There’s nothing more homey and cozy than curling up in front of a crackling wood fireplace or enjoying the comfortable heat of a wood furnace. But what about the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of wood heat? Is it a viable alternative energy source? Here’s a quick look at some things to think about if you’re considering a wood stove or fireplace.
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Heating with Wood: Your Options
- Wood Stoves – A wood stove, or a wood furnace, is stoked with firewood and radiates heat to a particular room or, if set up as central heating system, to the entire house. Smoke and gases are released up stove’s flue. Wood stoves are the most popular wood heat source. Unlike their smoky predecessors, modern wood furnaces are very efficient, emitting only a fraction of the smoke they once did.
- Fireplaces – A fireplace is a structure in your home in which you can build a fire. One problem with a fireplace is energy efficiency. A fireplace tends to draw warm air from the house into the fireplace and up the chimney to the frigid outdoors. Fireplace inserts solve this problem. Fireplace inserts are fireproof boxes that can be installed in your fireplace. Their steel or cast iron frame is fronted by self-cleaning, insulated glass doors. This helps the fire to burn more efficiently. Some inserts also vent heat back into the room.
- Pellet Stoves – Pellet stoves are similar to wood stoves, but rather than burning firewood, they burn pellets – small, compressed masses of wood scraps, cardboard and/or corn waste.
The Advantages of Wood Heat as an Alternative Energy Source
The Price is Right! The cost of heating your home with wood is usually significantly less than other heat types, such as oil or electric. Pellets may be more expensive than firewood, but are generally also one of the cheapest sources of heat.
It’s Renewable. Firewood is a renewable source of alternative energy.
It’s Nostalgic. Who doesn’t love a warm, crackling fire on a cold winter night? Heating with wood brings us back to a simpler time.
It’s Local. Not only is wood renewable, it’s also a local source of alternative energy…depending on where you live, of course. Buying local means supporting a local company and further reducing energy consumption by having your firewood delivered only a short distance.
The Disadvantages of Wood Heat as an Alternative Energy Source
It Takes Work. Wood heat doesn’t turn on with the twirl of a dial. You have to haul the wood, stack it and stoke the fire to keep it going. And you have to be there to do it. You can’t leave the heat on low for a few nights when you go away. You really have to enjoy doing it…somewhat, at least.
Air Pollution. There is some concern that fireplaces are a source of pollution both inside and outside the home. However, pollution can be greatly reduced with a properly burning fire. If you’re serious about heating with a wood furnace or fireplace, you’ll want to make sure you’re educated on the proper way to build and maintain a low-smoke fire.
Fire Hazard. Not too many other sources of heat carry the same risk of burning your house down that wood heat does. But once again, the risk of fire can be significantly reduced with proper precautions and regular maintenance and cleaning (to ensure uninhibited air flow).
Potential Inefficiency. As mentioned previously, older fireplaces tend to lose a lot of heat. This problem can be easily fixed with a fireplace insert.
Doesn’t Heat Larger Homes Well. You will probably find a single wood stove or fireplace to be an insufficient source of heat if you have a larger home. You’ll have the same problem if you have high ceilings. Wood heat is best reserved for homes that are smaller than 2000 square feet.