Modern Wood Heating FAQs
1. What is modern wood heating and how is it different from traditional wood heating?
Many New Englanders are familiar with heating with wood—whether wood stoves or fireplaces. While stoves and fireplaces are popular with many homeowners, they can require a bit of work to operate and keep clean.
Modern wood heating describes automated, high-efficiency central boilers and furnaces fueled by wood pellets rather than manually-operated stoves using pellets or cordwood. These versatile systems replace oil and propane boilers and furnaces. Regionally-sourced wood pellets are stored much like oil or propane in a bulk container, which unlike cordwood or pellet stoves, allow the system to automatically operate without daily human interaction. Wood pellet fuel is delivered by a truck similar to an oil delivery truck and pneumatically fed into the pellet container. Moreover, the modern wood heating systems installed through HeatSmart CCL have very few cleaning requirements are self-cleaning and have automatic ash removal to a simple container which can be emptied in a couple minutes a few times a year.
2. What are the benefits of using modern wood heating?
There are several benefits to using modern wood heating:
Energy savings. If you heat with oil, propane, or electric resistance heat, you could save hundreds of dollars a year on your heating bill by installing a modern wood heating system. No need to pay thousands of dollars to get a gas connection to your home: a cleaner alternative is already available.
Reduced carbon footprint. Using high-efficiency modern wood heating systems fueled by sustainably-harvested local wood will reduce your carbon emissions from heating by 50% or more compared to fossil fuel heating.
Buy local heat. Massachusetts homeowners send approximately 90 cents of every dollar spent on fossil fuels out of state. By purchasing wood pellets sourced from New England, you can keep more of your heating dollars in the local and regional economy.
Automated, low-hassle wood heating. Enjoy the benefits of heating with wood without the hassle: modern wood heating systems are fully automated to run without human interaction for weeks at a time and only need to be cleaned and emptied of ash once or twice a year. No need to load in bags of pellets or logs: a pellet fuel delivery truck will keep your home stocked just like with heating oil delivery.
Fuel price stability. While oil prices have spiked from nearly $4/gallon in 2013 to $2.20/gallon in 2016 to around $3/gallon this winter, wood pellet prices have been remarkably stable during that entire period, as the pellet fuel economy is local and not nearly as dependent on global market factors. In fact, wood pellets have remained the equivalent cost of oil at $2.00 per gallon over the past 8 years. Reduce your vulnerability to price spikes while supporting the regional economy by heating with wood pellets.
3. Doesn’t burning wood or pellets emit a lot of carcinogenic particulates?
Wood smoke contains particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, which can be hazardous to your health. Traditional wood heating systems, like fireplaces and older wood stoves, could emit sufficient air pollutants over decades to cause health issues. Modern wood heating systems emit a fraction of the amount of air pollutants released by traditional systems and must be certified by the EPA to be installed through the MassCEC rebate program. While a traditional wood stove might emit over 2.5 lbs of PM emissions for every million Btus of heat provided, the OkoFEN modern wood heating systems that HeatSmart installer New Day installed through HeatSmart CCL emit less than 0.02 lbs of PM emissions for every million Btus of heat--over 100 times less.
4. I don’t want to haul pellets. Is modern wood heating right for me?
Yes! Modern wood heating systems are completely automated: no pellet hauling, no system loading, no buying pellets from the store. Your pellet storage bin will be filled by a bulk delivery truck a few times a year (just like filling your oil tank), and your system will automatically load itself from the storage bin.
5. Do I have to clean and empty ashes? If so, how often?
Your modern wood heating system will keep itself clean. All pellet ash will be collected conveniently in a bin that you'll need to empty once every one or two months.
6. Why is modern wood heating considered a “clean heating” technology?
Modern wood heating uses plant matter that can be harvested for usage and sustainably grown back. Over time, sustainable forestry management practices enables carbon released from burning wood pellets to be sequestered as new trees are grown back, providing a net emissions benefit relative to burning fossil fuels.
A 2010 study commissioned by the Department of Energy Resources and conducted by the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences concluded that replacing heating oil with wood pellet heating is among the most effective uses of wood for energy, providing a net emissions reduction relative to fossil fuels in five years.
7. Are there different types of modern wood heating systems?
Pellet stoves are not the only device that use wood pellets. For decades advanced central wood pellet boilers have been used in Europe and over the past 8 years have been made available in the USA. These systems have very little in common with simple pellet stoves aside from the fuel. HeatSmart CCL is focused on central wood pellet boilers and furnaces from OkoFEN, distributed in the USA as Maine Energy Systems.
8. Will it be difficult to keep my system fueled throughout the winter?
No! There’s no need to stock up or buy bags of pellets: the modern wood heating systems installed through HeatSmart CCL are fully automated and designed to handle bulk delivery by truck much like heating oil. This means that you can keep your home heated through the winter with only a few bulk deliveries -- and never have to handle wood or pellets yourself!
9. How can I be sure that the pellets I use are sustainable?
Wood pellets are typically sourced from wastewood (e.g. from sawmills) and from residues related to the wood harvesting process. New Day Energy or other modern wood heat installer can direct you to vendors who are offering wood pellets that are certified as sustainably harvested and sourced from forests that are sustainably managed. Certifying organizations include a DCR-approved plan for products derived from Massachusetts forests and certifications from third-party organizations including the Forest Stewardship Council and Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (Sustainable Forestry Initiative and American Tree Farm System).
Speak with the HeatSmart CCL installer, New Day Energy, about the pellet sourcing options available to you for bulk delivery.
9. What is thermal storage?
Thermal storage is a hot water tank installed in parallel with your modern wood heating system.
The reason for this is that wood heating systems have more difficulty quickly turning on and off compared to fossil fuel systems: a pellet that is burning will keep on burning even if your home has reached the desired temperature. A thermal storage tank enables you to not waste that heat and stores the hot water until it’s ready to be used again.
The use of thermal storage and associated controls enables higher-efficiency operation and lower air pollutant emissions from modern wood heating systems by reducing the frequency that your system will need to “cycle” (or turn on and off repeatedly). In addition to improving efficiency, it will also reduce wear and tear on your boiler.
As such thermal storage is a requirement of the MassCEC modern wood heating rebate program. While this will add costs to your system, MassCEC provides $2,000 to offset this added cost.
10. Can modern wood heating provide domestic hot water?
Yes! One of the benefits of installing a hot water tank for thermal storage is that it can also be used for your home's hot water. During the summer, when you're no longer heating your home, you can continue to use pellets to heat your hot water or use a backup electric resistance coil.
11. How do the annual maintenance costs of modern wood heating systems compare to other heating systems?
Modern wood heating systems require similar maintenance to fossil fuel boilers and furnaces. Annual servicing is recommended.
To minimize maintenance, modern wood heating systems include self-cleaning heat exchangers and empty ash into separate containers that can be easily removed without mess and without having to turn the system off.
12. How long do modern wood heating systems last?
Modern wood heating systems are expected to last for over 30 years, longer than other boilers and furnaces. This is due in part to the OkoFEN systems using a single steel welded vessel and not sectional cast iron. These systems also have only three designed wear items that in themselves are designed to last 5-10 years and which are inexpensive to replace. This planned design allows the system as a whole to last many decades.
13. How complicated is installing a modern wood heating system and how long will it take?
Modern wood heating system installations can take 2-3 days to complete, depending on the site.