With firewood so accessible throughout the Pacific Northwest, some may wonder, “Can you use a wood stove to heat for free?”
Let’s look a bit more closely at whether “free” heat is really free.
Wood Stove Costs
Wood stoves can be purchased and installed for anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to several thousand dollars, depending on the brand, size and style. While this is a great investment if you have a source of inexpensive or free wood, there are other factors to consider before running out and making a wood stove purchase.
The square footage of the home will dictate the size of wood stove needed. The larger the home, the more BTU’s are needed to heat the area. To increase the BTU’s, more wood fuel has to be burned so more space is needed in the wood stove to insert the wood.
In general, a small wood stove can be used to heat a home up to 1,000 square feet. A medium-sized wood stove can heat up to 2,000 square feet. A large wood stove is necessary to heat up to 2,500 square feet. And above 2,500 square feet requires an extra-large wood stove.
Many homeowners living on treed land have a seemingly unlimited supply of firewood on their own property. Whether it comes through downed trees during the winter or harvesting some of their trees each year, it is not hard to see how using this “free” wood can save on heating costs.
However, even when trees are down after a storm, there is a great deal of labor involved with moving, cutting, stacking, and chopping the wood. Purchasing a chain saw, maintaining the blade, mixing the oil and gas to create a chainsaw oil mix, and putting in hours of back-breaking work is not for the faint of heart.
For those willing to put in the time and energy to cut, chop and stack wood, there are timing requirements to season firewood before it can actually be used. In general, cutting wood in early spring will provide enough seasoning before fall and winter use, or a six-month seasoning timeline can be used as a basic guide.
Starting a fire daily
In addition to upkeeping a wood supply, starting a daily fire in a wood stove takes time and expertise as well. Without restoking wood in a wood stove during the night, most wood stove users have to start a new fire daily. This requires a smaller cut wood kindling and paper or some other fire lighter.
Many people purchase products with compressed saw dust and an accelerant mixed into a fire starter. However, some of these synthetic fire logs contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, as can be seen in the following California Prop 65 Warning.
“California PROP 65 Warning: Combustion of this product can expose you to substances known to cause cancer, birth defects, and reproductive harm. www.p65warnings.ca.gov.”
Using a wood stove will certainly put out a good amount of heat, but another common problem is dispersing the heat throughout the home. Most fireplaces are in a common area such as a living room or family room. Those common areas heat up quickly, often leaving bedrooms chilly. To disperse the heat put out by a wood stove, a fan is necessary to move the warm air around, but this may not be enough.
Sometimes it is still necessary to run an HVAC whole home fan to fully warm up other bedrooms in the house, which also allows the air to be filtered as it is pulled into the HVAC system and then dispersed through the home. While this is beneficial for removing smoke, dust and other allergens, it does increase the cost of running the HVAC system. It doesn’t cost as much as heating the home but running the HVAC fan will still use energy which may be the very thing using a wood stove was intended to save.
All in all, with time, energy, and a great deal of effort, installing a wood stove and using wood as a heat source can add up to savings on your energy bill. However, before making this kind of decision, it’s helpful to weigh the benefits with the risks. Hopefully this has given some insight into both.
If you have questions about saving on your energy costs, contact us at Pilchuck Heating.
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