Choosing Your Fuel (Step One to Picking the Right Boiler)
The fuel you choose will almost certainly be primarily dependent upon several interrelated factors – the availability of fuel in your area, the price of that fuel and convenience. Fuel options vary widely and include coal, wood (chunks and pellets), heating oil, natural gas, electric, propane, and corn. Our Fuel Source Alternatives Comparison, which shows information for most of these fuels, will help you to determine the most cost-effective fuel based upon current prices.
Price of a fuel in your area will be determined by the supply versus demand of that fuel in your area. However, the certainty that a fuel will be easily available should also be considered. In rural areas, slab wood from sawmills can be purchased at very low cost or even obtained for free. Alternately, a homeowner with a woodlot can cut his own wood. The availability of wood and wood byproduct fuel sources is virtually certain in non-arid, rural areas. Another example of fuel type, field corn, is dependent upon proper environmental conditions in order for it to be readily available at a reasonable price. The use of corn as a fuel competes with its use as a feed source. When corn costs are particularly high, such as they were from April 1011 through August of 2013, corn as a fuel stock is simply not competitive. There are also other competing uses for corn, such as its use in the manufacture of ethanol. Corn's suitability for fuel may be regionally dependent, market dependent, and in part a function of the suitability of the corn for food/feed purposes.
Ease of Handling the Fuel (Convenience)
There are other factors that should also be considered beyond simply the current price of the fuel. One of these factors is ease of handling of the fuel. If ease of handling is the primary (or the only) consideration, then liquid or particle fuels, or electricity, will meet this need more readily than chunk wood. However, there is a very real and offsetting consideration in this regard – exercise and outdoor activity. Today many people do not get enough exercise nor enough sunlight exposure, particularly in the winter, and choosing to burn wood (or coal if hand-loading is employed) can literally require the operator to use their body and get some much-needed exercise, while getting paid for it by saving money on fuel costs. Much wood handling occurs outside, possibly increasing a person’s sunlight exposure. Sunlight exposure can reduce incidence of depression and colon cancer. It may increase the likelihood of skin cancers. The exercise factor is increased if you choose to cut your own firewood rather than buying your fuel (for instance buying slab wood from a sawmill). If particle fuel is being considered, then remember that the particle fuel delivery mechanisms will add additional cost to the boiler.
Scrap Material That Can Serve As A Fuel Source
If you have scrap material from a commercial or industrial process, then you may well employ this material as a fuel source. Examples of such fuel sources would include used oil, wood cut-offs, sawdust, or wood shavings. Homeowners would not have enough of this type of fuel source to warrant this consideration (for example, a homeowner who changes their own oil would not have enough used oil in a year to heat their home for more than a day or two), but commercial and industrial concerns may have a continuous supply that warrants use of such items as a fuel source for a boiler.
Independence of Fuel Supply
Another consideration in fuel choice is independence of supply. An owner with a woodlot will have their own supply of firewood and be independent of any disruptions in fuel supply. This cannot be said for any other fuel source except perhaps a farmer growing his own corn.
A final consideration in choosing a fuel is the volume of storage space available for the fuel. Solid fuels do require considerably more storage, especially biomass and wood based forms. By comparison, coal is a dense energy source and less demanding of storage space.
Remember that Alternate Heating Systems boilers come in a variety of fuel choices and some include gas and fuel oil backup options.