Who ever thought we would celebrate oil going through $100? Crude prices have dropped close to 40 percent since shooting the moon at prices near $150 a barrel on July 11. In other Nymex trading, heating oil futures fell 7.12 cents to $2.72 a gallon, while gasoline prices dropped 10.04 cents to $2.461 a gallon. Natural gas for October delivery fell 8.7 cents to $7.29 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Anne’s hot flashes are so bad that she thought Global Warming was her fault and Al Gore keeps following her around.
I rather wish we could bottle that.
Oil is still waaaaay too expensive to burn.
We also have no cattle barn from which to bottle methane. The ground water heat pump presents too many obstacles to install this year. Coal is too difficult to use here. An outdoor wood furnace gives up too much heat to the outdoors and makes us slog through the snow in the middle of the night. That means we’ve decided to buy something that burns wood pellets.
Is a pellet stove really cheaper to run?
Pellets cost not less than $199/ton. The average is about $250 and the highest I’ve seen so far is $300. Pellets give up 24,500,000 BTU/ton. Most pellet stove makers advertise 75-80% efficiency although I used 70% in the spreadsheet last week. The numbers work even at 60% .
Oil will still be there as a fully automated backup, right?
No matter what we do, I’ll either leave the existing oil fired boiler or upgrade the oil fired boiler. A pellet boiler would either be an add-on or have its own oil burner as a backup. The heat pump is more difficult because I can’t reliably get its transfer liquid hot enough to run our baseboards and its power draw would be more than I have generator capacity for during a power outage.
There must be a catch.
The downside to a pellet stove or furnace is its need for electricity. Unlike the wood stoves we rely on now, a pellet stove has two or even three fans and an auger without which there is no fire. If the power goes out today, we can crank up the wood stoves and keep from freezing, If the power goes out when we have a pellet something and an oil-fired boiler or an electric heat pump, we lose all our heat.
There is also the little matter of loading pellets by the ton.
What’s the Bottom Line?
I don’t know how to justify a pellet furnace on cost alone. The models I’ve found would heat the entire house at a capital cost two to four times that of a pellet stove and the savings fall in the diminishing returns category.
So. We’ll continue using the oil furnace as back up. The Vigilant, a wood stove now in the great room, will move to the living room. A pellet stove gets installed in the great room. Just as soon as I find one.
I narrowed the pellet burning field down to a few reliable products with automatic operation that runs on a thermostat, multiple heat settings, and cast iron construction. I have investigated Brosley, EKO-Vimar, Harman, Pinnacle, Viessman, and Woodmaster pellet furnaces as well pellet “parlor” stoves from American Energy, Bixby, Bob England’s Stove Works, Enviro, Harman, Hearth and Home Technologies, Pelpro, Thelin, and Whitfield.
The Harman PB-105 furnace or Harman Accentra stove at the top of my list are sold out until late next Spring.
I’ve chased stoves and furnaces from dealers in places wood burning appliances don’t sell nearly as well as they do here in New England. That search has yielded no furnaces and darned few stoves. I thought about going a little farther afield, like Florida or Arizona except Florida and Arizona probably don’t burn coal or wood because they think the economics of transporting the solid fuel is against them.
That brings us to an interesting fact.
Last year, we burned about 5 tons (10,000 pounds) of oil plus a couple of tons of firewood. If we switch to coal, pellets, or chunk wood, we will burn about 7 tons of coal, or 7 tons of pellets, or 7 tons of firewood.
Next time, I’ll tell you all about which pellet stove we bought and how I installed it.