Updated: Jun 20
Happy to see you again in this 2nd part of my blog post on biomass heating!
Do you remember what we talked about in the 1st article of this series on biomass heating?
We learned more about biomass, mainly forest biomass. We also saw some factors to consider when planning a biomass heating project such as the machine, the source of the fuel, the storage space, etc.!
We also studied more closely 2 interesting biomass heating systems for greenhouses. One of them was the wood log biomass boiler and it's a good thing because it's the system used by our guest today!
Jaymie Thurler of Rutabaga Ranch (Ontario) has a wood log biomass boiler. She told me about her experience with this type of system, the positive and negative aspects, the costs involved and much more!
1. Type of system and how it works
Jaymie has an outdoor wood log boiler with a firebox that is 4 feet long to hold the wood.
It is a Central Boilers CL6048 rated at 500,000 BTU/hr. The chamber is surrounded by water heated by the wood combustion. This water is pumped into the house and 3 greenhouses. The technology is quite simple.
2. System cost and installation
Jaymie's boiler cost $13,500 US. If you count the secondary expenses (wood splitter and wood treatment, equipment to transport the logs, etc.), she estimates that it goes up to $20,000 US and more.
She knows people who have had similar boilers for over 20 years. So it's a good long-term investment despite the expensive initial price. Same thing for the underground piping: expensive, but a good investment.
It's hard to put a number on the piping and pumps since it varies with the distance to be covered and inflation, but Jaymie estimates that insulated pipes cost $15 (USD)/foot on average. The diameter of the buried pipe should be determined by the size of the boiler. She and her husband did the installation themselves, being very hands-on people, but they advise getting help from an engineer.
3. Installation Process
Jaymie and her husband had to get their hands dirty but still found it relatively easy. The ease factor was helped by their knowledge and experience with manual labour, mechanics, circulator and radiator operation.
"It's not impossible to install everything yourself, but it takes time, energy and you have to be super handy because there aren't a lot of outside resources out there showing how to install this kind of system."
4. Why biomass heating?
Jaymie calculated the advantages and disadvantages of propane VS biomass and found that propane was not worth it.
When they bought their house, the heating equipment didn't work and they had to include the house in the calculations. It would have required 5 propane furnaces only 1 log boiler.
It also costs us drastically less annually than propane. They are also able to stretch the season and even start it 1-2 months earlier if needed.
5. Type of maintenance
Other than emptying the ashes, and cleaning the filter and the machine occasionally, Jaymie says there is no special maintenance.
6. Annual cost of heating and maintenance
It costs Jaymie nothing! She has reliable sources of wood that provide fuel for free.
For maintenance, if it's done properly and the water is refilled from time to time, there should be no problems that require paying to fix. She spends most of her time maintaining the boiler, the wood truck and her wood splitter.
7. Fuel source
Jaymie takes wood from cut tree lines or through friends with contracts and wood-moving jobs.
8. Advantages and disadvantages
Jaymie thinks of expenses added to the initial bill for the disadvantages. There's also the fact that this kind of machine takes time and commitment; you have to be handy, it's hard to leave in the winter, and you may have to get up at night to put back wood.
Usually, Jaymie doesn't have to start getting up at night until mid-March when the temperature is down to 2°C and they start heating the 3 greenhouses in addition to the house.
She says this happens because we're in a "northern" country with seasonal changes and because she didn't initially buy a furnace with enough fuel space to heat all her buildings in colder weather.
As for the advantages: it costs less than propane, it allows to extend of the season by 1 to 2 additional months, it increases the sales capacity by starting production earlier and continuing it longer, plus the effort put into the transport and the maintenance of the wood keeps in good shape!
9. Tips for new users
Jaymie doesn't recommend this kind of setup if you're not resourceful and manual. She stresses the importance of doing your homework, knowing what you're getting into, and talking directly to someone who has one to understand the commitment involved.
Consider that the more buildings you have to heat and the larger they are, the longer it will take to fill the boiler OR the larger the boiler you will need. For fuel, it is imperative to have a reliable source, keep the wood dry in a shelter and split it before burning.
She would have liked to know how useful a heat sink can be to get through the colder nights.
I hope this 2nd blog post was able to enlighten you on the subject of biomass heating. To learn more about biomass heating with a chip system, read Frederic's testimonial in the 3rd part of this series!
Did this article help you? Would you do me the favour of sharing it with someone who, like you, would benefit from it? Share it on Facebook and don't hesitate to send me your comments down below!
See you soon!