Rick Greene: Keeping the Home Fires Burning

Rick Greene enlarge

Rick Greene

Rick Greene, a technical associate at the National Synchrotron Light Source, literally keeps the home fires burning because he heats his entire 2,500 square foot, 100-year-old home with wood.

In the early 1980s, Greene became fed up with the price of oil when it rose from 34 to 80 cents per gallon and he started heating his home with a wood stove. When he moved, the stove went with him to heat his new home. In 2003, Greene decided he wanted to heat the whole house evenly and also use wood as fuel for domestic hot water. So for $11,000, he purchased a multi-fuel boiler, which burns wood at very high temperatures and switches to oil as a backup fuel for heat and hot water either on command or automatically if the homeowner forgets to replenish the wood supply.

“People were skeptical about any savings I could accrue because of the high price of the boiler,” Greene said. “But I broke even in 2009, and now I’m actually making money by using wood for fuel.”

That’s possible for Greene because he is a part-time tree surgeon. He explained, “My father had me cutting down trees from an early age. I used to cut trees for free just for the wood, and I also sold firewood to make some spending money. In 1989, I decided that I should start a business and get paid for cutting trees. Then I would always have a supply of free wood.”

Made in Denmark, Greene’s boiler is 85 percent efficient when burning wood, and 86.9 percent efficient when burning oil – more efficient than the typical home oil burner. Greene only uses oil heat when he goes on vacation or in summer for hot water. In fact, Greene uses his fuel savings for a vacation fund for himself and his 16-year-old son Ricky, who lives with him.

The boiler uses a gasification system that burns wood at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This high temperature provides a “clean burn,” making wood an environmentally friendly fuel, compared to oil. “The emissions per hour at operating temperature are equivalent to the smoke from burning one cigarette,” Greene said. Also, unlike oil, wood is a renewable resource.

Greene keeps his house temperature at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. He prefers oak and maple woods for burning, and on a typical winter day, he will fill his boiler with wood once a day. When it is extremely cold – below 20 degrees Fahrenheit – he has to refill it two or three times per day. During the spring and fall, the refill is made every three days, and in the summer, Greene gets a break, with refills required only every eight to 10 days for hot water.

But that’s not all the work that’s required. Every time two cords of wood have been burned, Greene takes about 20 minutes to clean the boiler to keep it running efficiently. He never has to clean his chimney because the high-temperature wood burning produces no creosote.

“Feeding the boiler and cleaning up is a lot of work, but I enjoy it,” Greene said. “And I feel good that I am oil-independent, and I’m doing my part environmentally by helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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2009-1548  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom