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Beautiful wood fireplace needs a heat exchanger or a propane insert to become energy efficient

user-1107688 | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

I have a lovely wood burning fireplace and I can’t decide whether to get a heat exchanger installed and keep the wood burning or get a propane fueled insert installed.

My house is built entirely of concrete block in 1955, It is about 1,100 sq feet located in SE CT. It has a very open floor plan and could possibly heat most of the place with the right modification.

I’m hoping to cut my oil bill, which is approaching 2k this mild winter. Propane tanks are the only other fuel alternative, but I’m concerned about running gas lines through the concrete and the safety of it.

Any thoughts or advice would be appreciated.

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  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Propane is an expensive fuel. In most locations it is more expensive than fuel oil.

    If you want to burn wood, I suggest that you install a wood-burning insert stove in your existing fireplace. If you visit a stove store, you'll seen many models of wood stoves designed for this application.

    Don't forget to have your chimney flue inspected for safety before you begin burning wood.

  2. user-1107688 | | #2

    Thanks Martin. I just had an energy audit (by the CT power co) and one of the team suggested the gas burning insert. he said that a tank of fuel cost about 300.00, while a cord of wood is about 200.00. Both have their pros and cons, but he said the mess, expense and hassle of wood made the gas a better choice. .
    The team also said my basement wall, which is finished and has a full walk out, was colder than the outside. He was refering to the walk out wall which has less contact with the ground but more exposure on the inside, the rest of the foundation is mostly drywalled off for a utility room etc. It is heated but I don't use it much and keep that zone at 50 F. I can't believe this small house sucked up 2k worth of oil this mild winter and I keep the temp aound 64 F and 61 at nite. Looking for any other cost effective ways to conserve. Thanks again.

  3. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #3

    I don't think that switching fuels is the key to lowering your energy expenses, at least in your case (where the choice is apparently between fuel oil and propane).

    Your best bet is probably to invest in air sealing and insulation improvements, following the suggestions made by the energy audit team.

  4. user-1107688 | | #4

    Hello again. I'm sorry if my post wasn't clear, I tend to ramble when flustered. I have oil, baseboard heat and a 5 year old burner that is not going anywhere, The issue is the fireplace and whether it is more cost effective to covert it to Natural gas (tank delivery is the only choice) or a wood burning insert/stove. Thanks again, Kathy

  5. wjrobinson | | #5

    You answered your question already above, reply #2.

    Go to a fireplace stove store see the choices, have them explained and then decide.

    What is best for you may not be best for another as your auditor tried to explain to you as well as Martin tried also.

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    If you use propane at $3.50 a gallon with a vented room heater rated at 75% efficiency, you'll be paying $51 per million BTUs.

    If you use firewood at $200 per cord with a 70% efficient wood stove, you'll be paying $13 per million BTU.

    In other words, propane is 4 times more expensive than firewood.

    Do your own on-line fuel comparisons here: Heating Fuel Cost Calculator

  7. user-1107688 | | #7

    Wow! now that's exactly what I was looking for. Thank you Martin for the technical breakdown of the cost. Now I feel I can make an informed decision. I was leaning towards using wood, even taken into account the hassle factor. It's probably going to cost a lot less to install as well. Awesome website and information. Kathy

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