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Heating advice

 
pollinator
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Hello fellow permies!

I’m in need of semi urgent heating advice. We live in a “modern” house and have a propane fueled hot water boiler for heat. According to the information with it, it was installed in 2008. It was sooting up and flames were rolling out back in spring. I shut it down, got an HVAC company here, they cleaned the burners and everything seemed fine. A month later, same issues. Ive had an order with the same company for almost 3 months now and they’ve never been back. I’ve called almost every HVAC company within a 50 mile radius and have gotten opinions that we need a new heat exchanger, the burners need to be cleaned, theres a drafting issue, theres a gas valve issue and we need a new boiler for $6,000. I’m going to try to check the venting/drafting after work and will also try to clean the burners. Aside from that, I cant fart out $6,000 for a new boiler and wouldn’t want to even if I could. Plus, I REALLY dont want another loan.

I was hoping to casually figure out a rocket mass heater or some sustainable source of wood heat over the next several years. Now it sounds like making an immediate decision might be necessary as we will need heat sometime this month. The weather can go either way around here in October.

Some relevant information about our house and location: we’re in Michigan’s upper peninsula on the border of zone 3/4. We regularly hit -30 in winter. We have some trees at home we can harvest for firewood and I’m confident we can source more either by me finding and cutting more or by paying someone else to. Our house is a ranch style, 3 bedroom, full basement (boiler in the basement), poured foundation, and we still have a chimney (boilers vented through the chimney).

I dont know much about wood heat other than my yearly experience at deer camp. My dad grew up with wood heat and told my grandpa at an early age “daddy, when I grow up I’m not burning wood.” So, I grew up with forced air. I’ve heard there are small, very efficient wood stoves but I know nothing about them.

Questions:

1. Are there any efficient style wood stoves that can heat a house our size from the basement? I can supply our square footage if necessary.
2. Would it be unwise to use wood as our only heat source if this boiler is on its way out?
3. When heating with wood, how do you leave for a day or two without pipes freezing? I guess you either dont, you get help from someone else, or you have back up heat right?
4. Are wood stoves significantly cheaper than this complicated, unsustainable mess that we call modern heat? I know its more work and limits your lifestyle more, but the alternative seems worse.

Any advice is appreciated!

 
gardener
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I'll let people on that side of the pond answer on the stove, but will make a couple of points for you:
Generally when burning wood it should be seasoned - not freshly cut - since much of the weight, even in the winter, is water so the fuel value goes to driving off the water rather tha producing heat.  If you're thinking of installing a stove for this winter, you will also need to work out where your fuel is coming from.
Will your proposed stove also heat your hot water? This will make it more complex and potentially more expensive.
The more efficient your stove, the less wood you will need (obviously)
I think to get a better idea of the size of stove the foot print of the house would be helpful - alternatively what is the rating of your current stove?
Have you already thought about rocker mass heaters?
 
master gardener
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What size is your house?  How much insulation?  

I lived in central MN, about the same latitude as Duluth, for 4 years.   I had little trouble heating with wood. Temps reached -53 ....that is not wind chill.  I did have 7 inches of insulation in the walls and 36 in the attic.

This is not to say that at the extremes it could not get a tad exciting. We had 2 wood stoves. The center of the rooms were a comfortable 70 and we had sheets of ice on the inside of the walls during the coldest temps. It was a different reality. -20 seemed warm.
 
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yeah ive be come an expert at wet wood, it just won't make much heat for me when its cold, the wood cut and stored last year will get burned this year. I'm learning the hard way.
dead trees that are still standing and cut and stored after its been hot and dry a few weeks will sometimes burn for me ok depending how much rot is in them.
if you do buy a wood stove dont make the mistake I did getting a small super efficient epa approved model, get a big stove that you can put a lot of wood into. that is if your thinking of getting a traditional wood stove
 
pollinator
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I am a bit confused about your propane heating system.

Are you only heating water to take a shower with.
Are you only using the propane system to heat your house in the winter.
Are you are you using one hot water tank to both heat all the rooms in your house and also make hot water to take a shower.

Domestic Hot Water
If the only problem that you are having is with your hot water for shower you can look into a instant hot water tank,  either propane powered or electric.

Space Heating
Are you using a hydronic in floor radiant heating system. Is it coupled to your domestic hot water system, aka 1 heater that powered both DHW and space heating? I recommend getting two separate heater, one for space heating and another for DHW.


Most wood powered hot water system have the wood boiler outside in a shed, is that what you are thinking about? Or is it that you have completely given up on taken hot showers and you only care about space heating, because that is more urgent as winter comes in.

Overall I recommend getting a direct vent instant hot water heater (indoor or outdoor)
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Eccotemp-20HI-6-GPM-Residential-150-000-BTU-CSA-Approved-Liquid-Propane-Indoor-Tankless-Water-Heater-Horizontal-Bundle-20HI-LPH/310570493
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Rinnai-High-Efficiency-9-8-GPM-Residential-199-000-BTU-h-58-3-kWh-Propane-Exterior-Tankless-Water-Heater-V94eP/306655604
 
pollinator
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I followed a few lines of thought on the matter;
- In general, most HVAC systems will last from 15 to 25 years, but depending on the type of system and other contributing factors, that estimate can be highly variable.

- PROPERLY MAINTAINING YOUR SYSTEM IS KEY
The best way to avoid HVAC fires is to make sure your heating and cooling system is well maintained.
- Replace your filter regularly and have your ducts cleaned periodically.
- Schedule biannual tuneups and inspections with a licensed and experienced HVAC professional.
- During the maintenance visit, the technician does a variety of crucial tasks, such as:
- Thoroughly check your system's critical components for wear and tear.
- Clean and lubricate your system.
- Check and tighten the electrical connections and ensure there's no corrosion on them.

HVAC fires, just like any other fire, can be highly dangerous and even deadly.


I cannot find anything about flames from Propane causing issue, can you remember where the flames were coming from?
Flames can be caused by;
- seized bearing
- blocked filter overloading motors
- electrical fault

More detailed information would help somebody work it out perhaps.

Separately have you check the gas supply system, leaks, blocked filter etc?
 
John C Daley
pollinator
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This may be a factor
From Flame rollouts
Flame rollouts in gas furnaces and boilers are caused by a high concentration of combustion gases inside the combustion chamber. Normally, these inflammable gases are exhausted from the furnace through the flue passageways in the heat exchanger, then up the vent to the exterior of the home. These narrow conduits in the heat exchanger may become restricted with age—usually due to soot buildup and flakes of rust or corrosion—decreasing their effectiveness to convey combustion gases out of the combustion chamber.

What are the Signs?
Because combustion gases are non-flammable, a high concentration inside the combustion chamber can inhibit proper ignition of natural gas at the burner. Unburned gas may project as far as the opening to the combustion chamber before adequate oxygen is available for ignition. In this case, the burner flame may “roll out” of the combustion chamber.

How Is Flame Rollout Prevented?
As part of a regular annual furnace checkup, you HVAC technician will inspect the condition of your heat exchanger and look for any soot and corrosion, as well as dangerous cracks and holes.
 
steward
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Brody Ekberg wrote:Questions:

1. Are there any efficient style wood stoves that can heat a house our size from the basement? I can supply our square footage if necessary.
2. Would it be unwise to use wood as our only heat source if this boiler is on its way out?
3. When heating with wood, how do you leave for a day or two without pipes freezing? I guess you either dont, you get help from someone else, or you have back up heat right?
4. Are wood stoves significantly cheaper than this complicated, unsustainable mess that we call modern heat? I know its more work and limits your lifestyle more, but the alternative seems worse.


Coming from a similar environment and a ranch house with a full basement built in the 60s...
1. Yes.  I heat my house with a PE Summit wood stove.  I'm not sure if it's "efficient" but it's 6 years old and works great.  It's centrally located in the basement.  The basement stairs are open (no closed door top or bottom) and it's close to the stove so the rising hot air gets upstairs well.  We light a new fire when it starts to get chilly in the afternoon (60-62F upstairs) and burn until bedtime.  I fill it up and go to bed and it's burnt down to ashes 9 hours later.  Usually it's still warm enough to not start the next fire till the afternoon.  If it's really cold (-30F night, 0F day) I'll coax the coals back to life in the AM and keep it running all day.  We go through 4-5 cords of mediocre wood (birch, poplar, pine, maple mix) per winter.
2. Yes.  Your insurance agent might also have an opinion.  It might be legal but then you can't really leave the house for very long in winter.  Maintaining a second heat source is a good idea.  List the furnace as your "primary" and the wood stove as the "back up" heat source.
3. Depending on how well built your house is and the temps, you can leave for a while without any heat.  If it was 10F day and 0F night I'd be relatively comfortable getting the house warm, loading up the stove and then leaving for 36 hours.  Your mileage may vary...
4. Yes and no.  A new stove and installation (likely required by homeowners insurance) will probably run north of $6k.  5 cords of wood is something like $1200 or free if you cut it yourself.  Finding a craigslist stove and putting it in is much cheaper...

I love our stove and it was worth it since I cut my own wood.  Our furnace was (and still is) working just fine and it allows us to take winter trips.
 
gardener
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I'm assuming that your boiler heats the home but I don't know if it is hot water radiant heat (with radiators in the rooms) of if there is a heat exchanger and the heated air is ducted throughout the house.
Heating a sprawly house with a central woodstove is not easy, but if you have existing ducts you can tie into those and pump the wood-heated air throughout the house. There are wood/electric furnaces that can connect to existing ducting and provide you with backup electric heat if you're away and it's cold. Lots of options.
Is this a case of being willing to spend $6000 but you'd prefer to spend it on something more sustainable and less finicky, or are you tight for cash?

Regardless of what you choose to do, there'll be a compromise involved. And money, sadly.
 
pollinator
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If you have flame rollback and sooting, your flue/chimney may have a partial blockage. Bird nest, squirrel nest, dead creature, internal collapse, all are possible. Get up there, pull the cap, and inspect it with a strong spotlight.

Also, does the problem occur when you have a basement window cracked open? If that resolves the problem, there is no fresh air supply installed to the boiler, and it is starving for combustion air.

Please tell me you have a carbon monoxide detector installed. This is classic CO territory. AKA, the big sleep.

There is also a possibility of strong downdraft from the surrounding topography, prevailing wind, and tall trees. I had this happen with a good wood stove. I added 3 ft. of chimney and it went from a chump to a champ.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Nancy Reading wrote:I'll let people on that side of the pond answer on the stove, but will make a couple of points for you:
Generally when burning wood it should be seasoned - not freshly cut - since much of the weight, even in the winter, is water so the fuel value goes to driving off the water rather tha producing heat.  If you're thinking of installing a stove for this winter, you will also need to work out where your fuel is coming from.
Will your proposed stove also heat your hot water? This will make it more complex and potentially more expensive.
The more efficient your stove, the less wood you will need (obviously)
I think to get a better idea of the size of stove the foot print of the house would be helpful - alternatively what is the rating of your current stove?
Have you already thought about rocker mass heaters?



I understand seasoned wood is ideal, but not freezing is a necessity! Junky fire is still warm!

As of now, no, we wouldn’t be heating water with the stove. I’m just looking at realistic ways to stay warm this winter without buying a $6,000 boiler. Maybe in the future we could tie it all together but for now I just dont want to freeze or go broke.

Our house is about 1,200 square feet

I have thought and read about RMHs and it sounds, once again, idealistic. But in reality, they are a bit of an experiment, they take a lot of time to design, build and figure out how to run efficiently. They are heavy and large. They may not be legal here. Our house may not be appropriate for one. In the future, I’d love a rmh. But I cant make that happen in the next month so for now, its out of the question.

 
Brody Ekberg
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John F Dean wrote:What size is your house?  How much insulation?  

I lived in central MN, about the same latitude as Duluth, for 4 years.   I had little trouble heating with wood. Temps reached -53 ....that is not wind chill.  I did have 7 inches of insulation in the walls and 36 in the attic.

This is not to say that at the extremes it could not get a tad exciting. We had 2 wood stoves. The center of the rooms were a comfortable 70 and we had sheets of ice on the inside of the walls during the coldest temps. It was a different reality. -20 seemed warm.



The house is about 1,200 square feet. I’m not sure how much insulation is in the walls. The attic seems to have at least a foot or so.

Are you saying that when the middle of the rooms were 70 degrees the walls had ice, or were those two separate events?
 
Brody Ekberg
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bruce Fine wrote:yeah ive be come an expert at wet wood, it just won't make much heat for me when its cold, the wood cut and stored last year will get burned this year. I'm learning the hard way.
dead trees that are still standing and cut and stored after its been hot and dry a few weeks will sometimes burn for me ok depending how much rot is in them.
if you do buy a wood stove dont make the mistake I did getting a small super efficient epa approved model, get a big stove that you can put a lot of wood into. that is if your thinking of getting a traditional wood stove



I was hoping to not get a giant inefficient stove. I figured there must be reliable, small, efficient stoves by now.
 
Brody Ekberg
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S Bengi wrote:I am a bit confused about your propane heating system.

Are you only heating water to take a shower with.
Are you only using the propane system to heat your house in the winter.
Are you are you using one hot water tank to both heat all the rooms in your house and also make hot water to take a shower.

Domestic Hot Water
If the only problem that you are having is with your hot water for shower you can look into a instant hot water tank,  either propane powered or electric.

Space Heating
Are you using a hydronic in floor radiant heating system. Is it coupled to your domestic hot water system, aka 1 heater that powered both DHW and space heating? I recommend getting two separate heater, one for space heating and another for DHW.


Most wood powered hot water system have the wood boiler outside in a shed, is that what you are thinking about? Or is it that you have completely given up on taken hot showers and you only care about space heating, because that is more urgent as winter comes in.

Overall I recommend getting a direct vent instant hot water heater (indoor or outdoor)
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Eccotemp-20HI-6-GPM-Residential-150-000-BTU-CSA-Approved-Liquid-Propane-Indoor-Tankless-Water-Heater-Horizontal-Bundle-20HI-LPH/310570493
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Rinnai-High-Efficiency-9-8-GPM-Residential-199-000-BTU-h-58-3-kWh-Propane-Exterior-Tankless-Water-Heater-V94eP/306655604



We have an electric hot water heater. Thats old and probably will give us issues any day now, but thats not what I’m talking about. Im talking about a propane fueled boiler that heats our house with hot water filled pipes around the baseboards.
 
Brody Ekberg
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John C Daley wrote:I followed a few lines of thought on the matter;
- In general, most HVAC systems will last from 15 to 25 years, but depending on the type of system and other contributing factors, that estimate can be highly variable.

- PROPERLY MAINTAINING YOUR SYSTEM IS KEY
The best way to avoid HVAC fires is to make sure your heating and cooling system is well maintained.
- Replace your filter regularly and have your ducts cleaned periodically.
- Schedule biannual tuneups and inspections with a licensed and experienced HVAC professional.
- During the maintenance visit, the technician does a variety of crucial tasks, such as:
- Thoroughly check your system's critical components for wear and tear.
- Clean and lubricate your system.
- Check and tighten the electrical connections and ensure there's no corrosion on them.

HVAC fires, just like any other fire, can be highly dangerous and even deadly.


I cannot find anything about flames from Propane causing issue, can you remember where the flames were coming from?
Flames can be caused by;
- seized bearing
- blocked filter overloading motors
- electrical fault

More detailed information would help somebody work it out perhaps.

Separately have you check the gas supply system, leaks, blocked filter etc?



As far as I know, there isn’t a ton of maintenance to do to this. Not forced air so no filters. Just a propane pilot, burners, a heat exchanger and exhaust.

I think the issue has been narrowed down to improper drafting (plugged up/obstructions) or faulty pilot (burning poorly causing soot). I removed the pilot yesterday and it looks like junk so that’s due for replacement. To check draft, I’ll need to get creative with lights, mirrors and a helper so see from the basement through to the roof.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Mike Haasl wrote:
Coming from a similar environment and a ranch house with a full basement built in the 60s...
1. Yes.  I heat my house with a PE Summit wood stove.  I'm not sure if it's "efficient" but it's 6 years old and works great.  It's centrally located in the basement.  The basement stairs are open (no closed door top or bottom) and it's close to the stove so the rising hot air gets upstairs well.  We light a new fire when it starts to get chilly in the afternoon (60-62F upstairs) and burn until bedtime.  I fill it up and go to bed and it's burnt down to ashes 9 hours later.  Usually it's still warm enough to not start the next fire till the afternoon.  If it's really cold (-30F night, 0F day) I'll coax the coals back to life in the AM and keep it running all day.  We go through 4-5 cords of mediocre wood (birch, poplar, pine, maple mix) per winter.
2. Yes.  Your insurance agent might also have an opinion.  It might be legal but then you can't really leave the house for very long in winter.  Maintaining a second heat source is a good idea.  List the furnace as your "primary" and the wood stove as the "back up" heat source.
3. Depending on how well built your house is and the temps, you can leave for a while without any heat.  If it was 10F day and 0F night I'd be relatively comfortable getting the house warm, loading up the stove and then leaving for 36 hours.  Your mileage may vary...
4. Yes and no.  A new stove and installation (likely required by homeowners insurance) will probably run north of $6k.  5 cords of wood is something like $1200 or free if you cut it yourself.  Finding a craigslist stove and putting it in is much cheaper...

I love our stove and it was worth it since I cut my own wood.  Our furnace was (and still is) working just fine and it allows us to take winter trips.



Very informative, thanks! Definitely making me optimistic about the situation. I can cut wood myself, but obviously none of it will be super dry if I have to start asap. Id have to buy for this winter. And I have no issues with a craigslist stove if its in good shape, has good reviews, is legal and saves me money. Id gladly install it myself as well if that’s legal.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Michael Helmersson wrote:I'm assuming that your boiler heats the home but I don't know if it is hot water radiant heat (with radiators in the rooms) of if there is a heat exchanger and the heated air is ducted throughout the house.
Heating a sprawly house with a central woodstove is not easy, but if you have existing ducts you can tie into those and pump the wood-heated air throughout the house. There are wood/electric furnaces that can connect to existing ducting and provide you with backup electric heat if you're away and it's cold. Lots of options.
Is this a case of being willing to spend $6000 but you'd prefer to spend it on something more sustainable and less finicky, or are you tight for cash?

Regardless of what you choose to do, there'll be a compromise involved. And money, sadly.



The boiler hearts hot water which circulates through baseboard radiators throughout the house.

I fully realize there will be sacrificing and change of lifestyle heating with wood. I don’t expect to be comfortable everywhere in the house. Im just looking to not freeze and not have frozen pipes.

And this is a case of:
1. Not wanting to spend the majority of our savings this month on a boiler and not wanting more debt.
2. Realizing that relying on a propane fueled boiler to stay warm all winter is unsustainable, unwise and almost a death sentence if any number of things go wrong anytime soon. I feel like wood heat is the only reliable and sustainable way to go. Im not interested in strapping a new bandaid on a broken arm.

We can spend some money, and we can sell lumber for money. Either way, a furnace or boiler seems like a big step in the wrong direction.
 
Mike Haasl
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I should have added to my post:

When the fire is cooking nicely for a while, the basement is a toasty 73, the upstairs areas nearer the staircase are mid to upper 60s and the most distant bedroom is low 60s.  By morning the upstairs is usually in the low 60s and the far bedroom is closer to 60.  If I could get a hole in the floor between that bedroom and the basement I think the circulation would vastly improve and raise the bedroom temps 1-2 degrees.

We used to struggle with condensation and ice on the windows in the winter but I have a fix for that.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:If you have flame rollback and sooting, your flue/chimney may have a partial blockage. Bird nest, squirrel nest, dead creature, internal collapse, all are possible. Get up there, pull the cap, and inspect it with a strong spotlight.

Also, does the problem occur when you have a basement window cracked open? If that resolves the problem, there is no fresh air supply installed to the boiler, and it is starving for combustion air.

Please tell me you have a carbon monoxide detector installed. This is classic CO territory. AKA, the big sleep.

There is also a possibility of strong downdraft from the surrounding topography, prevailing wind, and tall trees. I had this happen with a good wood stove. I added 3 ft. of chimney and it went from a chump to a champ.



So, I opened the chimney cleanout in the basement and its a mess. No idea if it’s a recent mess (we’ve only lived here for 3 years) or if its old mess from before the current heating system. The boiler is vented through the chimney, but has an insert/sleeve or whatever running up the inside of the chimney. Im going to try to use mirrors and lights to see if thats blocked or not. Might have to take some of the stovepipe apart because there is a 90 between the boiler and the entrance to the chimney.

I haven’t checked if basement windows affect the issue. The boiler has been shut down since May when this issue first happened.

We do have a carbon monoxide detector right by the boiler, and I checked that its working yesterday.

Downdrafts could be something to look into as well. We’re on a big hill, there are fields across the road from us, we have trees very close to the house and I’ve noticed that with certain damp, windy weather, we smell septic gasses even when our traps all have water and nothing is plugged. Makes me think a draft issue could be relevant.

I also discovered that the boilers ignitor and pilot are crusry, rusty, melted and sooted. So, to my simple logic: if the pilot is messed up, everything after that has to be messed up. How could the boiler burn well if the very first flame involved in the process is junk?

So I will try to replace that and check the chimney draft and take it from there.
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:I should have added to my post:

When the fire is cooking nicely for a while, the basement is a toasty 73, the upstairs areas nearer the staircase are mid to upper 60s and the most distant bedroom is low 60s.  By morning the upstairs is usually in the low 60s and the far bedroom is closer to 60.  If I could get a hole in the floor between that bedroom and the basement I think the circulation would vastly improve and raise the bedroom temps 1-2 degrees.

We used to struggle with condensation and ice on the windows in the winter but I have a fix for that.



I did that at my Lady's house.  It has no central air.  It formerly just had electric heaters in each room.  I installed a pellet stove in the basement and cut two old-style vents in the living room floor.  I put in those metal grates you saw in old houses before central air was a thing.  It helped quite a lot.  I also experimented with making a "chute" of sorts that extended one of the living room vents from the living room floor to near the basement floor, while leaving the other vent in the living room alone in an attempt to cause more air circulation, but I got busy with other things and stopped working on it, since the two vents alone were working well enough.  My system showed promise though, I wish I had more time to experiment with it.  Regardless, cutting the vents really helped.  The pellet stove sits directly below one of the living room vents.  It would be very easy to install a small fan to circulate the air more, but as I said, it works pretty well as-is.
 
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The good news is that you don't have to buy a $6,000 boiler. They have cheaper tankless hot water heater. They only cost about $1,000. They have propane ones and they also have electric ones. They have indoor/regular ones and also outdoor units. They are pretty small 1ftx1ftx2ft. Let me know if this interest you. We could then figure out the specifics.

They also have outdoor wood-powered boilers that would would just pipe into your house with a bit of insulation. I think that could be a great option for you.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote: I can cut wood myself, but obviously none of it will be super dry if I have to start asap. Id have to buy for this winter.  



I can't find a link but I recall reading years ago about a guy's experiment to see how quickly he could dry firewood in his basement. It was a well-conceived plan that took advantage of the low relative humidity in winter and the placement of his drying rack close to his woodstove. He did regular testing of pieces of wood using a digital scale to measure the reduction in water content and plotted up some nice graphs. It was effective enough that I did my own tests and had similar results. In my case, I brought in enough fresh wood to build a stack 4ft square with nothing in the middle. Then, I placed a large box fan on top facing down into the empty center of the square. This forced dry, warm air from near the woodstove through the stack of wood. Normally, I would have problems with the indoor humidity being too low, so there was no problem with the moisture coming off the wood. As I recall, I was able to get the firewood down to near 25% moisture content in 3-4 weeks. If you have the room, this idea could be scaled up to help reduce your need for purchased dry wood in year one.

**Found it!!**  https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/drying-wood-quickly-indoors.61783/
 
Trace Oswald
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote: I can cut wood myself, but obviously none of it will be super dry if I have to start asap. Id have to buy for this winter.  



I can't find a link but I recall reading years ago about a guy's experiment to see how quickly he could dry firewood in his basement. It was a well-conceived plan that took advantage of the low relative humidity in winter and the placement of his drying rack close to his woodstove. He did regular testing of pieces of wood using a digital scale to measure the reduction in water content and plotted up some nice graphs. It was effective enough that I did my own tests and had similar results. In my case, I brought in enough fresh wood to build a stack 4ft square with nothing in the middle. Then, I placed a large box fan on top facing down into the empty center of the square. This forced dry, warm air from near the woodstove through the stack of wood. Normally, I would have problems with the indoor humidity being too low, so there was no problem with the moisture coming off the wood. As I recall, I was able to get the firewood down to near 25% moisture content in 3-4 weeks. If you have the room, this idea could be scaled up to help reduce your need for purchased dry wood in year one.

**Found it!!**  https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/drying-wood-quickly-indoors.61783/



Very cool idea, thank you.  If it raises the humidity in the house even a little, that would be a big win here in the winter time.
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:I should have added to my post:

When the fire is cooking nicely for a while, the basement is a toasty 73, the upstairs areas nearer the staircase are mid to upper 60s and the most distant bedroom is low 60s.  By morning the upstairs is usually in the low 60s and the far bedroom is closer to 60.  If I could get a hole in the floor between that bedroom and the basement I think the circulation would vastly improve and raise the bedroom temps 1-2 degrees.

We used to struggle with condensation and ice on the windows in the winter but I have a fix for that.



Thanks for the clarification! Thats not bad at all for temps, id be happy with that. And with our boiler functioning properly and the thermostat set at 66, we always have condensation on the windows during winter as well. Plastic helps. New windows is probably the answer.
 
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S Bengi wrote:The good news is that you don't have to buy a $6,000 boiler. They have cheaper tankless hot water heater. They only cost about $1,000. They have propane ones and they also have electric ones. They have indoor/regular ones and also outdoor units. They are pretty small 1ftx1ftx2ft. Let me know if this interest you. We could then figure out the specifics.

They also have outdoor wood-powered boilers that would would just pipe into your house with a bit of insulation. I think that could be a great option for you.



Ive seen a lot of outdoor wood boilers getting installed lately. Our neighbor just put one in this spring. Ive heard they are very inefficient, though I dont know how accurate that is. The nice thing is you can pile them full of large chunks of wood and be all set for quite a while. Plus the wood mess, the fire and any possible smoke is all outside which is cool.
 
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Michael Helmersson wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote: I can cut wood myself, but obviously none of it will be super dry if I have to start asap. Id have to buy for this winter.  



I can't find a link but I recall reading years ago about a guy's experiment to see how quickly he could dry firewood in his basement. It was a well-conceived plan that took advantage of the low relative humidity in winter and the placement of his drying rack close to his woodstove. He did regular testing of pieces of wood using a digital scale to measure the reduction in water content and plotted up some nice graphs. It was effective enough that I did my own tests and had similar results. In my case, I brought in enough fresh wood to build a stack 4ft square with nothing in the middle. Then, I placed a large box fan on top facing down into the empty center of the square. This forced dry, warm air from near the woodstove through the stack of wood. Normally, I would have problems with the indoor humidity being too low, so there was no problem with the moisture coming off the wood. As I recall, I was able to get the firewood down to near 25% moisture content in 3-4 weeks. If you have the room, this idea could be scaled up to help reduce your need for purchased dry wood in year one.

**Found it!!**  https://www.hearth.com/talk/threads/drying-wood-quickly-indoors.61783/



Very good to know! We do have room in the basement and our house is super dry all winter, so this is definitely something to keep in mind.
 
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For quick, easy, relatively inexpensive, and less labor intensive than a regular wood stove, you may want to look at pellet stoves.  That's the way we went, and the one we bought heats my Lady's 2800 sq foot house with the pellet stove in the basement. I ran the exhaust right out a basement window.  The thing has been very near bulletproof for more than 5 years now.  It needs to be kept clean, but other than that, it's great.  We use about 3 1/2 tons of wood pellets per winter in a similar climate.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:We used to struggle with condensation and ice on the windows in the winter but I have a fix for that.


And with our boiler functioning properly and the thermostat set at 66, we always have condensation on the windows during winter as well. Plastic helps. New windows is probably the answer.


I should've just looked up the solution I reported.  Here it is: Preventing condensation on windows in winter

I had this problem with new windows.  I don't think any windows can overcome the temperature differences we're dealing with up here without serious air circulation or other assistance.  No matter how good they are, if it's 60 inside, the interior dew point is 40 and the outside temp is -20, that inside facing pane of glass is going to be below 40 and condensing down near the window sill...  or more likely below 32 and frosting up.
 
Trace Oswald
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Mike Haasl wrote:

Brody Ekberg wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:We used to struggle with condensation and ice on the windows in the winter but I have a fix for that.


And with our boiler functioning properly and the thermostat set at 66, we always have condensation on the windows during winter as well. Plastic helps. New windows is probably the answer.


I should've just looked up the solution I reported.  Here it is: Preventing condensation on windows in winter

I had this problem with new windows.  I don't think any windows can overcome the temperature differences we're dealing with up here without serious air circulation or other assistance.  No matter how good they are, if it's 60 inside, the interior dew point is 40 and the outside temp is -20, that inside facing pane of glass is going to be below 40 and condensing down near the window sill...  or more likely below 32 and frosting up.



I hadn't seen that before.  Very cool solution.
 
Brody Ekberg
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Trace Oswald wrote:For quick, easy, relatively inexpensive, and less labor intensive than a regular wood stove, you may want to look at pellet stoves.  That's the way we went, and the one we bought heats my Lady's 2800 sq foot house with the pellet stove in the basement. I ran the exhaust right out a basement window.  The thing has been very near bulletproof for more than 5 years now.  It needs to be kept clean, but other than that, it's great.  We use about 3 1/2 tons of wood pellets per winter in a similar climate.



Ill keep that in mind! My only hesitation is that I’d still be relying on something completely out of my control for heat since I cant go get pellets from the woods. But, I do know someone who wants to build a pellet mill here so maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Plus, the more that I think about it, heating with wood still requires reliance on all sorts of things outside of my control. Like saw chains, gas and oil…
 
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Mike Haasl wrote:
I had this problem with new windows.  I don't think any windows can overcome the temperature differences we're dealing with up here without serious air circulation or other assistance.  No matter how good they are, if it's 60 inside, the interior dew point is 40 and the outside temp is -20, that inside facing pane of glass is going to be below 40 and condensing down near the window sill...  or more likely below 32 and frosting up.



We always put plastic on the windows, usually in October sometime. We haven’t had condensation on any of the windows with plastic yet, but we leave a kitchen and a bedroom window plastic free and those are always wet. Plus, our dog likes to jump up on window sills to look outside and usually punctures the plastic on one or two windows. If we dont tape the rip right away, condensation happens quickly. And once it does, getting rid of it is nearly impossible without completely removing the plastic and letting it dry off. I should update the plastic this year because after reusing it a few times its so taped up, dusty and wrinkled that we can barely see outside!

 
Trace Oswald
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote:For quick, easy, relatively inexpensive, and less labor intensive than a regular wood stove, you may want to look at pellet stoves.  That's the way we went, and the one we bought heats my Lady's 2800 sq foot house with the pellet stove in the basement. I ran the exhaust right out a basement window.  The thing has been very near bulletproof for more than 5 years now.  It needs to be kept clean, but other than that, it's great.  We use about 3 1/2 tons of wood pellets per winter in a similar climate.



Ill keep that in mind! My only hesitation is that I’d still be relying on something completely out of my control for heat since I cant go get pellets from the woods. But, I do know someone who wants to build a pellet mill here so maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Plus, the more that I think about it, heating with wood still requires reliance on all sorts of things outside of my control. Like saw chains, gas and oil…



I was hesitant at first about pellet stoves for that very reason.  After looking around, I found a pellet stove that burns pellets, corn, or cherry pits.  Cherry pits I have no idea about, but I can get corn easily.  I have only used wood pellets at this point, but it's nice to have a readily available alternative.

As you mentioned, you will probably be reliant on an outside source for fuel.  As you also mentioned, you are somewhat reliant on outside sources anyway.  You could cut all your wood by hand with a handsaw, but it would be a time-consuming, physically demanding thing.

I finally went with a pellet stove in that situation for the following reasons.  
-I was able to install the stove myself in less than two hours from unboxing to up and running.  
-Pellets are more labor intensive than reaching out and turning up the thermostat, but far less than wood.  At the time, my lady and I didn't live together and she can easily handle the bags of pellets and load the stove.  
-Pellets are a relatively inexpensive way to heat the house.  
-Pellets are readily available nearly anywhere
-In moderate temperatures, one bag of pellets can be loaded into the hopper and it will last 24 hrs.  In very cold weather, it needs to be filled twice a day, but still fewer times than a wood stove.
-A large amount of pellet fuel can be stored in a small area, much smaller than an equivalent amount of wood

All that said, we built a house together now and it has propane heat as the primary and a soapstone stove in the basement and another on the main floor as alternatives.  I bought nice stoves and I can easily heat the house with them if I want, or need, to, but I can also leave for a week and not worry about it.  That doesn't really happen.  We are more staycation than vacation people, but it's nice to have the option.  I'm also in my mid-50s and may not want to cut wood 10, 15, or 20 years from now.  If the power goes out or something happens, wood stoves are great.  No fans, no blowers, no electricity needed, and we are toasty warm.  I like having a redundant system and knowing we have heat no matter what.

In your circumstances, I would go with the pellet stove for the same reasons I did it initially, but things like this are a very personal decision.  Best to you whatever you decide.
 
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I would call the furnace/boiler manufacturer and/or email them and ask THEIR opinion after sharing all the service persons suggestions...

Perhaps they could help determine the actual cause AND a reasonable fix or steer you to a person QUALIFIED to service their specific unit?
 
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Lorinne Anderson wrote:I would call the furnace/boiler manufacturer and/or email them and ask THEIR opinion after sharing all the service persons suggestions...

Perhaps they could help determine the actual cause AND a reasonable fix or steer you to a person QUALIFIED to service their specific unit?



Thats not a bad idea. I’m 90% sure I know what the issues are and about 80% sure I can fix them myself with $50 and some time. But if I’m wrong then calling the manufacturer may be a great idea!
 
Brody Ekberg
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Trace Oswald wrote:
I was hesitant at first about pellet stoves for that very reason.  After looking around, I found a pellet stove that burns pellets, corn, or cherry pits.  Cherry pits I have no idea about, but I can get corn easily.  I have only used wood pellets at this point, but it's nice to have a readily available alternative.

As you mentioned, you will probably be reliant on an outside source for fuel.  As you also mentioned, you are somewhat reliant on outside sources anyway.  You could cut all your wood by hand with a handsaw, but it would be a time-consuming, physically demanding thing.

I finally went with a pellet stove in that situation for the following reasons.  
-I was able to install the stove myself in less than two hours from unboxing to up and running.  
-Pellets are more labor intensive than reaching out and turning up the thermostat, but far less than wood.  At the time, my lady and I didn't live together and she can easily handle the bags of pellets and load the stove.  
-Pellets are a relatively inexpensive way to heat the house.  
-Pellets are readily available nearly anywhere
-In moderate temperatures, one bag of pellets can be loaded into the hopper and it will last 24 hrs.  In very cold weather, it needs to be filled twice a day, but still fewer times than a wood stove.
-A large amount of pellet fuel can be stored in a small area, much smaller than an equivalent amount of wood

All that said, we built a house together now and it has propane heat as the primary and a soapstone stove in the basement and another on the main floor as alternatives.  I bought nice stoves and I can easily heat the house with them if I want, or need, to, but I can also leave for a week and not worry about it.  That doesn't really happen.  We are more staycation than vacation people, but it's nice to have the option.  I'm also in my mid-50s and may not want to cut wood 10, 15, or 20 years from now.  If the power goes out or something happens, wood stoves are great.  No fans, no blowers, no electricity needed, and we are toasty warm.  I like having a redundant system and knowing we have heat no matter what.

In your circumstances, I would go with the pellet stove for the same reasons I did it initially, but things like this are a very personal decision.  Best to you whatever you decide.



If I were you, I’d research a bit about burning cherry pits before you give it a try, if you ever want to give it a try. I say that because I know cherry pits contain something that can turn into cyanide when ingested. Ive also heard that certain species, like pin cherry are very toxic to burn. No idea how true that is though and what that would mean for burning the pits.

But you are really making good points about the pellet stoves. Ill heavily consider it when we get to that point. I think I may be able to fix our boiler for now but either way, its 13 years old and it would be wise to come up with a plan for what comes next now before we actually need something.

Plus, my friend (a millwright) said pellet machines arent that complicated. He has a welder and is great at designing things on the fly. He also has a saw mill. So, maybe we could get local pellet production in our community, or at least for our couple families.

I dont know much about pellets, but I’d like to think that they are primarily made from byproducts and not whole trees, which would be a cool way to repurpose what might otherwise be considered a waste product. Then we can leave trees standing and heat with byproducts instead of having to kill trees solely to produce heat. I like that idea!
 
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This is a quick primer on wood pellets if you are interested:  woodpellets.com  They have an obvious vested interest in promoting wood pellets, but the information I have read elsewhere agrees.  

Takeaways
-wood pellets are considered carbon neutral (I'm pretty certain that don't take into account shipping them)
-100% natural.  They include nothing except wood
-made entirely from waste products, ie. sawdust, bark, and the like
 
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HI, you could also think of emergency for now. Couple of kerosene heaters and fans. Then you have a backup in case you are not able to get the boiler working properly.  The kerosene will also give you time for that RMH.  Or vent-less propane heater, which I use. but condensation is an issue.  You can tap the vent-less into your propane line directly removing the need for extra tanks. I have flexible hoses to run from pipes to heaters
 
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The first thing that needs to be done is have the chimney checked by a pro?  I can't believe none of the HVAC guys have done that.

As far as wood heat goes do you have a chimney durable for venting a woodstove?  There absolutely are good efficent woodstoves available.  But they are not cheap and you are going to need a good chimney to make it work properly.
 
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Brody Ekberg wrote:

Trace Oswald wrote:
I was hesitant at first about pellet stoves for that very reason.  After looking around, I found a pellet stove that burns pellets, corn, or cherry pits.  Cherry pits I have no idea about, but I can get corn easily.  I have only used wood pellets at this point, but it's nice to have a readily available alternative.

As you mentioned, you will probably be reliant on an outside source for fuel.  As you also mentioned, you are somewhat reliant on outside sources anyway.  You could cut all your wood by hand with a handsaw, but it would be a time-consuming, physically demanding thing.

I finally went with a pellet stove in that situation for the following reasons.  
-I was able to install the stove myself in less than two hours from unboxing to up and running.  
-Pellets are more labor intensive than reaching out and turning up the thermostat, but far less than wood.  At the time, my lady and I didn't live together and she can easily handle the bags of pellets and load the stove.  
-Pellets are a relatively inexpensive way to heat the house.  
-Pellets are readily available nearly anywhere
-In moderate temperatures, one bag of pellets can be loaded into the hopper and it will last 24 hrs.  In very cold weather, it needs to be filled twice a day, but still fewer times than a wood stove.
-A large amount of pellet fuel can be stored in a small area, much smaller than an equivalent amount of wood

All that said, we built a house together now and it has propane heat as the primary and a soapstone stove in the basement and another on the main floor as alternatives.  I bought nice stoves and I can easily heat the house with them if I want, or need, to, but I can also leave for a week and not worry about it.  That doesn't really happen.  We are more staycation than vacation people, but it's nice to have the option.  I'm also in my mid-50s and may not want to cut wood 10, 15, or 20 years from now.  If the power goes out or something happens, wood stoves are great.  No fans, no blowers, no electricity needed, and we are toasty warm.  I like having a redundant system and knowing we have heat no matter what.

In your circumstances, I would go with the pellet stove for the same reasons I did it initially, but things like this are a very personal decision.  Best to you whatever you decide.



If I were you, I’d research a bit about burning cherry pits before you give it a try, if you ever want to give it a try. I say that because I know cherry pits contain something that can turn into cyanide when ingested. Ive also heard that certain species, like pin cherry are very toxic to burn. No idea how true that is though and what that would mean for burning the pits.

But you are really making good points about the pellet stoves. Ill heavily consider it when we get to that point. I think I may be able to fix our boiler for now but either way, its 13 years old and it would be wise to come up with a plan for what comes next now before we actually need something.

Plus, my friend (a millwright) said pellet machines arent that complicated. He has a welder and is great at designing things on the fly. He also has a saw mill. So, maybe we could get local pellet production in our community, or at least for our couple families.

I dont know much about pellets, but I’d like to think that they are primarily made from byproducts and not whole trees, which would be a cool way to repurpose what might otherwise be considered a waste product. Then we can leave trees standing and heat with byproducts instead of having to kill trees solely to produce heat. I like that idea!



I would go with a propane stove long before going to pellets.  Pellet pricing and availability it pretty volatile.  Pellets take way more work than propane for about the same cost
 
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We have a pellet furnace in the barn it runs the house, yes there is some loss on the way over better insulation would help, 2400 sqr ft house, poor to non existent insulation we burn around 7 ton of pellets per year for heating and hotwater over 8 months. We load the hopper once every 3 days, but our hopper is only an old oil barrel it could easily be replaced with a bigger one that would need less attention, the furnace needs cleaning once a week, but that can be done while it's running and it needs a proper clean twice a year for which it needs to be cold.  The great thing about the pellet furnace is it runs when you are out, and at night. However I still want to replace our backup oil furnace inside the house with a wood furnace. Our pellet furnace can also burn wood, though it is a pest to do it it can be done in an emergency, all it requires is a grate that fits inside and telling the furnace what is going on.  
Many people round here use straw furnaces and grain furnaces, straw ones can burn anything really and scrap wood is pretty common, grain furnaces can burn anything that will fit up the auger, so grain, wood chips, or pellets.
 
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