Thursday, February 14, 2013

Today the NYT had a short and simple story telling us that Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban styrofoam cups (turns out they are not really styrofoam, but you get the picture). The very first commenter wrote that you have to ban them because you cannot burn them - toxic and all that.

Since the room in which I am writing this is heated by burning municipal waste, maybe even styrofoam, I posted a comment. I got Emails shortly after so here is Phase 1 of Imagine if You Gave Up Your Oil Burner.

I will begin at the final destination of the hot water that was heated to 100 C at a municipal waste incinerator here in Linköping. In the next day or two I will take you back to the incinerator itself. Ett steg i sänder, one step at a time.

Here in a clean room in my basement is a small white box about 35 inches high (writing this for Americans where cm do not yet rule). The room used to be filled with an oil burner and an oil tank big enough to get us through the Swedish winter (70 days of snow on the ground so far).

The oil burner was like most I had in America, a pain. Same with the tank. So one fine day I booked installation of fjärrvärme (distance heating) and soon there was this box in a room that could now be used.

So we take off the cover and see that there is a pipe that feeds the hot water into the box and a pipe through which the somewhat cooler water can return to the incinerator. Down in the right corner is a small pump - perfectly quiet - and there are two heat exchangers.

We can take a look at one of them. You can see the copper object in the background. That is one of two devices where the incoming hot water can heat water in a closed system in the house. This one heats the water that flows to all the radiators on three levels. I confess I think it is amazing that this 12 inch long device can accomplish this much heat transfer, but it does.

There is an even smaller exchanger that heats the water that goes to the bathrooms and kitchens (3 and 2 respectively). Even more amazing is that this heating takes place on demand, none of the hot water tanks that often had to be replaced when I lived in Rochester, New York.

So this is phase I showing what I, the 100% satisfied person (with renters above), have instead of that oil burner.

As I noted in my Times comment, I would never return to the USA if I had to move into a house or apartment heated by an oil or natural gas burner. Not for me.

Silent, fume free, and fire-hazard free wins every time, especially when you get an entire basement room as part of the bargain.

Will be back tomorrow to show you part of the distribution system. Stay tuned.

2013-02-14 kl 14:12 Eastern Standard Time USA


  1. Larry,
    I actually have a similar system installed, which was replaced about 2 years ago, but the primary heating source is natural gas. The 40+ year old system that we replaced (based on the best guess of the home inspector when I bought the house) provided both instant hot domestic water (there was a small reservoir in the attic above the system) and for radiant residential heat system by circulating through the house. However, the company that made that system is no longer in operation, and it was fairly difficult to find a replacement system to do both. We finally found one, and the system itself is slightly smaller than the old one, but we gained the attic space back since it has the reservoir contained in the unit! I do wish it had an alternate heat source, however, due to the same reasons you discussed.

    Happy Belated Birthday, too!
    Go Jackets.
    Lisa E.

  2. Concerned Citizen, AnywheresvilleMarch 19, 2014 at 4:00 PM

    I can't speak for oil heat. We don't have it around here. Most oil heated homes are in the Northeastern states in the US, because they do not have large reserves of natural gas.

    My home is heated by natural gas. The gravity furnace IS pretty big, but it is 100% silent. You can't hear it at all. It has no moving parts and has never needed a single repair in the 28 years I've lived here. My handyman estimate the age of the furnace at about 70 years old. There are zero fumes. The house is always comfortably warm.

    Maybe you could set something on fire with the pilot (which we blow out in summer to save a few bucks), but you'd REALLY have to try hard to do that. It's tucked way inside the furnace.

    My dad had one of those instant on-demand hot water heaters in his home; it was expensive to install and just could not keep up with the water demands -- not with 2 or more bathrooms. Maybe for one person? And he had one of those ginormous soaking bathtubs, that two adults can fit in -- and the hot water heater simply could not produce enough hot water to fill it. The first half would be hot, then it would get lukewarm.

    In my last house, I had 3 bathrooms and one was very far from the electric water heater (silent, but a bit pricey for hot water), so I looked into an on-demand add-on for just that bathroom. The cost was prohibitive, so I never installed it.