Wood, Gas, or Pellet Systems – Which is your best choice, and why.

When adding alternative heating to your home (in addition to your central heating system), there are essentially three fuel choices: wood, gas, and pellet. Wood is the most popular choice because it is abundant and has been used for heating for years; however, pellet heating systems and gas appliances have dramatically increased the efficiency of heating and offer great benefits. Let’s look at all three basic systems and weigh their benefits as well as some of their drawbacks.

1. Pellet

Seraph Industries Genesis 106 Stove - Chico CA - White Glove Chimney

Seraph Genesis 106
Multi-Fuel Stove –
Wood Pellet, Corn, and Grass Pellet

If you are tired of burning wood or can’t handle wood any more, you don’t have or want to use a furnace, and you don’t have Natural Gas, your best hearth option is a pellet burning appliance.

The benefits of a pellet appliance are centered around convenience:

  • You can buy fuel year round.
  • The fuel is in plastic bags on a pallet so it’s easy to store.
  • Smaller footprint in the home.
  • The newer appliances are self-lighting, many have a remote control option, and refueling might only take place every 3 days.
  • Some models run on a thermostat.
  • Cleaner burn & smaller carbon footprint than gas or oil.
  • Some models allow for burning multiple types of fuel, such as corn, walnut or almond shells, olive pits, grass pellets, etc.

The drawbacks to pellet stoves are:

  • Specialized fuel, higher cost than wood fuel, and you still have to manage 40lb. bags.
  • They use (a small amount of) electricity and power surges can harm them.
  • There are many poorly made pellet appliances with weak manufacturer support (you get what you pay for), and many high quality pellet stoves cost $3,000 to $4,000 plus installation.
  • You still need to clean out ash.
  • Some pellets have high ash content (just like some wood does) and some pellet stoves plug up easily from high ash fuels.
  • Many new, high quality, stoves run very quietly;  however, if you are used to a wood stove that does not have a blower, listen carefully to the sounds of a pellet stove to see if it will bother you.

For a newer 2,000 square foot (+-) home here in the valley, fuel costs will range from $3.50 to $5 a day (one to 1.5 bags a day), which is $105 to $150 a month (plus cleaning costs, which in general are higher with a pellet appliance than with a wood burning system).

2. Gas

Napoleon STARfire™ 40 direct vent gas fireplace

Napoleon STARfire™ 40 – HDX40
Direct Vent Gas Fireplace

Propane (LP) and natural gas (NG) hearth appliances have come a long way. If you are tired of burning wood or can’t handle wood anymore and have natural gas means, consider a gas stove. Natural gas is the least expensive fuel, unless you get your wood for free. Propane is more expensive than using pellets as a main source of heat; however, if you have a vacation home, want it for a bedroom, or only want a fire for ambiance, a propane appliance is a good choice. People who are tired of burning wood but have a large supply of wood or a good wood lot often feel trapped into using the wood. But have you considered selling your firewood? Seasoned firewood sold in the Fall commands a high value and may sell for $350 a cord. This will pay for much of your new system over time.

Gas appliances have these benefits:

  • They look like a wood fire and feel like a wood fire.
  • In most cases, they work without electricity.
  • They leave no ash, dribbles or mess.
  • Smaller footprint in the home
  • Many models don’t use air from inside the home.
  • Most models are around 80% heating efficient.
  • Natural gas is the least expensive fuel (other than free wood).
  • With constant delivery of gas utility, there is no fuel to store.
  • Gas appliances usually only need service every couple of years.

Gas appliance drawbacks are:

  • Their use has a high carbon footprint.
  • Less expensive models don’t look like a real wood fire.
  • The heat output or BTU is low compared to a similarly sized solid fuel stove.
  • Propane is fairly high priced relative to other fuels (although there are ways to mitigate it to some extent).

Fuel costs can be calculated by reading the Input Rating on the appliance and then looking at the cost of the fuel. For example – If the appliance input rating is 33,000 BTU (British Thermal Unit) per hour and it’s natural gas – you would look at your gas bill to see how much you pay for a therm of gas – a therm is about 100,000 BTU. Burning for three hours would consume one therm. If you pay 38 cents a therm it will cost you 38 cents to burn for 3 hours, or about $100 a month. If you have propane – there is about 93,000 BTU in a gallon of propane. If your appliance input rating is 31,000 btu an hour you would use one gallon of fuel every three hours. If the gas costs $2.80 a gallon then it is $2.80 for 3 hours, or about $750 a month (at 9 hours a
day), plus gas service costs.

3. Wood

Napoleon Banff™ 1400c wood stove

Napoleon Banff™ 1400c
Wood Burning Stove – European Style

People often say that there is nothing like the feel of wood heat. A wood fire generates primarily radiant heat which, like the sun’s rays, doesn’t turn into heat energy until it hits an object – like your body. As it turns into heat energy it feels so good! What’s nicer than sitting in front of a fire with your loved ones while enjoying a glass of wine and staring into the embers?

The benefits of burning in a wood stove or fireplace are:

  • You can burn most anything. Do you have free wood? Burn it. A lot of newspapers to roll into logs? Burn them. You have many fuel sources to choose from. When my wife and I were first married, we had a newborn and couldn’t afford to buy wood — but we got free cardboard where I worked. Cardboard fuel kept the chill off well enough for us.
  • A few select wood stove models are self-lighting.
  • They also work without electricity.

The drawbacks to wood burning are:

  • Getting wood and stacking it requires effort, as does getting kindling dirt/spiders/critters out of the woodpile.
  • Dribbles on the floor, hot coals on the floor/carpet, and ash disposal.
  • Lack of control – temperature fluctuations, dust in the home, smoke in the home.
  • Outdoor air quality may be impacted in some communities, especially if the population density is high.

Fuel costs are calculated by cost of cords of wood burned over time rather than efficiency, since there is little temperature regulation. If you buy wood and live in the North Valley and have a new stove in a newer home, you can plan on burning about 1.5 cords a year. At $300 a cord that’s $50 a month, assuming we have a real winter.

Call White Glove for professional answers to your heating questions. We will help you find the best fit for providing a clean, warm, home.