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Get Powered Up! Certified Energy Manager Jeff Yago answers your alternative energy questions

Wondering about a great new energy-saving device
you found on the Internet? Then CLICK HERE!

Sorry. Jeff no longer answers questions online.
This will remain as a searchable
resource for all BHM website visitors.

Archive for the ‘Heating / Cooling’ Category


Vendors for fireplace hydronic water jackets?

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009


“There are hot water coils designed to fit inside traditional free-standing woodstoves, and hydronic water jackets designed to fit inside a conventional masonry fireplace”

This is exciting to me.

The references at the bottom seem to be selling complete outdoor furnaces, not the simple heat exchanger in the photo on the article Web page. Do you have the name(s) of a vendor or two that make these water jackets for conventional masonry fireplaces?

With Appreciation,



I have answered this question before.

Stricter Federal government regulations and easy lawsuits against manufacturers have driven all the manufacturers of this type equipment out of the US market.

Back in the 70’s and 80’s there were many manufacturers of wood-fired hot water heaters, hydronic fireplaces, and hot water coil inserts for wood stoves.  Some moved to Mexico and are selling lots of these products in Mexico and others just went out of business.

There may be one or two left, but about the only water heating wood stoves made now are the outdoor wood-fired boilers you see advertised in this magazine that pipe the hot water into the house.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Camper shell A/C

Sunday, June 21st, 2009


I saw a question about air conditioning a camper shell for dogs. The answer was to let the dogs ride in the front.

I am looking for a way to A/C my camper shell as well. I have a heavy duty alternator in my pick up.



Several companies make a 12 Volt DC powered air conditioning unit for truck cabs that can be powered from an alternator charged battery. They are not cheap and they usually require adding a heaver dual battery power system, but you can buy these.

I think you will find the cost will be so high that its not worth the trouble, but give it a try.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago


Woodstove/fireplace with a water jacket for hydronic floor

Thursday, May 14th, 2009


I am looking at replacing a traditional fireplace with a wood stove insert that can be used in a hydronic floor system.

I looked over your article on the fireplace you installed in your home and have spoke to and web searched for wood stoves that circulate water for heated floors and find only the “long burners” for outside or commercial “furnaces”, nothing that would be appropriate for a great room/ranch application.  Can you point me toward manufacturers that have this type of product?

Thank you.

Mark J. Bechtel


As I mentioned in answers to similar questions to this web site, most of these manufacturers have gone out of business due to not being able to meet new regulations and codes related to wood-fired boilers. There are several web sites that describe how to build your own, but installers are switching to the outdoor models for safety.

I feel our hydronic fireplace system is very safe, but I have included both a temperature and a separate pressure relief valve, and a way to keep the pump working if there is a power outage.  Many of these early systems were well made but the piping systems were poorly designed and installed.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Want to buy a steam boiler

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

Dear Sir,

Where can I get a steam boiler that is ready made?

I’m looking for a steam boiler to run a steam engine. This boiler should produce steam up tp 150 psi and it should be rated for 10 horsepower.




I don’t want to appear rude, but the fact that you are asking for a 150 psi boiler tells me you do not know what you are talking about and will most likely kill yourself and anyone around your little boiler project.

Yes, you can buy a packaged steam boiler for home use and they will be considered “low to medium pressure” which is under 30 psi. About 25 years ago I purchased a WW2 surplus 25 HP steam engine still in the original packing crate and it could easily operate on about 15 psi, but you are wanting a 150 psi steam boiler which is a time bomb if not properly maintained. Every state has a boiler safety department and they inspect all higher pressure steam boilers in their state every year.

In addition, you will be required to become licensed to operate a high pressure steam boiler which requires testing and certification. Your boiler will need to be tested each year by a state inspector, you will have to do daily blowdown of the mud drum, you will need to have certified and regularly tested pressure relief valves and float switch, and have water chemical testing equipment to test the feedwater every day and add water treatment chemicals as needed. Most high pressure boilers are also required to have a boiler operator on site 24/7 as long as the boiler is operating, so you will not be able to leave it un-attended. Still interested?

When I am called in to inspect large university and hospital buildings as to why they are using so much energy, I have to inspect their boiler rooms as part of these site visits, and the steam boilers to heat these large buildings are usually only 125 psi steam pressure, while you are wanting to install a 150 psi boiler.

Do you know why I and most old timers carry an old straw broom around when walking around these high pressure boilers and wave the broom up and down in front as we walk. Because high pressure steam is a colorless dry gas, and is not like the white fog you see in the movies when there is a steam leak. You can hear it, but you cannot see high pressure steam shooting out from a piping leak, and if there is a leak, it will instantly  cut the broom handle in half. There have been many boiler workers that had an arm cut off as clean as a scalpel from an un-seen steam leak.

Take my advice and find a safer hobby that will not blow up your house.

Jeff Yago


Electric heaters

Friday, April 10th, 2009


Thank You very much for your help [with my sump pump question]. I will start looking at other energy users in the house. Maybe I am overlooking something.

I do have an “Eden Pure” electric heater, but it says it won’t use much energy at all. What is your opinion of those?

Thank You,



I get this question 10 times a week. All these electric heaters have claims like they will heat your house for pennies a day, or only use the same power as a coffee pot. Here is the dirty little secret of the first law of thermodynamics – They are all the exact same efficiency. There is no difference in how well they can heat anything and I defy any manufacturer to prove me wrong.

Any electric heating coil is considered 100% efficient since all thermal losses of burning fuel occurs at the power plant and during power transmission before the electricity gets to your electric meter, so there are no combustion losses like you would have in a oil, wood, or gas fired heater. All the electrical energy going into any electric heater (not counting a heat pump compression cycle) is turned into heat. The heat content of a kWh of electricity is 3,413 BTU per hour.

This means for every kWh of electricity that goes into the electric heater’s power cord, you will get 3,413 BTU per hour of heating coming out. Of course, if a heater has a fan it might blow this heat out more than a heater without a fan, but it does not matter if the heater has a radar shaped reflector, a fan, or fake fireplace logs, all you get out is what goes in.

Now as for claiming they only use the same electricity as a coffee pot, this may be true. However, your coffee pot only boils water for 5 minutes a day then turns off. Try this: As soon as the coffee pot heats the water to boiling, empty it into a big bucket so the heat can disperse into the room and refill with cold water. Do this all day long and see how much power that takes. This is how long those little heaters would need run to heat a cold house.

Yes, if you stand in front of one of those heaters you will feel warm and they will heat up a room, but a typical home will have a central furnace in the 85,000 BTU/H or higher capacity, and that means it would take a lot of “coffee pots” to provide the same amount of heat required to heat a home.

I have one of these fake fireplaces in a sun room that has great winter window views, but its too cold to sit out there without a little heat, so we use our fake fireplace to heat it a few hours every few days, but I am not expecting it to heat my entire house and believe me, it really spins the electric meter when it runs.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Intermittent use cabin

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

Hi Jeff,

I have a situation not completely unlike Blake McKinney’s cabin (issue 83) in that I am planning an off grid cabin that will only be used once in awhile — in northern Wisconsin! Was considering solar hot water (closed glycol system) that might be able to be integrated into a radiant infloor (also with glycol) system to keep the house/plumbing from freezing when no one there. Do you think this is reasonable? Electric to run the pump would be from PV modules/battery bank. Would you still recommend a propane wall heater as backup?

We would use a high efficiency wood stove to heat home when occupied.

Our solar exposure is considerably better than the McKinney place.

Also, do you know of any remote monitoring system for house temperature, etc that could use cell phone signal to communicate info back to us at our main residence 90 miles away? :)

Finally, is it generally recommended to NOT let your propane generator automatically switch on to recharge the batteries when no one is around?

Thanks a bunch,



That’s a lot of questions!

I would not recommend trying to heat a home with an active solar system for long periods of the winter when nobody is home. There are too many little things that can turn into big things when nobody is there to correct. For example, a big snow can cover the solar array for days if nobody is there to clear them off. A pump could fail, or the system could leak. Even a small leak of a sealed antifreeze system will cause makeup water to enter and could cause the now antifreeze in the loop to freeze.

I would deal with this in one of two ways. Either design a passive solar home that has enough thermal mass to keep from freezing at night, or design all the plumbing to slope to 2 or 3 low points where you can completely drain all the piping before you leave. Blankets and sheets on beds and clothing in closets will become “musty” under these conditions so I would strip the beds and remove anything that could be damaged from the cold and/or dampness.

I would not leave a generator on automatic start if I was going to be gone longer than a weekend as a simple control glitch or battery problem could cause the generator to run until it ran the tank dry.

There are now all kinds of remote Internet and wireless phone based controls to allow monitoring of remote homes and businesses. We have inverters that will send an email to the installer if there is a problem, and there are Internet based cameras that will send you live video of inside your home if the alarm is activated or there is a water leak.

I suggest that you keep it simple. If the pipes are dry and you remove anything that can be damaged from the cold, why spend all that money to heat someplace you will not be for months at a time.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Central Wood Boilers

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009


I purchased a Central model 2300 wood boiler with propane backup.

I am located in Butte, Montana and the normal wood of choice is Pine.

The wood burning part seems to work sort of adequate, although the fire frequently goes out. The main problem is the creosote that collects on everything inside the fire box. The propane gas nozzle has an electrode on the end of the gas nozzle which sticks inside the firebox. However, due to the creosote collecting on the end of the gas nozzle, it normally does not work after a week or so after I clean it.

In other words, it is pretty iffy, if the gas backup is going to fire or not. The creosote is so thick is makes a black sticky mass that covers the entire end of the gas nozzle.

Central has worked with me to correct the problem. They had me install a larger combustion fan that they felt wood keep the coals alive which should keep the creosote down plus they sent a new gas burner nozzle with electrode. All of these are nice but it fails to permanently fix the problem. It is hard to work with Central Boiler directly as they want you to work through the distributor that I bought it from.

I paid a little over 13,000 for the unit and I cannot count on the gas to backup the wood.

I have only had it in operation since November 2008 and have worked on it and worked on it. It has been a disaster.

I would like to get my money back and buy just a normal boiler but not sure how to approach that subject. If it would work, I would love to keep it, but this is almost ridiculous. I have asked my distributor for names of others that may have similar problems so that I could contact and possibly find solutions, but they have not and will not provide that info.

Any ideas?

Pat Weeres


I do not want to get into the middle of any problems you are having with your wood fired boiler. However, I will be glad to review several choices that you might consider.

1. There is still the chance you may be able to at least turn the boiler back in for some type of partial credit, especially if you made it clear that you were going to be burning only pine and the dealer indicated this was not going to be a problem. A written letter to the manufacturer works far better than an email or phone call. I would make them aware of the problems you are having and include some photos, and explain you are not receiving any assistance from their local rep. At a minimum I would insist on the dealer coming out and checking all the controls and combustion chamber for proper operation.

2. I have a feeling that the written literature on the boiler advised that these were mainly intended for hardwood like oak, which do not have anywhere the problems with creosote buildup that you are experiencing. If this was the case, you might want to offer it for sale on the Internet in like new condition to someone located where hardwood is easier to find.

3. You could install a standard high efficiency propane boiler for “normal” home heating, and leave the wood boiler for when you can get a better mix of wood to burn, or use only for emergencies like when you run out of propane.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago


Open loop coal boiler

Monday, March 9th, 2009


I’ve read all the hydronic related postings I could find on your site but I didn’t find anything specific to my needs.

I live off the grid in Alaska and am fortunate to live in an area where I have access to all the bituminous coal I need for free. I’m wanting to use a hand stoked coal boiler in my garage to heat the garage and the rest of the house (approx 2200 sq ft everything included). I understand the concept behind a closed loop system and its components but I am curious if you think there is any merit to an open loop system.

My thought is a coal boiler with a large capacity (50-100 gal or larger tank) that is vented to atmosphere. The idea being that in the event of my electrical system going down and the circ pump not running or zone valves opening, the boiler (having a burn time of 12-18 hours) would simply relieve excessive heat and pressure by venting to atmosphere (outside) and in effect slowly boiling off the water or antifreeze but not so much that it goes dry and results in a catestrophic meltdown. I would still include a PRV just incase something obstructs the open air vent. Ultimately I just don’t want to rely on the pumps and cold water make up to save me from a meltdown.

Am I on to something or is this crazy and I just don’t know it?

Thank you for your time, you do a great job with your column!

Al Guggisberg
Healy, Alaska


You’re not crazy and there are many out there heating with coal. I worked for many years in West Virginia and Kentucky, and in the more rural mountain areas you could find coal almost anywhere. Kids could pick up all their parents needed to heat a house just by walking along the railroad tracks as the hundreds of over-flowing coal cars that passed by each day lost those pieces piled too high. People tend to heat with the fuel that is the most plentiful in their immediate area.

There is no question that a closed loop hot water boiler system under pressure will require more safety devices to prevent a high pressure blow-out, but there are thousands and thousands of these systems all over the world that have worked perfectly for many years using many different fuels. If loss of power is a concern, it would be easy to add a battery backup supply since the circulating pump and any motorized zone valves will require very little power to keep running. Some system manufacturers offer an optional DC pump that is piped right next to the AC pump, and can be quickly valved over if the AC pump fails or looses power.

All pressurized hydronic heating loops and boilers have more than one pressure relief device and in most cases a power failure during a roaring fire just means the boiler will start converting some of the water in the boiler to steam which gets vented out one of the relief valves. As soon as this starts, the auto-fill valve will sense the loss of water and let in more makeup water which will cool down the process for a few minutes. This cycle will repeat several times until you can bank the fire down or the power comes back on.

I agree that an open pressure hot water boiler might be easier to maintain and there are many now being made as a complete package. They look like a small outhouse, and all you need is a supply and return line from the unit to the hydronic heating system in your nearby house. Unfortunately, your problem will not be which type unit to buy – open or closed loop. Your problem is coal burns much hotter than wood and has more smoke issues than wood. Many wood fired boilers do not have cast iron grates or fire-box liners which are better at containing the hotter coal fire. Also, unlike wood smoke, coal contains different amounts of sulfur, depending on the seam of coal being mined, and if you have never caught a whiff of the smoke off a nearby coal fire you don’t know what I am talking about.

This means you will need to make sure the alternative fuel boiler you select is either designed to burn coal, or has optional equipment to allow it to burn coal. However, if you are in a very cold area and coal is free, then I believe it will be worth the effort for you to make this happen. Let us know how it worked out.

Good Luck,

Jeff Yago



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