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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Replacing your boiler? Consider pellets!

J.S. Fitzpatrick

I have a pellet boiler in my basement that heats my house. Not a pellet stove, but an electronic, touch screen, digital-brain modern boiler that is run by thermostats, just the same as a gas or oil-fired unit.

I’m planning on this boiler keeping me warm and cozy for two or three decades at least, and I won’t be burning fossil fuels to do it. Really, everyone ought to avoid replacing or installing any fossil fuel heaters. If you are looking at replacing your oil or gas fired boiler anytime soon, replace it with something electric run by solar if you can. If not, figure something else out. For me, wood pellets were a pretty good solution.

A modern pellet system is quite a bit more costly to install than a fossil fuel system. But I was willing to take a big gulp and do it for two reasons.

The first reason was more about not burning fossil fuels than about the advantages of pellets. I just couldn’t stand the idea of buying fossil fuel to heat my house for another 20 or 30 years. Something like this little sign should be printed on every oil and gas bill. SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Global warming is real and the burning of fossil fuels is bad!

We must minimize their use!

The second reason was that I have a high degree of confidence that I will indeed save money in the long run. Since you are talking about something that lasts for decades, the costs over time are pretty hard to predict. Pellet prices are quite stable. Oil and gas prices are notoriously volatile (see chart below). It’s quite clear that heating with pellets saves money, but just how much it saves depends on the up and down prices of the fossil fuel market. The cost savings are over the long haul. Plus, right now New Hampshire will reimburse 40% of the cost of most residential systems (see website links at the end of the article).

Burning anything adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere but eliminating the burning of stuff to heat an old farmhouse in the north country isn’t a realistic scenario for many situations, certainly not mine. I would have loved to go real green and put in an air-source mini split heat pump run by solar panels, but it wasn’t practical. But I could eliminate the burning of fossil fuels. I know that my house is heated with a fuel originating in Maine or New Hampshire and is part of an ongoing carbon cycle.

While we are talking realistic, I also think that it’s pretty much too late to avoid climate trouble. Our ability to take action has just been too slow. But I also think that doing something is better than sitting still, especially if it is a move away from fossil fuel use. And even though I’m pessimistic, it is still theoretically possible to avoid a lot of future climate trouble.

Anyway, I replaced the oil boiler with the pellet boiler and it’s been fine. The old farmhouse’s oil system already had cast iron baseboard radiators. They are great. The system has two heating zones and makes our hot water. The fuel truck comes and blows in a couple of tons of pellets a couple of times a heating season, and the guy comes to service it once a year. Sound familiar? It probably does, because that is pretty much the typical routine. That’s what you expect from a heating system — turn up the thermostat and it gets warmer. All in all, it’s pretty carefree.

And my pellet boiler has neighbors! I have visited residential pellet boilers in Littleton, Bethlehem, Sugar Hill and Franconia. They are also in a number of schools, apartment buildings, businesses and public buildings right in the towns where we live. You probably already know places with one. So, before you replace or install a fossil fuel boiler, ask around. Your neighbors who use pellets like using them.

But for me, more important, it’s one answer to the most important question: How can we stop burning fossil fuels?

J.S. Fitzpatrick, “Fitz” is a retired teacher who devotes a good deal of his energy trying to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. He serves on two local energy committees in norther New Hampshire.

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