We’ve all seen the old movies with the frontier family huddled around the single cast iron stove sitting in the center of the room, shivering pioneers shoving log after log into the fiery maw in order to stay warm and thus survive the cruel winter months. This image quickly disappeared as more methods of heating our homes were developed, including the use of heating oil, electricity and natural gas.
With the growing energy awareness hitting home in all facets of our lives, the idea of having a wood burning stove has returned to the general public with a new face and a new awareness of this old technology. Far from being only found in historical recreations, the woodburning stove has become a more common fixture in many households. Is this a viable option for your family in the near future? Read on and see if you may want to take a trip to the past to secure your family’s warm future!
The initial problem, of course, is the purchase of the wood-burning stove. A freestanding wood-burning stove can cost upwards of two thousand dollars, depending on where you purchase it. Of course the design has radically changed over the years to reflect not only personal choice and preference but also to work more efficiently. But you’ll have to make a decision right from the start – whether to get an old-fashioned wood-burning stove that eats up regular firewood or one that burns wood pellets! Each have their advantages and disadvantages, but can result in you saving hundreds of dollars in the long run as energy bills threaten to overrun many families’ wallets.
One major difference between the old models of the past and the current wood burning stoves is the concept of using wood pellets instead of giant pieces of wood hacked off of a tree or harvested from a woodlot. Indeed, the cost of heating your home can drop dramatically with the installation of either the old pot-bellied wood stove or a more energy-efficient wood pellet burner. A cord of firewood that would last for a single family for six months in a standard wood-burning stove costs just over a hundred dollars – a massive savings over oil and natural gas, that can drain your wallet monthly of hundreds of dollars!
Let’s look at the two major types of wood-burning stoves available to the general public – those that burn wood pellets and those that burn firewood and see how they compare.
First, the old-style pot-bellied wood-burning stove can still be found and purchased but many customers prefer the newer models that can fit into a room’s décor and not disrupt the design of the house. These models usually involve a chimney of some sort of allow the smoke to leave the home so a certain amount of home renovation is usually needed along with special consideration as to where the stove is being placed. They need a large amount of open space around them which makes them poor choices for smaller houses, apartments and individual rooms as well as having major fluctuations in the amount of heat being given off. As well older people may not relish the idea of either having wood stored in the house itself or nearby and trekking outside or down to the basement to pick up another log to feed the wood burning stove. And these older models need to be cleaned out much more often – the image of the shovel, brush and dustpail may have disappeared from your memories of Grandpa’s fireplace but are much-needed items for your older wood-burning model.
Wood pellets are a newer and more viable option for those homeowners investing in a wood-burning stove. In fact, many of these new models require little if any external ventilation due to the fact that they are super-efficient in burning the pellets (made of compressed sawdust), resulting in not only little if any smoke but little if any residue to clean up! These pellets are dumped onto a tray by an electronic system that then heats the pan up using electricity. A small computer chip monitors the entire operation, channelling the heat out using a fan that blows the hot air into your room. Instead of having to feed wood into the stove every few hours, a wood-burning stove that uses pellets only needs to be restocked every two to three days, depending on the size of the stove and the speed with which the pellets are burnt. While these wood-burning models are much more efficient than their ancestors are, there are still problems with the wood pellet stoves. First is that you need to have electricity in order to run the wood-burning wood pellet stoves in the first place, making them dependent on another power source to keep running. As well, if the pellets get damp they will not burn properly and will clog up your system as they get dumped into the bin. But these new models can save you a great deal of money, since a ton of wood pellets costs under two hundred dollars and an average household uses less than four tons throughout an entire year.
Obviously the older wood-burning stove will appeal to traditionalists and to those who want to create a self-sustaining heat source for their homes. Even with the problems of ventilation and of finding a good reliable source of firewood many families are considering returning to the past in order to keep their energy bills down. Many states have areas in which you can cut your own firewood, saving even more money in the long run.
But no matter which version of the wood-burning stove you choose, be sure to have it professionally installed and inspected by a trained expert. Large hardware stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot usually have a display of wood-burning stoves, along with references to trained professionals who can install these appliances safely.
It may be tempting to just fire up the old fireplace and turn off the gas furnace, but you need to make sure that your home is able to handle having a wood-burning stove as your primary source of heat. While the wood pellet stove doesn’t give off as much smoke and needs less ventilation than a regular wood-burning stove, there is still the need for electric power to run the unit in the first place. But a wood-burning stove needs a clean and clear chimney as well as plenty of open space around it in order to burn the firewood as efficiently as possible. Both models have their postive and negative aspects and a responsible homeowner should ask as many questions as possible before making a purchase and investing in this alternative heat source.
In the past pioneer families had to rely on many different heat sources to stay warm and stay alive in winter. And while the technology may have progressed past the wood-burning potbellied stove, the concept of using firewood to create a warm and safe environment for your family can still be used today. With a little research and investment in your future your family can look forward to not only a warm and comfortable winter night but also decreasing energy bills.