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Jason offers useful insights

I was reading your site concerning outdoor wood boilers and though I'd relay my experiences with our boiler. We heat our 3500 sq.ft. home, a 40' x 120' steel insulated cattle barn and a 40'  x 30' insulated steel drive shed /workshop with a ****** boiler. We haven't had any problems with this unit. seems to be well built and solid.

It smokes a LOT when it is mild out. It was worse when we got it. I put a 20 ft insulated steel chimney on it and it made a huge difference both in smoke reduction and ease of lighting. When it's on full burn like it is here in Northern Ontario from December to March it doesn't smoke much at all.

It uses a LOT of wood and needs to be filled twice a day in the middle of winter. I have 125 acres of bush with thousands of scotch pine snags that were killed by the pine shoot beetles about 8 years ago. When the roots rot out and the trees blow over I cut up the rest of the tree to 4ft lengths. I also mix in some sugar maple, elm and ash. Because I have a logging winch and grapple on my tractor this isn't too much work.

I don't see much heat loss (3 or 4 degrees) even though I've go a 65ft run to the house, a 90ft run to the shed and 200ft run to the barn. The lines are all buried 5ft down. I put in 1ft x 2" poly foam board on the bottom and the sides and filled it up with expansion foam.

The biggest advantage to me is the cost savings. Before the boiler I would go through over $6000 in heating oil for the winter. That's a huge impact to the bottom line. In a farming environment with a large free wood supply they make good economic sense.

If you're comparing them to a good EPA wood stove for heating a house alone there's no comparison. A wood stove makes much more sense. We used a Lennox woodstove to heat the house before and it is much easier, less wood used.

If you want to save work, are paying for your wood or are just heating a house, outside boilers don't make any sense. In the right application, if you're willing to do the work, they work very well.

March 2004

Will Nancy be forced from her home by a neighbor's smoke?

I live in rural northern NH and there is a cluster of three homes where I am. A neighbor has put in an outdoor wood furnace very close to my home and of course even closer to his. It's over a little bank beside their house, but there's no chimney at all so emission is at ground level for the rest of the world. He burns only unsplit unseasoned wood (as in fresh cut day by day) and the creosote smoke is horrendous. Usually, maybe 90% of the time, air flow is east/west here and it fills the valley of a nearby brook, as well as the roadway below my home to the point many days I can't even see the bridge. Drivers slow down or nearly stop to gawk, assuming a building is burning.

When air is southerly or none, my yard and house are filled with the stuff. I cough and my eyes water outside, and it has gotten me up more than once in the middle of the night, to the scary smell of creosote smoke. Headaches have always been very rare for me, and I've had many the past two months.

NH has no regulations, unlike VT and many other states and communities that have regulations about these things. I've been in touch with [state environment and forestry officials], the dealer who sold the thing, and the manufacturer. All have said that a proper chimney height and burning properly seasoned wood would HELP, but not eliminate the problem. They also referred me to NFPA Code 211, whatever that is, as possibly the only recourse in a state that has no regulations whatsoever. I've contacted the fire chief in the next town (as we have no department in mine) to see if I can find out what's in that code.

No public health laws in this state address the problem. I've called the neighbor (call not returned yet) and had spoken to one of the couple after the first day it was up and running - was told, "oh, it only does that when it starts up" which is total nonsense, as anyone who drives this road or lives even farther away than I do can attest. They aren't home during the day and have no clue what's going on.

I cannot afford to abandon my home and move elsewhere, nor do I want to. It would BE abandonment, because nobody would live here as long as that thing is as it is. I'm hoping my neighbor will call me back so we can have a calm civil discussion about it. If that isn't how it turns out, I'm left with few alternatives other than filing formal complaints anywhere I can think of, going public via newspaper letters, etc. I understand some insurance companies won't issue policies for homes with these things - and I can understand that, as the liability would be enormous. (For a bit of ironic humor, the neighbor owns an insurance agency!)

I would appreciate any input from anybody at this point. Any ideas of other avenues to pursue, people to contact, etc.  I really don't want to end up in court to force them to buy my home and property, relocate me elsewhere, and pay really big damages for forcing me out of my home - but that's how the picture looks at the moment.

Hopefully, this particular situation can be resolved somehow, but there may well be other people in similar circumstances already or in the future. This problem isn't going to go away on the overall scene.


Paul's outdoor boiler works ok

Whew - sounds like Rick and Bob are not having a pleasant experience with their heat  systems.  My story is different.  We have used an outdoor boiler for the past three winters.  Prior to installing the outdoor boiler, we used a wood burning furnace installed in the basement of our farmhouse.  My unscientific comparisons of fuel consumption between the indoor hot air wood burning furnace and the outdoor wood burning  boiler are about equal, plus the boiler heats the domestic hot water.  Smoke particles and BTUs are beyond my rural comprehension.  The boiler smokes on startup, but the hot air furnace did also.  I added two sections of pipe to the boiler (supplied by  the manufacturer) to exhaust the smoke at a higher level.  On low pressure days the smoke still drops to ground level, as did the smoke from our house chimney.  I tend the boiler twice a day, summer and winter.  For winter vacation, my son tends the boiler once a day, since the house temp is kept at 60 degrees while we are away.  (He has to come out to feed the cattle anyway).  In the summer we also burn waste paper, and wood  is added about once a week.  I have added water (three gallons, distilled) to the 100 gallon tank only once since it was installed.  We have a modern "cutback" thermostat  that drops the house temp down to 63 degrees from 10 PM to 4:30 AM.  Our humidifier no longer runs constantly like it did with the indoor furnace. Our boiler is constructed of  stainless steel, is well insulated and cost $4200 installed, including the "A" coil and  piping/insulation.  We changed from the basement furnace to the outdoor boiler because the furnace was approaching 20 years old and showing signs of fatigue.  The basement  furnace was a miserable machine when the outside air temp approached 40 degrees.  We could not lower the temperature of the house to a comfortable level, and were forced to operate a propane fueled central furnace many days in the spring and fall.  Our propane furnace has not burned since we installed the boiler.  I agree that an outside wood fired boiler would be an unneighborly choice of heat for a home in a subdivision, and might be unreasonable for someone who does not have their own woodlot, but I think our boiler serves us well in our rural setting.  I recommend studying each manufacturer's boiler before making a choice.  As with any product - there are some duds out there. 


Barney says outdoor boilers have their place

I read your one-sided appraisal of outdoor boilers.  When I say one-sided, I have had one now for four winters and, with the exception of running it in moderate outside temperatures, it has performed very well.  Yes there is smoke but this can be reduced to a minimum by controlling the fire.  In fact in Haliburton many wood furnaces leave a trail of smoke on a cold morning.  Yes the smoke can bother but how about a little advise:  Do not have them in a crowded situation or row housing.

Now some points that you failed to mention.  I use mine for a house with no real smoke problem.  I do not have a fan to force the draft but a very sensitive control that opens the draft at a small drop in house temperature.  The heat in the house is constant – better than oil.  There are water pipes right through the firebox and I have never had flaming chunks coming out the unit.  Even if it did I question if it would ignite the snow etc. 

You are right it will not go 96 hours but if filled and the temperature in the house is dropped it will go 48 hours and there will still be heat in the boiler.  NO there are no fire bricks in the boiler BUT it is constructed with heavy plate that seem to hold and moderate the temperature.  One problem that you missed is thin plate in the construction.  A number have gone down due to the use of thin plate.  Not mine.

I never try to build a big fire but fill it three times a day getting a good charcoal bed that is always hot.   And unlike inside wood heaters – no dust. 

Wood is a good source of heat and it should be promoted more as an alternative to oil and hydro (electric).  An outdoor boiler can fill the bill so lets open up our vision as there is a place for them.  The builders may have some out of the world claims but maybe that is just to counteract your negative comments.

The main problem is when the temperature moderates in the fall and spring.  Then we need an alternative heat such a wood stove.  And is a little smoke a problem compared to a planned forest or grass burn – or an oil spill?


John Gulland responds:

Thanks for writing, Barney, you make some very good points.

For example, your suggestion that outdoor boilers should not be located in populated areas is a good one.  We have corresponded with people whose enjoyment of their houses and property has been virtually destroyed by a close neighbor's smoky outdoor boiler.  This problem is minimized if the units are located only in rural areas with lots of space between houses.

You are also careful about building a good fire.  If all outdoor boiler owners did this, we wouldn't have as big a problem with them.  In our experience, though, it is rare for users to build careful fires.  More often they tend to fill up their boiler with unsplit, unseasoned logs so it will run as long as possible between loadings and this leads to a huge smoke plume when it fires after an off cycle.  We wish more users were as conscientious as you are.

You also mention the failures due to corrosion of the boiler vessels and we have been aware of this for some time.  However, our main concern about outdoor boilers is offensive smoke and low efficiency, and all woodburning product categories have had failures along their evolutionary path.  We note, though, that one insurance company cites corrosion failure as the reason for refusing coverage to houses heated with outdoor boilers, so it is not, apparently, a rare problem.

We still think that outdoor boiler technology can be improved to increase efficiency and reduce emissions and will continue to criticize their manufacturers until they match the quality of their products to their advertising rhetoric.

Thanks again for your note.