If you’ve been heating your house with wood for years, you probably don’t need to read this article. By now, you know all about the disadvantages and inconveniences that accompany wood heat, and yet you still heat with wood — either because you genuinely love wood heat, or because you love the low cost of the fuel. If you haven’t burned down your house by now, you may even have figured out how to install and operate your stove safely.
This article is addressed to a different audience: those who are thinking about buying their first wood stove.
For some homeowners, especially those who haven’t lived with a wood stove, wood heat has romantic associations. Veteran wood burners know better, however. As a document from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension points out, firewood “is one of the least convenient sources of heat, … requiring time and considerable effort to fell and split trees, move wood into dry outdoor storage for at least a year, transport wood indoors, maintain an effective woodstove fire, and keep the system cleaned for safety and efficiency.” I’ll add another disadvantage: if you heat with wood, you’ll be tethered to your house all winter. You won’t be able to go away for the weekend unless your house has a backup heating system to keep your plumbing pipes from freezing.
Wood heat makes the most sense for:
Don’t install an outdoor wood-fired boiler (sometimes mistakenly referred to as an “outdoor furnace”). These devices are notoriously polluting and inefficient. They require lots of electricity to run and they waste much of the energy value of the firewood they burn. Moreover, they are so smoky that they will drive your neighbors crazy. In many areas of the country, irate neighbors have sued owners of…