be told what to do on my own property either, i know i would be a bit defensive if someone were to approach me. But i would also be aware and concerned about my neighbors as well. And want to try to mitigate smoke as much as possible.

Maybe ill quite my job and burn huge piles of leaves all day long and see how they like it. Lol.
 
Llibj Mi
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It seems like the large amount of smoke happens in groups.
For maybe 4-5 hours then the smoke dissipates to what looks like a standard level for a while.

It doesn't bother me to much cause im at work all day, then when i get home the smell of bonfire isn't to bad, cause i like it.

But my wife being home all day at least 3-4 days a week i guess is a different story.

Maybe i should confront them. But i am leaning more towards asking the township if it is acceptable??

 
James Black
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Chris Kott wrote:This issue seems to be a perfect fit for Rocket Mass Heaters. Build an outdoor RMH, or one for a shed that, incidentally, might hold stacked wood on its outside walls, drying in the waste heat. The burn works just like an RMH, a fast, high-temperature complete burn, while the mass acts as a heat battery and buffer for the transfer of that heat energy to the boiler. If a longer duration of heat retention is required, add more mass to the design. It will need more initial time to come up to temperature, but after that, it won't be the firing of the RMH but the opening of water valves that will instantly warm the neighbours' house.



Not to sidetrack the OP (I think we have an active thread discussing a home built RMH boiler). Honestly I have doubts that an RMH would work in the context to heat a whole house via a boiler. First, positioning the RMH outside the structure defeats somewhat the inherent built in advantages of having a heated mass inside the structure. Two, if I understand RMH builds, they would require feeding wood more frequently then the large fire boxes the OWB usually is designed with (I have read that they can go days between loading wood). Having to walk out to the boiler and feed it on a cold night is a definite downside to any outside wood heating system. Three, the safety of high temperatures required to heat the water or antifreeze in the system to a temp high enough to be fed to radiators in a house would worry me in a home built RMH boiler system for safety reasons. 140 degrees is considered the minimum to prevent the development of legionnaires disease in a system that provides hot water. One of the long term issues w/ OWB’s I’ve seen are corrosion and failure of fire boxes (hence a lot of talk of types of steel used by the higher end units I see advertised). RMH is off the table for heating our house for a number of reasons and longevity of the build is one of them, but I am considering one for heating a greenhouse.

In our case we view an OWB, if we pull the trigger on one, only as a bridge system that eventually transitions to something more sustainable 10 years down the road.

To the OP, if you want help deciphering your local regulations feel free to message me your location and I would be happy to research them and keep your info private. IANAL, but do have a lot of experience reading and interpreting regulations.
 
R Scott
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If they have only been there a year, he probably doesn't know better.  Once he understands every puff of smoke is wasted time and money not going to heat maybe he will change.  

 
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If it's the same burner and different people starting smoking all of a sudden, I would bet the new people are burning unseasoned wood. It probably smokes several hours as the water is being driven off, then clears up.  My father installed one in the last house they built. It is a downdraft gassifier and it only smokes a minute or so after the fan shuts off. The neighbors had some kind of outdoor wood boiler, and it smoked like a freight train. Luckily they are over a half-mile away. I haven't noticed it as much lately, so maybe they figured it out or got a different one. I can imagine some people having one all of a sudden and not having seasoned wood on hand. Then they might have to burn unseasoned wood the first winter until they can let some season over the next summer.

Like you said, I would be careful burning bridges. It may be a simple issue they want to fix. Maybe asking out of curiosity, or safety concerns, or wanting to help might help. Being confrontational can be risky. You might mention the previous owners not having such issues. Good luck!
 
Chris Kott
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I disagree, James, although in the end I suppose not really.

Imagine a RMH designed with the sole purpose of existing as sufficient insulated thermal mass to, after "charging" to a hot ambient temperature in excess of that which is required to keep the boiler up to temperature, requires only a daily burn to stay there. You wouldn't even need the pallet-sized, slow-burn conditions the OWB "requires" (I think it's such a dumb design, much like any low-slow burn technology that exists for convenience over efficiency) because so much more would be extracted in the burn and held for use in the insulated mass. For anyone who knows how long it takes for a forge or kiln to come down in temperature, even in crash situations, where there's no effort to be made to slow catastrophic cooling, refractory doesn't cool quickly. If you insulate it enough, the heat will seek the easiest path to equalisation, which will be whatever heat exchanger mechanism is working within the mass to exchange it to the boiler. Personally, except for the toxicity, a lead sleeve around the boiler and in a pattern of fins around it out into the upper mass would be ideal; it would have to be designed to contain the lead, but at operational temperatures, it's a fluid, so you could even pump it if you had a need, and if its flow path went down overtop of the riser, wouldn't it then rise back up to the top of a gravity-controlled distribution setup sealed within the outer refractory?

And yes, even if, for the sake of cleanliness, it was fed and maintained from outside the building, it would only make sense to me to have the RMHOWB actually be a RMHIWB, swapping the Outdoor for Integrated or Indoor. It just makes sense to trap the "waste" heat that way.

Ooh, liquid metal thermal battery. This just got hot. Not to sidetrack the OP.

To attempt a helpful answer, I think everyone agrees that talking it out is the best approach. I definitely agree that bringing up how much more it costs to run an OWB inefficiently might help if they work for their livings, and might, in any case, be seen as a neighbourly thing to do, rather than charging over and demanding answers to questions they might not even know the answer to. Do we even know what their experience with these things is? Do they have any? Perhaps they'd honestly appreciate some help.

And reading it again, I am also allowing for a little bit of timing disphoria. Maybe they could be doing something wrong in the firing, but honestly, it might just be the timing interfering with your wife's schedule. If they did it early enough that the window could stay closed (because it's ostensibly cold), would you even notice?

In any case, good luck dealing with real-world neighbour support issues. It sounds like this might be the best approach, if applicable. Make a new friend, if possible. Find out if they're doing anything wrong. If you don't know, ask us here, or youTube it, if you have the patience. I hope this is the case, because it's the easiest, most positive outcome, in my opinion. You wouldn't even be left with the spectre of recrimination for butting in. You might have to deal with attending, or throwing, an extra barbequeue or two a year.

The introvert shudders.

Is your wife really sure that it's so much of an issue to have to deal with all that?

-CK
 
James Black
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Jordan Holland wrote:If it's the same burner and different people starting smoking all of a sudden, I would bet the new people are burning unseasoned wood. It probably smokes several hours as the water is being driven off, then clears up.  My father installed one in the last house they built. It is a downdraft gassifier and it only smokes a minute or so after the fan shuts off. The neighbors had some kind of outdoor wood boiler, and it smoked like a freight train. Luckily they are over a half-mile away. I haven't noticed it as much lately, so maybe they figured it out or got a different one. I can imagine some people having one all of a sudden and not having seasoned wood on hand. Then they might have to burn unseasoned wood the first winter until they can let some season over the next summer.

Like you said, I would be careful burning bridges. It may be a simple issue they want to fix. Maybe asking out of curiosity, or safety concerns, or wanting to help might help. Being confrontational can be risky. You might mention the previous owners not having such issues. Good luck!



Agree. From the description it seems the new owners went through a winter without a lot of smoke which would comport with the house being sold with a winters supply of wood. Perhaps the new owners procrastinated getting prepared for this season. I’ve noticed some of the area firewood purveyors are only selling semi-seasoned firewood now, so they may have missed out on getting dry hardwood.
 
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Owning a wood fired boiler, most of the suggestions above are correct. Unseasoned wood, firing up boiler from cold temperature, airports can plug with creosote. And every time they turn on due to water set point it takes a little bit till coals are revived and gasification occurs. Boilers can also bridge where the wood isn't making contact with the gasification port. That's why I really wish there was a good rocket mass boiler design. By having the unit turn on and off they do build more creosote then a rocket mass stove which burns completely all the way through. But I do like the idea of temperature control  and having something burn for 12 to 24 hours without the need of reload
 
James Black
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One design we are looking at for a OWB for our place would incorporate a large insulated liquid reservoir that allows the OWB to run at max capacity for an extended period to heat to a set point and then shut down while the heated liquid mass would provide all the heating and hot water needs. That way there would be no smoldering at all.

Thermal Storage
Many boilers employ thermal storage to improve efficiency by minimizing the amount of on-off cycling. This is usually a large, insulated metal tank (600 to 1500 gallons) that holds the heated water before circulating it through the house or building. Without thermal storage, any time the house calls for heat, the heater turns on, which means the heater cycles on and off fairly often. High efficiencies are only attained when the fire is burning hot, so every time the equipment cycles on and off, efficiency drops and emissions increase. With thermal storage, the boiler fires for a long period of time in order to heat the large amount of water in storage, and then it shuts down for a long period of time while the house draws the hot water off storage. This greatly increases efficiency and reduces emissions. But there is a cost: thermal storage can add about $1,500 to $3,000 to a biomass boiler system.

 
Dan Vz
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I've seen that design as well. I have some reservations with it. I currently have over 400 gallons in my system and it's amazing how  quickly the heat is pulled out of it. The lower the water temp the more my pumps in the house have to run and so being off grid at all adds up to a similar footprint for my battery system. My biggest issues are that now I'm dealing with shoulder seasons and Heating 400-600-1000 gallons of water for just 5 degrees in the house to take the edge off and make it more comfortable, Seems like a big waste. My wood firedboiler if has proper coals then goes into gasification fairly quickly upon restart, but I understand that people want zerosmoke from these rocket mass heaters which I can appreciate.
 
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The outdoor boilers Achilles heel is its method of lighting a fire (manually light a fire and let it smolder forever!)
Thats why they usually have a short stack....a tall stack would create draft and fuel would just burn up briskly, and need to be refed (and relit) frequently.
Usually draft control is just a weighted flap that the combustion blower can overpower ...... a good draft could overpower it too.

A true controlled draft would starve the fire out.... and propane or some  other method would have to be employed to relight the fire.

While steam clouds are obnoxious (they hold the smoke earthbound longer)....there is no reasonable method to eliminate the smoldering dynamic, without greatly increased complexity..and cost.
Dry wood will make the best of a bad situation, but nothing barring complex controls and extra energy added to light and relight the fire will ever render an outdoor boiler into a tidy appliance.

That being said......I loved my outdoor boiler, it saved me enormous costs in comparison to any other fuel source and fed the whole farm heat..( 2 houses, for heat, domestic water heating, and heat for the clothes dryers! and warmed the workshop it was housed in) my neighbor was much less useful, and was of no practical utility whatsoever.........
 
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