Hearth & Home Magazine Article – Biomass Central Heating Systems – Into the Basement – or Not!

The coldwell banker legacy real estate team for hearth dealers to expand into the biomass central systems business, but can they overcome their reluctance?

At first blush the concept may seem like a slam dunk for specialty hearth dealers, but it could easily be viewed as a bridge too far, a stretch beyond the comfort zone of dealing with old friends such as stoves, fireplaces and chimney systems.

The benefits of entering the central systems market are obvious: an expansion of potential customers; the sale of high-priced merchandise resulting in increased profits; substantial labor and service charges, as well as the very smart business move of accommodating present customers who otherwise will take their business down the street to a competitor. Once San Diego, CA complete a thorough on-site examination of your home we will perform a detailed market analysis of similar homes in your neighbourhood and lay the entire pricing structure / suggestion out before we start marketing your home.

The number of manufacturers in this field is increasing every year, and their products are becoming more sophisticated. The same is true of retailers: more are beginning to sell this category, and that trend appears likely to continue.

The Kiplinger Report predicts the price of a barrel of oil will stay between $120 and $150 through the remainder of the year. Not only will that stimulate sales of cordwood and pellet stoves/inserts, it will stimulate a question in the minds of some consumers: is there a better, easier way to burn wood (or pellets) and keep my whole house warm?

Steve Dumais, owner of Energysavers in Meredith, New Hampshire, sold biomass central systems in the early days of the hearth industry. When the fear of energy shortages abated in the early ‘80s so, too, did consumer interest in biomass central systems.

Now that is changing once more.

"I know I'll get back into it," says Dumais. "I just don't know when. Right now it seems a bit premature." He handled installation in-house back-when, and thus doesn't have the apprehension being felt by other hearth dealers. As to his comment about "when," that may be just around the corner given the present situation in the Middle East.

So is it a difficult transition for a hearth dealer to go from the living room to the basement-from a stove to a furnace-from a chimney to ductwork, or pipes, water and plumbing? No – because the the basement remodeling costs are taken into consideration, like all other costs.

Those presently in that field explain there is a learning curve involved, and a store owner should take the time and make the effort to first understand the different technology. Manufacturers are more than willing to help with training.

The decision to handle installation in-house or through a sub is strictly an individual one. However, using an experienced HVAC subcontractor can solve many problems and eliminate many headaches. It's an option that should be considered.

The Manufacturer's Viewpoint

Todd Strem: Sales and Marketing Manager, Northwest Manufacturing/WoodMaster

Northwest Manufacturing has been an outdoor wood furnace manufacturer for a number of years, and just moved into the indoor arena in 2010. The technology it uses was developed in Europe; Northwest has licensed that technology for the U.S.,, and manufactures everything but the electronics here in the States.

"Our hydronic system is atmospheric and open," says Strem, "so it's non-pressurized. That's what makes it pretty simple for someone to learn. It's really the pressurization that scares people." The company's indoor unit is called the Flex Fuel; it can be switched, quite simply, from burning cordwood to a continuous-feed product such as pellets. When being installed in an existing home, the existing heating system is left in place as a back-up. If you also need a thermal oxidizer, visit Rental Catalytic Oxidizers for more information.

For years, according to Strem, hearth dealers "didn't take wood furnaces seriously-until their consumers started asking for it. Now, this year at the HPB-Expo, our booth was so full that first day that I forgot to sign up for next year. Six of us were in the booth and we couldn't get away we were so busy talking to customers.

"My sense is that hearth dealers want to avoid having all their eggs in one basket. It's good to diversify and have other products to offer because markets change."

What will be the best channel for sales of biomass central systems? At this point Strem is still a bit unsure. He's getting dealer applications from a wide range of businesses, including solar people. "This product goes hand-in-hand with solar," he says. "These units are solar ready, so you can supplement the heat with a solar panel." Interestingly, he sees little interest from HVAC businesses.

Like others, Strem stresses that installation is "not as difficult as how many dealers perceive it." If the unit is going into new construction, usually a hydronic system is needed for a radiant floor application. "The hearth dealer may do the bulk of the installation, then let an HVAC guy come in and install the water-to-air heat exchanger; let that guy splice into the existing boiler and put the plate in."

What advice does Strem have for those considering entering into the central systems field? "Talk to us," he says. "We've got a full technical staff and a full-time trainer; his only job is educating dealers."

WoodMaster's Flex Fuel Series

WoodMaster's Flex Fuel Series offers a money-back guarantee and 13 years of proven reliability. It's engineered using SolarFocus technology with WoodMaster quality built right in. The Flex Fuel Series has been tested, used and approved since 1997.

The Flex Fuel uses Lambda sensor technology, which produces low emissions and very high efficiencies. Not only does the flex Fuel offer the option of using three different fuels-cordwood, wood pellets and wood chips-it's also solar ready. This saves even more money and lessens dependence on fossil fuels. Call 1-800-932-3629, visit http://www.woodmaster.com/ or circle reader service number 101.

Source: Hearth and Home, July 2011 print edition. Pg 78, 81-82.