Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wood Heat Can't Be Beat: How We Save $2,800 a Year!

Our house is just over 100 years old, and we love it, but it leaks like a sieve.  We were spending about $300 every month with our gas heater just to keep it at a chilly 62 degrees, and we knew something had to be done.  We could have spent thousands of dollars on ripping open all the walls to insert insulation, redoing the windows, and trying to insulate every other crack from wafting away our warm air (every time we do a project that opens up a wall/duct/etc, we insulate it while we're at it), but we decided against it.  By the time all the leak-proof remodeling was done, we would have spent as much on it as a down payment on a second house.  It was time for a much simpler, more cost-effective solution- a wood stove!

One of the purposes of this blog is to help you save money, and installing our woodstove has saved us thousands of dollars in a few year's time.  By about mid-way through our second winter with the woodestove, it had paid for itself.  Now it's saving us money.  The age of your house, efficiency of your current heating system, level of convenience wanted, and time will all factor in to how quickly your stove will pay for itself, but in our situation, a woodstove was a perfect fit.  There are a number of factors that will affect your choice in woodstoves and fuel sources.
Types of Stoves
There is a huge variety of stoves out there, and you should carefully research what type will fit your needs the best.  Look at the square footage it heats, the type of fuel it uses, and where you can place it in your home.  The two main types of stoves are pellet stoves and wood-burning stoves.  We opted for the wood burning variety for a number of reasons; the main attractants were the variety of fuels that we could burn in it, the ease of using it, and the effectiveness of the stove to heat without any other power source.  While pellet stoves still produce a wonderful, radiant heat, you will be paying for those little pellets indefinitely, along with the electricity to run it. Look at all the different varieties and think of where you'll put it to maximize the heat (ours is in the center of the first floor, near the stairs, so we get heat throughout our whole house).  Also look at the different designs (we wanted a small side door to insert the longer logs through and a big glass front door for viewing the fire and as a second option for putting in fuel).  Another factor for us was the length; our stove can take a log up to 20 inches long, but many smaller stoves only have room for shorter sticks.  The stove we chose essentially took the longest logs but was still the perfect size to heat our home, which is about 2,000 square feet, so then we wouldn't have to feed it as frequently and could be more effective with the storage & transport of the firewood as well.

Try to get into a local woodstove store for the best advice (and to support your local economy). We went to Home Firestove in Salem, Oregon to buy our cast iron Jotul Oslo stove after much research on my husband's part to determine that it would be the best fit for our needs.  They were very knowledgeable, professional, and helpful, and we love to support local businesses.  Home Firestove also has a wide variety of accessories, like gloves, firewood carriers, broom/poker/dustpan sets etc, but we found most of those at garage sales or in clearance sections (the neat stove fans they have I haven't ever seen cheaper anywhere else, so maybe one day we can invest in one!).  After researching what we wanted and price ranges, talking to the experts there was helpful, and they gave us a very reasonable price.

We live in Oregon, the land of abundant trees.  Very happily for us, our family owns property where we can cut enough wood to last us through the year.  Even in years when we haven't had the time to fall, cut, transport, split, and stack the wood ourselves and had to instead pay someone to deliver wood, we still came out far ahead of what we would be paying for drafty gas heat.  If you have a source of wood, either on your own property, a friend's, random Craigslist people wanting a fallen tree off their property, etc, your stove will pay for itself much more quickly than if you have to continue paying for fuel.
If you are out of work or have fair amount of free time on your hands, you can get really creative with your sources of fuel and get them for free.  For example, one of our neighbors was getting a new cedar shake roof installed, and we were able to have their work crew dump all the old shingles in our driveway for FREE!  This means about three years of free kindling to easily start a roaring fire.  I also save paper bags from the grocery store and fill them half full with little twigs and branches from the yard to use as a perfect fire starter (I already have to pick up the little branches to mow anyways, and this way nothing is wasted).  Many stoves can use paper products that would otherwise been thrown out (or hopefully recycled) so you can use all that junk mail (excluding magazines and the envelopes with the little plastic windows, etc) to your advantage!  Again, while pellet stoves still produce a wonderful, radiant heat, you will be paying for those little pellets indefinitely, along with the electricity to run it, and pellets are all that they'll burn (instead of paper/cardboard/small sticks/cedar shakes/etc.)  There are a lot of creative ways to get fuel very inexpensively, and even buying it and having it delivered to your home might save you thousands a year!

Here are some approximate costs for our heating:
Yearly amount spent on gas heat (drafty heat at about 62 degrees)= $3,600
Yearly amount spent on 4 cords of firewood (radiant heat at about 80 degrees)= $800 (when delivered) $100 (when we do it ourselves)
Yearly stove maintenance= $100 (to have the chimney professionally cleaned) $0 (when we clean it ourselves)
Wood stove cost= $2,000
Installation cost= $2,000
Time it took to pay off the stove & installation= less than two years
Money saved each year by using the woodstove to heat our home= $2,800

Saving Even More
Not only can you save money heating your home with a beautiful new stove, but you can save in some other ways as well.  Set up your clothes drying rack near the stove and cut dryer costs even in the winter.  Try cooking some deliciousness up on your stove top instead of turning on the oven or range (we've made stews, eggs, pancakes, bacon, etc).  Instead of having to waste electricity or natural gas on heating water for your hot cocoa, tea, or coffee, let your woodstove do the work!  We always have a kettle on the stove full of filtered water so it's available whenever we need it.  You can also cut down on your garbage output by burning paper products- just be careful that your stove can burn it (avoid burning glossy magazines or ads as this will create creosote in any stove, and remember to clean your stove and chimney on a regular basis to prevent flu fires and costly repairs.  Collect the ash from your stove and mix it in with the dirt in your garden bed for a beautiful, rich soil, ready for a money-saving garden!

Downfalls of Wood Heat
The only pitfalls of wood heat is the slight inconvenience it causes.  You'll need a dry place to store the wood (a tarp works fine) and a way to get the wood into the house.  It will take a little time each day (we spend about 15 minutes a day starting/tending the fire to keep the house around 80 degrees the whole winter long!).  My least favorite part of having a stove is when we are gone for a long time, as the house is cold when you get home and you have to start a fire and wait a bit for it to warm up.  For those few times, however, I just leave my jacket on or use my little space heater to tide me over.  With a yearly savings in the thousands, it's worth it!

Emergency Preparedness
One of the things that I love about having a stove is that we can heat off the grid, cook without electricity, and boil/purify water independently.  Although the main natural disasters that get us here in the Willamette Valley tend to be floods, we have had ice storms that take out the power for days at a time.  I really like the idea of not only feeding and keeping our own family warm, but being able to invite neighbors in who might need a warm place to stay.  I'm secretly excited for the next power outage so we can invite neighbors to enjoy the lovely radiant heat of our little woodstove!  Of course, you'll want to save a few week's worth of food, water, emergency supplies, etc to be better prepared for natural disasters.  Be the one on your block who can lend a helping hand in case of an emergency, and not the ones struggling to find handouts!
Why You Should Consider Wood Heat
More likely than not, you could be saving hundreds if not thousands of dollars a year if you switched to heating your home only with wood.  I'm sure you can think of many places that money could be sent instead of to the electricity or gas company!  You can cut down on paper and wood waste and build relationships with local community members as you creatively source your fuel.  Our house went from a drafty 62 degrees to an average of 80 degrees throughout the entire winter (which I LOVE!), and the radiant heat is just so much nicer than even the best vent heating system.  You can get a little exercise if you gather your own fuel (wood heat warms you up twice!) or support your local economy even more by having someone deliver wood to you.  Having a constant supply of hot water is yet another benefit.  You'll be able to heat food, purify water, and you'll be ready for emergencies.

Do you have a stove at home?  Did you grow up with a wood stove?  What are your creative sources for fuel?  Leave a comment with any questions you have about wood heat or comments on your experiences with this money-saving method below.  Thanks for reposting, sharing, and commenting; keep checking back for more pennywise pursuits!