Heat your home with wood: 4 options
Looking for an alternative to natural gas or oil? Many Americans are giving wood stoves another look.
Many Americans are looking for a cheaper alternative to natural gas or oil for heating their homes. And they're increasingly finding it with wood.
Shipments of wood stoves and wood-stove inserts, which fit into fireplaces, increased 54% in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period last year, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, a trade group. Shipments of pellet stoves, which use pellets of compressed sawdust, cardboard or other materials such as corn waste, have increased 137%.
It's worth noting that despite recent design improvements, burning wood causes significantly more pollution than burning natural gas or oil and could cause health issues in more populated areas. Even pellet stoves burn cleaner than wood stoves. (See the differences, here.) But wood is a renewable resource that, used in the right conditions, could save you money.
Several wood-burning options are available. Before the mercury plummets, we walk you through four of them — and some of the issues you should consider.
1. The wood stove
What it is: Though they come in all shapes and sizes, a wood stove at heart is a box stoked with firewood that radiates heat, with the gases and smoke carried up a flue. "A wood stove is by far the most popular category (of wood-burning heaters) — and that's because it's the least expensive and most flexible," says John Gulland,a wood-heating expert and consultant in Ontario and author of the nonprofit Web site, Wood Heat Organization.
This isn’t your grandfather's wood stove, however. About 20 years ago the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made wood stoves clean up their belching; once stoves might have emitted 25 or 40 or even 100 grams of smoke per hour. "Now the average wood stove is down around 3 grams an hour," says Gulland. Compared with the old stoves, "EPA-certified stoves will deliver about 90% less smoke and about 30% more efficiency."
Advantages: The cost savings of heating a home with wood, versus oil, can be enormous. Gulland estimates that heating his home in cold Ontario with oil would cost $4,000; with a wood stove, it costs him several hours chopping wood for several cords of wood. (On the market, the price of a cord of wood – a stack 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet — has risen with recent demand, however, and now can range from $150 to $250 nationwide.)
One wood-heat convert is Bill Hurlburt, a software engineer in eastern North Dakota who works from his 1,200-square-foot home. Last year, Hurlburt decided to get a wood stove. He spent about $1,650 in all — $600 for a basic, medium-sized Drolet Austral stove, $650 for chimney segments and kits, and $400 for a carpenter to install it.
For fuel, he can cut nearly three cords of firewood with a $30 permit from the local national forest, and he bought another later in the winter. In contrast, it costs anywhere from $2,100 to $3,000 to heat his home with oil (assuming a cost range of $3 to $4.25 per gallon). In other words, the stove has more than paid for itself. "It's such a ridiculously good deal," Hurlburt says.
But how does it heat? The living room, where the stove sits, is about 76 degrees; the dining room is 72 degrees. Hurlburt says that in his office, which is “really away from the wood stove,” he sometimes uses a space heater — when it gets to be 30 degrees below zero or colder outside.
What's more, Hurlburt loves it. Even his wife, once a skeptic, has become a believer. "It's hard to convey how this thing kind of takes over the central focus of the house," he says happily. With the licking flames, "the whole ambience of the house changes. Even our family dog is sort of just drawn to the wood stove."
Disadvantages: Wood-burning stoves have their heating limits. "You can't heat a big house very effectively with a single wood stove," says consultant Gulland, "and anybody who's ever tried to operate two wood stoves at the same time" knows that it will drive you crazy, he says. Wood stoves also don't work well in homes with vaulted ceilings. The heat rises and stays there.
"Here's the formula: If you've got a house that is, say, 2,000 square feet or less, and you located a wood stove in the room where the family spends most of its time — the living room/dining room/kitchen area — you can do something like 90% of your total heating requirements with wood," Gulland says. Other rooms will be cooler, of course.
Other disadvantages: "You've got to be there for it to work," Gulland notes.
"The problem with the wood stove is that it's not automatic," adds Dirk Thomas, a chimney sweep and author of "The Woodburner’s Companion."
"It's so much more work that I think it's important to enjoy it,” he said, referring to the tasks of feeding the fire and getting the right air mixture into the flames. “If it's just heat for you, and nothing else, you're not going to stick with it.
"And, generalizing, you're also more likely to make mistakes with it," Thomas adds.
There are more disadvantages to wood burning stoves that the article overlooked.
We burned wood for over 15 years & it provided great heat & it was very inexpensive. We went through about 6 cords a winter & at that time a cord cost less than $90, seasoned, split & delivered. One cord came from our own rural property. It was a family affair cutting, splitting & stacking the wood in the fall. Our Mama Bear Fisher stove heated the entire 1500 sq. ft. house except the back bedrooms.
But the kids moved on, & as we approached retirement age, the disadvantages started to outweigh the advantages.
1. Cutting, splitting, stacking & covering six chords of wood can be physically strenuous. One cord was stacked under the deck near the family room door for easy & quick access during frigid & snowy weather. But every once in awhile, you had to go out & replenish this under deck supply from wood now partially buried under the snow.
2. Once a week you had to let the fire down die so you could shovel the ashes & hot embers out of the bottom of the stove into a huge metal bucket & take it outside. Made for a lot of dust.
3. Chimney fires were a major concern so once a week, with the fire down (for # 2 above), I examined the chimney interior with a mirror through the outside cleanout door for creosote buildup. If there was a significant build up I would clean the chimney. & yes, we used all those supposed creosote cleaner things you add to the fire. They help, but don't stake your life on them.
4. We never let more than 4 or 5 weeks pass without running the brush down the chimney. This means getting the brush, poles, rope, face mask, drop block & yourself up on the roof. If the roof is covered with snow & ice, then I used the 35’ ladder. Our chimney is 30 feet high.
5. After running the brush up & down, you end up with a big load of black crystals & powder at the bottom of the cleanout. Shovel it all into that big bucket & dump them someplace.
6. Our wood stove required "stoking" twice daily - once in the morning, once at night. That is, load it up with wood, sit there with the air vents open & watch the temp gauge reach the desired level. Walking away is not an option because that stove & chimney pipe can turn cherry red quickly if left with open vents. This stoking process would take at least 30 minutes, longer if the fire was real low or the wood was green. No big deal you say. Well this is a twice daily must do chore & when you need to get up early or have a morning appointment you may not have the time to spare.
7. You need back up heat if no one will be home in frigid weather for more than 18 hours or so.
8. Your chimney will not last forever, ours didn’t. The terra cotta lining started to break off.
Rather than spend big repair $$, we sold the stove, had 2 propane 25,000 BTU heaters installed, one where the stove was, one upstairs in the dining/living room area. They heat the whole house, all automatic, no electrical power needed. No more stove/chimney cleaning, roof climbing, wood stacking or twice daily stoking. Just turn the dial.
A couple questions from those of us who may not be able to afford geothermal at this time, or understand "different types" of wood as renewable resources.
1. What does the phrase "coll is core" mean?
2. What is "renewble" ?
3. What would your 61 refer to? for instance ( see the word "to") .. It has multiple contexts, meanings, and spellings. For instance "Two" would be defined as "more than one". The word "Too" could be most commonly defined as "more than enough".
But I digress. Getting back to 61.
1. Date of birth ?
3. Drive a '61 mpg. hybrid perhaps
4. I.Q. ?
Someone's Valentine huh? Well....stranger things have happened. GROSS!!
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I have a 2900 square foot house and I leave the heat at 60 with the thermostats. When I get the wood stove up to 500-600 degrees F, the temp gets to about 75 on the first floor and 72 on the 2nd floor. I close two of the four bedroom doors upstairs since we don't use them, but it can definitely heat an entire house, and a big one at that. Once you get a good ember base, you can close the vents and slow the burn of the fire down to use less wood, it's awesome. The first year in my house, I spent about $3,000 in oil during the winter, now I spend half that, and around $200-$250 for one chord of wood. It's a great money saver.
It does dry out the air in the house though. I recommend buying a couple of humidifiers for the bedrooms and leaving a large pot of water somewhere in the room with the stove to add some moisture to the air.