Reading some of our subscription magazines that advocate a greener, more natural, or more self-sufficient lifestyle we noticed more then a few adds for an outdoor boiler or outdoor wood-fired hydronic heater (OWHH). So we decided to do some investigating.
First where can you find it at?
This type of heating system is in more demand in our rural, cold climates where a steady supply of wood is available, though they can be found throughout the US. From the outside the OWHH (boiler) looks like a small shed with a smokestack located near the building(s) it is to heat.
Second what does this system do?
From this “shed” a fire is burned that will heat water or water/antifreeze that will be pumped into the building(s) through insulated underground piping. This can then be integrated through a heat exchanger into a forced-air furnace, radiant baseboard, or radiant floor heating systems. The traditional type system is designed to run or seasoned wood to give the cleanest burn, and in most areas what can be burned is regulated. Though as the EPA has started a voluntary program to make these systems more eco-friendly we have seen wood pellet and corn versions which are toted as being “green”. Since both of these alternative fuels can be a burden to kepp up with additional attachments such as hoppers and bins are offered to make feeding theses fuels easier.
Third what are your best green options?
Go Orange! Starting in May 2007 any system that meets the EPA standards of emitting no more than 0.60 pounds of particulate matter per million BTUs of wood burned, or other fuel. These models have all been developed voluntarily to help make these systems more friendly to our environment. You can get a list of which systems have opted in to the EPA OWHH program here. Though when going to the websites we only saw information for the “Sequoyah Paradise” listed. The other manufacturers did not list the models approved for this program on their websites. Since these all operate through dealers you will need to contact them for more information directly.
And our final decision is….
All we have to say is that we are still uncertain of this one. Not even the EPA could say ya or nay on this one. We found reports advocating both for and against these systems. Those for seem to be of the mind that since the system has the potential to heat a complete house in addition to a barn or other buildings on your land that when looked at from this view the pollution from the fire would be less then having a fireplace/wood-stove in each area. Yet against is more from the standpoint of the boilers being operated with incorrect fuel such as green wood, trash, and construction debris, which dumps loads of toxins into our atmosphere. Also since the stacks of these boilers are relatively low to the ground, an average of 6-10 feet, the smoke can become a nuisance as it tends to stay close to the ground. Which has caused many areas to have a point of contact just for that.
So if contemplating this type of system make sure your system has the orange tag that EPA starting issuing last year to certify a cleaner burning boiler system. Then look into your local area regulations, talk with your neighbors to see if they have any issues, because it’s better to know what your getting into before you decide to install this system then get complaints and fines later. Also here is a sample of local codes provided by the EPA for this type of heating structures.