James Whitelaw

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since Nov 23, 2016
Upstate NY on cusp of zone 5a-5b Sandy Loam
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Recent posts by James Whitelaw

One design we are looking at for a OWB for our place would incorporate a large insulated liquid reservoir that allows the OWB to run at max capacity for an extended period to heat to a set point and then shut down while the heated liquid mass would provide all the heating and hot water needs. That way there would be no smoldering at all.

Thermal Storage
Many boilers employ thermal storage to improve efficiency by minimizing the amount of on-off cycling. This is usually a large, insulated metal tank (600 to 1500 gallons) that holds the heated water before circulating it through the house or building. Without thermal storage, any time the house calls for heat, the heater turns on, which means the heater cycles on and off fairly often. High efficiencies are only attained when the fire is burning hot, so every time the equipment cycles on and off, efficiency drops and emissions increase. With thermal storage, the boiler fires for a long period of time in order to heat the large amount of water in storage, and then it shuts down for a long period of time while the house draws the hot water off storage. This greatly increases efficiency and reduces emissions. But there is a cost: thermal storage can add about $1,500 to $3,000 to a biomass boiler system.

14 hours ago

Jordan Holland wrote:If it's the same burner and different people starting smoking all of a sudden, I would bet the new people are burning unseasoned wood. It probably smokes several hours as the water is being driven off, then clears up.  My father installed one in the last house they built. It is a downdraft gassifier and it only smokes a minute or so after the fan shuts off. The neighbors had some kind of outdoor wood boiler, and it smoked like a freight train. Luckily they are over a half-mile away. I haven't noticed it as much lately, so maybe they figured it out or got a different one. I can imagine some people having one all of a sudden and not having seasoned wood on hand. Then they might have to burn unseasoned wood the first winter until they can let some season over the next summer.

Like you said, I would be careful burning bridges. It may be a simple issue they want to fix. Maybe asking out of curiosity, or safety concerns, or wanting to help might help. Being confrontational can be risky. You might mention the previous owners not having such issues. Good luck!

Agree. From the description it seems the new owners went through a winter without a lot of smoke which would comport with the house being sold with a winters supply of wood. Perhaps the new owners procrastinated getting prepared for this season. I’ve noticed some of the area firewood purveyors are only selling semi-seasoned firewood now, so they may have missed out on getting dry hardwood.

Chris Kott wrote:This issue seems to be a perfect fit for Rocket Mass Heaters. Build an outdoor RMH, or one for a shed that, incidentally, might hold stacked wood on its outside walls, drying in the waste heat. The burn works just like an RMH, a fast, high-temperature complete burn, while the mass acts as a heat battery and buffer for the transfer of that heat energy to the boiler. If a longer duration of heat retention is required, add more mass to the design. It will need more initial time to come up to temperature, but after that, it won't be the firing of the RMH but the opening of water valves that will instantly warm the neighbours' house.

Not to sidetrack the OP (I think we have an active thread discussing a home built RMH boiler). Honestly I have doubts that an RMH would work in the context to heat a whole house via a boiler. First, positioning the RMH outside the structure defeats somewhat the inherent built in advantages of having a heated mass inside the structure. Two, if I understand RMH builds, they would require feeding wood more frequently then the large fire boxes the OWB usually is designed with (I have read that they can go days between loading wood). Having to walk out to the boiler and feed it on a cold night is a definite downside to any outside wood heating system. Three, the safety of high temperatures required to heat the water or antifreeze in the system to a temp high enough to be fed to radiators in a house would worry me in a home built RMH boiler system for safety reasons. 140 degrees is considered the minimum to prevent the development of legionnaires disease in a system that provides hot water. One of the long term issues w/ OWB’s I’ve seen are corrosion and failure of fire boxes (hence a lot of talk of types of steel used by the higher end units I see advertised). RMH is off the table for heating our house for a number of reasons and longevity of the build is one of them, but I am considering one for heating a greenhouse.

In our case we view an OWB, if we pull the trigger on one, only as a bridge system that eventually transitions to something more sustainable 10 years down the road.

To the OP, if you want help deciphering your local regulations feel free to message me your location and I would be happy to research them and keep your info private. IANAL, but do have a lot of experience reading and interpreting regulations.
Timely post as we are evaluating whether an OWB (Outdoor Wood Boiler) would be appropriate for our old house. Smoking out neighbors would be an absolute show stopper for us and most of the issues with smoke I have seen is as pointed out due to smoldering. There are newer, more expensive OWB’s available that utilize a secondary gasifier system (as Marc points out) that reburns the smoke to more efficiently burn the wood, but I suspect even these stoves, despite the EPA certification, can smoke excessively in the shoulder seasons and when starting up. This issue can be further mitigated with more expensive stoves that are dual fuel where NG or propane can be used when smoldering is expected.

I suspect the op’s issue with smoke is a result of smoldering due to the fire being tamped down to prolong burn times and possibly wood with too high a moisture content. It could be the smoky neighbor is simply cheap and is burning unseasoned wood while loading the stove is easy and saving the seasoned hard wood for those long winter nights when you want a long, sustained burn that requires less trips to load wood into the OWB. I would suggest filming the smoke to collect evidence for a complaint to the authorities? I guess it comes down to where the OP is located; State, County, Town and if there are any laws that might apply to there situation.

Our idea for best practices IF we go with an OWB is as follows:

Use only dry hard wood when starting the boiler until a really good, hot fire is achieved.
Design the system with deeply buried lines to make it more efficient.
Design the system with a tall enough smoke stack to help mitigate any smoke affecting our neighbors
Design the system so there is adequate thermal storage to enhance performance.
Have alternative water and house heating for the shoulder seasons to mitigate smoke issues.
Saw a study (South Africa) on how much wildlife is killed daily by pet cats monitored by cameras on their collars and was surprised by the numbers. Apparently mice counted for a small percentage while birds and amphibians took the brunt of the damage. Something like 9 varmints per day on average. Our two cats are converted outdoor, semi-feral pair that we have managed to turn into fairly tame house cats. We do allow them access outside to a catio type enclosure (about 100 square foot) so they get to enjoy the sun and grass, but are protected from all of the dangers outdoor cats endure. Anything that gets into the house or enclosure is fair game.
3 weeks ago
Found this: webpage https://www.cnet.com/how-to/why-you-should-always-burn-in-your-new-oven/

Maybe the prior owners never used the oven? Not unheard of (microwave cults for example)

According to Samsung, the burning smell caused by a new oven is due to the "insulation surrounding the oven cavity emitting odors the first few times it is exposed to the extreme heat inside of the oven." This is the smell of a bonding agent curing. Also, if you fail to remove some of the zip ties used to secure the inserts during transit before turning it on for the first time, you may also be smelling the plastic melting and burning.

Appliance maker Belling, on the other hand, explains that the smell and light smoke you may see on the first use is from a protective coating of oil that is used during the manufacturing process.

Whatever the case, new ovens smell. The best way to get rid of the smell is to run a proper burn-in cycle. It's recommended that you not cook any food prior to a burn-in, as the smell (and potentially the taste) can stick with your food.

1 month ago
Don’t under-estimate the power of critter pee to funk up anything and if burned it could be described as “acrid” (don’t ask how I know).

What is the specific model Samsung?  One piece of unrelated gas oven advice I got from a fellow who repaired our oven was to never run the self cleaning function. It gets it too hot and burns out the ceramic sensor that regulates the gas and protects against gas flow without flame (bad).
1 month ago
A couple of thoughts...

large counter top electric ovens that could handle a 20 lb turkey can be had for under $150.

You could construct a wood burning oven in the back yard and do all your roasting and pizzas in that (add a nearby bonfire in November)

Personally I would look on Craigslist and search for a functional gas stove, leaning towards a top-end 50-60’s model in good condition that parts are available for. A quick check revealed plenty including one add for 2 stoves and a fridge lol.

The acrid smell thing is weird. I’d be tempted to try running it hot while watching closely to see if it dissipated eventually (a couple of box fans running in nearby windows to vent). Has a really close examination of the stove been conducted to make sure something hasn’t spilled inside it? All the gas stoves I’ve had are essentially made of metal, glass and presumably some insulation in the sides so other than new fangled circuit boards and wiring, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of things that could stink up the place. Did Samsung say what the expensive repair might entail?
1 month ago
Not holding my breath but LTA airship design has advanced considerably. One major breakthrough is tech where in order to descend helium is drawn into tanks and compressed and released back into bladders to ascend, giving far greater control and eliminating or minimizing the need for ballast. These giant ships can in theory lift very heavy loads and can land almost anywhere flat or even on water. The design allows them to scoot around on the ground fairly easily. The obvious drawbacks are the rarity of helium and susceptibility to strong winds or storms. One advantage in storms is that by compressing all if the helium the craft will hug the ground, but the infrastructure that creates the large lightweight shell could be damaged by winds, so some form of hanger would need to be provided, but possibly they could land into an open stadium or natural valley that would protect from winds.

Imagine you want to move your family from California to Vermont. Preparing for the move you fill up the container with all your household goods and the FedEx airship arrives and hovers over your place while the container is efficiently winched up into the cargo bay. You could have had the container moved to the transport hub where the airships land to avoid the winching charges, but you decided to go for the convenience. A drone taxi transports your family up to the airship and you get escorted to a second class cabin you booked. The cabin, a modular designed pod type, reminiscent of a trimmed down airstream trailer, are fitted into the ship when needed is relatively luxurious, though tiny. No windows to the outside of the airship, but high definition cameras provide views in all directions outside the airship, the command deck or even your personal cargo trailer. Viewing platforms where you can dwell and observe the world or get a snack and of course the bar is popular. Many hours were passed using the telescopes available in the lounge and at night telescopes can view the starry sky from the comfort of your quarters. The airship takes a leisurely route as it is dropping off and picking up passengers along the way. Cargo drones fly in and out regularly to move all sort of cargo. A farmers crop loaded into a container is winched up right from his field and stored in a climate controlled bay while another properties horses are loaded using a special pod along with their caretaker for the trip. One of the crew members related a story about last years hurricane where they had to lift an emergency hospital pod into the affected area that was isolated by flooding and destroyed highways. They also helped airlift out survivors while delivering FEMA emergency housing pods for the people and emergency responders. The next day they were back to regular transport.
1 month ago
John, can you find a link to any Minnesota law that prohibits non-grid tied solar? Was the solar these friends were inquiring about for their barn a full system, I.E. a charge controller and batteries in addition to the inverter and panels (A far more expensive system)? It just seems the Interstate Commerce Clause being invoked doesn’t make any sense in the context of disallowing non-grid tied solar vs grid tied, as the grid tied has potential for competing  power companies and is something some states prohibit. In Minnesota it seems it is subsidized in addition to being heavily regulated. I did see where they are restricting the layout of the panels to allow easier access to the roofs for fire fighters that solar companies have complained about.

Perhaps the worry is that a powerful enough solar system on an accessory building could potentially be DIY’ed to connect back to the grid tied structures, perhaps to provide power during a blackout and possibly causing a serious safety issue with back feed to the utility pole and electrocute those working to restore power.

1 month ago