by sandy mcCall
of the things I am looking at these days is how to become more self-sufficient
and get better efficiency from my heating system, hot water heater and
electrical usage. Today I am looking at how to enhance my heating system.
a propane furnace that I use as back up for wood heat and it is time
to replace the woodstove with a more effecient model. I will share my
research and shopping experiences for wood and gas stoves, both free-standing
and fireplace inserts. There are many things to consider . . . type
of stove needed, ease of use, fuel cost and source, efficiency and emissions,
BTUs and square footage to be heated. There's also odor, condition of
chimney and size of flue, installation and service, maintenance and
of course the price of the stove.
Most will agree that gas stoves are a snap to use compared to heating
with wood. I have heated with a wood fireplace insert with an electric
blower for many years and have thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance created
through warmth and smell, but I could do without the mess and wood lugging,
so I am considering a gas heater. I also have a reliable source for
cord wood from fallen trees and I am cozy and warm if the power goes
out; I could run the gas generator if I need electricity for the blower.
But if I switched to a gas insert, I could just push a button and have
less work, plus some models work without electricity when the power
is out. There are very attractive vented and ventless models. I guess
my biggest question is the price of propane or natural gas and my dependency
on that fuel. With current fuel prices it will cost me over a $1000
per season for propane, plus the electricity to run the blower. Hmm...
I have contracted locally for firewood for years, but was duped for
years by those who thought I didnt know what a cord of wood is
. . . and they were right! It sounds easy: a cord is 4 x 4
x 8 stacked, but my log length is 18-20, not 12 or
24 which would be easily divisible. There is an easy way, if your
wood deliverer is cooperative. The bed of a full size pickup is also
about 4 x 4 x 8, so if they stack it tightly in the
bed of the truck, you will have close to a cord . . . good idea to be
home when they deliver. I pay $125 per cord for seasoned hardwood, delivered
and stacked before the snow flies. I use from three to four cords in
a season, plus the cost of electricity to run the blower. It may be
less with a new, more efficient stove. It is cold where I live (3200
ft.) and wood burning saves me a considerable amount of money each season,
but adds lots more work. Dont forget to have your chimney cleaned
each year by someone who can inspect your stove too: cost $65-75. And
smoke detectors are a must!
The efficiency seemed pretty standard on the better models, between
65 and 75%, with a little higher efficiency on propane than natural
gas and on wood stoves with catalytic combusters. On the better model
wood stove, emissions ran from 2.0 grams to 5.2 grams per hour. (These
numbers didnt apply when I was learning to use a wood stove and
I filled the house with smoke!) The literature on vented and ventless
gas stoves merely stated that the stoves performed well within the nationally-recognized
guidelines for indoor air quality, so no comparison there. Consider
the smell too: I love the smell of wood; a well-adjusted gas stove should
have no smell at all, but if not they can be horrid.
The US Dept of Energys website on energy efficiency and renewable
energy offers fact sheets and more. (eere.energy.gov/consumerinfo/factsheets)
Youll even find instructions for building a fire.
Next I looked at the BTUs each stove produced per hour. What is a BTU
anyway? I found that fuels are measured in gallons, cubic feet or kilowatt
hours and also by heat content and the most commonly used value for
expressing the heat content is the British Thermal Unit or BTU. One
BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound
of water one degree Fahrenheit, when water is about 39 degrees F. Youll
also need to choose a unit that has a heating capacity adequate for
your square footage. The link between BTUs and square footage is not
always clear, but the packaging on gas heaters will indicate both so
you can choose the proper size.
One of the deciding factors for some folks will be the condition of
the chimney and the size of the flue. Each stove has its own requirements,
so check carefully. Perhaps a good reason to buy locally is so a representative
can evaluate your chimney, offer recommendations, installation and service
after the saleplus you are supporting the local economy.There
are a number of local dealers in the area that carry Vermont Castings,
Appalachian, Buck, Jøtul, Avalon, Hearthstone and others. Appalachian
Stove is manufactured and sold locally. I am a loyal shopper so I try
to buy locally and establish a relationship for sale and service. Online
stores or catalogs may give you choices, but service and installation
may be a problem.
Prices vary from inexpensive, less-efficient wood and gas units that
cost a few hundred dollars to state-of-the-art stoves that cost in excess
of $2500, plus installation and accessories like trim kits and blowers.
So are you wondering what I have decided to buy? Well, I decided to
stay with wood a while longer: the smell, the ambiance
labor? I am taken by the beautiful enameled and soapstone stoves, but
I will have to weigh the cost versus the beauty after I have looked
closely at efficiency ratings.
E-mail me at email@example.com or mail questions and pictures to Sandy
McCall, P.O. Box 1332, Mars Hill, NC 28754 and I will share my ideas
with you and other readers in a future issue.
if you plan to use the chimney, it might be a good idea to have a chimney
inspection before or after the sale.
Sellers, you can avoid a problem later by having the chimney inspected
and/or repaired prior to selling your home. Safety first!
Sandy McCall is a real estate broker with Appalachian
Realty Associates and enjoys the mountain life in a recreated log cabin
near the Appalachian Trail with her four-legged and finned kids, Cooper,
Moondoggie, Zipper, Rosemary and Salena. She is also the mother of three
human daughters, Kerri, Kelly and Nancy, grandmother to many and a former
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