Archive for 2011

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What is the Real Cost of an Outdoor Wood Boiler?

Are you looking to purchase an outdoor wood boiler, but don’t know which one to buy? There are a number of things to be considered in addition to the initial cost of the appliance. These involve installation costs and “operating costs” in terms of dollars spent and time spent.

Whatever your reason for heating with wood, the system must be convenient, easy to use, efficient and safe. And it should automatically maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

However, consider these factors:

  • How will you feel loading the outdoor wood boiler in the middle of February during a rain, sleet or snow storm? Are you comfortable? Safe? Or would you be much happier out of the weather?
  • What about emissions? Do your family and neighbors really appreciate the wood smoke and all that it contains – aromatic hydrocarbons, very fine particles (polycyclic organic matter), carbon monoxide, creosote mist, etc. – most of which are known to cause cancer. And all of which are unburned fuel. Are they safe?
  • What about wood consumption? Simple logic suggests that if you burn less wood, you generate fewer pollutants, decrease your wood handling labor, cut your wood fuel expenses, etc. An efficient appliance reduces all of this.

For instance, suppose an inefficient outdoor wood furnace consumes 11 cords of wood per year, whereas an efficient wood boiler would consume only 5 cords of wood per year while providing the same comfort level.

What are the real savings of a high-efficiency indoor model?

  • 6 fewer cords of wood at $150 per cord = $900 savings per year.
  • 6 fewer cords of wood to — cut, split, stack, and load into a firebox. In addition, there is ash removal and disposal.
  • 6 fewer cords consumed to create wood smoke emissions. (Note: A more efficient wood boiler also reduces emissions by approximately 90% by burning the unburned fuel that normally goes up the chimney as smoke.)
  • Additional parts (e.g. insulated stove pipe and underground pex) and the time to install these parts.

Assuming a 3 to 5 year simple payback (through lower heating bills), one could afford to spend $3,000 to $5,000 more for a good wood heating system and devote your “6 cords of money and personal time” to: your  family, fishing, hunting, boating, traveling, reading a good book, volunteering, etc. And at the same time increase the convenience of operating the unit and help protect the health of your family and neighbors by reducing wood smoke.

So, is that less expensive outdoor wood boiler really a lower cost unit?

This post is from our friends at GARN, home of the GARN WHS.


A Little Known Fact About Forest Fires and CO2

Wildfire season is ablaze in the United States with fires raging from Arizona to Texas to Florida. The US Forest Service has again marshaled its resources to battle the annual outbreaks.

A lot is discussed about the devastation these fires have on property and wildlife, but little is often shared about the impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is a bit surprising since, according to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of California, large wildfires in the western United States can release as much carbon dioxide in a few weeks as all of the cars do in those same areas during an entire year.

All the cars? Ok, you have my attention.

NCAR puts some data behind that statement, estimating that fires in the contiguous United States and Alaska release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year or 4 to 6 percent of the amount of the greenhouse gas that the nation releases through burning fossil fuels. In summary, forest fires can quickly release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere with only small amounts offset by regrowing vegetation in the period following the fire.

The environmental and economic impact of wildfires is not new to the US Forest Service. They have put a lot of energy into understanding and mitigating the impact of these wildfires, however their hands are tied since policy dictates how fuel can be removed from public forest lands.

It would seem reasonable, given the economic, environmental and energy potential of our forest lands that more support should be given for removing and utilizing this hazardous material and creating valuable forest products – lumber, wood chips & biomass – before we let it burn. So what don’t I get?

Renewable Energy Could Provide 80% of Global Energy by 2050

According to the latest United Nations report, nearly 80% of the global energy supply could be met by renewable energy by 2050 if backed by the correct public policies. The six renewable energy technologies reviewed include bioenergy, solar, power, geothermal power, hydropower, ocean energy, and wind energy, with more than 160 existing scientific use cases evaluated.

There is more information in the report than we could share here, but there are some interesting and relevant insights that for those interested in biomass energy:

  • Most current bioenergy systems, including advanced liquid biofuels, result in GHG emission reductions.
  • The sustainability of bioenergy, in particular in terms of life cycle GHG emissions, is influenced by land and biomass resource management practices.
  • Modern biomass, wind and direct solar currently make up the largest contributions of renewable energy technologies to the energy system and biomass will continue to play a central role through 2050.

The report’s findings are summarized in the “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.” The report summarizes a thousand-page comprehensive assessment compiled by more than 120 leading experts from all over the world for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC).

Indiana Joins the Clean Air Movement

With the EPA’s Residential Wood Heater New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) now on the horizon, the State of Indiana has joined with many states in regulating outdoor hydronic heaters (also referred to as outdoor wood boiler or outdoor wood furnace). On May 18th, Indiana’s first rules regulating the sale, installation and operation of outdoor wood furnaces became law. The rules affect an estimated 8,000 Indiana residents who currently use an outdoor wood furnace to heat their home.

So, if you are an Indiana resident and either own or plan to purchase an outdoor wood boiler, here is a summary of some of the major elements of the adopted regulation 326 IAC 4-3.

  • emission limits for new units must meet EPA Phase 2 standards,
  • existing non-EPA qualified units must limit their operation to the heating season (October 1 – April 30),
  • increasing the stack height for certain existing units, and
  • notice requirements for sellers of outdoor hydronic heaters.

For additional information on this regulation, please visit the Indiana Department of Environmental Regulation website for outdoor hydronic heater regulations. A copy of the entire rule is available here or IDEM provides a fact sheet for more concise reading about the outdoor wood furnace rule.

Finding and Repairing Home Air Leaks

Over  the past winter, you likely noticed that there were some spots in your house that were a bit cooler than you would have liked. These drafts are often most noticeable around windows and doors, but don’t think these are your major sources of wasted heat and energy. Rather, in most homes, the most significant air leaks are hidden in the attic and the basement.

Where do air leaks occur in your house?

You may already know where some air leaks occur in your home, such as an under-the-door draft, but to find many of the smaller culprits, the Department of Energy recommends that you get an energy audit that includes a blower door test. A blower door test, depressurizes your home and reveals the location of many leaks.

If you don’t want to opt for a professional energy assessment or blower door test, the DOE suggests a number of less costly approaches that also provide meaningful and actionable results:

  • DIY Depressurization Test – On a cool windy day, turn off all fans, blowers, exhausts, furnaces in the house and shut all windows and doors. Use a wet hand (cool with a draft) or an incense stick (wavers in drafty area) near suspected leak areas.
  • Flashlight Test – At night, shine a flashlight over potential gaps while someone observes the house from outside. Large cracks will show up as streams of light. This method does not work well small cracks.
  • Paper Test – Shut a door or window on a piece of paper. If you can pull the paper out without tearing it, you’re losing energy. This method does not address other air leak culprits.

Once you find air leaks many are rather straightforward to repair. Energy Star provides a good DIY guide to repairing common home air leaks including, recessed lighting,  plumbing vents, and wiring holes.

The nice thing about energy-saving investments is that they can show results quickly and can often pay for themselves in two heating seasons or less.

Energy Use in the Military

In a recent blog post covered by The Daily Energy Report, Sohbet Karbuz writes about the energy consumption in the US military. He shares some interesting facts from his research which shed light on the hidden costs of our armed forces.

In 2009, the Department of Defense consumed 932 trillion BTUs of energy. This equates to 2 percent of the US energy consumption and more than 93 percent of government energy use. If they were a nation, they would be the 36th largest consumer of energy. However, less than half of oil consumption is in the continental United States. Looking deeper into our area of interest, space heating,  the military consumes over 200 trillion BTUs of energy in buildings annually.

The military is acutely aware of these figures and while they comprise less than 2 percent of the Defense Department budget, the Defense Secretary has identified energy as one of the department’s top 25 priorities. The DoD is already a leader in a number of alternative energy areas and continues to search for alternatives so that it can reduce its reliance on oil and improve our energy security.

For more information about this topic visit the post here.

A Modern Day Parable About Home Heating: A Look at Heating Assistance Contingency Funds

As part of the federal government’s initiative to reduce spending, the contingency budget for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that provides heating assistance for those with low incomes was cut by 67%, from $591 million to just $200 million. LIHEAP is a federally-funded program that helps low-income households pay their home heating and cooling bills. It operates in every state and the District of Columbia, as well as on most tribal reservations and U.S. territories.

If you are one of the homeowners that was receiving these subsidies, this cut is going to hurt, especially with energy prices at all times highs. However, rather than discuss the pros/cons of the action, I wanted to look at a different segment of homeowners and how they are addressing the financial strain that home energy costs place on their bank account.

We are finding that many people are adopting high efficiency wood-fired central heating as a means to stem the flow of monies out the door to pay for heating their home. People with access to money or a loan — use that money to pay for high-efficiency wood furnace and then pay back the loan from the annual savings on their oil bill. This is pretty clever, and kudos to the local banks who provide these types of loans.

Now back to the LIHEAP contingency budget. What if that same loan-based approach was applied to the families and homeowners that currently receive funding or might be on the cusp of needing money from the program?

From a policy perspective it’s the “teach a man to fish parable” — the choice between a our tax dollars paying for foreign oil for 1 day of warmth, versus those dollars staying in our country and providing warmth year after year. The program has an incredible opportunity to reduce our dependence on imported energy, one low-income family at a time.

To learn more about LIHEAP in your area, visit the State Grantees website.



European Pellet Market Outlook

According to a recent article in the peer-reviewed journal Biofuels, Bioproducts & Biorefining (Biofpr), the wood pellet market is booming in Europe. In 2009, pellet production in Europe was greater than 10 million metric tons from approximately 650 pellet plants. Like most energy fuels, wood pellet prices are increasing.

After Europe, North America has the largest pellet production capacity, which grew from 1.1 million metric tons in 2003 to 6.2 million in 2009.

The report indicates that EU 2020 policy for renewable energy sources and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission will drive the market development. With these policies in place, the authors forecast that the demand, in Europe alone, for woody biomass will vary between 105 million metric tons to 300 metric tons — a 10 to 30 fold increase over the next nine years.

With this type of growth, the report states, “Public support is needed to cover the additional costs of capital investment, operation and maintenance of renewable energy equipment, and pellet fuel feedstock, in comparison with their fossil fuel alternatives.”

Watching from afar, there are several observations we can make about the contrasts in perspective — First, with such wide-spread adoption of the use of woody biomass fuels, public perception of wood heating must be quite positive. Secondly, with the rich natural resource supply here in North America, where is the U.S. policy and mindset on this topic?

Sadly, here in the U.S., woody biomass is still the forgotten step-child in the alternative energy discussion.

Participate in the International Year of Forests

The National Association of State Foresters (NASF), in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and many other natural resource organizations, is coordinating the U.S. celebration of the 2011 International Year of Forests campaign, “Celebrate Forests. Celebrate Life.”  Through the U.S. campaign, NASF aims to strengthen the connection between people and forests, elevate the conversation about the importance of forest health, and promote a national appreciation and investment in healthy forests and woodlands.

Throughout the year, the campaign will be encouraging Americans to make a personal connection to forests and to celebrate that connection.  The program seeks to promote the positive impact of trees and forests to health in the daily lives of American citizens. The campaign’s focus is on the key role trees and forests play in:

  • Clean Air and Water
  • Ecosystem Health
  • Economic Health
  • Community/Personal Health

As part of the year-long campaign, NASF is encouraging participation through events listed on their online calendar, and are looking for photos and other media to share through the Celebrate Forests Flickr, YouTube and Facebook pages.

For more information on how you or your organization can participate, take a look at their online toolkit.

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