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Retrofitting a heater

 
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We live in a house built in the 1920's, in New Jersey (suburban Philadelphia). We bought it a couple of years ago. We have an oil burning furnace that was installed in 2004, and we installed a wood burning stove in the dining room / kitchen last year. We have been having a lot of trouble with the heater, and it seems like it might be time to replace it - but I would really like to get away from oil. There's no natural gas on our street. Geothermal would likely be problematic, as we are on a creek and the township probably won't issue a permit. My long term goal is a rocket mass heater in our living room to heat that half of the house, but we need to do some renovations first (knock down a wall to combine the tiny living room with a tiny bedroom). That isn't likely to happen soon.

Energy systems tend to confuse me. Give me a plant or animal any day. Perhaps there is an easy solution I'm missing? Or maybe it's an impossible problem.  But if anyone can solve it, all of the smart people on the permies site can.
 
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Nora Melley wrote:We live in a house built in the 1920's, in New Jersey (suburban Philadelphia). We bought it a couple of years ago. We have an oil burning furnace that was installed in 2004, and we installed a wood burning stove in the dining room / kitchen last year. We have been having a lot of trouble with the heater, and it seems like it might be time to replace it - but I would really like to get away from oil. There's no natural gas on our street. Geothermal would likely be problematic, as we are on a creek and the township probably won't issue a permit. My long term goal is a rocket mass heater in our living room to heat that half of the house, but we need to do some renovations first (knock down a wall to combine the tiny living room with a tiny bedroom). That isn't likely to happen soon.

Energy systems tend to confuse me. Give me a plant or animal any day. Perhaps there is an easy solution I'm missing? Or maybe it's an impossible problem.  But if anyone can solve it, all of the smart people on the permies site can.




I am about in the same boat, and while I have hundreds of acres of forest for firewood, for this Tiny House a woodstove would just be too much on the main floor. And clearances on a woodstove are substantial, cutting into my tiny house sized home where square footage is at a premium. Even if I did have a woodstove put in, I am left having to attend it all winter. It was a real issue on Christmas and Thanksgiving; my wife and daughters were visiting the in-laws and I was babysitting a stove and eating at the Happy China Buffet because it was the only place open on Christmas.

So Katie and I talked, and I think we are going to replace our oil burner in this 1930 house (ours does not work), with a pellet furnance in the basement. They come with a half ton feed bin so the unit can go days without filling, feeds automatically, provides steady heat as needed, etc. A pellet furnace can be hooked right up to the existing duct work. And unlike a woodstove that would require a back up heating system for when people are not at home...a pellet furnace would not. That saves me quite a bit of money alone. Since it would not be on the main floor, it frees up room in the house, but allows us warm floors, and we would not have to worry about the fire dying if we forgot to fill the firebox.

Now I like pellets except for buying them, so the self-suffeciency comes in by growing my own corn. I only use 3 tons of pellets a year here, so I will need to dedicate about half an acre to growing corn, but I have all the equipment to do that. Since I would feed my sheep the chopped up corn stalks, it would mean the cost of growing the corn could be written off my taxes. It would also mean some labor growing corn and harvesting it, but I no more then it would take in putting up firewood.

I live in Maine so I like options, and the pellet boiler my father has...A-Maiz-Ing Heat, can burn wood pellets, corn or coal. I like that, so if I did not have enough corn one year, I could jut burn boughten wood pellets, or burn coal. Now he has a Pellet BOILER, but the sme company makes a Pellet FURNACE, and so the latter is what I am going to buy.



 
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heatinghelp.com
The site  still looks good. I think Dan's daughter runs it now; when I dealt with her she was way more than competent.

Post your question(s) there. With pictures of your installation, the house, etc. You'll get some answers from very experienced professionals and they have a list of their members in any particular area. Since by and large the pro's there are high minded people _and_ smart _and_ practical, you might consider one near you that could come and give you very specific advise. The site is a far better reference than Angie's List or the like.

It's impossible to say w/out an on site visit what's really best in any situation. However, while not the "nice" type of heat, oil boilers (or is it really a furnace as you said - a boiler heats water which then goes around heats radiators, a furnace heats air which is then circulated in ducts or just up through a floor  register) can be well made, last a long time and do a good job. Somebody who knows the beast __and how to keep it in good working order__ needs to have a look-see (a guy  who doesn't know how to service it, _has_ to upsell you to a new installation). They _may_ find it has 5-10 years (or more) life left in it - with a little TLC. Or not, but worth the $100 or so for a personal  consult and plan. Replacing a heating system is not pocket change!


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Travis Johnson
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It is interesting that you bring this up now because I am in the same situation and so actively researching things.

I am off on a tangent now, perhaps a wrong one, but that is, heating my house with Sunflower Seeds. It can, and is being done.

The acreage for such an endeavor is a lot more, about a ton to the acre for sunflower seeds. I am okay with that, only because I have grown both corn and sunflowers and know on my land, it takes a lot less to grow sunflowers. They burn hotter than wood pellets (as does corn) so there would actually be less pounds of sunflowers burned per year then pellets.

In case you were not aware Nora, pellets and firewood are about directly proportional, meaning if you burn 3 cords of firewood per year, you would need approximatley 3 tons of wood pellets. You would need less corn or sunflowers if you grew your own, but it would be best to have the same tonnage as wood pellets just to be sure you did not run out.

By the way: since there is no changes needed to make to the appliance from burning wood pellets to burning sunflowers/corn...a person can also burn a blend of the two; 50 percent corn or sunflower seed, and 50% wood pellets.
 
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