Running On Pellets
Well we finally did it! We finally converted our old propane boiler/heater to wood pellets, and as of today we’re fully, completely operating on pellets!
This was a major project that we’ve been planning for a long time.
The whole thing took ~6 months from end-to-end, as such things tend do in France, but our new solution was worth the wait. It’s a rather beautiful, sleek, eco-friendly boiler and it should (hopefully) save us a ton of cash over the next years. At least that’s the plan.
There’s still a few details we need to sort out, including our first 7-tonne pellet delivery (hopefully arriving soon) and the finishing touches on the room where the boiler resides, but so far the new beauty is doing exactly what we hoped it would. Plus it’s rather techy cool too.
This is the story of how we moved from propane to pellets in SW rural France.
The BIG Boiler Install
The team was slowly rolling the luxury machine through our bedroom, the only way they could possibly fit the monstrosity into our boiler room.
It had been sitting in our storage area for over a month awaiting this very day, and it really was big, so much so that they’d had to take off & enlarge the door of our boiler room to get it in. It looked super fancy too, with it’s sleek Austrian lines, stainless steel interior and interactive touch screen.
“C’est le Rolls Royce des Chaudières” Thomas declared, as he heaved on the 32 kW beast
Personally I might have called it the Airstream of boilers, or perhaps the Newell of wood pellet burners (depending on which way you lean), but I couldn’t help but agree.
This was going to be a super cool upgrade….
The Project Was Launched~6 Months Ago
We started this whole thing ~6 months ago in the dead of winter, right as dad’s pocketbook was recovering from our latest propane delivery. Our old system was getting ridiculous, “hors de prix” as they say in France, and it was high time we changed.
Sadly our soil here isn’t suited to geothermal heating (which would be my #1 preference), but a wood pellet alternative had been highly recommend by three of our neighbors down the road. Apparently it was superbly inexpensive to run, a fraction of the price of our old system, and eco-friendly to boot, using carbon neutral 6mm wood pellets, a renewable resource grown right here in the Ariège. The clincher was that the installer, the “man for the job” was a well-known and well-respected local, with an abundance of good reviews.
So, it was with great anticipation that we held our first meeting with Monsieur Drigo (RSG Drigo) in November of last year.
He arrived with his dog, a cute terrier who travels and works everywhere with him, which of course immediately pegged him as “a man who could be trusted”. Anyone who owns and loves dogs knows this instinctively, as Polly will confirm. Plus of course he really knew his stuff, and spoke wonderful English to boot (never a requirement for us, but it’s always a nice bonus). We asked him a barrage of questions, all of which he answered knowledgeably and patiently, and by the end of the meet we were convinced.
Mere weeks later the contract was approved and deposits paid.
We’d have to wait another ~6 months for the work to begin, a necessary delay due to a long backlog of jobs (always a good sign), but the ship had been set in motion. Propane would soon be our fuel no more….
Materials Were Delivered in May
A few months ago the materials arrived.
It’s a fully automatic pellet boiler that consists of a combustion chamber, hopper and ash tray box. The pellets are fed in everyday through a vacuum turbine from the silo (at a user-programmed time), a ~5 minute process that’s the only “noisy” thing it does. The unit also auto-cleans itself at this time. The rest of the time it burns whisper quiet.
It’s also fully computer-controlled of course, with sensors that monitor the inside and outside temperatures to tell the boiler if and when it needs to kick in. Plus it claims to be able to achieve more than 100% efficiency (yeah, really), thanks to a rather snazzy condensing technology that re-feeds the heat from the exhaust gases (mostly hot water vapor) back into the heating system, essentially boosting the output.
For my RV readers (and fellow solar geeks), this thing is kinda like an MPPT solar controller, but for wood pellets.
On top of all this it’s got all kinds of cool programming options including several custom operating modes, a quick-select for all-night operation (e.g. if you are partying all night and want your radiators to stay on), endless temp control options for water & radiator settings, a vacation mode (e.g. to maintain min temps while you’re gone) and more. Plus it can be seamlessly paired with solar thermal tube arrays, if we ever decide to do that upgrade down the line. Oh and lastly, it can be connected to the internet and controlled via an app from your smartphone; a sweet, extra geeky bonus.
It’s really quite the advanced piece of kit!
The only maintenance required is emptying the ash output (every 6 weeks or so), and a yearly in-depth clean/check-up by the installer. The whole thing has a 5 year guarantee, and gets stellar reviews from everyone who owns one.
Installation Took Around 8 Days
The installation took around 8 full days, with a team of 4-6 guys who arrived on the dot every day at 8AM.
In the first few days the 7-tonne silo was built, and the basics of the system installed. For the silo Mr. Drigo converted the inside of an old pig-stall on the east side of our house, a perfect (and completely unused space) for the job.
The following 5 days were detail work with lots of custom copper plumbing, a large exhaust chimney that was erected through the roof, and of course installation of the vaccum-filling system that conveys the pellets from the silo to the burner.
In addition to all this, the liquid in our radiators was meticulously flushed, and each of them (we have 22 radiators in all!) was checked for uniform heating (i.e no air pockets), a process that took several days.
The latter is a process that’s not usually done in France, but it’s something that Mr. Drigo insists on, and it was an extra attention to detail that I really appreciated. Our radiators have probably needed a good flush for a while, and this will help to ensure that they operate at maximum efficiency this winter. Yet another cost-saving measure.
Overall the work experience was excellent. The guys arrived on-time everyday, worked efficiently throughout, and cleaned up after themselves before leaving every evening. They did a meticulous job. Plus everything looks wonderful, well-finished and well laid-out. Apart from a few days of head-pounding drilling, it was a perfectly painless install.
And Now We’re In Business!!
We took our first pellet-powered showers a few days ago, and I’m happy to say it all went swimmingly.
We still have several little details we need to complete, including our first 7-tonne pellet delivery (we’re functioning on just a few bags at the moment) which should hopefully arrive sometime in the next few weeks. Plus we still need a new door for the boiler room (to replace the narrow one that had to be ditched), as well as some small, extra ventilation details. And of course we need to connect le Rolls Royce to the internet & our phone apps. The latter is something I’m geekily looking forward to.
But overall we are done, another project in the bag.
Now, if only we could get the septic guy to come (yes, we’re still waiting on our broken septic)….
The Only Other Big News This Week Is Masks….
The only other big news this week is that masks are going to become mandatory in all enclosed/interior places throughout France, starting tomorrow. And there will be a €135 ($154) fine for non-compliance.
To be honest, it’s a move I welcome. In our rural area it’s not really been an issue (so far) as cases are still extremely low. But with tourists and folks traveling for vacay the virus has started to a spike again in certain parts of France, especially popular spots such as Paris & the coastal towns. So masks are going to become a “must” in all interioir/enclosed areas throughout the country as of 20th July. IMO this will (or should) eventually be the norm everywhere.
Prepare yourselves my friends, because the 2nd wave is coming.
Oh and we had rather a large drama today, which involved sirens and other craziness right outside our front door. But that story my dear blog readers, will have to wait until next week. There’s only so much excitement I can convey in one post…..
So, my lovely commenters, tell me about your week!! Any new projects completed recently, or on the horizon? Or perhaps you’ve got some RV plans coming up (I always love to hear about travel)? DO share!
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