Tips for heating your home with firewood this winter

What's old is new once again as USA Today reports that more and more consumers will turn to firewood to heat their homes this winter. While the costs of heating oil and gas have gone down, the popularity of stoking a wood fire for home heating seems to be at an all time high.

According to the report, Leslie Wheeler, spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, said shipments of wood stoves and fireplace inserts were up 54% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year. While final figures weren't available, the group's analysis of recent sales showed that demand remains high.

Reality check
Like a lot of things in life, the idea of a fireplace can be warmer than the reality, but hey, we're all suckers for crackling logs when the whole family is huddled under blankets during the holidays watching the umpteenth airing of It's a Wonderful Life. Homes with a fireplace also often command a higher resale value.

Gas Prices in the News

With oil down by more than half from its highs in July, gas prices follow. The nationwide average retail price for gas fell to $1.82 a gallon as of Dec. 1, and gas prices have dropped below $2 in all but 2 states and the District of Columbia.

Tony Dejak, AP

With oil down 40 percent from its high in July, the cost of gasoline is rapidly falling as well. The national average retail price for a gallon of regular gas was $3.35 on Oct. 3, down from a mid-July high of $4.114. "We're well on our way to $3 gas within the next week or two," says an AAA spokesman.

Chris Hondros, Getty Images

Panic buying left many gas stations empty in Nashville, Tenn., after false rumors over gas shortages ran rampant through the city.

Mark Humphrey, AP

Hurricane Ike has come and gone but many states in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic, which get their gas through pipelines from the Gulf region, are still experiencing gas shortages. Above, long lines of nervous drivers wait to fill up at a station just east of Houston Monday morning.

Brad Loper, The Dallas Morning News / AP

The Houston region is home to about one-fifth of U.S. refining capacity. Last week, the wholesale price of gas ranged from $4 to nearly $5, which is what refineries charge retailers. If these wholesale prices hold, pump prices could rise back above $4 a gallon.

David J. Phillip, AP

Despite a recent retreat in gasoline prices, many schools around the country are eliminating or reducing bus service, consolidating bus stops, canceling field trips and forcing students to walk longer distances to school.

Bill Kostroun, AP

Spurred by high gasoline prices, dozens of communities around the country now allow electric golf carts on city streets as a cheaper, cleaner alternative to cars and trucks. Twenty-six states either allow low-speed electric vehicles on local streets or let towns make that decision.

Chris Carlson, AP

Nissan will be introducing a device called an "Eco Pedal" in new cars, which is a counter-control mechanism that pushes back when the driver steps too hard on the accelerator. The device is supposed to increase fuel efficiency.


Pressured by high gas prices, consumers are paying big bucks to buy used fuel-efficient cars like the Toyota Prius. Even 2007 models that had logged an average 22,000 miles sold for only $276 less than dealers were getting for a Prius direct from the factory.

Yoshikazu Tsuno, AFP / Getty Images

This year's record rise in oil and gas prices has forced local governments to make tough choices. Some cities and other municipalities are reluctantly cutting back police patrols, road repair crews -- asphalt is composed largely of heavy oil -- and, paradoxically, even some bus services in order to lower their fuel bills.

Charles Rex Arbogast, AP

    However, just know that we're not talking about a particularly efficient heat source. Usually, a traditional fireplace lets as much warm air escape from a home as it delivers into it.

    We're also not talking about a low-maintenance relationship. With any fireplace or wood-burning stove, you will get a buildup of creosote that results from combustion deposits combining with steam. This will gunk up the inside of your chimney at a pretty rapid rate, necessitating a good chimney sweeping for every cord of wood you burn (that would be a stack of wood that's 4 feet tall, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet wide). Regular sweeping is important too, as that same gunk can lead to a chimney fire with devastating results.

    Woodstoves are another popular option. Determining its true efficiency depends a lot on what you'll pay for the stove along with what you pay for wood, or how much you value the back-breaking labor it takes to play lumberjack on your own.

    Regardless, if you love the stove experience, there are a few things you can do to make sure it is as efficient as possible:

    • Burn Dry – Burning green (wet) wood wastes energy and contributes to the creosote build up quickly. Purchase dry wood and store it that way until use.
    • Pay for Efficiency – Always invest in the most efficient wood stove you can find. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Certification as well as a UL Certification as your best indication that the stove operates safely and efficiently.
    • Size Matters – Wood stoves can be sized for the space they need to heat. Buying one that is too small or too big is a waste of money and energy.
    • Burn the Best – Generally the harder, heavier and denser the wood, the more heat you'll get out of it. Be selective when purchasing firewood and always burn the best.

    For more information on woodstoves, check out this EPA site.

    Finally, pellet stoves are another option to consider if you love having your heating appliance side by side with your home's furniture. Pellet stoves burn a mixture of ground waste wood or other renewable fuel. They are very efficient but need electricity to be able to continuously feed the pellets through.

    Most importantly, if you want to have a wood stove or pellet stove installed, be sure it is done safely and in accordance with the stove manufacturers' recommendation. Installing stoves is a precise business. Put one too close to a combustible wall or run a vent pipe too near a wood ceiling beam and disaster can strike quickly.

    More ways to warm your home
    For more ways to stay warm, here's a holiday gift from your humble blogger; a free download of, "How to Avoid Freezing, Sneezing, Frying and Fizzling...and Freaking Out over Utility Costs," Chapter 8 from my new book My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure.

    The book reads well, especially on chilly nights when sitting in front of a roaring fire.

    Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and co-author of My Home, My Money Pit: Your Guide to Every Home Improvement Adventure. He delivers expert home improvement tips and ideas each week as host of The Money Pit, a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program.
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