Wood Heat: Is It Right for You?

Thinking of using wood heat in your home? Here are a few options and factors to consider.

| October/November 2009

wood heat - burning log

If you want to be less dependent on fossil fuels, wood heat may be a good option for your home.


Wood heat has many advantages. Wood is a renewable fuel, it's widely available in many parts of North America, and in some situations heating with wood can save you money. Wood heat isn't for everyone, but with a little research and planning, you may discover it's a great option for you. And any research you do upfront will be time well spent, because it can help you avoid costly mistakes. Here's a quick guide to what you need to consider before investing in wood heat.

Calculating Savings

In many cases, using wood heat will save you money, but this is not true for everyone. In general, if you live in a rural area or small town where you have access to fuel wood and can do some of the processing yourself, you can save some money—especially if you already have a truck or trailer and are handy with a chain saw and splitting maul. But if you have to buy split firewood and have it delivered to your suburban home, you probably won't save much.

To get a rough idea of the costs of wood heat compared with the costs of fossil fuels, you can try various online cost comparison calculators. However, no calculator can give you a completely accurate number for how much you could save. Most can't figure in supplementary wood heating, in which only a portion of the conventional fuel cost is displaced, nor can they take into account the time you devote to all the tasks involved in utilizing wood heat.

Consider what would happen if you paid yourself minimum wage for all the cutting, splitting, stacking, fire stoking, and ash removal. In most cases, the savings would quickly evaporate. So even if your main motivation is to save money, also think about whether the other benefits appeal to you—the ones that seem to sustain the most successful users of wood energy. If you enjoy physical work and a regular routine, and if you would like to be more self-reliant and less dependent on fossil fuels, then heating with wood may be right for you.

Heating System Choices

There are several different wood-heat technologies to choose from. The least expensive and most efficient is a woodstove located in the main living area of your home. Clean-burning stoves certified by the U.S. Environmental

Protection Agency (EPA) average about 70 percent fuel efficiency, and you save energy by putting your wood heater in the main living area because the warmth is concentrated where you spend most of your time. (The EPA maintains a long list of certified woodstoves and other wood heating appliances)

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