Freedom of Air - Public Awareness of Outdoor Wood Boilers

Public Awareness and Reasearch of Outdoor Wood Boilers

Myths: What is an Outdoor Wood Boiler?

As an average person, you probably do not know what an Outdoor Wood Boiler (OWB) or Outdoor Wood-Fired Hydronic Heater (OWHH) is. There may even be one in your village or city without your realization. To gain further knowledge about OWBs and what they are, please visit the website below created by the U.S. EPA:


The common misconception of OWBs is that they are not different from other heating devices. Actually, OWB manufacturers market them as "Godsends;" as being the greatest invention ever developed because they save so much money on heating bills. What the manufacturers and dealers of OWBs do not tell consumers is how inefficient they truly are and how much pollution they create. This is not to say that maybe one day someone won't develop a more clean and efficient model, but that the current models being sold and used are mainly polluting mechanisms. Below is a list of common misconceptions that are routinely made when comparing OWBs to traditional heating methods:

1) Traditional chimneys are above the roof line. An OWB stands anywhere from 4 feet to 8 feet tall. Therefore, when the device releases emissions into the air, they are not released above the roof line. Also, not many houses are built 8 feet tall. Stack additions can be added to an OWB in an effort to raise the height above the roof line. However, in many cases the height of the stack is irrelevant if the distance from one property to another is too close. Typically, a new chimney built today uses a chimney cap. A chimney cap is used to keep unwanted animals out, but also controls the flow of smoke being released. Below is an example of a chimney cap:
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Even older chimneys can be retro-fitted to use a chimney cap. Only a few OWB manufacturers actually offer stoves with caps.

2) Chimneys are not free-standing. Chimneys for fireplaces in homes usually extend through the home or are at least attached to a side wall of the residence. On the contrary, the stack of an OWB is free-standing and not as tall as a chimney. The smoke from a chimney of a home has the ability to disperse more easily because a roof surrounds the chimney allowing the smoke to deflect off that surface. A free-standing stack of an OWB does not have a surface around it to assist in preventing the smoke from drifting downward. Therefore, the flow of smoke from an OWB is less controlled and more likely to disperse into lower areas where most people breathe in oxygen.

3) OWBs are designed to burn continuously and smolder. The way an OWB is engineered and designed is to run a continual cycle of forced air into a residence or building. The result of this is a continual smoldering of smoke during the entire time of operation. In comparison to a chimney, chimneys may smolder but do not go through burning cycles and remain active 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Also, instead of having smoke inside of a residence with a chimney, the smoke from an OWB is displaced outside for the entire community to enjoy.

4) People tend to burn wood inside residences. Not many people will disagree that it is not smart to burn anything other than wood in a fireplace. Household items such as trash and debris contain chemicals and wastes that are hazardous, yet some owners of OWBs think that "a foul isn't a foul if the referee doesn't see it." Some, not all, owners of OWBs, abuse their OWB by using it as a burning pit. Items disposed in OWBs include trade wastes, garbage, animal carcasses, wet unseasoned wood, newspapers, and any other undesirable burning item. In other words, people will not burn these items in a fireplace, yet find it acceptable to burn these items in the middle of a residential setting in an OWB. Finally, accelerators such as gasoline and other flammables aren't typically used to start a fire in a residential fireplace for obvious reasons. Yet, some owners of OWBs decide that only using a match to light a fire isn't enough and use different accelerators to burn wood. The result, of course, is toxic fumes that the entire community has to breathe.

5) The amount of pollution created by an OWB is far superior to any other heating device. Many studies have proven that OWBs create far more pollution than any other traditional heating source. According to a study done by the New York State Attorney General's Office in 2005 (CLICK HERE):

One OWB emits as much pollution as:
* 2 heavy-duty diesel trucks
* 12 EPA-certified indoor wood stoves
* 45 passenger cars
* 1,000 homes with oil heat
* 1,800 homes with natural gas heat

Below is an example of what the emission comparisons are between an OWB and other heating sources:

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There can be significant health impacts; a wood stove is 500-1,000 times dirtier than a modern natural gas, propane or oil appliance.

Fine particulate emissions from OWBs can be higher because:

1. The outdoor wood boilers are much less efficient; there is more incomplete combustion, especially when an OWB is in its idling (smoldering) mode. While an EPA woodstove will release 2.4 gm of PM 2.5 per lb of wood, an OWB can release 3-4 times the PM 2.5 per lb of wood burned.

2. The firing rate of an OWB is much higher. While an EPA wood stove has a maximum energy input rate of 15,000 Btu/hr (1 kg of wood/hr), an OWB can be 10-20+ times the firing rate of a EPA wood stove.

3. Some of the larger OWBs can have more than double the firing rate (500,000 Btu/hr) of an average outdoor wood boiler and pollute even more.

4. The quality and type of wood placed in an OWB, such as wet wood or soft woods, will produce far more smoke than seasoned hard wood.

SOURCE: (Economics: An Engineer's Perspective on Heating with Solid Fuels, March 2007) CLICK HERE

Click this link to see the smoke pattern measured in one hour of usage of an OWB: CLICK HERE

What are Particulates?
Particulates: PM10, PM2.5, Nanoparticulate: Tiny particles suspended in the air that are too small to be filtered out, and thus become embedded deep within the lungs. The most injurious are particles classified as PM2.5. They are 2.5 microns in diameter or less. Wood smoke PM2.5 contains creosote, soot, and ash. Most smoke particles average less than one micron (one millionth of a meter), allowing them to remain airborne for 3 weeks.

6) Removal and disposal of ashes and creosote. Often with a chimney, owners hire professional cleaners to clean and remove the ashes from their chimney. Not many owners take it upon themselves to clean and dispose of the burnt remains of ashes in their fireplace. With an OWB, typically the owner removes the ashes from the unit. The OWB manufacturers say to store ashes "in a metal container" until time of disposal. The problem with this is when the container becomes full, where are the ashes supposed to be disposed? In the case of an OWB owner who doesn't hire a professional to remove the ashes, the disposal of ashes and creosote often comes with a one way trip to the countryside. Owners of OWBs can pollute the woods, rivers, lakes, ponds, sewer/water lines, and animal habitat by carelessly disposing of ashes. If you owned land in a rural area, and found that someone was dumping ashes and creosote on the source of your drinking water, you might have multiple worries.

7) Buying an OWB really won't save money, it only shifts the funds. Saving money is the crutch that OWB manfacterers, dealers, and owners all use for support. Simply, let's break down the mathematics of this logic. On average an OWB will cost a buyer anywhere in the price range of $6,000 to the upwards of $12,000 just to simply buy the unit. This does not include the costs of installation and preparations that are needed to get the unit fully operational.

Of course, if owners install the units themselves, they can save the costs of hiring someone to trench, install all needed features, and assemble the plumbing for conversion in the residence or building. However, most people do not have the knowledge or skills to complete all of the tasks for complete installation themselves. Therefore, that leaves a buyer of an OWB the options of either the trial-and-error method of installing the unit or spending money to have a professional from the manufacturer complete the installation. If a person spends $6,000 to $12,000 or more on a unit, do you think that person will agreeably pay out thousands of dollars more to make sure it is installed correctly? Odds are, probably not. That leads to untrained people installing the units. This creates a problem if the individual doesn't know what he or she is doing. The result will probably be that neighbors have to suffer.

In perspective, how much does a regular gas furnace cost currently to be installed? On average, this type of furnace may cost from $2,000 to $5,000. Plus, if someone makes an error during installation, no one receives the brunt of problems other than the owner of the furnace.

The biggest argument of OWB owners is that it "saves so much money on heating bills." This statement, of course, is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, overall payments to gas and electric companies are reduced, but think of what is needed to reduce the costs. First, wood is needed to run an OWB. Of course, wood comes from the chopping down of trees. An OWB is a wood burning machine, like a Hummer is a gas guzzler. So, if you do not have access to a wooded area, the cost of wood alone will be the same as the cost to heat a home over the same period. An internet search found that on average a cord of wood costs $225 to $275. For mathematical purposes we will say a cord costs $250. If you burn only during winter months (the heating season) and burn one cord per week, for mathematical purposes that is a cost of $1,000 a month in wood alone. If you burn six months out of the year, that is $6,000 dollars. I know that some people who read this might say, "well, I don't burn a cord a week." In that case, divide that number in half and it would cost $3,000 a year to heat your home by burning one cord every two weeks. Now look at the situation if you were to pay between $300 to $500 a month to heat your home through the traditional method. If you pay $500 a month, you still would spend $3,000 to heat your home. The numbers don't lie: pay $3,000 a season to heat your home with gas and electric or pay $3,000 a season on wood alone to heat with an OWB. The difference with paying for gas and electric is that you don't infringe on the rights of your neighbors.

Please further consider the fact that not all owners of OWBs burn for only the heating season. If someone is burning all year to heat the water for their home, pool, hottub or other function, that owner could be spending in the upwards of $1,000 a month on wood. Add that up to $12,000 a year in just money spent on wood. Now this leads back to ideas mentioned earlier. Why not burn things that don't cost so much like trash, tires, untreated wood, newspapers, and etc.? In total, an owner would spend at least $6,000 to buy the furnace and an additional $3,000 a year for wood. The OWB owner would spend a minimum of $9,000 for the first heating season (assuming it is only used for heat). Then if the owner is obeying the so-called "rules," the owner spends $3,000 a year from there after to heat the home or building. When does this so-called savings occur?

Perhaps after 15 years of usage the owner of the OWB will finally break even. Most OWB manufacturers don't provide a warranty that exists that long or for the life of the burner. Therefore, add costs for maintence and repairs to the eqaution. How about financing if someone doesn't have at least $6,000 to pay up front? Interest rates will add even more cost to the overall equation. In total, the owner of the OWB will never recuperate the so-called savings by purchasing one of these units.

It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that investing in an OWB is like throwing money away. The only people that are benefiting from them are the people who manufacture and sell them.

8) The efficiency of an OWB is about 30%. On average the efficiency of an OWB is about 30% in heating a residence or building. The manufacturers state that OWBs should be used as a "supplement" to heating and not a primary source of heating. Often, when people are sold an OWB, they are not told to use their boiler as a supplement because the sellers would not be able to sell any and make money. In comparison, a traditional gas or electric furnace has about 99% efficiency for heating. Would you spend a significant amount of money on anything that is 30% efficient? Would you buy a car that works 30% of the time? Would you buy a computer that works 30% of the time?

9) OWBS are eco-friendly. OWB manufacturers claim that by using natural gas to heat homes, we as consumers are depleting the supply of natural gas. This may be true, but how is chopping down all of the trees in our wooded areas good for the environment? In good faith we are assuming that all owners of OWBs, not to mention that some do not, replant a tree every single time they cut down one for use in their OWB. If the concept of people using OWBs to heat their homes continues to grow, what trees will remain for our future generations?

10) OWBs use electricity. OWBs use electricity to function. Well, wait a second, if your electricity goes out then you can't heat your house? The answer is YES--that you would not be able to heat it. A traditional fireplace burns without any electrical assistance or it can be used to burn gas. Either way, if you lose power to your home, you can use a gas or traditional fireplace for heat. With only an OWB, where will your heat source come from?

11) OWBs should be used as a supplement to heating, not the primary source. As briefly mentioned in #8 above, this is just another fact sellers neglect to mention to consumers. Most, if not all, OWB manufacturers say this in their respective owner's manuals. This means that like a fireplace, OWBs should be used to supplement heating costs. Meaning, in no circumstance should an OWB be the only source of heating for a home or building. Expanding from #10, if this is the only source of heating, when the electricity goes out, how does one heat their home or building? Simply, they don't.....

ALL OF THE POINTS LISTED ABOVE ARE FACTS AND NOT MATTER OF OPINION. Everything that was used to compile this list can be accessed via the internet or links that are on this site.