Central Outdoor Wood Boilers, by Reuben Dickinson
With costs for home heating oil more than tripling in the last 10 years and other typical heating sources increasing in similar fashion, it is unsurprising that people are exploring a multitude of alternatives to reduce costs and increase efficiencies of heating systems. In the Upstate New York winters, marked by very cold temperatures and high snowfall amounts to go along with higher-than-average energy costs the answer for some has been an Outdoor Wood Boiler (OWB). You see them in the rural countryside with increasing frequency, looking like a small metal out-building sitting 200 feet or so away from the home with a high, metal chimney.
The benefits of an OWB are that it allows a homeowner to heat their entire home (and in many cases additional structures such as a garage or workshop) using the comparatively low-cost wood fuel. The wood burner heats water to very high temperatures and pipes the water back to the home, where it then integrates with the home’s current heating system. It will integrate with most heating systems, not just hot-water, baseboard-style systems. Forced-air heating systems can be integrated as well, so minimal work is required to change the actual heating system already in the home. As an additional money-saving perk, most systems supply the hot water for use in the home as well, so in addition to reducing heating costs, the cost of hot water is eliminated.
By placing the wood boiler outside the home, many of the typical problems associated with wood stoves are eliminated.
· * There is no smoke or smoke smell inside the home
· * Substantially reduced risk of fire
· * Integration with home’s current heating system allows simple thermostatically controlled heat
· * Back-up heating with oil or gas is seamlessly integrated
· * Extended wood-burning capacity allows for 12 to 24 hours between adding wood
· * No high-temperature stove presenting burn danger to children or pets
· * Extremely high heat output – 200,000 BTU or higher systems are common
· * Annual heating cost often less than 50% of oil or propane
While this is an impressive list of benefits, and makes it clear why OWB have gained in popularity, they certainly have drawbacks and there are a great number of myths associated with them as well. The biggest considerations are
· Location- they are only suitable in rural areas. Spacing requirements call for 200 feet or more from adjacent properties. Extensive regulations need to be observed
· * Aside from space away from the building, you need a large storage area for wood-fuel storage
· * Still need to be filled and attended at least once a day , but typical two times a day
· * They cannot “burn anything” as often stated. Many states (such as New York) have strict regulations on what can be burned, including that only seasoned wood may be burned legally
· * Comparatively high cost for purchase and installation. This is not a DIY installation project
· * Cost savings depends entirely on cost and availability of suitable wood supply
· * Still produce smoke and particulate matter. The high chimneys and remote location help reduce this nuisance but do not eliminate it. Mixed consensus on the environmental friendliness of this heat source
Before choosing to install an OWB to reduce home heating costs, check for State regulations and local zoning. Purchasing systems can be done online, but doing so does not ensure that local requirements are met. It will not reduce need for other typical conservation measures such as improved insulation and thermal windows. While lower in cost than oil, it is not a replacement for, or an “instead of” for conventional conservation techniques. Being very familiar with local regulations will allow you to know fact from sales pitch when considering.