Most people go with their gut feeling when they’re figuring out whether or not a wood-burning stove will save them energy and, as a result, money. In this post we’re going to examine the figures to try to get some like-for-like comparisons with other methods of home heating.
Of course, that’s not an easy evaluation to make. There are tens, if not hundreds, of factors that can affect the energy efficiency of a wood-burning stove. So, we’ll assume you’re opting for best practice and we’ll talk you though how to be as miserly as possibly with your energy use.
If you’re approaching the situation from a purely environmental stance, we already have a winner. Wood-burning stoves – and variations on the theme such as biomass boilers – will use much less energy in the long-term because they are sustainable.
Yes, providing fuel for your stove might involve chopping down trees, but as long as new trees are planted to replace them you could argue that, as far as the planet’s concerned, you’re not using any energy at all!
Gas, electric and oil heating are all either dependent or heavily reliant on energy sources of which there are finite supplies.
The financial aspect
If you’re weighing up the impact on your bank balance as well as on the planet then we have to delve a little deeper into energy prices for a range of heating sources. To do this as fairly as possible we’re bringing in BTUs (British thermal units) to provide like-for-like price comparisons.
A BTU is roughly the amount of energy you need to heat one pound of water. We’ll be comparing prices for producing 1,000 BTUs.
Home heating oil: $3.17 Oil is difficult to price because there are such variations in the price depending on the time of year, economy, global politics and a whole host of other factors. Nonetheless, the general trend is for prices to increase and that is likely to continue as reserves become more difficult to access and oil supplies are less readily available.
Natural gas: $2.60 Like oil, natural gas will probably continue to experience price rises as easily accessible supplies begin to run out. It also experiences some of the same price fluctuations. For now, it prices up very reasonably in comparison to oil and electricity.
Electricity: $3.22 Although oil is quickly catching up, electricity is still the most expensive form of home heating for now. In its defence, it’s also probably the most efficient at the point of use. For every other heating method we’re discussing in this article, something is being burnt in your home and energy is lost as a result. That’s not the case with electricity – the heating you pay for is the heating you get.
Wood: $1.20 Wood comes in as the cheapest fuel when it comes to generating 1,000 BTUs of heat. However, it does require more manual labour than any of the other heating methods listed here and is also the least efficient.
It’s also likely that you’ll also have to use one of the other heating methods in conjunction with a wood-burning stove. On average, a wood-burning stove will replace 10% of your annual heating requirements (rising to 20% in larger homes).
We’ve given you some of the downsides to using a wood-burning stove above… now for the good news. With every other heating source listed, you’re at the behest of an energy company. If they say you’re paying more, you’re paying more.
Wood gives you a bit more flexibility. For example, if you have a good supply of wood near your home or can go out collecting your own, then you can bring that cost per 1,000 BTUs down to nearer $0.00. Given that energy prices are rising across the board, having access to free fuel is a huge bonus.
And that’s not the only variable offered by using wood fuel. If you’re able to season wood you can make considerable savings, too. If you collect wood 12-18 months in advance of needing it, chop it, stack it and leave it to dry, you can lower the moisture content from 50-80% to less than 25%. You’ll use less energy to evaporate that moisture, more energy heating your home and need less fuel as a consequence.
Your choice of wood can also have a major impact. Some woods take longer to burn and give off more heat than others. To maximise your energy efficiency, it makes sense to use those woods as fuel. If you have access to woods like ash, beech, hawthorn and maple then you’re in luck – they’re all great burners.
You can save even more energy by letting the wood burn to embers before reloading the stove with more logs. Yes, you’ll have to sacrifice looking at the flames for a while, but you won’t be sacrificing any heat and you’ll be using less fuel.
So, if you’re prepared to put in a bit of planning and effort, a wood-burning stove can save you energy and leave you with more dollars in your pocket.