In the interest of disclosure, I am a principal of Maine Energy Systems, distributors of the MESys wood pellet fired boilers.

I’ve now been through the heart of the Maine heating season with an undersized pellet boiler in my house, and I’m always prone to reflect upon changes like that.

In simple summary, when comparing heating with oil to heating with wood pellets, I’d say it’s just different.

I’m a pretty typical American. I got just a little bit interested in our home heating system four years ago when it was time for a new system. The beautiful Buderus oil boiler tickled me, and I was fully impressed by the substantial savings in oil consumption I enjoyed over use of the old Burnham that it replaced. That fascination consisted more of looking at fuel bills than of looking at the boiler…it required none of my attention and got none.

When the MESys 4000 went in my house last fall, I was fascinated with it for technical, economic, and environmental reasons. It was a mechanical thing that I could understand just by looking at it. As the winter went by, I learned about not just the little boiler, but also about our family’s heat using patterns and how they can be seen in circulating water temperature.

Because I was intrigued by the boiler, I checked it often, noted the modulation level it was running at and the water temperature it was maintaining relative to the target. I listened to it through its various modulation levels, through start up, and through the ashscrape cycle. I got so I could tell what it was doing by opening the cellar door and listening. For me that was fun.

I also learned about its needs relative to cleaning. I started out cleaning out the boiler pretty often, just to get an idea about how the different pellets were burning. When I decided to let it to until ash stopped it, I learned that with the pellets I had a ton of pellets burned would surely stop it. I fell into the habit of cleaning it out every other Sunday afternoon; it took a half hour, and I kind of enjoyed it.

Over the course of the winter, I took great pleasure in looking at my small, newly lined, chimney and noticing only hot air coming from it while nothing came from the large front chimney where the oil boiler vented.

As I’ve noted in earlier posts, my boiler is decidedly undersized for my house at 51,000 BTU/hour for a house with a calculated heat loss of 106,000 BTU/hour. My small boiler heated my house and my domestic hot water to comfortable levels all winter except the days when the temperature dropped below -5F. During those days, the oil boiler would “help out” when boiler water temp dropped below 140F, a completely arbitrary set point I chose. Today, I decided that I wouldn’t be burning anymore oil this year, so I asked my oil dealer to top up the tank while prices are low; I’m afraid they were upset to put only 41 gallons in my tank. With those 41 gallons, I received 7.4 tons of pellets and have approximately 2 tons in my pellet storage bin. That puts my fuel consumption at the BTU equivalent of about 690 gallons of oil, for the October to mid-April heating season. That is lower than usual despite a cold winter. I’ll have to wait until I can compile a calendar year’s worth of data, but it appears at this time that the manufacturer’s assertion that a boiler which is working at capacity most of the time is much more efficient has proven to be the case in my situation.

Now when I talk to people about central pellet heat, I always make it a point to say, “it’s just different” than heating with oil. You will have to understand your heating system a bit; you will have to clean the boiler from time to time (for me every two weeks); and, you’ll become much more aware of how your using your burning fuel.

I like it, but it’s just different in a pleasant sort of way.