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Wood-Fired Boiler, Oil-Fired Boiler, or Electric Heat – Which Is Best?

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  • Transcript

    LESLIE: Nathan in Alaska is on the line and needs some help heating up a chilly home.

    NATHAN: I’m looking at – actually, I put an offer on the home. It has in-floor heating and the only utility bills that the home has is electric, so there’s no electric boiler for the in-floor heater. The house also has a wood stove, so I was curious if using the wood stove to heat the in-floor heating would be a feasible option.

    TOM: So, basically, you want to know if you can have a wood-fired boiler.

    NATHAN: Correct.

    TOM: Wood-fired boilers are used to heat entire homes. I see them a lot in rural parts of the country, and ofted used to heat outdoor structures. Sometimes when I’m driving down the road and you see what looks like a shed that’s 15, 20 feet from a house except it’s got a little chimney on it and it’s blowing out some wood smoke – and that’s a wood-fired boiler.

    So, they’re usually outside the house and they’re pretty much like regular boilers except that they’re just fired – they’re operated by wood. They usually can be – have to be fed, obviously, once or twice a day to keep that heat up. So it’s a lot more work than having a fuel system, like oil or gas, but certainly it’s an option.

    NATHAN: If you had to make a choice between investing in a wood-fired boiler or investing in an oil-fired boiler or staying with the electric, which would you suggest?

    TOM: In terms of heat fuel options, I would go with an oil-fired boiler. If that was my choice – as you put it between wood, electric and oil – electric’s going to be prohibitively expensive. Wood’s a lot of work and also, I’m concerned – I would be concerned that, even though I may enjoy the benefits of a wood boiler, if I want to sell my house in the future, a future buyer may not find that quite as attractive as I do.

    Because now they’re thinking that they’ve got to buy wood or they’ve got to cut wood and they’ve got to be around to feed the boiler and so on and so forth. They just might not be at all into that and that could make them buy someone else’s house instead that doesn’t have that. So I would use a traditional oil boiler.

    NATHAN: OK. That’s something I will look into then. And I guess the second part of my question would be: do you recommend putting or having a percentage glycol in the heating lines or do you think sticking with 100-percent water would be a better option?

    TOM: Well, most homes just have 100-percent water. So, I – unless there’s something unusual about your home and if it’s very prone to freezing and have a centralized – if you have a centralized heating system and you’re not going to be sort of moth-balling the home for any point of time, I don’t see any reason to have any type of a glycol additive to your heating water.

    NATHAN: I was just asking because I’m up here in Alaska, north of Palmer a little bit, so it gets pretty cold in the wintertime. And I just didn’t know if it would be a better option with the outside temperatures.

    TOM: Well, is it – I would talk to a local HVAC contractor. Is it typical for them to use an additive in a hot-water system there?

    NATHAN: I was just doing some research online and people didn’t seem to be a fan of it because of the glycol being thicker. It puts pretty good wear and tear on the pumping system.

    TOM: Yeah, I’d be interested. It’s an extreme environment and so, obviously, I don’t have experience in that. If I was moving into that area, I would do a little research with local HVAC contractors and find out what the best practice is.

    NATHAN: OK. I can definitely look into that.

    TOM: OK?

    NATHAN: Alright. Well, thank you for your time.

    TOM: Alright. Good luck, Nathan. Stay warm up there in Alaska.

    NATHAN: I’ll work on it. Thank you.

    TOM: Alright. Thanks so much for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.

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