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Home Heating Alternatives
Where We Live - with John Dankosky
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$143 dollars a barrel and counting.....


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52:00 minutes (24.96 MB)
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Joel Gordes and George GoodrichJoel Gordes and George Goodrich
Americans are getting used to news that oil continues to soar at record prices, making all of us groan each time we fill up at the gas pump. But in New England----the price of oil has many thinking about what it will cost to heat their homes this winter.

Today, Where We Live--we kick off our series " This Economic Life " by exploring alternative heating. Some residents are turning to Wood stoves and boilers to decrease their reliance on oil heat. Others are investing in bio fuel or geo thermal.

Check out some pictures of heating alternatives on WNPR's Flickr Site.

See pictures of Where We Live's in-studio guests on WNPR's Flickr Site.

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Pellet Stoves - My Experiences


I installed a fireplace insert type pellet stove - Harmon Accentra - in 2005 in an effort to move away from oil. I'd like to pass on a few observations and experiences.

First, my stove has the capability of using air from outside the home for combustion. This means you are not creating a suction in the house which pulls in cold air from outside while your warm air goes up the chimney.

Second, pellet stoves * require * electricity. If the power goes out, the fire goes out. I don't remember hearing that fact on the program.

I've had pretty good luck with it, except for one thing: the igniter keeps burning out. I've replaced it 3 times since Sept. 2005. It is possible to manually light the stove, but it takes away the auto-lighting feature, which is one of the reasons I bought a pellet stove over a regular log-type stove. It has been fully covered under warranty.

Cleaning is a mess, but you don't have to do it that often. Have a long hose on your vacuum so you can put the canister outside when your cleaning your stove. It keeps the soot/dust out of your living room.

My stove keeps my 2700 sq. ft. 2-floor home (c. 1996) heated to 70-72 degrees inside down to about 35 degrees outside air temperature. Below that I have to run my oil furnace to prevent cold air pockets. We also run our oil furnace at night and turn off the pellet stove, but that may change this winter. For reference, I use about 2 tons per season (~1 bag per day). I buy my pellets online and have them delivered right to my house 2 tons at a time.

email to [email protected]

Thanks for the show.

I do think bio mass is a great option, but there are details that should be worked out.

1. Heard about wood pellets on NPR last week. Being able to make wood pellets is becoming more difficult. Not as much saw dust (or material to make the pellets) is out there. The housing market is down, etc. This lack of material is effecting the price of pellets and the ability to get the them.

2. Chopping down trees to create more supply for bio mass is not what we want to do. In New England we already have cleared or used up more land than we should. We need trees to clean the air we poison with our carbon fuels. If wood pellets are made from scrap and only scrap that is fine. But history will tell one that once a market is developed and takes off, corruption ensues. We need to plan for this crazy upswing. We don't want to make the same mistakes that our fore-fathers did when they arrived in the new land.

3. All these bio mass stoves use electricity. You will have to use more electricity. People forget about that. What is the price increase if one installs? Add that onto the buying the pellets and are we really saving.

I also would like to point out that some furnaces, oil and gas, can be converted to geo thermal. Yes, it is expensive but if you are going to stay in your place for a long time, it is worth it.


electricity and the forest


Thanks for the excellent show. We all need to look at all of these options for our pocketbooks and for our planet.

I got a pellet stove about 1 1/2 years ago and have saved about $2500 already from the cost of oil - more than half the cost of the stove and installation. More importantly to me, I calculated my carbon footprint and have saved approximately 15 TONS of CO2!!! I compared that to other green systems and hybrid vehicle impacts that would have cost me 10X as much, and was blown away (not that we shouldn't all do all of it if we can!)

Anyway, the electricity (about 2 lightbulbs worth) cost me about $20/month.

I DO know a thing or two about sustainable forestry, and the person who wrote that we have to watch that pellets don't start causing clearcutting is being appropriately thoughtful. But I checked that all out before buying a pellet stove, and there is WAY too much good, sustainable biomass out there to have to be concerned. This is what I didn't know before - A healthy forest has to be harvested in a healthy way to keep the trees healthy. It also is WAY safer from developers if there is a sustainable income stream coming from it. Idle forests, as I have discovered, turn into condos!

So, as far as I am concerned, my pellet stove is my little cost-saving, planet sustaining, pleasure providing angel! I couldn't be happier feeding it every morning and watching the fire while my oil thermostat stays in retirement! Thank god for win-win-wins!

email to [email protected]

Thank you for covering this topic to promote a cleaner environment and lower people's utility costs.
And thank you for taking my comment and question via telephone - thanking Joel for addressing the importance of decreasing demand through air sealing and insulation enabling even smaller HVAC systems and asking about tax incentives and funding opportunities for the more efficient options like geothermal and solar.

I am just beginning a small business to provide home owners with comprehensive home performance evaluations. I have become certified by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) as a Building Analyst. BPI is the leading certification entity for improving home performance and safety using the latest technological information. My decade of environmental health advocacy and my green building experience as one of 4 carpenters that built the country's first LEED Silver certified home with Taggart Construction in Freeport, Maine give my work a unique perspective.

These efforts and programs are moving ahead far more swiftly in neighboring states.