“In any type of system,” he said, “there are lower and higher efficiency options [and] people are spending more money to get the higher efficiency systems because the pay back is quicker and worth it.”

A significant percentage of Maine homeowners heat their homes using some type of fossil fuel. Whether that fuel is oil, propane or natural gas, the systems which require such fuels are generally safe, reliable, and easy to use and maintain.

Fossil fuels, however, are nonrenewable and, especially with respect to fuel oil, can be costly.

“Number 2 fuel oil is an expensive fuel to use,” explained Ray Marchessault, project manager at Thayer Corp. Natural gas or propane systems are less expensive, and “converting oil to natural gas is easy to do if natural gas is available.”

Heutz has seen “an upkick in natural gas [as an] alternative to traditional oil.” This change, he said, is primarily “driven by cost.”

“Pellets,” said Marchessault, “are even more cost effective.” And pellets, as well as other wood products, are a renewable source of heat.

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Wood pellets, also referred to as biomass fuel, are formed from compressed wood. “Biomass is usually sourced regionally and in the northeast the resource we have is wood,” explained Evan Jones, engineer and product coordinator at Heatek Energy LLC. Whereas, “in a region with more farming [biomass] could be agricultural products.”

At Heatek, “We are just now starting to introduce a residential biomass boiler,” said Jones.

According to Heutz, “Wood pellet boilers have been around for over 20 years and were initially very popular in European countries, but are fairly new locally. They are very efficient and very smart.”

“The most popular boilers that are on the market right now are very similar when it comes to the options that they give the homeowner,” said Jones.

A few boilers, including Ponast, a line carried by Heatek, and Kedel, sold locally by Heutz Premium Pellet Systems, come equipped with Internet control and monitoring so that the homeowner can view how the boiler is operating remotely.

These systems also have the ability to notify the service provider by email if there is a problem.

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Said Heutz, “We can actually perform diagnostics and provide a service remotely from our desks, [although] the homeowner does have to remove the ash periodically.”

“Ash removal for some systems is automated and all the ash is dispensed into a small box attached to the boiler which the homeowner then empties once a month, or less depending on the quality of the pellets and the time of year,” added Jones.

Depending on the homeowner’s preferences, including how often they want to refuel the boiler, the homeowner can choose to have a small pellet bin which they would fill by hand with bagged pellets, or a larger pellet silo, usually filled by a delivery truck which delivers pellets in bulk.

“One thing to watch out for with these boilers is the quality of the pellets,” said Jones. He also recommended that homeowners use a silo system that uses an auger, as opposed to a vacuum system to feed the boiler.

“It’s automated,” said Heutz, “and can work with any baseboard or radiant system.”

Regarding upfront costs, “The typical price of a small residential system depends on the type of pellet storage the homeowner prefers,” said Jones. For example, a boiler with a hand-filled fuel bin would be less expensive than a boiler with a large-capacity storage silo and pneumatic fill system. A large-capacity silo system also requires additional space.

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“A pellet system is $4,000 to $5,000 more than an equivalent oil, natural gas or propane system,” said Heutz. “However, given that the cost of fuel is close to 50 percent lower, and [significant] rebates are available through Efficiency Maine, this system will give you a better return on your investment.”

Pellet boilers can also be expected to have a life span similar to an oil boiler and, according to Jones, “25-30 years would not be unreasonable” to expect.

Heutz has seen a big increase in residential usage of the pellet boiler, as well as the geothermal heat pump.

Geothermal heat pumps that are able to both heat and cool a home use electricity to draw heat or cool from the ground depending on the season.

“Heat pump systems are limited to a degree, but recently performance and efficiency has gotten much better,” said Heutz.

According to Marchessault, geothermal is overall more cost effective, “but the upfront cost is three times more than a typical system.” As with biomass systems, rebates and incentives are available.

In additional to geothermal heat pumps and other systems, Thayer Corp. is able to design and install solar systems.

Solar thermal heating uses the sun. Whether passive (which generally requires a backup heating system), or active (which requires electricity), both systems are renewable and environmentally friendly.

At Heutz, “We are involved in [the sale and service of] a lot of different heating solutions,” and Heutz suggested that “when it’s time to upgrade, the best choice is to look for the most efficient system you can get — it will give you a better return on your investment.”


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