Hot Alternatives to Home Heating
If this winter turns out to be as robust as the past summer, then we can all expect to do a good bit of shivering and shaking in the next few months. And it’s likely to cost people more to heat their homes this year. Although everyone can benefit from weatherproofing and insulation, many people are taking their cost-savings initiatives a step further—looking for alternative forms of home heating. From stoves that burn wood or corn to radiant heating that warms the home through the floor, modern technology has given rise to a wide range of new home heating options to offset the high cost of oil and gas.
The Rustic Warmth of Wood-Burning Stoves
With home heating costs soaring, more homeowners are installing modern wood-burning stoves. But saving money isn’t the only reason to consider this time-honored method of heating your home. There is also an intangible quality of having a wood-burning stove as the center of your home. What could be more welcoming on a cold winter day than the warmth and glow of a crackling fire?
The benefits of heating with wood are many: It is environmentally responsible because you are using a renewable resource instead of fossil fuels; it supports the local economy; it lowers your heating bills; and it puts you in control. Wood stoves have come a long way in the past decade. They are more attractive, with styles to fit just about every décor. They are more efficient and cleaner burning than old models. They’re also easier to operate and safer.
Aside from the charm of a crackling fire, there is no similarity between wood-burning stoves today and those found in homes 20 years ago, says Thomas Morrissey of Woodstock Soapstone Company of West Lebanon, New Hampshire. “Today’s stoves are clean-burning and efficient—most of what goes up the chimney is just carbon dioxide and water vapor. There is virtually no smoke or odor,” he notes.
All Woodstock stoves have internal catalytic combustors. The average catalytic stove is 30 percent cleaner burning and 15 percent more efficient than a non-catalytic stove. “Any combustible gases or particles not burned in the firebox are forced through the catalytic combustor and incinerated there,” explains Morrissey. The extra heat created by the catalyst is captured by the stove and radiated into your home. That means when you put a pound of wood into the stove, you extract just about every Btu from that energy.
The company manufactures wood-burning stoves from soapstone. “It’s nature’s perfect stove material,” says Laura Scott, Woodstock’s customer service manager. It holds twice as much heat per pound as iron or steel, and it radiates that heat steadily, even hours after the fire has died down. Plus the warm grain and color of soapstone make these woodstoves attractive pieces of furniture that you can enjoy year-round. (Courtesy of ARA Content)
Wood-burning stoves have been a home heating staple for centuries, but more recently, stoves that burn dried wheat or corn, or pellets made from dehydrated, compressed wood chips, have grown in popularity. Multi-fuel stoves are the first heating option that allows you to burn all three environmentally friendly fuels in the same stove.
Like traditional wood or other single-fuel stoves, the multi-fuel stoves, when used as an alternative heat source for your home, can cut your energy bill by up to 70 percent, says Glenda Lehman Ervin of Lehman’s, an old-time general store founded by her father in northeast Ohio in 1955. “The Environmental Protection Agency rates multi-fuel stoves as the most energy-efficient stoves available,” says Lehman Ervin, who uses a Greenfire brand multi-fuel stove.
“Multi-fuel stoves allow responsible homeowners to take care of the environment and their wallets at the same time,” says Lehman Ervin. Purchasing pellets, shelled and dried corn, or hulled and dried wheat can be cheaper than buying wood and easier than chopping your own free wood. These alternative fuels are good for the environment because they are made of endlessly renewable materials that do not contribute to climate change the way fossil fuels do.
“You need to have the storage space for wood, and it takes a year to properly season wood for your stove,” Lehman Ervin notes. Wood must also be stored properly to ensure it is preserved and does not attract rodents or insects close to your home. Corn, wheat and pellets, however, require much less storage space and no special preparation or consideration by the homeowner.
“Anyone who doesn’t have access to wood or who would prefer to avoid the chore of chopping it, or the risk of storing it in their home, would find a multi-fuel burning stove a versatile alternative,” she says. Like any stove, the multi-fuel stoves require a chimney. And the convenience of the alternative fuels makes a multi-fuel stove a good option for anyone living in a more urban area.
Multi-fuel stoves cost about the same as a traditional wood-burning stove. However, fuel costs are less than buying wood and far beneath fossil-fueled heat. Dell-Point Europa, manufacturers of Greenfire stoves, cites a vast difference in average annual fuel costs: more than $1,500 per year for electric, $1,000 for oil and just $385 for corn.