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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 ‘Boilers’ Category


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


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


Alternative heat

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


In our 2 story – plus basement home the heat, hot water (showers), stove and dryer are all run off of propane. There is also a gas fireplace on the main level. We are considering replacing our gas fireplace with an alternative heat source that would be serve as a primary source of heat.

In our area the wood stoves, pellet stoves, and wood burning fireplace inserts are readily available at a reasonable cost.

Do you have an opinion on which would more efficient in the long run?




For a house this large it will be hard to heat the entire house from a fireplace. Pellet stoves are the easiest to use, but I never like having to buy and store all those bags of pellets and you will go through a lot of bags if you try to have this as the main heat source. For me, a wood stove is a wood stove and I like to toss in several large split logs then leave it alone for a few hours at a time. If you can find a large insert that will fit and still include one or more fans to circulate the heat that may improve the heat distribution.

If you are really serious about having this the main heat source, then I would go for one of those outside wood boilers that look like a small metal out-building. You fire these up with wood and the heated water is piped to the existing heating system in your home for distribution. Many options and models available, and no wood chips tracked across the carpet!

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Wood fired hydronic furnaces

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I have just stumbled upon one of your columns while researching boiler options for our home. It is a 3000 ft2 log and stick frame home in the woods (read: unreliable power), with additional heating for a 1000 ft2 insulated work shop, a few walkways and porte-cochere (snow control only). We have completed extensive renovations and the heating system was upgraded to radiant floor (multiple zones) from an oil-fired scorched air system.

My question goes toward more reliability and longevity than efficiency per se. There is ample fuel in the form of hardwood available, and I don’t mind a little extra of the cut-split-stack routine so a few percentage points in efficiency I can live with assuming there is not a huge increase in particulate emissions. What I would like to avoid, however, is spending a lot of money on a WFHB and have to repeat the process in a few years. I originally looked at models by Central Boiler but have heard many horror stories about their fire boxes being destroyed after 5-7 years, and am leaning more towards ceramic lined ‘gasification’ units such as the Greenwood.

Can you offer any advice in this matter?

Many thanks and best regards,

Tom Tebo


The last time I tried to recommend a wood-fired heating system to a reader I had a dealer for corn stoves writing irate email to me for months saying his system was better and I should have included it in my article. Having said that here we go again.

I have a wood-fired hot water boiler that heats my 3400 square foot home that includes a welded steel water jacket around the sides, back, and bottom of the fire-box, plus 90 feet of boiler tubing above the fire-box. Water flows around the fire and is piped back to a hot water coil in my forced air furnace, which distributes the heat to every room. I purchased this unit in 1978 and it was in storage until I built my home in 1993. Although we do not build a fire every night during the winter, we do use it as often as I am home to carry wood and we have never had any problems with burning out the fire-box or water jacket since the water keeps the steel below 200 degrees. We just had our chimney cleaned this past fall for the first time since moving into our solar home in 1994 and the chimney sweep said there was only minor buildup on the interior flue walls.

I have not heard of any major increase in wood-boiler fire-box failures and find this hard to understand unless these failures were related to metal parts not enclosing water and over-heated. Like any marketplace of different products having different features, each manufacturer will say their products are better than the other brands and list all their selling points. I know I would not want any appliance in my home that was burning at over 1100 degrees even with a ceramic lined fire-box, but I understand that these higher temperatures can improve burning efficiency and reduce chimney buildup. Keep in mind you are wanted to heat your home with radiant heated floors and this requires a much “lower” water supply temperature for heating then if you were heating with hot water radiators or hot water coils in a ducted air system.

I am sure almost any of these systems will serve your purpose, so I would select the brand with the best warranty and best installer who will be there if you do have problems. When shopping for any wood stove, I am always interested in how long the fire-box is so I can see how short the wood must be cut, how large the fire-box is so I know how often I have to re-fill it, how are the ashes removed, which is always a pain, and what kind of simple controls are provided to automatically regulate the burning process. I want a wood stove I can fill up and then leave it alone for hours without having to constantly adjust something.

Good luck,

Jeff Yago


Turning heat into electricity

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Hi Jeff,

I’m planning a hydronic system using a wood gasification boiler. I found a very efficient boiler that suits me but the problem is it requires a fan that draws 1/3HP all the time and I want to find a way to turn some of the heat into enough electricity to run the fan. I’m off the grid don’t have enough renewable energy to power the fan all the time.

I’ve heard about thermoelectric heater/coolers (as seen in some cheap refrigerators) and understand that they can run the other way, turning a heat difference into electricity.

How about installing a “heat pipe” into the boiler’s gasification chamber to draw out some of the heat to a metal plate outside the boiler, where the thermoelectric device could be mounted? The delta T might be well over 1000-1500 degrees which could make generating a few hundred watts feasible, at least in theory. Have you ever made such a system or have any advice?

Thank you,

Scott Onstott


First, the 1/3 HP fan on the boiler sounds really large unless the boiler combustion air path is very restrictive. My entire 3-story 3,400 sq. ft. home only has a single 1/3 HP fan to distribute both heating and cooling air flow to all room registers. See if this was just a motor size they “guessed” at to be safe, or if the boiler actually requires that much fan power. In other words, just having a 1/3 HP fan motor does not mean the fan load requires the full motor horsepower. Also determine how many hours this fan will need to operate each day.

I am very familiar with the thermo-electric systems you are asking about, and I can tell you this is not the way to go. The hardware you would need to power even a much smaller fan motor would be very expensive due to the very limited power output you get. Also, it is not always a good idea sticking other piping into a very hot flue unless the system was specifically designed for doing this.

I would find out more about the fan motor provided with the boiler and its actual power draw (not just nameplate rating). Also ask if this is a high efficiency fan motor. When I was building my solar home, as soon as they delivered my central air handling unit, I removed it from the shipping box and ripped out the fan motor that came with it and replaced it with a super high-efficiency fan motor with a 94% efficiency rating. The longer hours the fan needs to run, the more important this will be.

Finally, if you want to be off grid, the best solution is a small solar power system and batteries to power this fan. If you do not want or need any other AC power, then forget the inverter and replace the fan with a DC motor-driven fan. However, DC motors require motor brush replacement about every 2 years.

Hope this helps,

Jeff Yago



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