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Monday, December 12, 2011

Is Wood Good for Heating a Home?

Oklahoma weather is what I like to call bi-polar meaning that we get it all. If you don't believe me look at these weather stats. Coldest Day 2011 saw us get down to -31 degrees and our hot summer saw 41 days over 100 degrees this year. Heating and cooling a home are important topics here.  As is saving money while doing it.

What is the most efficient cost effective way to heat a house?
Winter weather is settling in for most of us. We have had a cold snap here with overnight lows below 20 degrees. Not that cold for some of you but colder than normal for this time of year here. I took the recent cold snap as a cue to stock up on fuel for the winter. This past week I ordered another cord of wood and 100 gallons of propane. While I was arranging for my orders I began to wonder what is the most cost effective and at the same time ecologically sustainable way to heat our home for the winter. My daughter being a smart teenager suggested solar, while we do enjoy passive solar heating during the winter, thanks to a well designed home. However passive solar heating does nothing when it is cloudy. We need another option. Living in Oklahoma our winters are generally milder than most. Our average temperatures for winter are in the mid 40s to lower 50s with  overnight lows in the 20s and 30s. Add to the mix a house that is built into the side of a hill and we have a pretty efficient house to heat or cool. Until the ground freezes our downstairs remains a pretty constant temperature, about 55 without heating. If the sun is shining we have the advantage of the passive solar heat with large windows and wood floors absorbing that heat.

According to Popular Mechanics the average 2400-square-foot house, proud to say we are an average size home,  burns around 100 million Btu of fuel per year. The chart below is a great graphic for breaking down the cost of heating homes. Now our cost for wood is actually less than what is listed here. We happen to pay $150 for a cord of wood. For those of you unfamiliar with the measurement a cord of wood is defined as a well stacked woodpile 4 feet (122 cm) wide, 4 feet (122 cm) high, and 8 feet (244 cm) long.

We use a mixture of propane, because the house came with a propane furnace, and wood. We have a fire place with an insert, glass doors and a blower. This make our fireplace more efficient than a wood stove, but not as quite as efficient as a ceramic heater, although our brick chimney does begin to heat up and radiate heat after a day of the fire going. Properly designed fireplaces also can decrease heat loss. Modern fireplaces may have metal side walls and backs with space for air to circulate between the walls and the fireplace setting. Inlets near the floor and outlets near the mantel provide convection-air heating and circulation in addition to the radiant heat from the fireplace.
I was dismayed to see that propane was not that efficient but at the same time I was VERY happy to see that burning wood is a  good choice for not only for efficiency and cost effective wood is also a prudent choice for sustainability. Trees while are a sustainable resource. In our case we harvest only standing dead wood on our property and most of our suppliers do the same. In fact one of them is harvesting wood from river beds. In essence they are clearing out the the river. Some of this wood is wood that may have sunk during logging days.
Our Plan
So what is my plan. Some of you may remember me joining in with the Freeze Yer Buns Challenge. Well I am proud to say that we have only turned on the heat to make sure that the furnace is working properly. We plan on heating with wood for the most part as in years past.  When the temperature in the main living area gets above 72 degrees we turn on the circulator on our furnace only to help move the warmer air around the house.  The furnace is reserved for those really cold mornings when the temperature in the house has dropped below 65 degrees and we need some motivation to get up. Most of the time we will not see nor hear the furnace come on. Even in the midst of our blizzard and sub freezing temperatures last year we did not have the furnace come on.
Over the years we have found that best woods for heating are the hard woods and the best ones are the ones with the least water content. All woods burn cleaners and hotter when they have been seasoned. .
I always knew we were saving money by burning wood, just the fact that we had an efficient fire place, one with an insert and a heatilator. Now I am relieved and happy to know that we are indeed saving money not just on paper but in reality and we are doing so in a sustainable way.

this post is linked up to Simple Lives ThursdayHomestead Barn Hop


Carolyn said...

Interesting post. We live in the Canadian prairies, and the temp varies between the hottest days of summer and the coldest of winter about 140+F (about 60 C or so). Heating and cooling is a challenge here. We run electric cooling in the summer (we have hydro electricity here, very cheap and relatively clean), but most people run natural gas to heat if they have a main close by that can be tapped. The fuel of choice is wood out in the boonies, supplemented by electric. Insurance, however, for wood heat up here is insane! Or you can get riders that excludes coverage if your wood heat burns your place down. Which happens.

My daughter's school, however, is the only underground school in Canada. It was built in the 70's based on a design out of California. Because the temp lag of the soil is 2-3 months behind the air temp, it costs significantly less to heat and cool, something like 40% according to the plaque outside my daughter's classroom. Similar to you house in the hill.

I don't really have a point, I just wanted to share that. :)

Lisa - the Granola Catholic said...

I never realized that you needed extra insurance to heat with wood in Canada. As for your temperature variance God Bless. But I guess we have been about the same this year with a low of -30 and a high of about 120 F this year. Yikes, did I just type that? By far our summers last much longer than our winter's though and cooling is more of an expense than heating.

Jenny said...

I just recently did some calculations as well. In my location, it is actually CHEAPER to use electric heat than to buy wood at $135/cord. We cut our own when we can, but don't need feel guilty if we run out at the end of the season and need to use the oil filled electric radiator.

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