Think beyond the basic fireplace and learn more ways to heat your home with wood
Heating homes with wood allows you to use a renewable energy source, and, depending on where you live, it can be less expensive than other fuels.
A traditional crackling fireplace may first spring to mind. However, before you get your heart set on curling up in front of its warm glow, find out more about what wood-burning appliances you can use to heat your home, along with some of their pros and cons.
1. Wood-Burning Stoves
Wood-burning stoves can be used as a primary heat source or run alongside a gas or electric heating system. These self-contained units have a three-part construction of a firebox, a ventilation pipe, and a chimney. Usually made from cast iron or steel, they need a constant airflow to heat the surrounding space through combustion. Modern, EPA-approved wood-burning stoves are widely considered energy efficient, a good radiant heat source, and generate considerably fewer emissions than older models.
Typically installed in a central, open space in the home, like the living room or a dining kitchen, they won’t provide much heat to closed-off rooms elsewhere. This means they aren’t a good primary source of heat in large houses. Wood burners are also expensive to install and high-maintenance, and your home insurance costs can increase when you use one.
If you want to create a cozy atmosphere in your primary living space, nothing beats crackling aromatic logs on a fireplace. However, a traditional open masonry fireplace is high-maintenance, not energy efficient, and is usually only a secondary heating source. In fact, most masonry fireplaces lose the majority of the fire’s heat through the chimney. Also, the fire risk they present means you can’t leave them unattended until the ashes are fully cool, and they produce a lot of smoke compared to other options.
3. Fireplace Inserts
A fireplace insert, also known as a retrofit, functions similarly to a wood-burning stove, but you insert it into the firebox of an existing fireplace. These sealed, prefabricated inserts produce fewer pollutants compared to traditional fireplaces. Because they use the existing masonry framing and the chimney with a liner for venting, they can be less expensive to install when compared to a wood-burning stove but still provide a similar amount of heat.
4. Pellet Stoves
A pellet stove isn’t a traditional wood-burning appliance. Instead, it burns renewable fuel typically made from compressed ground wood waste made into pellets.
Once you pour the pellets into the stove's hopper, they can continue providing heat for around 24 hours. Pellet stoves are very efficient heaters with low emission rates, but they require electricity or batteries to operate. Plus, they don’t always look as attractive as wood-burning stoves or traditional fireplaces.
5. Hydronic Heaters
Hydronic heaters, also known as wood boilers, pellet boilers, or outdoor boilers, are installed outside the home. They burn wood-based fuel, so the heat transfers to liquid that pipes through the house. The radiant heat, which often circulates through baseboards, doesn’t dry out your home as forced air systems can. These systems can also provide hot water.
Hydronic heaters keep burning particulates out of the home, but installation costs can be high. Plus, because there’s no need for ductwork, if you need A/C, it will require a separate installation.
There are various types of hydronic boilers, liquid options, and other elements for you to consider when installing a hydronic heater. Speaking to a local heating contractor will help you select the best choice for your home.
6. Warm-Air Furnaces
Unlike hydronic heaters, warm or forced-air furnaces are located inside the home and distribute heat through ducts using a blower. Instead of burning wood logs, they burn wood pellets, chips, or cordwood.
A chimney or smokestack needs to be installed on the roof to remove gas emissions. Because they can’t store heat the way some hydronic heaters can, the fuel needs topping up regularly to keep a house warm.
7. Masonry Heaters
Of all the wood-burning appliances, masonry heaters are perhaps the most efficient and cleanest burning. They store heat from fires that burn rapidly in the masonry structure but then provide slow-release heat into the home for up to 12 hours. However, they aren’t for every homeowner, as they’re large and heavy (at least 1,760 pounds). A qualified heater-mason contractor must build the heater on-site, which can drive up costs.