Archive for the ‘Home Energy’ Category

Oil increases to highest level since 2008

This past week, oil prices reached their highest level since 2008 and peaked at over $128 per barrel. Much like the increases last year, the concern with supply disruptions sent prices higher. This time it was concern with Iran, last year it was Libya — in the not-too distant future, we’ll be hearing about the growing demand in China putting pressure on oil prices. It is a never ending cycle.

Prices may go down temporarily, but historically, they continue a steady climb. Unfortunately, in a flat economy, these increases are especially painful. Oil prices affect so many things from food prices to consumer goods to gasoline. If we are concerned about gasoline prices that approach $5 per gallon, we should be thankful we are not in Europe where gas prices are twice as high in many places.

So what are we doing about it? Well, from our perspective — not enough.

We could digress into a political discussion about the positions of each party on the topic, but I won’t. The bottom line is we need an energy policy that considers all forms of renewable energy that reduce our dependence on oil.

We are in the bio-thermal or wood to energy business and our customers are people who want some aspect of energy independence. If you have purchased one our appliances (or another manufacturers) — thank you for making a difference. This political season, we encourage you to ask your candidates what they are going to be doing to help move our country toward greater energy independence.

Wood: The Fastest Growing Heating Fuel in the United States

Data from the 2010 US Census shows that wood heat grew faster than any other heating source in the last decade. The use of wood fuel grew 34% compared to the 26% increase for electricity.

Wood heat grew fastest in the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions with Michigan and Connecticut seeing the largest increases at over 120% each.  Other states which saw significant increases in wood heat penetration over the decade, include high-density states New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio with increases exceeding 65 percent.

The rise of wood and wood pellets in home heating is often driven by a need for homeowners to reduce their heating bill with lower cost fuels like wood that are used in wood stoves, wood boilers and fireplace inserts. Over the last ten years, wood heat has been driven by the climbing cost of oil, the economic downturn and the movement to use renewable energy.

According to the EIA, residential wood heat accounts for 80% of residential renewable energy, solar 15% and geothermal 5%. By contrast, the only part of the country where wood fell in use were the warm weather states of the South, with Florida seeing the highest decline at 21 percent.

John Ackerly, with the Alliance for Green Heat, stated it most clearly, “Heating with wood may not be hip like solar, but it’s proving to be the workhorse of residential renewable energy production.”

For more information on heating fuel, visit here.

High Fuel Oil Prices Squeeze Money From Tight Budgets

According to Boston Globe, this past summer, Massachusetts households experienced the highest summer fuel-oil prices of the last three years. In fact, prices averaged $3.73 a gallon last month, over a $1 more than the same time last year.

If these prices remain, it would increase the average Massachusetts home heating bill by $225, effectively pulling an additional $200 million out of their pockets.

No one knows where oil prices are going — some say over $100 barrel (currently the mid-$80’s) and others see it easing a bit. The bottom line is simple — if you are on a tight budget or fixed income, you don’t like the uncertainty.

In addition, there has also been serious talk about cutting the LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) by as much as 50 percent, adding to an already difficult situation. Even at the current cap of $1000, this provides participants a tank of oil — enough fuel for up to half a heating season. Any cuts and this benefit is reduced.

This never-ending spiral is what leads many homeowners through the doors of our dealers. They are tired of the vicious cycle and the strain it place on their lives. They want to take control of home expense that can be as high as $3500 a year or more.

Operating a wood boiler is not for everyone, it requires some tending every day. The good thing is that today’s advanced wood gasification boilers take away much of the hassle of traditional wood boilers — little or no smoke, less maintenance — and in the case of Greenwood Frontier less work since you don’t need to split the wood. In all cases, these appliances are convenient and are run from the home’s thermostat.

The one thing that all wood heating appliances have in common is that they decrease the operator’s heating costs and reduce the exposure to increasing fuel oil prices. With the ability to lower a heating bill by over 70 percent, year-in and year out, the question I continue to struggle with is a simple one:

With today’s clean, high-efficiency systems why aren’t we using wood-fired central heating and why isn’t our public policy moving those best suited to use wood heat to wood as fuel for heating their homes?

New Hampshire Improves Pellet Boiler Rebate Program

The New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission (NH-PUC) has announced improvements in its Residential Bulk-Fuel Fed Wood-Pellet Central Boilers and Furnaces rebate program for automated wood pellet boilers and wood furnaces.

The program allows consumers to get a rebate of 30% up to a maximum of $6,000 on the purchase and installation of a qualifying heating system. To qualify, the installation must receive authority approval and include an efficient and automatic feeding wood furnace or pellet boiler. The appliances must installed before February 2012.

The two modifications to the program enable more systems to qualify:

  • the overall efficiency rating has been lowered to 80% (from 85% or greater), and
  • systems now qualify that require routine cleaning for each ton of premium pellets used. (Systems that automatically clean the burn chamber and the heat exchanger still qualify.)

Educating Children on Fire Safety

Once in a while, you come across a good idea that really stands out as a winner. Here is one from the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and Scholastic that fits that description.

The NFPA has partnered with Scholastic to create Fire Prevention Week (October 9 – 15) classroom kits for teachers and students from pre-K through grade 5.  The free, standards-based lessons and printables teach and reinforce crucial fire-safety skills with children, including the importance of testing smoke alarms and what kids should do when the alarm sounds.

NFPA is providing all the program materials free to download. If you are a teacher, or have small children or grandchildren we encourage you to take a look.

Wood Heat Provides 80% of All Residential Renewable Energy

As reported by Biomass Magazine, despite the unstable economy, wood heating is dominating the residential renewable energy market in America. With its affordability and today’s efficient wood heating appliances, homeowners are looking for greater certainty in their utility bills. In today’s economy, families do not want to pay the extra expense for high heating bills during the winter months. An efficient wood heating appliance could cut a person’s heating bill by 70 percent.

The Transforming Wood Heat in America report states, “…despite all the hoopla around solar, wood heat creates 80 percent of all residential renewable energy.” Wood heat is attractive with stretched wallets and tight government spending. Log wood is an ideal fuel for families that are feeling the pressure of paying high oil bills to heat their homes. Families typically do not have the income to invest in popular technologies such as solar and geo-thermal as a result wood heating is efficient and cost effective.

The article’s author, Lisa Gibson, explains the advantage of wood heating, as it provides year-round heating for the consumer’s home and does not require much effort. By simply putting a few wood logs in the appliance, the home is comfortably heated throughout the cold days and evenings. By contrast, using solar panels in the long, dark winter months does not heat the home efficiently and needs an alternative source to provide the energy the home requires. However, wood heaters can be used year around and do not need another energy source to provide heat for the home.

These are difficult times, and with summer coming to a close and fall just around the corner, more and more people are returning to the basics of wood heat. Particularly with today’s cleaner, more efficient and affordable technologies, home heating bills can cut down exponentially and are proving to be a popular option.

Special thanks to Nick Biagi (@Nick_Biagi), our summer intern, for authoring this post.

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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.


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.

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.



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