Saturday, November 07, 2015

Winter Dreams the Same Dream Every Time

We burned around seven tons of pellets last heating season. There's approximately 8,500 BTUs in a pound of wood pellets. That works out to 17,000,000 BTUs in a ton. Seven tons is almost 120 million BTUS. That was enough to make our refrigerator run from time to time to keep the ketchup inside from freezing solid, so we can't complain.

It's difficult to say exactly how many of those BTUS end up being useful inside our house. The pellet stove industry doesn't like cold, hard, facts very much. Instead of telling you how many BTUs their rigs produce, they prefer to say how many square feet of floor area the machine will serve. Um, yeah, about that. I've noticed several differences between, say, San Diego and New England, in addition to only one having a functional football team. Call me a wild-eyed pessimist, but I guess that the ability of a heating appliance to cover the same square footage in those two places might also vary. The home in San Diego might still have an old 100-watt incandescent installed in a ceiling can light, which as you know produces enough "waste heat" to act as a standin for a furnace. I suspect there might be other variables.

The unit we use to burn pellets says it will heat 3,000 square feet. I haven't noticed any macaws in the sumac bushes across the street, crocodiles in the Androscoggin River out back, or howler monkeys in the spruce trees, and I haven't noticed being overly hot in January while trying to heat 2,000 square feet. The howler monkeys comment on news stories on the Bangor Daily News, so I know they're around, but I think they have oil heat.

The reported efficiency of a pellet stove is a WAG when it isn't an outright lie. The entire industry gets a pass because they put "eco" in every other word on their websites. I guess that a well set up and well maintained pellet stove runs at around 80 percent efficiency. An oil furnace that efficient would get replaced. I mentioned yesterday that wet pellets are a problem we avoid like the plague. Wet pellets drop the efficiency of a stove precipitously.

The manufacturers of the stoves use the variable quality of pellets to weasel out of any sort of prediction on how the stove will run and the amount of heat and creosote the stove will produce. The Number 2 bunker oil you get for heating your mighty castle might be anything from Caracas sludge to North Sea sewing machine oil, but your oil burner will handle it just fine. Your furnace will be expected to perform the same in any case, but the the pellet industry gets a pass. "I'm sorry, the trees used to make your pellets had over 17 birdsnests per cubic ton of shade, so their refractal qualities make them unsuitabable for peak performance in our Lignoblaster 5000 EcoGuevara stove."

At this point in my life, I simply dream of a thermostat. After that, three square meals a day would be gravy. And I mean that every which way.


Thud said...

Sipp I sympathise,a ten bedroom house built buy idiots in a fit of enthusiasm just after the last ice age means our thermal efficiency blows away for six or seven months a year courtesy of a wind sent across the sea from long lost and not missed Irish relatives.

chasmatic said...

Well now, ahem, isn't there something about footprints? I think the bigger the shoes the hotter the furnace will be. I dunno. Down around my place we usually get out some blankets when the temperature gets below forty. Y'see, houses down here don't come with furnaces installed. we had a big block party when Randy and his missus got a furnace.
We all sat around admiring it and I reckon he'll have to hook it up to get the real potential of it.
A few of us thought maybe we could buy a furnace and move it around from house to house. Now, if your furnace burns wood you could also burn paper so it serves double duty. A few of us use a George Foreman propane grill but not with propane. That costs money. We send the youngers of the tribe out to gather scrap wood and cardboard.

I'll never forget this one: you can't tell the depth of the well by looking at the handle on the pump.

Miss Conduct said...

I'm from Texas so I don't get it, I know this. There's always some salesman at Costco trying to sell a grill/smoker combo that uses wood pellets. One time I didn't run away quickly enough and so I learned that you can ONLY burn pellets in the thing. Are pellet heaters the same? Because all I can think is that if the SHTF where you gonna get pellets? Brrt! I am against being even slightly cold. Also I highly doubt that pellet-smoked brisket can hold up to oak or pecan.

SippicanCottage said...

Hi Miss Conduct- Thanks for reading and commenting.

Pellets are just sawdust and shavings that are rammed through a sort-of Play-Doh extruder to make cylinders about 1/4" in diameter by a couple of inches long. You can buy them around here for @ $250 a ton. I bought 7 tons last year. (It's occasionally 20 below zero here in January)

When the SHTF, it will be just as impossible to find dry firewood as pellets. You can't "make" firewood on a moment's notice. You have do dry it for months to make it worth burning. You could make your own pellets if you had the machine, which isn't dreadfully expensive. You do have to have a ready supply of sawdust, of course. There was a little shortage of pellets at the end of last year, but we managed to find them here and there until spring.

Wood shavings for smokers smell nice. Pellets for heat just smell like you're burning stuff. They're burned in an enclosed furnace which exhausts to the outside, so for the most part, you don't smell it at all.