Saturday, October 1, 2011

Winter Heating

Fall may finally be here, and it's welcome.  The air is crisp outside, and the windows are open to embrace it.  Fall has always been my favorite season, a nice reprise from the tortuous heat and humidity of the summer.  Our house was built in the 1940s, and it has a lovely fireplace, which was converted to gas-burning by a previous owner.  We've always hated that the fireplace is gas-burning, and we have not turned it on more than once or twice in the nine years we've lived here.  About five years ago, we had someone come out and inspect the fireplace and chimney to possibly convert it back to wood-burning.  He told us the entire firebox had to be rebuilt, and the amount he quoted was out of our price range at the time.  So, we let it go for the time being.  We've also considered a wood-burning insert for several years, but we've never taken the time to research them until this year.  We have a good amount of wood saved and aged from the trees we felled this spring, and I would love to make even better use of money already spent.  Plus, our house is so small, we could heat the whole thing with a wood-burning stove.

Once we started researching inserts, we decided to have the fireplace and chimney inspected again.  I asked the inspector to inspect with the idea that we would just use the fireplace as is without an insert, so if we didn't get an insert this year, we could at least burn some fires.  He told us other than a few places in the firebox that needed to be retouched with fireplace mortar and a few places at the top of the chimney that needed some attention, everything was in good shape.  Our chimney has a terracotta liner from top to bottom and he said it's also clean and in good shape.  We think the first inspector was just trying to con us.            

I'm still researching, but I have found an insert I like and it's EPA-certified and it qualifies for a tax credit.  Did you know it's hard to find a wood-burning insert that qualifies for the tax credit?  It has to have at least a 75% efficiency rating, and most of the wood-burning inserts that are sized for our home have around a 63% rating.  Most of the pellet-burning stoves I have seen qualify, but not the wood-burning stoves.  I have considered a pellet-burning stove, but I think the availability of pellets is limited around here since we really don't have extremely cold winters. 

What are your thoughts on wood-burning vs. pellet-burning stoves? 

Happy Fall,



  1. Sounds like what we went through with our old house, except no gas insert. Our chimney had to be rebuilt though, as the mortar was so deteriorated Dan could easily poke his fiber through it.

    We went with a Woodstock Soapstone woodstove. Pricey, but it qualifies for the tax credit because of it's catalytic combustor. Once the fire gets going and with good hardwoods, you can't even see smoke coming out of the chimney, just heat rising.

    I know pellet stoves are all the rage but we would not get one. For one thing, you still have to buy your fuel. So all your firewood won't help you. Plus in researching the pellet making process, we discovered it is very energy intensive, not to mention carbon miles to transport. We thought that more than nullified their wood burning efficiency.

    It's not a decision to take lightly. Good for you for doing your homework!

  2. Leigh: Thanks for the great advice! You are a wealth of knowledge and you've saved me some research time on pellet stoves. I didn't really think they were a good option for us, but you have help to clarify it.

  3. We purchased a wood burning stove insert last year and it has been the most wonderful investment. It is the Hearthstone Clydesdale - 85% efficient and qualified for the tax credit. That brand makes a smaller one called the Hearthstone Morgan. It was pricey, but we are thrilled with it!
    We have a 2100 square foot home with a hybrid electric-oil heating system. The system uses electricity first, then switches to oil consumption at temps below 35 degrees - which is quite often. Since we have cold winters here in PA, our oil bills were through the roof - and we were constantly freezing. We kept the thermostat on 62 degrees and froze while still paying through the nose for oil (about 900$ a year for just oil). Well, with the wood-burning stove, we were able to use almost no oil! It was laborious, (we had to constantly tend the fire), but we saved so much $$$. This fireplace will pay for itself in just a few years.
    As far as the wood pellet stoves, I agree with the last person who commented. You are then unable to use your own free wood and are dependent upon buying the pellets.

  4. Thanks for commenting, Carrie! I haven't heard from you in ages. That's a huge savings in one year! I, too, feel like we freeze during the winter because we keep our thermostat so low, but I'm hoping a wood stove will help that situation. Of course, as you know, our winters are not nearly as cold as yours and our house is almost half the size, so we shouldn't have a problem keeping the chill away.