Best friend in home heating choices: common sense

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 29, 2010, at 9:58 p.m.

The other day my wife received a nice color brochure from a company that makes a heating device that is sold on TV infomercials. It is being sold by a famous TV home improvement guy — not me.

This device has been around for about five or six years and aggravates most people who know something about heating and thermodynamics.

The centerfold of the brochure has an in-depth discussion of how such a wonderful device was discovered. It seems that a guy who lived in a farmhouse had a piece of specially cured copper — not regular copper, but specially cured copper — standing near his coal furnace.

You might find this hard to believe, but it got hot. And it stayed hot for a while.

The inventor experimented with the cured copper until he invented this new kind of heater.

Since he had a large family, he took great efforts to invent a heater that would not cause a fire, radiation or burn, and would not create carbon monoxide.

It is so safe and benign because it uses a light inside a copper pipe — specially cured, I am told — to heat the pipe. It then blows air over the pipe and heats the room.

This is basically an electric heater. It heats air by electricity. The specially cured copper is a lot of silly sales hyperbole.

But, dear reader, you say that “real” people are saving half their heating bills by using this device.

And you are correct. They do save perhaps half their heating bills — by turning down their thermostats for the central heating system and using this wonderful device to heat the room where they hole up for the winter.

Couldn’t you do this with, say, a conventional electric heater or perhaps a fancy electric heater, say with a remote control, or maybe an electric fireplace made by the Amish? Oops, another infomercial. Sorry.

Well, yes, and you got that answer from someone who is nowhere near as well known as the guy selling these things.

If you want to spend $300 to $400 on an electric heater, God bless you. Just remember that the most expensive electric heater I could find locally was $79 and it can do the same thing.

Of course, you can use a wood stove or pellet stove, turn down the thermostat and save even more money. But then you have no specially cured copper tubing.

OK, so I still have room to write more about heating.

I have been struggling most of the winter with some wood pellets that are laden with ash. I do not understand why, but someone made a fairly ashy batch of wood pellets and I bought a ton of them.

While trying to use these pellets up and vacuuming my shop pellet stove out the other day, I had a lot of time to reflect and research pellet quality and resources.

And I have a few conclusions:

First, before I buy another full ton of pellets, I will try a half dozen bags to see how they burn. Feedback from other people who use pellets helps with this plan, since batches can vary, apparently.

Second, the cheapest pellets are not necessarily the best. I suspect they cost a dealer about the same, but given some of the antics I have gone through with bad pellets, a little more cost per ton is not a big deal, given better performance and less maintenance.

Third, check with local pellet stove dealers to see what works best in their stoves. They do this every day and usually have years of experience.

Lastly, I hate to say this, but it seems there is a learning curve with pellet production. If you are going to try pellets from a new enterprise, ask them about a return policy if you get stuck with a ton of crummy pellets. I believe, though, it is a lot simpler to make sure you do a small test with a couple of bags than to have to return 2,000 pounds of pellets. That almost makes specially cured copper heaters look good.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/29/living/best-friend-in-home-heating-choices-common-sense/ printed on December 20, 2014