Wood Heat: Factors to consider

Why choose wood heat?

Ambiance of wood heat

A wood stove is unlike any other appliance.  There’s a certain romance to sitting by the stove with your family in the evening.  A fire adds an ambiance that transforms a space unattainable any other way. Watching a fire burn and feeling its heat on your skin evokes feelings of comfort and home.  People don’t often feel such strong emotions when coming home to their furnace or their refrigerator.

Practical considerations

Wood heat is not just a beautiful fixture in a living space.  It can be a very practical heat source. Wood stoves provide intense, dry heat that can warm spaces even in the most extreme climates.  Fuel for a wood stove is relatively cheap, easy to find or purchase, and is easy to store in large quantities. When properly managed, wood is a renewable resource, and burning it for fuel can be overall better for the planet than burning fossil fuels.

Wood heat can be a beautiful feature and a practical consideration
Wood heat can be a beautiful feature and a practical consideration

How safe is wood heat?

Wood heat can provide the security of a heat source that doesn’t require any modern infrastructure.  It works just as well as a primary heat source for an off-grid home as it does for an emergency heat source for an on-grid space when the power fails.  In case of natural disasters, supply lines for propane and other fuels may stop running, but fuel for wood stoves can be foraged and processed locally. Most wood stoves are also capable of burning other solid fuels.  Coal, charcoal, compressed logs, and even dried cow chips can be used as fuel in wood stoves for heating and cooking.

Does wood heat save costs compared to other heating methods?

Wood heat can often provide cost savings over other methods of heating, or it can be used to augment other heating systems.  A smaller, more cost-effective solar or geothermal heating system could be used for climate control most of the year, while a wood stove could provide supplemental heating for the coldest months.

Wood heat is not for everyone

I love heating with wood, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Natural draft wood stoves are 18th century technology: they require some manual labor and technical mastery to operate well. Maintaining an efficient fire in your stove is an art that requires time and patient experimentation to learn. Cooking with a wood stove takes longer and requires more manual participation than a gas or electric range.  For some, stoking the stove periodically will feel like “work.” For me, stoking the stove sounds like a nice way to spend an evening.

If wood is your sole heat source in a tiny space, managing the fire can require even more care.  Depending on the stove model, an all-night burn may be difficult or impossible to achieve. So you may need to get up once or twice a night to stoke the stove.  In our Airstream, we just bundle up for the night and restart the stove in the morning.

A wood stove can also give off a mild wood smoke smell.  If you don’t like the smell of wood smoke, heating with wood may not be for you. A properly managed wood stove shouldn’t make your space smell strongly of smoke, but a tuft of smoke might escape occasionally when you open the door.

Burning firewood can be messy, since bringing wood into the house can bring dirt and insects with it. Also, the stove can create ash and soot in its immediate vicinity.  

If you live in a densely populated area, the particulates given off in the smoke of a wood stove might be a problem.  Some areas have regulations limiting the use of wood stoves, requiring the appliance to have a certification. On bad air quality days,  a “burn ban” might be instituted .  If you live in one of those areas, burning wood as your primary heat source might not be your best option.

Storing firewood is one consideration when choosing a wood stove

Is a wood stove right for you?

I personally love lighting and tending fires, and enjoy chopping wood.  I don’t mind the occasional cleanup, and love the mild smell of wood smoke in my home.  If any of these are a deal-breaker for you, then using a different heat source might be a better option.

There are lots of options for heating your small space if a wood stove isn’t right for you.  But if you want the ambiance of a real fire without the trouble of a wood stove, you could consider a direct vent propane fireplace.

Still not sure if a wood stove is the best choice for you?  Check out our free beginner's guide for wood stoves in tiny spaces, or contact us with your questions.

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