Clean Automated Pellet Boiler Kicks Oil Boiler Out of Basement

Why did Joe Bauman & Megan Keeler kick the oil boiler and oil tank out of their basement? Let’s ask them what motivated the switch to an automated Kedel pellet boiler:

Goodbye oil boiler, hello Kedel pellet boilerRevision: Why did you switch to Kedel?

Joe: We bought the house in 2012 knowing that the old oil boiler was in need of replacement and would be expensive to run, but we decided to try to use it for a season and see how the house behaved. It worked the first winter we were here but it sure wasn’t cheap! When we started looking we got lured in by the magic of geothermal – but fairly quickly decided it was out of our comfort zone, price-wise. The geothermal folks make the numbers sound pretty appealing, but it really seems to make more sense for new construction, places with more land, and places that don’t already have forced hot water systems.

So, we started looking at options, stumbled onto reVision, and had Chris Kessler come out and give us some natural gas info and options. He walked us through the basics and then provided some details on the pellet boilers for comparison. As far as we could tell, both options (pellets and natural gas) seemed about equal as far as install and running costs. That was when we realized that getting away from oil/gas was actually a reasonable option – and as long as we had the option we might as well take it!

Revision: How much do you expect to save?

Joe: Last year we spent between $500 – $650 every month between November and April – including a full tank to run the boiler all summer for domestic hot water.

This year we’ve run it for three full months and, according to the boiler consumption chart, we spent about $360 for January and just over $300 for February and March. That’s not quite half, but pretty close! We are also spending an extra $20/month for electric for the heat pump water heater and we got a load of insulation blown into the attic, but we are still well below last year’s oil bills.

Revision: How did you choose Revision Heat?

 Joe: One of your coworkers (Jacob I think? Can’t remember his last name) [RH: must be Jacob Roberson of Interphase Energy] is a friend of a friend and we met him one night over beers and bluegrass. We were still looking at geothermal at that point and when he heard that he started boisterously discussing the merits of pellets. :) When we started calling around for alternatives, you guys made it on the list. We didn’t know any companies/installers in the area – but once we started talking to Chris and Stefan, ReVision seemed like a friendly, local, good people kind of place.

Revision: What was the process like?

Joe: Long! We started off with an energy audit from DeWitt Kimball. That was a great experience – he let us watch over his shoulder and ask questions and we learned a lot. After that, there was a miscommunication and I didn’t get started with the Efficiency Maine paperwork right away. By the time we got the loan details out of the way, ReVision was well into the fall season waiting list!

However, once we made it to the top of the list, the ReVision process was great. Your guys were great about fitting us in as soon as possible and the installers came in and did great work. It was very satisfying to see the old oil equipment being hauled out to make room for shiny, new, efficient units!

The basement work went quite smoothly. We have an older house, but the basement space is quite clean and dry so I don’t think there were any major stumbling blocks. Brent and the guys did a great job cleaning up some of the old copper plumbing to give us some more space down there. The only tricky part I noticed was trying to get the new Nest thermostats to work on the old thermostat wiring. Basically, they needed new wiring to be pulled, but Brent tried his hardest to get it working on the old wiring!

Revision: What do we like best now that it’s installed?

Joe: Obviously the best part is that we can leave the thermostats at 68 and be comfortable all day! We still turn them down a bit at night and we have a couple rooms at the back of the house that still need some insulation work, so we leave those zones turned down, but the majority of the house is perfectly comfortable!

My other favorite part is I’ve been able to clean up the space and put in a small workshop. I’ve been making small pieces of furniture and am getting ready to start building a kayak. Having a space for projects is one of the main reasons I bought a house in the first place!

Common Solar Myths Debunked by Gray Family Whose Heat Pumps are Powered by the Sun

Solar advocates were tentatively optimistic by developments in the Maine State House, where Senators voted 22-12 in favor of the newly proposed LD 1252 solar rebate that will provide homeowners on average $2,000 towards solar installation. Unfortunately, the bill faces the possibility of a veto from the LePage administration, who has decried solar panels as being a solution only for the wealthy.

Gray Maine - Solar Powered Air Source Heat Pumps

Bill & Karen Friend

Our sister company, ReVision Energy, however, has worked with over 3,000 solar energy installations over the years and knows better – solar customers are teachers, nurses, mill workers, administrators, healthcare workers, retirees, engineers, builders, and artists.  Our client, Bill Friend whose home uses solar powered heat pumps for heat and hot water, recently wrote in to debunk some of the myths about solar:

“the average Maine family” doesn’t have to spend $23K on a new PV system. We used our 2kw solar electric array to power air-source heat pumps we use for heating and cooling, and a super-efficient heat pump water heater for domestic hot water. Last summer, we kept our entire house at a comfy 70 degrees (w/low humidity) while our monthly electric bill averaged between $40 and $60.

Our PV system cost a little over $7k to install, prior to Fed tax credit and Efficiency Maine rebate – after which brought the system price down to ~$3.5K.  I believe that’s a very reasonable investment to help generate sustainable and renewable energy for both our home and the “grid”!  We hope that Maine’s legislators pay attention to the facts and learn about solar energy for themselves, rather than believe in outdated myths

As of the last round voted, there was a 2/3 majority in the House and 1 vote shy in Maine’s senate in favor of the solar rebate bill.  An expected override vote in the Senate may take place on April 2. In the meantime, we encourage Maine voters to let their legislators know what they think about solar. The following resources make it easy to find out how your legislators voted and how you can contact them to speak up.

* Look up your local legislators here:   http://www.maine.gov/portal/government/edemocracy/lookup_voter_info

* Here is how the Senate voted:   http://www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/rollcall.asp?ID=280048144&chamber=Senate&serialnumber=472

* Here is how the House voted:   http://www.mainelegislature.org/LawMakerWeb/rollcall.asp?ID=280048144&chamber=House&serialnumber=529

We’ve found that these key points resonate with legislators:

1. The rebate, which will provide a $2,000 investment for homeowners in Maine, will come to us at a cost of about five cents per month. This charge, just $0.60/year , will be part of homeowner’s monthly electric bill.

2. While solar installations are growing in other states and the cost of solar panels has fallen substantially over the last five years, Maine is falling behind the rest of New England due to a lack of financial investment from the state to leverage the current federal tax credit. This hurts job creation and the growth of our local economies.

3. Solar power + electric heat pumps offers an excellent way to provide for the heating needs of Maine with a locally-sourced, renewable resource.  A heat pump powered by solar PV results in the equivalent cost of heating with oil at $0.89/gallon.

4. Solar energy companies are poised to create new technical/skilled jobs for electricians and plumbers, thus stimulating new state revenue and sales taxes, while also reducing environmental pollution and saving home and business owners money.

5. In recent legislative debate, solar was condemned for being for ‘rich people.’ But folks from all economic backgrounds and walks of life are choosing to incorporate renewable energy systems at their homes and businesses. No matter how much money someone earns, savings from solar energy are the same for everyone.

 

5 Tips to Bulletproof Your Wood Pellet Supply

If there is one thing that the winter of 2014 has taught us, it’s that people that depend on wood pellets or any other heating fuel for their primary fuel source need to bulletproof their fuel supply to ensure they don’t run out in the middle of winter. Below are our tips for making sure you have a continual supply of wood pellets for the coldest winter season.

  1. Love wood pelletsPlan Ahead: Your best bet is to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. A simple way to prepare is to plan on purchasing what you purchased on average for the past three years + 10% more as a buffer for a colder than normal winter. Once you have an estimated amount of pellets you’ll burn, you can create a budget to pay for the pellets over the course of the year or season.
  2. Store Your Pellets in Bulk: Now that you know how many pellets you need for the winter, plan to keep at least one or two months’ worth of pellets on hand at all times. The average home in Maine uses about 1 ton of pellets or 50 bags during the coldest month of the year.
  3. Stock Up Early & Keep an Eye on your Supply:  It’s important to monitor your pellet supply consistently during the heating season and order pellets well before you need them. If you don’t have an entire winters worth of pellets stored on premise, a good rule of thumb is to have at least 4 weeks of pellets on hand. Especially when you consider that during our current shortage, box stores took 3-4 weeks to fill bagged pellet orders and also limited the number of bags customers could purchase at one time. By keeping an eye on your supply and ordering early, you won’t have to bite your nails worrying about whether you can find bagged wood pellets in time. However, tips #4 & #5 can keep you from worrying at all.
  4. Think Outside the Box:  As we explained in our previous article on Cold Winter Catches Bagged Pellet Retailers by Surprise, box stores such as Lowes, Home Depot, Aubuchon, Paris Farmer’s Union and other retail establishments have limitations on the amount of supply they have and how quickly they can replenish their pellet stock. If your home or business depends on pellets for heat, look for a pellet supplier that specializes in wood pellets and has a continual supply on hand. In Southern Maine, Heutz Premium Pellets & Southern Maine Renewable Fuels are two companies that had plenty of pellets even when the box stores ran out. However bagged suppliers, such as Southern Maine Renewable Fuels, supplies will dwindle as more people seek out alternatives making tip #5 your most powerful weapon for bulletproofing your fuel supply.
  5. Bulk Pellet Storage BinConsider Switching to Bulk Bin Storage & Delivery: The majority of pellet boiler owners have bulk storage bins that contain anywhere from 2 to 4 tons of pellets or more. These bins are filled on site by bulk pellet delivery companies like Heutz. Bulk pellet suppliers have a continuous supply of stock on hand and can manage their client’s delivery minimizing their risk of running out of pellets. Even if you have a pellet stove, you can benefit from bulk storage and delivery.

Let’s face it, nothing is really bulletproof but these tips will help keep your fuel supply topped off and ready for the next polar vortex.

Cold Winter Catches Bagged Pellet Retailers by Surprise

Heutz bulk pellet delivery in action.

Heutz bulk pellet delivery in action.

While there have been no supply problems with bulk pellet delivery this winter, retail bagged pellets were hard to find for some consumers in recent weeks. This became known to us at ReVision Heat when we started getting phone calls from the general public, not our clients, looking for bagged pellets. There was a sense of insecurity being felt by consumers who could not find bagged wood pellets at their local hardware store and they started reaching out to us because we are a wood pellet boiler installer.

Knowing that our clients were not calling in a panic prompted us to investigate this situation further to find out what was really going on. What we learned was our clients on bulk pellet delivery were not experiencing any problems or delays at all. As Sam Flick one of our Kedel pellet boiler clients explained he had “no issues.  Very happy with Heutz in Lewiston.” Yet our clients on bagged pellets did express concern over not being able to find pellets. David Craig shared his experience, “[when I got] down to my last 1/2 ton, I decided to place an order for 2 tons, only to find that everyone in the state was sold out.”

SOLD OUT! Did we really have a shortage of wood pellets?

I promptly placed a call to Tim Heutz of Heutz Premium Pellets. I learned that Maine did not have a wood pellet shortage. In fact, he informed me that his company had “more pellets than [they knew] what to do with.”  The problem that bagged pellet consumers were experiencing was happening because big box retail vendors based this winter’s bagged pellet orders on the previous warm winters and didn’t anticipate the colder weather.

polar-vortex from space

Polar vortex as seen from space. Photo credit: NASA

When the polar vortex hit and the cold weather struck, retailers were unable to increase their bagged wood pellet supply quick enough to meet demand, creating a bagged wood pellet shortage in the retail stores. When this happened, consumers, who were also going through more heating fuel than they anticipated, began purchasing larger quantities of pellets than usual, quickly depleting retailers replenished stock.

It’s important to understand that while there was a shortage of bagged wood pellets in the retail stores, there was not a shortage of wood pellets in Maine. Companies such as Heutz, that stores 300 tons of pellets on premise, had a continual supply of pellets at their facility the entire winter. Likewise, small scale pellet suppliers who specialized in bagged wood pellets like Southern Maine Renewable Fuels (SMRF) also had plenty of bagged pellet stock in their warehouses.

In hindsight, we learned that it’s important for wood pellet consumers to understand the limitations of depending upon big box retail establishments for their wood pellet supply. While stores like Paris Farmer’s Union, Lowes, and Home Depot are great resources for buying bagged pellets, they also have limitations on the amount of bagged pellets they can store and how quickly they can replenish their supply. To ensure you have a continual supply of pellets thorough the winter season, it’s important to know which pellet suppliers have a continuous supply of bagged wood pellets and won’t get bogged down by the supply chain.

Where to find a dedicated pellet supplier?

If you are in Maine, the Maine Pellet Fuels Association has a list of establishments that retail pellets. You can also do a Google search for “wood pellet supplier” to find local suppliers near you. When you find a supplier, give them a call and ask them if they have continual stock of bagged pellets throughout the heating season. Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions: Have you ever run out of pellets? How much pellet stock do you have on hand? What happens when you run out?  By knowing your local pellet suppliers and their limitations, you will be better able to manage your own pellet supply.

Heat Pumps Beat Down Polar Vortex, Economically

Aaron & Brigitte outside near their ductless heat pump's compresserRemember Aaron LaChance & Bridget Kearney? We featured their home heated with ductless heat pumps in our November newsletter. At that time, they had one heating season under their belt and it was a fairly warm one at that. While there were some frigid days in 2013, it was nothing like the extreme cold we’ve experience this year.

How did their whole house heat pumps do this winter?

Aaron filled us in, “the heat pumps have been working quite well, always providing ample heat. Considering we kept the house at a constant temp in December of mid to high 70′s this is pretty incredible. For the month of January, I paid more attention to the temp and have kept it at 70 or 72 during the day and maybe 74 at night. Still enjoying it.”

Sure, they were warm enough but how much extra did they need to pay?

“Our electric bill for December did jump up. It was $239 which is only $26 more than our highest bill last year. Still not bad considering what some folks are paying for oil, a mint” shared Aaron.

A quick calculation determines their heating costs increased by 12% this winter. If that pattern holds true for the year, they are looking at spending $1024 for the year. A trip over to the Efficiency Maine’s Compare Heating Cost Calculator shows that if they were heating only with resistive electric then they would have spent $2,462 while oil heat would have cost $2,677. Neither of those options would also provide air conditioning in the summer.