Heating Your Home With Wood Heat and Wood-Burning Stoves

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There are three basic ways to heat your home or provide supplemental heat by burning wood:

Standard Wood Burning Furnaces

Typically, modern wood burning furnaces will heat spaces from 1500 to 5000 square feet, depending on the size of the furnace. A bigger furnace means more wood consumed, but also, a bigger furnace will last through the night without reloading better than a smaller furnace.

Many building codes (and insurance companies) state that wood burning stoves can not share a chimney with another utility since if the creosote dislodged and clogged your chimney in the middle of a burn, the smoke would then vent out through the other appliance. At least this is what my insurance company tells me - and they would not raise the issue unless it truly was costing them money in the way of claims. So this wood burner requires an additional chimney, such as a stainless steel double-lined chimney, which can cost anywhere from $800 to $2000. There are now wood furnaces that will not only throw off a lot of heat, but also serve as a decorative fireplace like the one shown below. Click on the image for more info.

3,000 Sq. Ft. Satin Black Wood Burning Add-On Furnace
Here is a decorative wood furnace that will heat up to 3000 sq. ft. - click on image for more info

Decorative Wood Burning Stoves

We have a decorative freestanding wood stove in our basement that we use to burn about 3-6 face cords of wood per year. It provides enough heat to cut our heating bill in half (or better) since our home is not that big. In addition, its location in a basement family room provides a cozy place to sit on cold winter days. Dead or diseased trees I thin out from the woods on our 30 acres provides much of the wood used, so this heat is really a bargain.

We had to put in an additional stainless steel double-lined chimney for this stove. I was able to do this myself for about $600 - it really was not that hard to do. We found, however, that since our chimney ran outside the house, it did not draft very well when I tried to start the fire. So, I built an additional boxed-in slightly insulated enclosure for the chimney with a thin concrete cap at the top. This helped a lot.

If you have trees near your woodburner, you can experience a down draft and you can find lighting the stove to be nearly impossible! I solved this problem by devising a system using a shop vac on the air intake to force the smoke up the chimney to warm the pipe. See a page I created a while back on solving this smoke problem here.

Make sure to cut wood and split your wood at least a year before burning. These types of stoves are designed to burn completely dry wood.

An important consideration when buying: How long of a piece can you put in the stove? There are some stoves that only accept 15" long wood - this is less than the typical 16"-18" long firewood you would purchase, meaning additional cutting. Find a stove that accepts at least 20" long pieces. The stove shown (Home Depot) below burns up to 20" wood and is claimed to be one of the cleanest available - click on the image for more information on the stove.

2,200 Sq. Ft. Satin Black Wood Burning Stove
Click on image for more info

Outside Wood Burners

At one time, the outside wood burner was hailed as the ultimate wood burning solution, since it did not result in any smoke, dust, bark, or any other wood-related mess within your home. The furnace heats up a surrounding jacket of water and then transfers the heat to your home via hot water. No mess, just heat. Well, not quite. This type of burner is very smoky since it will generally burn very very slowly, restarting its fire periodically as needed with thermostatically controlled air blowers that act as high-tech bellows. Also, when one loads this burner, they will get more than a snoot-full of creosote-laden smoke as I did when loading my neighbor's burner while they were away. So wear an old jacket and hat when you load this burner. And perhaps don't set one of these burners right next to your neighbor's house - they will not appreciate it and may even take legal measures against you - read this USA Today article about smoke complaints. UPDATE: After hearing what happened to a friend of mine regarding these units, I would definitely recommend NOT investing in one - see my blog post Say NO to Outdoor Wood Burners.

On the plus side, in addition to leaving your mess outdoors, these wood boilers eliminate any fire hazard and require no special chimney.

In Conclusion

Burning wood has become more and more controversial with respect to air pollution. If you are in an urban area, it is probably not a good idea to invest in wood burning since there have been bans in some areas already. If you are in an area where wood burning is not as detrimental, you can reduce smoke and pollution by burning properly dried and split firewood.

If one is building new, it would be more sensible to maximize use of other alternative fuels like passive solar or geothermal and only rely on wood heat as a supplement or backup.

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