An Interview with Dan Davis: Exploring the Hot Topic of Advanced Wood Heating

Efficiency Excellence Network member Dan Davis, owner of Cutting Edge Energy Systems, shared a bit about himself and his pellet boiler company with us. Cutting Edge’s market includes Vermont and Northern New Hampshire.

What’s your background, and how did you start your company?

I went to school in Cabot, Vermont. I joined the Air Force in Colorado, got an engineering management degree, and went through pilot training. For four years I flew around the world in transports hauling cargo for Air Force supply troops. Then I worked at a sawmill. Meanwhile, my father and then my brother were both managers at Cabot Cheese. My brother hired me to oversee the new Cabot manufacturing plant warehouse when they built it, and when that was done I had to go.

Averill Cook was the first pellet manufacturer in New England. I worked for him for a year and got to understand pellets. I started Cutting Edge Energy Systems, using part of the name of a sawmill-related business I had founded earlier—the name worked for both.

We began selling and installing OkeFEN pellet boilers. That company was renamed Maine Energy Systems (MESys) seven years ago, but it’s the same manufacturer. I’ve now installed 200-plus boilers.

We sell the AutoPellet boiler central heating system, which replaces an oil or gas furnace, and the AutoPellet Air Boiler, which is a stand-alone system. Both use pellets that are delivered in bulk and fed automatically to the system.

What’s your job now?

Oh, as owner, I do it all. I sell and promote to skeptics. Part of the problem is when I say “pellet boiler,” people still think of a pellet stove with a 40-pound bag of pellets.

Does Cutting Edge sell bulk pellets?

My company does not sell pellets. We do sales, installation, and service.

Our boilers have a lot of efficiency features. They are cheaper to run than other boilers but more expensive to install, which can make them kind of a tough sell.

What kind of results can your customers get from replacing oil burners with your pellet boilers?

My own house is a converted barn. When [my wife and I] put in an oil burner, we got a 140,000 Btu/hour one. The pellet burner we now have is 68,000 Btu/hour instead. It’s been great.

Another outstanding example was in Northfield in an old brick building. We took out the oil furnace and put in two pellet boilers. I should say that Efficiency Vermont made additional improvements to the building at the same time, like replacing windows and weatherstripping.

The owner started seeing heating cost savings that first year!

Where do you see this technology going?

Lots of advancements are happening. The new pellet boiler now makes electricity while it’s making heat. Another new model, a condensing boiler, takes energy that would go up the chimney and brings it back to a heat exchanger. All of these developments are increasing the efficiency of the product.

How do customers find you?

Word of mouth works.

Also, Maine Energy Systems has a really good website. If a customer from this area finds it and calls MESys, MESys gives the customer our name, and ultimately we get work from that local customer.

It doesn’t always work. Sometimes a potential customer has a situation that isn’t suitable. That’s why I like to go to the site before giving a quote—I need to see the space, particularly the storage space for bulk pellet delivery.

Do you do more commercial or residential work? Do you have a preference?

We do both. A little more residential. I like commercial because I can contract out some of the mechanical work and I don’t have to travel so much. I can just sell.

How does being a member of Efficiency Vermont’s Efficiency Excellence Network help you?

Some good literature is coming out from the EEN promoting pellets as modern wood heating.

The incentives offered by Efficiency Vermont have certainly helped, and doing away with the sales tax has helped. Getting our boilers from Maine to Vermont, we used to have to pay a 6% sales tax. A [renewable energy group] lobbied to lift the sales tax for modern wood heat boilers as of July 1, 2018. That helps us put more of these units in.

How many employees are at your company currently?

Four full-time, two part-time.

What future do you envision for the business?

We are going to keep going. The trees are growing faster than we cut them down, the technology is getting better, and oil prices are going up. I think we’ll be growing.

Anything we haven’t discussed that you’d like to mention?

We could use a few more plumbers. Tech-savvy plumbers.

Making Vermont more energy efficient is a collaborative effort, and would not be possible without a strong network of independent contractors. In 2014, Efficiency Vermont created the Efficiency Excellence Network in order to better support and encourage Vermont contractors to provide energy-efficient solutions in the field. There are currently over 250 members in the Efficiency Excellence Network, including Cutting Edge Energy Systems of Newark, Vermont.

Interested in becoming a part of Efficiency Vermont’s Efficiency Excellence Network?

Learn more.