“If your pellet boiler needs a fossil fuel back-up, you’re a heating hobbyist.” Dutch Dresser, Maine Energy Systems.
Funny things happen in times of transition; I’ve written about that before. I’m quite interested today in emerging market confusion among naïve consumers as marketers pass off very dissimilar products as similar.
All would agree that both bicycles and automobiles are means of conveyance, but we’re informed enough not to consider the bicycle simply a less expensive conveyance than an automobile and otherwise equal. Both have wheels and gearing and brakes and means of steering, but the distances they can travel comfortably, the loads they can carry, the protection they provide from adverse weather, and, the source of the propelling energy are all very different. We’ve learned, as informed consumers, to look to bicycles for some sorts of travel and automobiles for other sorts. If I argued that my Cannondale was better than your Mercedes, you’d find it hard to even consider the comparison.
As new technologies emerge, the distinctions among products from related domains can result in comparisons that are nearly as difficult to even consider. Many of us remember well when dot matrix printers gave way to inkjet printers. Consumers came to understand, after many disappointments, that print quality and print speed were very different between the two technologies. Today no one would compare dot matrix printers with inkjet or laser printers for quality work.
Renewable energy alternatives are more important in our lives everyday. To avoid trying to make the impossible comparisons shoved at us by marketers, we will all have to become informed consumers. Burning wood pellets in the Northeast is a wonderful way to utilize renewable resources, but pellet-burning equipment serves as a fine example of the need for education among consumers before purchase time.
There are many brands of pellet stoves. Most do a fine job of heating one, or several, rooms. Some have remote thermostats, others have heat adjustments at the stove. All require the manual feeding of pellets, generally from bags, and all require removal of ash and cleaning of the burner and burn chamber at regular intervals. Pellet quality is an important factor for pellet stove users as excess ash and clinkers from inferior pellets are personal experiences for them.
Hobbyists’ pellet boilers
There are two general sorts of pellet boilers available today. I call them hobbyists’ boilers and designed boiler systems.
I have a hobbyist’s pellet boiler. It is typical of many Scandinavian-style pellet boilers. I call it a hobbyist boiler for two reasons. First, the parts that constitute it were not designed for each other but were gathered from various manufacturers’ inventories. Second, because of the boiler’s design I must spend considerable time with it and its by-products throughout the heating season, and even in the summer as I use it to heat domestic water.
Not including the shower that necessarily follows, the cleaning process takes me about one hour and always creates ash dust in the house that my wife mentions gently.
That said, the boiler heats my house pretty well, and it was inexpensive. I can leave the house unattended for extended periods only because I have a back-up oil boiler, otherwise, I’d have a short tether as the boiler would want my attention regularly.
When I sell my house, I suppose my heating hobby will be seen as neither an asset nor a liability, since the oil boiler is still there. Whether my hobbyist’s boiler will be used, or not, depends upon the tolerance of the buyer. The cleaning cycles of hobbyists’ boilers require significant commitment.
Designed pellet boiler systems
Designed pellet boiler systems rival liquid and gas fuel burning equipment in ease of use and consistency of efficiency. Every element of the system from the underfed burner to the robust pressure vessel to the vacuum or auger fuel feed to the storage unit is designed to work seamlessly with the other elements of the system. There is no need to buy add-ons or additional parts and pieces, the system is purposefully designed to do serious work with almost no user intervention.
The MESys AutoPellet boiler system is a carefully designed system. It cleans its own heat exchanger tubes regularly, and it removes the ash from its firebox into a small valise on the side of the unit. Emptying the valise is required about four times a year in the average home and takes less than three minutes. There is no exposure to ash, so whatever you happen to be wearing is fine, and you won’t need gloves.
Unlike top-fed burner units, the MESys burner is underfed. This means two things to the end user. First, there is no build-up of clinkers or slag, so you don’t have to shop for just the right pellets to keep your system running. And, second, there is no heat-off cleaning cycle in underfed burners. The burner can run as long as it’s needed whether that’s measured in hours, or days.
The efficiency, the cleanliness, the ease of use, and the fact that you can use the boiler as your sole and primary heat source is remarkably affordable, less than 10% more in equipment costs than comparably sized hobbyists’ boilers.
Take the time to educate yourself so you don’t buy a bicycle, a dot matrix printer, or a hobbyist’s boiler when what you really needed was an automobile, a laser printer, or an automatic pellet boiler designed as an integrated system.