Planning Ahead to Save on Future Heating Bills

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planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
As I look out the front window of my Maine home, I can just make out the top of my daughter’s toddler size swing set peeking out of the waist-deep snow. In stark contrast, other parts of the country have already been graced with green buds and warmer weather. Wherever you are, you’re probably dreaming of beach days and not giving much thought to how you will heat your home next winter, but now is the best time to save money on next year’s heating bill.

Stores like Lowes and Home Depot mark their heating appliances down at this time of year to get rid of left over merchandise so they can make room for spring and summer merchandise like gardening supplies and patio furniture. When I purchased my wood stove several years ago I saved over $300 by purchasing it at the end of the heating season. If you’re still using oil as your primary heat source you’ve probably wondered if it would be worth it to switch to another heating source, but maybe you didn’t feel like you had enough information to make an informed decision.

So here’s what you need to know about .. .
Oil or Propane Fueled Furnace/Boilers
Gas Heaters & Fireplaces
Wood Stoves
Indoor Wood Boiler
Outdoor Wood Furnace
Pellet Stoves

[PAGE]Oil or Propane Fueled Furnace/Boiler[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Oil or Propane fueled furnace/boiler
Pros:

  • Oil and gas are generally convenient because you can have them automatically delivered each month. There is no mess to clean up or fuel to haul around

  • If you use zoned heating with hot water baseboards you can save money by independently adjusting the heat for various parts of your home.

  • The addition of Nest thermostatsallow you to control your heat when you’re away from home. You can turn the temp down to just above freezing when you are away from home and turn it up remotely using a smartphone so that your home is warm by the time you get back. This can cut heating costs substantially.

  • Some of these systems heat your household water too

Cons:

  • Oil & Propane are the most expensive heating fuels

  • Unless you’re exceptionally handy you will need to pay a pretty penny to have your system installed and serviced each year by a technician. If you’re using propane, you must pay a professional to check your fuel line for leaks annually. Your chimney will also need to be cleaned annually. Boilers and furnaces are typically the most expensive types of systems to install and maintain. In addition to paying for service work, the gas lines and copper pipes necessary for installation can be quite expensive.

  • If your power goes out so will your heat unless you have a whole house generator. If you’re using a boiler system your pipes can freeze during power outages causing costly repairs for burst pipes and water damage.

  • These systems use non-renewable resources that often cause environmental damage. Oil spills are often the cause of animal deaths and water contamination.

  • These types of fuel require the purchase and maintenance of holding tanks, although most propane companies will provide a tank free of charge to use.

  • Propane can be dangerous as there is increased risk for asphyxiation and gas explosions. Always follow a manufacturers recommended operating procedures and have a carbon monoxide/gas detectorinstalled in your home.

[PAGE]Gas Heaters & Fireplaces[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Gas heaters/fireplaces
Pros:

  • Gas Fireplaces are very inexpensive to set up.

  • If you’re using a heating system that doesn’t circulate water you can turn these appliances off completely when you won’t be home for an extended period of time. Just be sure to turn off the house’s main water valve, drain your pipes by turning all faucets on and flushing the toilet, and wrap electrical heat tape around the section of pipe that comes before the main shut-off valve. This will prevent pipes from bursting.

  • Many gas fireplaces come with battery back-ups which allow you to start up your appliance even if the power goes out, however the fan which circulates the heat won’t work unless you have a generator. This means you will still receive radiant heat from your appliance, but it may not heat a large area as effectively as it would with the use of a circulator fan.

  • Gas fireplaces add beauty and value to your home.

Cons:

  • Gas tends to be about the same price or just slightly cheaper than oil (still expensive). Natural gas tends to be cheaper than propane, but is not available in all areas since it’s delivered via pipes installed in the ground instead of a propane tank.

  • You will have to pay a technician to check your fuel lines for gas leaks annually.

  • The cost of installing gas lines and hooking up a gas appliance can be expensive.

  • Gas can be dangerous as there is increased risk for asphyxiation and gas explosions. Always follow a manufacturers recommended operating procedures and have a carbon monoxide/gas detectorinstalled in your home.

[PAGE]Wood Stoves[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Wood Stoves

Pros:

  • Wood is the cheapest fuel currently available, more than 50% cheaper than gas or oil

  • You can get more heat for your dollar if wood has been properly seasoned or kiln dried. This means that you can bask in the warmth of your wood stove instead of keeping your thermostat below your comfort level to stretch your fuel budget.

  • Wood can often be obtained for free during desperate times. Demolition lumber or wood found by the roadside can be burned. Never burn pressure treated wood as it can release toxic fumes into your home or into the air around your home.

  • Wood stoves will continue to provide heat and can even be used to cook on during power outages.

  • Wood is a renewable resource

  • Wood stoves are low maintenance. You can clean your own chimney pipe for free by purchasing a simple chimney cleaning brush. If you have an older masonry chimney you will want to have it inspected annually by a professional chimney service or replace it with stove pipe which has fewer safety issues than masonry.

  • Some wood stoves come with soapstone casings which extend heating periods. This is because soapstone absorbs heat and releases it slowly.

  • New hybrid wood stoves are more efficient and can even convert heat into electricity which can be used to charge cell phones and other devices.

Cons:

  • Heat output depends on the type of wood used and how dry it is. It’s difficult to control temperature output. Sometimes heat output may be too little, other times too much.

  • Heat tends to concentrate in the area around the wood stove. Circulating heat throughout the whole house can be a challenge. Since heat rises, fans can be installed above doorways to aid in circulation.

  • Wood is labor intensive. It must be hauled and stacked.

  • A large storage area is necessary to keep wood dry

  • Regular wood stoves must be filled every 4-8 hours to keep the house warm. This can make it difficult to be away from home overnight or for an extended period. If you know ahead of time that you will be away from home for a long period you can turn off your home’s main water supply valve, drain pipes by turning on all faucets and flushing the toilet, and wrap the section of water pipe that comes before your shut off valve with electrical heat tape. This will prevent pipes from bursting. Some hybrid wood stove models claim that they can provide heat for up to 14 hours. I haven’t had the opportunity to test out these models yet, so I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these claims.

  • Wood is messy and can bring bugs into the house. Ash must also be emptied regularly. All of these conditions along with smoke from the unit during start-up periods can cause problems for those with allergies.

  • Wood stoves can cause house fires if the chimney is not cleaned regularly. Chimneys should be cleaned at least once a year. If you burn a lot of wet wood, or pine wood you will want to clean more frequently as these conditions can cause a rapid build-up of creosote, a substance that burns exceptionally hot and that is often the cause of house fires.

  • Wood stoves make the air very dry causing nose bleeds. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.

  • Check with your Homeowners Insurance PRIOR to purchasing wood stoves as many insurers will Drop your coverage if you use this method for heating.

[PAGE]Indoor Wood Boiler[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Indoor Wood boiler

Pros:

  • Wood is the cheapest fuel currently available, more than 50% cheaper than gas or oil. Wood can also often be obtained for free.

  • System can heat your home in addition to providing hot water

  • System is low maintenance compared to other heating appliances. Ash removal, chimney cleanings, and pipe cleanings can be done by the average home owner for free.

Cons:

  • Fuel brings pests and debris into the home.These things along with ash removal can cause issues for those with allergies.

  • Wood is labor intensive. It must be hauled and stacked.

  • Can cause house fires if the chimney is not cleaned regularly. Chimneys should be cleaned at least once a year. If you burn a lot of wet wood, or pine woods you will want to clean more frequently as these conditions cause a rapid build-up of creosote.

  • The pipes that carry the water through the appliance must be cleaned periodically to keep consistent heat output.

  • A large storage area is necessary to keep wood dry
[PAGE]Outdoor Wood Furnace[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Outdoor Wood Furnace
Pros:

  • Wood is the cheapest fuel currently available, more than 50% cheaper than gas or oil

  • Larger chunks of wood can be used which cuts down on prep time. Whole pallets can be burned at once.

  • Firewood can often be obtained for free

  • Because the unit is outside there is less risk of fire to your home and it keeps the bugs, wood debris, and ash outside which keeps messes and allergens out of the home.

  • Many units come with duel fuel back-up. So if you’re away so long that the wood burns out another heat source such as gas will continue to heat you’re home.

  • Because they are so large they can hold a lot of fuel at once, which means they don’t need to be filled as often as a traditional wood stove.

  • In addition to heating your home, they can also heat your household water and a swimming pool.

  • These appliances are low maintenance. You need only remove ash and have the chimney cleaned regularly. Both of which can be done by the average homeowner.

Cons:

  • A wood furnace is a permanent structure which is taxable and needs permits.

  • The fuel back-up on these units is often not as efficient as a traditional appliance using that same fuel. For example a propane furnace would be more efficient than using the propane back-up feature on your wood boiler.

  • If the power goes out the boiler won’t continue to provide heat without the use of a generator since they use pumps to distribute hot water to your home.

  • If your appliance runs out of fuel or loses power, the pipes which distribute the water to your home can freeze.

  • A large storage area is necessary to keep wood dry
[PAGE]Pellet Stoves[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Pellet Stoves

Pros:

  • Fuel is significantly cheaper than oil, gas, and electricity.

  • Fuel comes in bags and doesn’t leave a mess behind like wood

  • Pellets have been processed which means that each batch will provide roughly the same heat output and burn time. Their heat output is more consistent than wood.

  • Because the fuel and oxygen intake on a pellet stovecan be tightly regulated, a pellet stove can provide longer burn times than a traditional woodstove. Depending on the size of your hopper you may only need to fill your pellet stove once a day.

  • Pellets create less creosote than wood burned in a standard wood stove. You will still need to regularly clean your chimney but, less creosote means less risk for house fires.

Cons:

  • Without a backup generator a pellet stove won’t work during power outages.

  • While the cost of pellets is significantly less than other types of fuels, its cost can fluctuate and it can’t be obtained for free during an emergency like wood can.

  • Pellets generally come in 40lb bags which may be difficult for some people to manage. If you have lifting restrictions you will need to pay someone to deliver and stack your bags of pellets. However you can open a bag and transport smaller amounts of pellet fuel at once. This means it might be a better alternative to wood stoves for elderly home owners.

  • A large storage area is necessary to keep pellets dry

  • Pellet ash must be emptied regularly

  • Smoke and ash inside the home can cause problems for those with allergies

  • Heat tends to concentrate in the area around the pellet stove. Circulating heat throughout the whole house can be a challenge. Since heat rises, fans can be installed above doorways to aid in circulation.
  • Pellet stoves make the air very dry causing nose bleeds. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air.

[PAGE]Electric Oil Filled Baseboards[/PAGE] planning-ahead-to-save-on-future-heating-bills
Electric oil filled baseboards
Pros:

  • Because there is no flame, there is a reduced risk of house fires

  • You don’t need to order or handle fuel

  • Electric heat is better than other heating systems for those with allergies.

  • Zoned heating with separate thermostats can save money by only heating areas of the home that are being used.

  • Some types of thermostats for electric baseboards can be remotely controlled and monitored via a Smartphone. Heat can be turned down when you’re away from home and raised when you’re on your way home. This also allows you to monitor the temperature in your home when you’re away on vacation.

  • The oil in baseboards has an extremely low freezing point which means that if the power goes out the liquid inside them is unlikely to freeze and rupture pipes.

Cons:

  • Baseboards won’t work when the electricity goes out

  • Used as a main heat source it can be more expensive than all other heating fuels. It is best used as a back-up for other heating systems, or for zoned heating.

There are other types of heating sources currently available which are not mentioned here because these systems are still too expensive for the average homeowner. There are also new heating technologies being invented all of the time. Ten years from now the options listed here might be replaced by even better more affordable options, but for the time being using more than one heating system seems to be the best option.

For my family I find that a combination of wood and electric baseboard heat provides the best heating options. If you are reasonably skilled these two systems can be installed by the average home owner. If you install the appliances yourself you need only pay for the materials necessary for installation. There are books and YouTube videos available to guide beginners through the installation process.

Electric baseboards and wood stoves are very low maintenance. Baseboards require no maintenance other than basic dusting on occasion. Wood stoves need to be emptied of ash regularly and their chimneys must be swept annually. However, the required maintenance for these systems can be performed by the average home owner which eliminates maintenance costs.
Wood fuel is exceptionally cheap, or even free if you have a wooded lot from which to harvest it.

For my house, the electric baseboard heat serves only as a back-up to the wood stove. The electric baseboards kick on as the house temperature drops during the evening hours between the time when the fire burns out and the time when I get up to restart the wood stove. The electric baseboards are also used to keep the house to just above the temperature at which liquid freezes (32° F) when no one is home for an extended period of time. The best feature of using electric baseboard heat is that you can monitor and adjust your home’s temperature when you’re away by using specialized thermostats. So while electric heat can be just as expensive as oil or gas, since it is used sparingly it provides significant energy savings.

When evaluating the purchase of a new heating appliance the cost of the appliance and its financial impact on your home owner’s insurance should also be considered. Additionally, energy usage is largely dependent on how well your home is insulated. Before spending the money on a new heating appliance, home owners should first evaluate how well their home is insulated and use available money to remedy air leaks.

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. FULL DISCLOSURE HERE

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