Can't decide what to put in the fireplace

oneofakindSeptember 6, 2007

Hello, I am new here. This past February we moved to New England and have a fireplace in our 1968 square foot house. Two weeks ago we got the pamphlet from our oil supplier and the cost of a season's oil is over $4000! So we are seriously considering adding an insert to our fireplace. I've read the thread on wood burning versus pellet but still have questions. We visited a retailer today who gave us a hard sell on pellet inserts. Maybe it is just me but I have an aversion to logs in the fireplace that are just "for show" and do not really burn. It all seems so fake -- BUT! I am willing to get over that pet peeve if a pellet stove is truly worth it.

Our fireplace is large enough but has the problem of having wood only 7" from the opening. The retailer said if we used a woodburning insert we'd need to have big [ugly] black iron deflectors placed around the insert to keep it from singeing (sp?) the surrounding pine mantel. We cannot have those things up because we aren't the most graceful folks in the world and I have no doubt we'd bash arms, legs, hips and whatnot into them. Plus our two-year-old kid could put an eye out on one of those corners. The hearth is flush with the floor and does not extend out very far, so a freestanding wood stove probably isn't an option (correct me if I'm wrong, of course!).

The retailer we visited was very hard-nosed about recommending Quadra-Fire inserts. They are OK but not all that attractive. I like Vermont Castings better, to be honest. Also the prices were high, like $3900 for the entire thing for the Quadra-Fire Castile Pellet Insert, installation and all.

My husband mentioned the integrity of the bottom-feeding pellet stove versus the top-feeder, he got a line of bull about how you can't trust what you read on the internet. To which I replied, "Oh really, gosh I own and administer three forums of my own" which I do, actually. He was sort of taken aback by that, hehehehe

Sorry for rambling.. anyway the bottom line question is: will having an insert in the house really save us that much money? And if so, should it be pellet or woodburning? Will we really need ugly deflectors? Are there any New Englanders who can give us a rough estimate of how many bags of pellets/cords of wood they use per season? It all seems like such a hassle and expense that we're waffling on whether it is worth it. Certainly we won't go back to the hardcases at that retail place, LOL!

Thanks for any help you can provide.


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Well, I certainly can't answer most of your questions. My house is almost 2500 square feet. I'm on propane and have a Regency Warm Hearth insert in the living room. It is rated for about 30,000 BTU's and uses wood only.

You can't burn real big wood in it because you have to be careful not to get too hot a fire or it can warp the steel box. It has a 2 speed fan on it. Anyway, once it gets going, it puts out enough heat that the furnace doesn't run. This might sound like a great thing, but other areas of the house are pretty cool--like basement and bedrooms. It doesn't matter to me because I'm only one person here. It really helps cut down the propane bill--I only burn about 900 gallons of propane in a 12 month period.

There are other options you can look at that might give you more bang for your buck. Have you thought about those exterior wood burning units? It seems like you need to heat the WHOLE house, not just supplement. Or a wood burner in basement, hooked up to the heat leads. A friend of mine has one of these and it's the greatest thing. $4000 dollars for fuel sure is high, but that's the way it is in the East. I'd sure try to find the best solution for the money you have to spend because the fuel prices are only going higher.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2007 at 11:21AM
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Pellet stoves are nice but expensive initially. One factor with pellets is that while they are easier to stack, store and keep clean and burn clean, a pellet stove burning looks like a blast furnace. And, pellets are still linked with to the price of oil since they are a by-product of the logging and lumber industry which needs diesel fuel to cut, process, and deliver the pellets. So if oil goes up so does the price of pellets. You also can't make any pellets whereas you can easily cut your own wood.

With only 7 inches to clearance I don't know of any inserts even with a mantle shield that would support that. For example, a Hearthstone Morgan insert needs 34 inches to the mantle without a heat shield but with a heat shield it still needs 22. I'm not aware of any insert with only 7 inches of mantel clearance.

If you really want an insert and there are inserts such as a Pacific Energy Summit rated for ~2,000 feet or even more, (roughly the size of your house), or a hearth mounted wood stove which is another option you would have to lose the mantle or replace it with one which is non-combustible, (made from stone, brick, or ceramic tile.

One thing with either an insert or hearth mount is that you will probably need a chimney re-line since you should vent a stove into a chimney whose cross-sectional area is bigger than the exhaust of the stove. Most stoves have a 6 inch round exhaust.

Finally, 4 grand is a lot to pay for a pellet setup. I don't know whether you have forced hot air or hot water but you can definitely get a wood furnace to hook into your ductwork for hot air for that or less, and for slightly more you could get a wood gasification boiler like the EKO imported by New Horizon Corp. which you can hookup in series with your existing boiler. Both the boiler and or the furnace would need some basement space, make-up combustion air and available capacity on a chimney flue. Do not go with an outdoor boiler, they make a lot of smoke and are pretty expensive in their own right.

Finally over $4,000 for oil even at a pre-buy price of like $2.50 which is what it was when I last checked is 1,600 gallons of oil which over a 5-6 month heating season,(full-time use) is a lot of oil. If you use that much oil you would need a LOT of wood since a cord of good hardwood is roughly equivalent to 125-150 gallons of oil. No matter what you do, you would probably be better served looking into some insulation and caulking. Good luck

    Bookmark   September 8, 2007 at 7:07AM
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