More and more consumers than ever are burning firewood to heat their homes this winter. While the costs of heating oil and gas have gone down, the popularity of stoking a wood fire seems to be at an all time high.
Leslie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, said shipments of wood stoves and fireplace inserts were up 54% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Like a lot of things in life, the idea of a fireplace can be warmer than the reality, but hey, we’re all suckers for crackling logs when the whole family is huddled under blankets during the holidays watching the umpteenth airing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
However, just know that we’re not talking about a particularly efficient heat source. Usually, a traditional fireplace lets as much warm air escape from a home as it delivers into it. Using firewood to heat your home is only slightly more efficient than the average campfire.
We’re also not talking about a low-maintenance relationship. With any fireplace or wood-burning stove, you will get a buildup of creosote that results from combustion deposits combining with steam. This will gunk up the inside of your chimney at a pretty rapid rate, necessitating a good chimney sweeping for every cord of wood you burn (that would be a stack of wood that’s 4 feet tall, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet wide). Regular sweeping is important too, as that same gunk can lead to a chimney fire with devastating results.
Woodstoves are another popular option. Determining its true efficiency depends a lot on what you’ll pay for the stove along with what you pay for wood, or how much you value the back-breaking labor it takes to play lumberjack on your own.
Regardless, if you love the stove experience, there are a few things you can do to make sure it is as efficient as possible:
- Burn Dry – Burning green (wet) wood wastes energy and contributes to the creosote build up quickly. Purchase dry wood and store it that way until use.
- Pay for Efficiency – Always invest in the most efficient wood stove you can find. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Certification as well as a UL Certification as your best indication that the stove operates safely and efficiently.
- Size Matters – Wood stoves can be sized for the space they need to heat. Buying one that is too small or too big is a waste of money and energy.
- Burn the Best – If you are bent of using firewood for heat, remember that generally the harder, heavier and denser the wood, the more heat you’ll get out of it. Be selective when purchasing firewood and always burn the best.
Finally, pellet stoves are another option to consider if you love having your heating appliance side by side with your home’s furniture. Pellet
stoves burn a mixture of ground waste wood or other renewable fuel. They are very efficient but need electricity to be able to continuously feed the pellets through.
Most importantly, if you want to have a wood stove or pellet stove installed, be sure it is done safely and in accordance with the stove manufacturers’ recommendation. Installing stoves is a precise business. Put one too close to a combustible wall or run a vent pipe too near a wood ceiling beam and disaster can strike quickly.
More ways to warm your home
For more ways to stay warm, you can score a free download of, “How to Avoid Freezing, Sneezing, Frying and Fizzling…and Freaking Out over Utility Costs“, Chapter 8 from my new book My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.
The book is also available online at Amazon.com and reads well on chilly nights when sitting in front of a roaring fire, assuming you are still bent on burning firewood to heat your home.