talk to me about heating... - Mothering Forums
Frugality & Finances > talk to me about heating...
Panserbjorne's Avatar Panserbjorne 03:18 PM 05-12-2011

We have just decided to stay put in this house for a while so there are some things that need doing.  We are in New England and as we enter the summer we're looking at the best time to buy a wood stove/pellet stove/insert what have you.  So I want to hear all about them.


I grew up with a wood stove and loved it.  BUT it took up a good amount of real estate in the family room.  Our house is little so this is going to be going in to the fireplace.  I'm looking for easy, efficient and cost effective.  I've seen wood stoves that are kind of in the fireplace.  I've seen wood stove inserts with blowers.  I've seen pellet stoves and I'm sure there's more out there.  What are the pros and cons?  We could also consider going gas (doing an insert in the fireplace) but I am not sure that would be less expensive in the long run.


It will need to heat 1500 square feet if that matters.  We have little-ish kids.  The room is quite narrow (11 feet) so it can't project too far. 


We've been using the fireplace, but that's about the least efficient thing you can do.  We love the smell of wood, and love having the downstairs toastier than the upstairs.  Any insight, feedback or experiences would be excellent!

sunnysandiegan's Avatar sunnysandiegan 05:07 PM 05-12-2011

Completely different set-up...beach house with two "wings" (small house, don't let the term "wings" fool you...LOL) in San Diego (mild climate). The only heat we had in the entire house was a fireplace insert with blower. The door to my "wing" was almost always closed, which meant I never got any of that heat (which was fine with me for the most part). The other "wing" was too far away to receive any of that heat. The main part of the house, however, stayed quite toasty.


From that experience, I'd say the layout of the home matters.


I'd recommend talking to some local people and find out what they do in their homes and how they like/dislike those options.

laohaire's Avatar laohaire 05:37 PM 05-12-2011

I'm in New England. We just got a wood stove last winter, so it's still new to us, but we are very happy with it so far.


I have this stove:


You can actually get something similar for cheaper, I think it's the Vista model. But I settled on this because it has the small cooktop as well. Since my range is electric, I wanted to have a backup cooking source in the winter if the electricity goes out. The cooktop is small and this is by no means a full cook stove, but you can certainly keep a kettle on it constantly, etc.


You can install a blower fan to circulate the heat better, if the heat is not getting around very well. We don't have one and don't feel we need one.


We paid roughly $5k for EVERYTHING, the stove, labor, chimney pipe, inspection, etc. It was a lot of money but with oil prices the way they are going, I think the payback will be pretty soon. (Oil prices are triple what they were when we moved in 7 years ago). We're buying cords of wood, split and delivered, for $160 a cord. Plus DH is getting extra supplementary wood with his own labor. We have not gone a full winter on wood heat yet, but I've read people use between 2 and 6 cords of wood a winter. I'm assuming we'll fall around 3.5 or 4 cords, since we seem to be ok doing just 2 burns a day instead of 3, and our house is small and well insulated. Since we're paying something over $2k a year for oil, you can see that $640 for 4 cords of wood is a total steal (though we'll still be using some oil because our hot water is hooked up to the same system... I hope someday we can add solar hot water). Even if we end up using 6 cords... that's half the cost.


The fireplace is so inefficient that in some cases you might be LOSING heat by using it. It's nice for ambience and that's it. The stove we have has a window so we get to enjoy the fire (and we do... we spend evenings playing board games in front of it and watching the mesmerizing flames). The efficiency of these things has gone up incredibly over the years. We have found it takes a good while to get things heated up, but the heat lasts nicely.


IMHO, gas is not a good option since natural gas is in the same boat as oil.


The stove I have is not large at all. Our house is 1100 sq ft and the room it's in (the dining room) is not large. We also have a corner install, and those usually take more room. Yet it's a small unit, and it's rated to be installed pretty close to the wall. I too was afraid about the amount of room it would take, but I'm very pleased about how little it turned out to be.


Pellet stoves are nice and a good option. They were all the rage a few years ago since the pellets were so cheap (manufacturing byproduct). Since then the demand has gone up, and the price of pellets is not such a steal anymore (though not bad, either). DH and I chose wood because we cannot make pellets ourselves, and we enjoy having the ability to source our own fuel if needed.


You'd save money if you can use your fireplace chimney - the pipe for our chimney was a significant part of our cost (about $1500 I think, but don't quote me on it). You'd have to talk to your stove dealer to see if they can use your chimney as is. I don't know the details, but it has to be dedicated (not shared with a boiler or else) and certain dimensions.


Hope that helps! Good luck.

Panserbjorne's Avatar Panserbjorne 06:35 AM 05-13-2011

that DID help!  I found a few dealers around me through you link and will investigate on Tuesday (as most are closed Mondays which made my heart glad...remember the days when shops were closed Sundays and Mondays and the world felt peaceful?)  Anyway I'll post with information as I get it.


I think it will be a wee bit less for us as the best an only real option is to utilize our existing fireplace.  As much as I WANT a woodstove, an insert is going to be better.  Since the area is already prepped (it's a functional fireplace) I'm guessing running the stuff up the chimney will make it that much easier.  But what do I know?  LOL!  I love that the inserts burn up to 8 hours....that means I can feed the fire and head off to work which is a delightful thought.  Do you leave yours going when you're away? 


And good call on the gas and pellets.  That's what dh had said too.  More the better if we can heat using fuel that we can procure.  I recall a few years ago that there was a shortage of pellets.  That would have made me snippy.  And gas is on the rise-I don't want to be tied to it.


Sunny, we have a VERY basic New England Colonial.  It's a square with the same footprint upstairs as down.  Fireplace is not central, but the stairway which is central is off the room with the fireplace.  Given that it's just a box it should be fine. 


Right now there's one thermostat, dowstairs.  I die because I like to sleep in 50 degree weather.  To have the downstairs 60-62 degrees (the highest I tend to go during the day) I go upstairs at night and it's like 70 degrees.  I'm in misery.  I figure it I keep my door closed that during the winter I just may get to sleep in about 55-60.  Maybe.

laohaire's Avatar laohaire 08:00 AM 05-13-2011

One question you might consider is material: soapstone, cast iron or steel.


Soapstone is considered the best, but it's the most expensive.


Most people feel that cast iron is the next best option. I think it's more durable. It has more of a radiant quality than steel. And it just plain looks so much nicer.


DH and I were set on cast iron but some people feel steel is better because repairs are much more possible with steel/fire bricks. With cast iron, the whole thing is literally 2 (I think) pieces - so if one piece needs repair, you have to get half of your stove recast. Or something like that. I still think cast iron is a lot less likely to need that sort of repair, but we were talked into being ok with steel and fire bricks (which are VERY easy to replace). Our stove is actually a combo - it's a steel firebox with a cast iron exterior. While I do love pretty things, I'm a very practical person. But the stove looks prettier than the usual steel ones. Plus you get the radiance of the cast iron. And the fire bricks are not going to cause us any headaches to replace. This is not advice, this is just stuff to think about, questions to ask.


As for whether we leave the stove unattended - well, I think people do, you kind of have to. You would want to allow enough time to run the fire on high heat (open flue) for a bit before putting it down to low when you leave. Burning on high for a period every day is necessary to prevent creosote buildup (and thus prevent chimney fires). DH and I are always home (we work from home) but sure, we would leave and go grocery shopping or whatever. What can ya do. It's a fire and it's in your home, so it's not perfectly safe (whether you're home or not) but that's no different than driving a car, which is also not perfectly safe. The fire is less safe than a boiler. These are the choices we make. I can live with it.


Ah, speaking of which, don't forget to update your home insurance policy to have a wood stove rider when you get it installed.

Panserbjorne's Avatar Panserbjorne 01:31 PM 05-13-2011

excellent points, thank you.  I think we'll be doing cast iron.  I didn't even consider the home insurance.  good call!

quest4quiet's Avatar quest4quiet 12:16 AM 05-16-2011

We live in northeast PA and have been using an insert to heat for about 4 years. for reference, the house is about 1500sq feet, one story. We had an old Buck Stove insert and last summer replaced it with a Regency I2400 insert. What a difference. The old stove was basically a metal box w/ a blower on it. The new one is miles more efficient. We still have a blower. Much smaller firebox than the old one, but we get a longer burn from a full box than we did before. We go through about 1/3 less wood than we did in previous years. I'd say about 2.5-3 cords for the season, depending on how long winter wants to drag on, lol. The Regency has a secondary burn vs. a catalytic (i think all stoves now have something along those lines in order to be EPA compliant). That's probably something that you're going to want to consider as well. (cat vs. non-cat) The guy we bought our stove from swore by catalytic stoves, but the parts are pricey if it goes.

The de-installation of the old stove, new stove, installation, and re-lining the chimney w/stainless steel ran about $3K.  We got a nice chunk back in tax credits.


Also, we thought the same thing about a cooktop, and it turns out we keep a water kettle on it all the time for humidity.


Panserbjorne's Avatar Panserbjorne 05:52 AM 05-16-2011

does that mean it's not recessed into the wall?  I'd LOVE to keep a kettle on it.  I have  cast iron kettle that I adore and how neat it would be to set it on the stove!  I haven't seen any models that would work that way for us-but I'm going to a showroom that's actually open today.


I've been reading about the catalytic vs. non-catalytic and I'm leaning towards it.  Good to know on the pricing.  Thank you!

Panserbjorne's Avatar Panserbjorne 08:12 PM 05-16-2011

so I'm pretty sold on the cast iron Hampton (by Regency.)  LOVE that it has a lip that can accommodate my tea kettle!  They're coming out to measure tomorrow and give us a final price.  I do hate negotiating...but I'm rather suprised that no one is doing so.  I've asked point blank about better prices for cash, how much wiggle room etc. assuming in a bad economy and in the off season there would be some way to get a great deal.  Nope.  Ah well!