Don Barber and Rita Rosenberg knew that they needed to make a change to their heating system when a technician told them that their aging oil-fired boiler would likely need emergency maintenance soon. Don and Rita, firm believers in renewable energy and energy efficiency, were also looking to get off fossil fuels for their home heating needs. After attending a presentation on the benefits of pellet heat and energy efficiency sponsored by Get Your GreenBack and CCE-Tompkins, Don and Rita decided to install a wood pellet boiler that keeps their home more comfortable, requires little maintenance, and reduces the risk of their heating costs increasing dramatically when fossil fuel prices rise. Through NYSERDA’s Renewable Heat NY program, they received a 45% discount on the pellet boiler and installation costs, making Don and Rita’s switch to a more comfortable, reliable, and carbon-neutral fuel economically feasible.
The pellet boiler is only the latest in a series of home energy efficiency upgrades that Don and Rita have undertaken on their roughly 3,000 square foot farmhouse on their 65 acre farm in Caroline.
“We bought the property with single pane windows, wooden doors, and not a stick of insulation,” Don said. “So we changed all of the windows and doors, added insulation and tightened things up wherever we could.”
After making their farmhouse as efficient as possible, Don and Rita became interested in generating renewable energy on the property, eventually adding 2 kW of solar panels to their property in 2000.
“When Solarize Tompkins started up we added 5.5 more kW of power so we now are generating power all but one month of the year,” Don added.
Though these upgrades had dramatically decreased their energy consumption on the property, Don looked to replace their aging oil-fired boiler to further break their reliance on fossil fuels. The potential liability of their 1,000 gallon fuel oil tank also spurred Don to take stock of their heating options. Don and Rita attended a “Green & Cozy” community meeting in spring of 2016 and, for the first time, seriously began to consider the possibility of a wood pellet boiler.
“The wood pellet boiler seemed to be the best and most efficient way to go given the way our house is built and set up,” Don said.
Don got in touch with Ehrhart Energy, a Trumansburg-based energy business that installs wood pellet boilers and supplies bulk wood pellets.
“I found it very refreshing that the Ehrhart salesmen wanted to tell us roughly how much money we were talking about before they came out,” Don said. “For some people, hearing an estimate of $25,000 to $30,000 may put them off, but with the knowledge that NYSERDA will be picking up 45% of it, it may not feel so bad.”
Don’s 90,000 BTU system ended up costing $28,000, with the NYSERDA Renewable Heat NY program picking up 45%, or roughly $12,600, of the cost of the system and installation.
The system is made up of the boiler, a day hopper that sits next to it which feeds the pellets in throughout the day as needed, two insulated water storage tanks, and a large 4 ton hopper outside, which gets filled by a special delivery truck by Ehrhart Energy.
Don says that he and his wife are much more comfortable in their home with the wood pellet boiler. This is mainly due to the immediacy of the heat that the system provides by constantly keeping a 50-gallon water tank at a set temperature, ready to flow into the radiator pipes throughout the house.
“When the thermostat comes on the heat comes on immediately, you don't have to wait for anything to heat up,” Don said. “If the temperature drops down and causes the heat to switch on again, the water is already hot. Nobody ever sells that when they talk about these boilers! If you have a fuel oil boiler or a natural gas boiler and you move into one of these boilers you’re going to be much more comfortable and really happy with how quickly your house heats up.”
While worries about noise and maintenance can sometimes deter possible pellet-heating adopters, Don says that he only empties the ash tray about once a month and the system runs very quietly.
“My wife was really concerned with having to do a lot of extra work and she was pleasantly surprised when Erhart told us that we wouldn’t have to touch any pellets and only have to empty the ash once a month. She was like ‘Oh, I can deal with this!’” Don said.
The relatively low cost of fuel oil this winter meant that Don and Rita’s heating costs were just about equivalent to what they would have paid in fuel oil, though the price long term price stability of pellets and the superior comfort levels makes the cost of the system worth it for Don.
Don says that one thing to be aware of is NYSERDA’s requirement of an outdoor hopper in which pellets can be stored before they are automatically distributed into the pellet boiler.
“[The hopper] is not something that can be easily hidden,” Don said. “But it's just like any other energy source; if you put solar panels up, you’ll see those too.”
Don says that the process to get the Renewable Heat NY subsidy was seamless, with Ehrhart handling all of the paperwork with NYSERDA.
“Because we were the second or third pellet boiler that they had put through the program, the process was getting much faster. They were actually able to move the installation time up from what they had originally projected.”
Interested in wood pellet heating? Learn more here. To explore other renewable heating options (heat pumps), check out Heat Smart Tompkins, and attend one of the 19 community meetings scheduled this spring.