info/advice on wood furnace as primary heat source?

hjihjiMarch 18, 2012

We're thinking about buying a 1967 house in NH that comes with a 1967 hot water furnace. The oil usage for the past three years for the current owners was 1200 gal/yr. It's a 2700 sq ft cape, but even so that seems like a lot of oil to go through. Especially at $4/gal. Or at whatever the price of oil will be next year (my guess is more than $4/gal).

If we buy the house we would want to upgrade the furnace, among other energy saving modifications (insulating the basement and attic, mainly). A wood furnace seems appealing to me, although I don't know that much about them, and I'm hoping to get some advice on them.

I know many people who have wood as their primary heat and they like it. Of these people, one also has a 600 gallon water tank that gets heated up by the furnace and acts as a "buffer" for the heat that gets produced. I think this would be desirable, since wood fires to burn at maximum efficiency have to be going at a good clip- you can't cycle a wood fire on and off like you can with a gas or oil furnace, based on the temperature of the rooms and the thermostat setting.

I would want an oil or propane backup furnace so the house doesn't freeze up if we're not around to feed the furnace with wood. Possibly, we'd just get a wood furnace and keep the old oil furnace as the back up (of course that means we'd need a second chimney, but maybe it's worth it anyway).

I'm looking for peoples' experience with wood furnaces with and without the thermal storage tank.

One more piece of information that may or may not be important- there is a fireplace in the living room. We would want to convert that to a stove insert for supplemental heat. Not sure if that makes a difference for this discussion.

Thanks in advance.

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Alex House

Check out masonry heaters. Burn VERY HOT, fired once, maybe twice, a day. Constant heat, so little of any heat spikes followed by cold spells. Mass produces excellent thermal buffer. Big ticket item because you're talking many tons of mass, but thereafter pretty low maintenance.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2012 at 8:33PM
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thats alot of oil and money for heating with oil. I would do anything to get off that. Maybe you can get some mini-split heatpumps to heat on the milder weather (above 30) and use the wood-burner for the cold winter weather. That would save you some work for alot the less extreme weather and still be cost effective. I'm not sure how expensive your electric is but its gotta be less expensive than using oil and above 30 outside temperature they don't run constantly.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2012 at 9:17AM
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" can't cycle a wood fire on and off like you can with a gas or oil furnace, based on the temperature of the rooms and the thermostat setting. "

Consider an outdoor burner. They ramp up from a smolder when the thermostat calls. No need for a second chimney. They can burn "trash" wood. Heat transfer is via water jacket and underground insulated lines.

One negative is the nasty smoke when in standby mode. Some townships have banned their use because of that after complaints from close-by neighbors. There is no charm from an indoor fire, but of course, that might lower your insurance.

Depending on site terrain, the system can be set up to run "atmospheric", i.e. not a pressurized boiler.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 6:04AM
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My parents have heated their home with a Yukon wood furnace for over 20 years. They still have a propane furnace for back up and I think some insurance companies require a regular gas oil or electric source of heat. The chimney rarely puts off any smoke or smell and it also preheats the water before it goes to the water heater. The furnace portion is air to air so there is no water to deal with unless you wish to buy the kit to help the water heater. They do have combination units that are oil/wood propane/wood or natural gas/wood also so you would satisfy the insurance company also. My parents only use the straight wood version.

My parents have the Klondike.

Here is a link that might be useful: Yukon furnaces

    Bookmark   March 21, 2012 at 9:14PM
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What you need is a coal boiler. Anthracite coal is clean-burning, and, with an automatic stoker boiler, is FAR more convenient than wood as well as extremely inexpensive.

For more information check out the coal forums at:

coal boiler mfgr's:

There are many other mfgr's as well. Check out the coal forums for an excellent fuel cost calculator to determine how much you would save and you can also talk to others in your area about their coal heating systems and experiences. I heat my home with a coal stoker furnace and wouldn't have it any other way - it's clean, inexpensive and convenient.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 2:51AM
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I want to thank everyone for their responses. I got a lot of information that I wasn't expecting.

We made an offer on the house we were looking at and it got turned down- too big a difference between what we thought it was worth and what the seller thought it was worth.

I'll still keep all of these suggestions in mind as we look at other properties. Of all the ideas we were given, I think the masonry stove is still very interesting- yes I know it takes more work than the other heaters take, but I just like the idea. I think we'd need to build a house to get something like that to fit in it in a way that makes sense.

I also liked the other ideas- I never considered coal and will look into that more. I never heard of mini-split heat pumps, and they sound kind of intriguing. Also the wood furnace looked good (especially if retrofitting in an existing house). For reasons I can't explain, I'm not a big fan of the outdoor burners. I couldn't have pictured it in the neighborhood we were looking at anyway.

If something happens that's worth reporting on, I'll put in more comments. For now, thanks again.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 9:37PM
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I don't know about coal but I know the wood furnace my parents have is easier than my pellet stove. Set the stat and put 3-4 match light or generic style briquettes in a pile with some small pieces of wood and light the charcoal. In no time flat its going. If the stat is satisfied it just bleeds enough air to keep the embers glowing enough they do not put off smoke. When the weather stays below 30 they never let it go out and 4-5 decent size splits will usually go through the night. If you load it up pretty good it will easily carry over 12 hours.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2012 at 10:30PM
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