Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Titus On: Mon. Jul. 14, 2008 11:40 pm

Up near the Canadian border in Fort Kent, Maine, my father and brother are up against the wall with the price of heating oil. Their solution was to each order a multi-fuel outdoor wood boiler that is designed for pellets, but which can burn grains. They know someone who used a unit last year and tested all sorts stuff in it.... sorghum, barley, oats, even some cherry pits that were given to him.

They are both potato farmers and grow oats as a rotation crop. So this year, they are going to heat with oats. That's the crazy part.... they are better off burning food to heat their homes.

Here's the details for those who care: Rough rule of thumb is that 20 pounds of dry (<15% moisture) biomass has the BTUs of one gallon of oil. I know, wood is better, but I think this ROT is good enough and doesn't require a calculator. A bushel of oats is 32 pounds, so about 1.5 gallons of oil worth of heat. This spring they got their best price EVER for oats at $2.80/bu. In oil terms, that equates to $4.20/gallon, better than the current price on oil. A more typical price on oats has been half as much, making oats equivalent to $2.10/gallon. So, they are better off burning their oats than selling them and buying oil.

They are looking into the possibility of growing a perennial grain on low-grade land solely for fuel. This would cut costs even more. And, should grain be unavailable for some reason, they can always get pellets.

Just strikes me that this country is experiencing madness right now. Energy costs are such that we are willing to burn food to heat our homes and run our cars. And, there are many people, including most of our politicians, who think that the solution to tight supplies and high prices for oil IS NOT to drill for more oil!

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Freddy On: Tue. Jul. 15, 2008 6:12 am

People from "the county" are tough, ingenious, and resiliant. I applaud them for making do with what they have. For sure, it's a strange new world.

For those from away, the entire North part of Maine is Aroostook County. It's almost a whole seperate state. Maine's winter is 4-6 weeks longer on each end than PA, "the county" is another 2-4 weeks on each end.
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 130 (pea)
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: Reading piece o' junk in the barn (rice)
Coal Size/Type: Pea size, Superior, deep mined

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: e.alleg On: Tue. Jul. 15, 2008 10:45 am

maybe burn hay in an outdoor boiler. A 1100 pound roll of hay costs $35. and thats for good stuff.
Stove/Furnace Make: EFM
Stove/Furnace Model: 520

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: sterling40man On: Tue. Jul. 15, 2008 12:23 pm

A guy I know bought a bio-mass boiler last fall and burned oats all winter long. He said that it cost him $700 to heat from October to March. I don't know how much he paid per buschel, but he did say that the price had doubled since May '08. :shock: Now it will cost him $1,400 for this winter. I saw his operation and believe me, I wouldn't want his boiler in my basement! Very dusty and dirty! He bought the oats (bulk) from a local farmer. He had to replace his auger in January beacause a bolt was mixed in w/ the oats and screwed things up pretty bad. Cost him a few pennies. I almost bought one of these boilers until I saw how dirty it was. I then heard about anthracite coal boilers and was immediatley sold on it. :D It will cost me less money than him to heat this coming winter. :P The last time I checked, his boiler sold for $6,800 and that was in February! I'm sure that they are now at least $1k more, but I was also told that the state of Maine will give you a pretty good size rebate on these bio-mass boilers.

Hey Freddy, did you get your AA yet?
Stoker Coal Boiler: Keystoker K6
Stove/Furnace Make: Keystoker
Stove/Furnace Model: KA-6

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Titus On: Tue. Jul. 15, 2008 3:47 pm

I'd like to see where Augusta is offering biomass rebates for homeowners. None that I know of:

Grants are available to: (from Efficiency Maine)
"Maine-based nonprofit organizations that qualify under the federal Internal Revenue Code Section 501 (c)(3), consumer-owned electric cooperatives, quasi-municipal corporations and districts, community based nonprofit organizations and community action programs using renewable energy technologies meeting the definition of “Renewable Resource” as provided by Title 35-A §3210.2.C (1) and (2)"

Solar incentive programs have no money and are closed to applications.

You can qualify for a loan, if you meet income guidelines. (Aroostook = family of 1 or 2: $55,400 family of 3+: $63,710)
Up to $30,000 or up to 15 years at 3.95%. (Maine State Housing)
"HELP loans may be used to finance:
* Home energy audits
* Insulation, air sealing, and weather stripping
* Heating system repair or replacement
* Energy Star rated windows and appliances
* Storm doors and storm windows
* Ventilation and moisture controls
* Roof repairs (if attic is insulated to a minimum R38 value)
Heating system improvements may include furnace cleaning and tune-ups, replacement burners and/or fuel storage tanks, and replacement systems and supplemental heating systems if they meet certain efficiency standards. Efficient wood stoves, wood pellet systems, geothermal heat pumps, and solar thermal hot water systems are among the possible heating system improvements."

You must hire a state-approved energy auditor (that would be ACAP in the north) to examine your home and the loan will only cover those recommendations he makes. You CANNOT do the work yourself. You must solicit bids from contractors who must be licensed and insured. MSHA must get proof that the contractor is licensed and bonded.

The loan goes through a regular bank, and none of the banks in Northern Maine are in the program. There are closing fees. The cost of the audit can be rolled into the loan.

Basically, if you think there is any help available to you from the state of Maine, GUESS AGAIN! We are all on our own here.

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Freddy On: Tue. Jul. 15, 2008 4:15 pm

The state will pay 20% of a solar hot water heater IF it's installed by a SOLAR licensed plumber. The two guys I spoke with wanted so much it would have been cheaper to hire a master plumber without the solar license and skip the rebate! So, I skipped the whole solar thing and bought coal!
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 130 (pea)
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: Reading piece o' junk in the barn (rice)
Coal Size/Type: Pea size, Superior, deep mined

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: stoker-man On: Thu. Jul. 17, 2008 9:42 pm

Every once in awhile I go through my junk mail, papers, cereal boxes and I throw them in my boiler. They will heat the 40 gallons of water in my two boilers to about 130 degrees. Add two or three short pieces of pallet wood and I have enough domestic hot water for the day.
Hand Fed Coal Boiler: 1981 efm wcb-24 in use 365 days a year
Coal Size/Type: Anthracite/Chestnut
Other Heating: Hearthstone wood stove

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Rick 386 On: Thu. Jul. 17, 2008 9:49 pm


My dad has had solar DHW for 15+ years. It took him some time to get it "dialed in" and he had to replace the heat exchanger but it has been working well all of this time.

He basically has 3 panels facing south. Silicone solution is circulated through the panels. Silicone loop circulates through 3/4" finned copper in a stone lined 80 gallon tank. This preheated water then goes into his regular 80 gallon electric hot water heater. Even in the dead of winter, he can get the first tank up to close to 100*. Of course it is only him and my mom now living there. Not a lot of water consumed.

BTW, your winters may be long but that is what gives you guys the great sled trail system that you have. Took my first trip up there last March. Stayed in West Forks. Went as far north as Pittston Farm. We visited B-52 crash site in Greenville and took the loop around and through Moosehead Lake. We went East as far as Kokadjo. However this year I have been invited to stay at a friends place near Millinockett. Perhaps we can head farther north from there. We wanted to see Moose !!!!

When we have finalized plans, I may have to stop by and get a bucket of heat from you. I may also have to inspect the install of that AA130.

Rick 386
Stoker Coal Boiler: AA 260 heating both sides of twin farmhouse
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: LL Hyfire II w/ coaltrol in garage
Coal Size/Type: Pea in AA 260, Rice in LL Hyfire II
Other Heating: Gas fired infared at work

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Freddy On: Fri. Jul. 18, 2008 7:14 am

Good day! AA isn't here yet. Any minute now I should get a call telling me it's ready to ship.

For sure, Maine has a superb snowmobile trail system. Given a snowy winter I can leave my back yard and go anyplace in the state by sled. Of course it's a 500,000 mile trip to get the two miles across the river, but I'd be sure to see a moose along the way!

One of these days I might build a home made solar system. On that particular day when I need another project. :)
Stoker Coal Boiler: Axeman Anderson 130 (pea)
Hot Air Coal Stoker Stove: Reading piece o' junk in the barn (rice)
Coal Size/Type: Pea size, Superior, deep mined

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Titus On: Mon. Jul. 21, 2008 10:53 am

Hey Ken... the border was eventually settled by treaty, but not until we had an "almost" war.... the Aroostook War. My hometown was named after one of the fortifications: Fort Kent.

Links, if you want more.

Re: Seems Crazy to Burn Food for Heat

PostBy: Mark (PA) On: Thu. Jul. 24, 2008 2:29 pm

I have a biomass freestanding stove myself. I have used it the last 2 years. I have burnt stricktly corn in it but we all know where corn prices have gone this year. SO that is why I opted for coal this year. I can also burn cherry pits but at times they are difficult to get dialed in. Switchgrass is a good product to burn. As with everything though there are drawbacks.

I heated my home the first year for $600. Last year it was almost $900... This year coal will be cheaper to heat with. so that is what i'll use. I like to have options... and like everyone else I sure don't like to use Oil...
Mark (PA)
Stove/Furnace Make: 1953 EFM SF-520 High Boy
Stove/Furnace Model: Fitzgibbon Boiler