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Alternative heat sources after MA natural-gas explosions

Erin Holohan Haskell
Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,326
Following the natural-gas explosions in MA, thousands of households are currently without heat. As winter approaches, residents are considering alternative heat sources and these are some of the proposed solutions: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/02102018/natural-gas-pipeline-explosion-massachusetts-home-heat-pump-district-heating-electricity-solar

What do you think?



  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,439
    Well... considering the nature of many of the houses in the affected area, never mind the businesses, the idea of bringing them up to anything close to current standards for new construction heat loss (insulation and infiltration) boggles the imagination. At least it boggles mine.

    Then... retrofitting houses and businesses now heated by hot water or steam to heat pumps also strikes me as … interesting.

    Then there is the cheerful statement that everything should be electrified. If all the electricity were generated by solar or wind -- a big if -- it might make some sense (although there are problems with both of those), but at the moment most of the electricity in that comes from fossil fuel power, and the overall cycle efficiency of fossil fuel power is no better than a good modern oil or gas boiler, particularly in colder weather.

    Then there is the comment that oil is dirty. No. It does produce somewhat more CO2 than gas, per BTU, that's true -- but to characterize it as dirty is just wrong.

    Overall... nice idea, but I think they need to go back to their latte's and joints and let folks get on with getting their lives back in order.

    You asked, @Erin Holohan Haskell !
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
  • Erin Holohan Haskell
    Erin Holohan Haskell Member, Moderator, Administrator Posts: 2,326
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, @Jamie Hall. I'm glad I asked.

    It looks like they plan to restore gas service by November 19, but that's no small task.


  • hot_rod
    hot_rod Member Posts: 22,258
    I think electricity will continue to get more attention as an energy source, EV and hybrid vehicles are getting more an more popular, Ford expects to have 20 EV in their offering in the next few years.

    Heat pumps and air to water HP technology looks attractive for heat, cooling and DHW production, efficiencies continue to rise.

    Mini splits are very efficient, user friendly and allow spot heating and cooling.

    I suspect lighting will continue to be powered by electricity :)

    Micro grids and battery storage are looking promising, Tesla battery systems are now being offered by local solar companies in my area. PV is applicable most anywhere where you have a 6 hour view of the sun. Installed on your own building or part of a neighborhood solar garden.

    If we have a glut of NG, it seems that is a good bridge to renewable and whatever future technologies may come down the pike.

    Yet the race is on to export our NG to higher bidders in India, Korea, China, etc.
    Maybe more should be kept for the people that it is being sucked out from under here in the US, to keep our energy costs reasonable? Natural gas is storable and makes for a good heating and electrical energy generation fuel.
    Bob "hot rod" Rohr
    trainer for Caleffi NA
    Living the hydronic dream
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,894
    That guy is a heat-pump pusher, plain and simple. Enough said.
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
  • Ironman
    Ironman Member Posts: 7,379
    "Heating a house with electric heat pumps requires roughly one-third the amount of energy as natural gas or other heat sources."

    We've got a really well informed reporter right here!

    And then there's the question of upgrading eclectic service, power distribution, etc. should a large number of people fall for this foolishness.
    Bob Boan
    You can choose to do what you want, but you cannot choose the consequences.
    delta T
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,622
    It gets chilly up here by November 19. I am concerned about all the space heater they are handing out (starting fires etc) but an electric space heater install they are making an electrician and the building dept sign off on each one so maybe that will be ok.

    They handed out hot plates to cook on and someone started a fire with one of those the first day

    they need to get rid of the 1880s cast iron and wooden pipe
  • Leonard
    Leonard Member Posts: 903
    edited October 2018
    Lawrence is an OLD mill town , lot of OLD houses there. Typically means poor people, no money to spend .

    Think practical solution will be to install temporary 300 pound propane tanks, and convert burner orfices and regs. Going to NEED heat with these 40 deg and freezing temps nights. Electric resistance heat draws too many amps for many OLD houses with 60 and 100 amp service. And OLD questionable wiring.... knob and tube.....

    Usually a fire here every other year when it's very cold in winter (minus 5 degs), People supplement heat with electric space heater, OLD building's wiring can't take it

    Know of some people in NH that used a kerosene heater all winter to warm apts when nat gas heater failed.

    Funny thing is there was many oil to nat gas convertions in Mass before the fires . Seen many free oil tanks on craigs list last couple years, some pretty new.
  • Leonard
    Leonard Member Posts: 903
    edited October 2018
    Do they still use cryogenic nat gas tanks?

    I remember after Arab oil embargo of ~ 1972 Chevy had test fleet of cars on the road powered by those. I remember afterwards Chevy pulled all the tanks out , saw pile of them in Chevy dealer's scrap metal pile.

    Guessing compressed nat gas tank likely won't hold enough fuel for home heating. Looks like nat gas doesn't liquefy till ~ 259 degs below. So a tall ~ 2000 psi "welding" tank would only hold ~ 300 cubic feet ( ~ 300k BTU) . Only enough to~ run a 100k furnace for ~3 hours.
  • leonz
    leonz Member Posts: 1,159
    edited October 2018
    Hello Erin,

    Pellet stoves and rice coal stoker stoves or furnaces could be implemented quickly to heat these homes.
    Cabinet coal stoves can be used to cook with its flat cook plate and also heat the home.
    The problem with wood pellet stoves is simply that they use a lot of wood pellets and the poorly insulated home would be very very expensive to heat.
    A poorly insulated home would see two plus tons of wood pellets used for every ton of seasoned cord wood.

    Heat pumps are fine but when it gets near or below zero they do not work well-my brother found that out in the heavily insulated apartments he owns.

    Please do not yell;

    A coal stoker stove or furnace would provide plenty of heat and yes they will produce coal ashes that have to be removed and the stoves have to be cleaned every season or more often if the weather is very cold for long periods.

    Coal stoker stoves boilers and furnaces do not produce soot or creosote like wood stoves or pellet stoves.
    I have no idea how difficult it would be or what resistance a block of homes would encounter in doing the following;
    another option would be to create a regional heating plant using an anthracite coal stoker boiler to make hot water for heating.
    Anthracite coal produces no smoke when burned and provides a high BTU per pound of rice coal.

    The heating plant could be installed in an area that had homes totally destroyed by the explosions if the resident no longer wishes to rebuild in that spot and the area where the boiler would be located would have bulk coal storage and a separate coal ash storage using roll off containers.

    The vertical tube coal stoker hot water boilers made by All Canadian Heaters would be a possible option. They build five models of coal stoker boilers that burn anthracite coal to make hot water heat with the largest unit providing 2,300,000 BTU to make hot water for heating with a rated 80,000 square feet in heating area.
    They use a cast iron coal stoker to burn the anthracite coal using an underfed design and a forced draft combustion method with a vertical tube heat exchanger with spiral diffusers and an afterburner to increase the coal stoker boilers efficiency by 30%.

    The hot water tapping for the 2,300,000 BTU model is 4 inches in diameter and it is rated to heat 80,000 square feet. It could be plumbed to deliver hot water to four sets of paired 1" delivery lines that would provide 160-180 degree water to each residence through the pexallpex closed cell foam tubing with the cold water return coming into the heating plant in a common in a four tapping cool water return connection.

    The All Canadian Heater has certification by the CSA and Underwriters laboratories SO there would be no major hurdle in that regard to get approval to create a district heating system.

    In Europe they use small district/regional heating plants to provide hot water heat from what I remember of it.

    It would be worth examining and giving it a very close look as the use of a regional heating plant scenario would be quickly employed as the system would have a small foot print and a slab on grade construction with short metal chimneys that are installed directly through the building roof.

    The system would require an expansion tank hung in the ceiling above the coal stoker with single steel compression tank using a manifold installation if a single steel compression tanks with an airtrol valve is used(this style of compression tank is recommended by them).

    The issues would be resistance from the home owners, the gas utility, the electric utility for easements and the municipalities that would be involved but it could be installed quickly in a shallow buried trench to each home that is still in livable condition.

    A hot water heat exchanger would be used in each home with its existing heating system if it is still usable by installing a heat exchanger in existing duct work with hot and cold PEX pipe.

    The common cold water return would be sent back to the heating plant using the same tubing in a loop and none of the cold water in the tubing would not interfere with the hot water delivery system providing hot water delivery and cold water return but the systems could be deployed using the $15.00 per foot insulated oxygen barrier pex at summer water temperatures of 160 degrees using the 1 1/4" paired pex pipe in the closed cell foam heavy wall pex all pex tubing that has a very very low heat loss.

    The Great Northern Railway used simple hand fired one pipe steam systems using Sub Bituminous Coal from Wyoming, Iowa and Sub Anthracite coal from Australia to fuel the locomotives and heat the railroad towns it operated in the states of Washington, Idaho, north Dakota and Minnesota.

    Please don't yell, these folks need heat and hot water.

  • Leonard
    Leonard Member Posts: 903
    edited October 2018
    I think a quicker solution would be to install a reversible window AC. They have them in Florida for heating and cooling.

    Actually the cheaper solution might be to install a regular window AC backwards in the window, just have to glue or tar on a plastic cover over the whole AC to keep the electrical switches dry when rains.

    And drip bucket for condensate, or tip the AC so much it spills out the cold side

    Gives a dirt cheap heat pump, that they likely own already.