Unplugged Energy Independence

Alternative home heating solutions, plus 5 tips to save this winter.

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Mon,Oct 06,2014 @ 11:39 AM


"More Shivery and Shovelry" are the words the Farmer's Almanac chose to describe their prediction of this winter. I don't know about you, but after last years long, brutal winter those are words I didn't want to hear. That leaves most of us wondering, could it be as bad as last year?

According to the 2015 edition of the Farmer's Almanac, the winter of 2014-2015 will see below-normal temperatures for about three-quarters of the nation. The most frigid temperatures will be found from the Northern Plains to the Great Lakes. Over the eastern third of the country, expect an active storm track with a number of storms delivering copious amounts of snow and rain.

alternative home heating solutions

Millions of Americans do not currently use alternative home heating solutions and rely on fossil fuels and their volatile pricing. The propane shortage last winter affected around 14 million Americans and it was very difficult for them to pay the inflated prices.

Interest in alternative home heating solutions seems to be growing immensly after last winters unexpected fossil fuel prices. Many Americans are searching out these solutions so that they have a stable home heating for this chilly winter ahead of us.



EIA is predicting a likely 9-13 percent increase in heating costs this winter. Whether you use an alternative heating method to heat your home now or haven't yet jumped on that band wagon, here are 5 tips to keep warm and help you save this winter.

1. Plug leaks and drafts.

Take simple steps like caulking windows, sealing leaks around chimneys and recessed lighting, and  sliding draft guards under your doors and you can save up to 20% on heating bills.

2. Maintain your HVAC system.

Make sure to clean or change your furnace filter regularly. A dirty furnace filter will slow down air flow, making the system work harder to keep you warm and costing you more money.

3. Let your thermostat think for you.

Don't waste money heating an empty home. Install a programmable thermostat and schedule your homes heat to lower when you are away or asleep.

4. Invite the sun in.

Yes it feels like the sun has abandoned us during the winter, but that doesn't mean we should abandon it during these shorter days. Open curtains and allow sunlight to naturally heat your home.

5. Use LED's.

LED light bulbs save you money year round but especially during the holiday season when you are lighting up your lawn with the most colorful display possible. During the holiday season, LED lights use up to 90% less energy and can last up to 40 holiday seasons.


Whether you use an alternative home heating solution or not, we wish you the best on staying warm and saving money this winter!

I'll end this post with a quote from the Farmer's Almanac; "All of us at the Farmer's Almanac suggest you stock up on firewood, sweaters and hot cocoa. It certainly looks like another long winter of shivery and shovelry is on tap."


 

Topics: woodmaster stove, affordability of wood heating, wood home heating, energy-efficient heating, alternative energy, alternative home heating

Do gasification boilers work?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Wed,Sep 10,2014 @ 10:17 AM

Flex Fuel furnaceIt depends on how you define work. Work in terms of saving money? Work in terms of efficiency? Work in terms of producing heat? The answer is yes, to all of those. Mike Greason once told a joke about heating with wood; he said, "You want to get warm from the fire, not from running back and forth to the wood pile." I think we've accomplished what Mike set us out to do, in more ways than one.

We heated with oil and have a few oil fired boiler, along with a large older home. Our hot water is electric and we use a lot of it with a teenage daughter. We installed a WoodMaster Flex Fuel furnace about a year ago. Our decision to try the Flex Fuel furnace comes on the heels of $5,000 and $7,000 a year heating oil bills that are just too high for our family. "Thermostat Anxiety" I like to call it.

The Flex Fuel choice was based on my cousins's nudging, he has an outdoor wood boiler. He has a similar old home that cost just too much to heat. I was torn between choosing the convenience of pellets and the free wood from thinning our woodlot to heat our home. My decision was made when I saw the Flex Fuel. I no longer had to be torn between my frugal side and enjoying the convenience of pellets. It burns wood or pellets.

I have a never-ending desire to be more responsible in my use of energy. Years ago, I had an eye opening conversation with a fellow on a plane who had a unique insight into the future of global energy that is not available to the general public.

This past winter I was on business in the Midwest and took a detour up to WoodMaster in Minnesota, to learn about the Flex Fuel furnace before I purchased it. The two days I was in Minnesota the air temperature was minus 37 degrees both days. I had never been to Minnesota, it is a very flat open area. We drove for two hours on a country highway as straight as a ruler without hitting a stop sign before finding WoodMaster's corporate office in an industrial park. There was a sea of outdoor wood boilers around their offices. I was surprised to see how many there were. Thousands of them lined up like little soldiers in the arctic air.

We met the WoodMaster staff, which is mostly family, are very inviting, and really love what they do. Warren and Lynn took me through a two day adventure with the Flex Fuel furnace. It is a very advanced piece of heating equipment. It is computerized, and is European technology they are producing here in the USA. Before learning about the furnace, we had to learn about our homes BTU loss and what we would be heating. Lynn and Warren insisted we have the facts before we jump into the furnace.

The Flex Fuel boiler is much smaller than I expected, it looked more like a new car in a showroom. Inside there is a large circuit board with a lot of connections. It's called the Flex Fuel because it can burn wood and pellets, and can be programmed or installed in many different ways to fit any installation. It can heat a home, water, hot tubs, garages, outbuilding and driveways.

Flex Fuel furnaceWe purchased a 30kW Flex Fuel and installed it at our home. We built a shed for the Flex Fuel. I also figured I'd be bringing wood from the woodlot to the house and I didn't want to track in the dirt that comes from firewood. The shed is 10 feet by 10 feet. This left a little extra room for some pellets and wood to be stored. I even built the roof a little long with an overhang to have a place to store wood out of the rain and weather. I also added lighting to allow us to get to the shed easily in the long dark days of winter. After building the shed it was time to set the boiler. I had to use our log truck to set the boiler in place, it weights 1,400 pounds. There was some work inside the house adding plate exchanges to the boiler and water heater.

After we finished the install, we could not wait to try the boiler. We went right up to the woodlot and found a standing dead ash tree, which was our first source of heat. The ash tree burned very well. We'd been burning wood in the boiler for a month or so before a business trip took me away again. What was I to do? The boiler needs to be loaded almost every day depending upon the outside temperature. Ask my family to load the boiler? I decided to throw some pellets in the bin and see how this boiler runs on pellets. Away I went, nervously trusting the Flex Fuel and an untested bin of pellets. I have a family member next door who agreed to check the house and make sure it was warm. I returned three days later from my business trip with a fully heated house and some pellets left in the bin. Success!

I learned I really enjoyed the convenience of pellets. They burn evenly and I only have to visit the shed about every 3-5 days. This is important for me. I travel quite a bit and did not hve time this year to stockpile wood. I did however find time to help my cousin Billy store up 14 cords for his outdoor stove! When I was burning wood, I found we only needed about 4-5 pieces of standard firewood a day to heat our house. I liked burning a mix of pine and hardwood. Our buffer tank is large, so burning the pine works well for us. We have lots of pine and I hate seeing it go to waste. Burning hardwood produces more heat, but again, I have endless pine thinning.

The Flex Fuel heats our water too. This is where we noticed unexpected savings. Our electric bill is down about 30% every month. We found this added benefit to be the most delightful part of using the boiler. The hot water never runs out. We can shower, run laundry and do dishes without ever having to think if we have enough hot water.

I love pellets, they are easy, burn well, and leave me to do other things. Next year, I'm sure I'll burn more wood, as my schedule is not as full as it was this past year. It is work to pick up bags of pellets and load the bin, but certainly less than gathering, splitting and stacking wood. We are contemplating installing a large grain bin and auger to get a truckload of pellets for next season. That remains to be analyzed on the dollars and cents though. I am very proud we only ordered a hundred gallons of heating oil for emergency use. When we got stuck out of state in a snow storm this winter season, our emergency oil came in handy. Our oil boiler kicked on when the pellets ran out. I don't miss the huge oil bills and calling around to find the best price for oil.

Do gasification boilers work? We certainly are saving money in the long run. I estimate we will save about $4,900 a year in oil costs and about $225 a year in electric costs. It will take us about four years to recover our investment and begin saving the money we are spending. We will keep the thermostats wherever we want them and the hot water will run as long as we want. I find that buying the pellets and splitting wood involve some physical work, but it feels good physically, and in my soul. We certainly have not found an overall permanent energy solution for our country. Until then, I'll do my part right here, in my little corner of it.

Article written by Charles Bulson. Charles Bulson is a proud NYFOA member.

Topics: affordable fuel, alternative energy sources, affordable heat, affordable heating source, residential wood heat, expensive winter heat, woodmaster, flexfuel, high efficiency furnace, woodmaster flexfuel series, pellet furnace, Pellet furnaces, WoodMaster FlexFuel, EPA qualified furnace, EPA qualified, Flex Fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, wood master, home heating, alternative home heating, gasification boilers, gasification boiler

Getting gouged by propane prices?

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Jan 30,2014 @ 09:54 AM

alternative heatingGetting gouged by propane prices? If so, you're not alone. Some 14 million Americans who rely on propane have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already low inventories, energy officials say.

Now is a better time than ever to switch to alternative energy. Free yourself from the rollercoaster of fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

Don't just take our word for it. Here are some recent articles from around the U.S

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Scott Walker declares state of emergency on propane shortage.

Citing another wave of frigid weather bearing down on Wisconsin and dangerously low supplies of propane, Governor Scott Walker has declared a state of emergency. Walker directed all state agencies "to assist as appropriate" in helping residents deal with the propane shortage, which has sent prices soaring and left some users struggling to find a supplier who will provide fuel.

Nearly 250,000 Wisconsin homes heat with propane, many in rural areas not served by natural gas lines.

The shortage — attributed to a colder-than-normal winter, the shutdown of a key supply pipeline earlier in the season and heavy use of propane by farmers to dry grain last fall — has sent prices for many customers well above $5 a gallon. Read the full article here.

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Midwest faces propane emergency as more cold weather moves in.

Millions of residents in the Midwest and Northeast who rely on propane to heat their homes are facing a severe shortage and spiking prices as another wave of freezing weather heads east. Now, states across the region are deploying emergency resources as a result.

Blame for the propane shortage lies with the wetter-than-usual fall, which meant that farmers used more propane than usual to dry corn crops; an unusually cold winter; and a temporary shutdown of a major pipeline for maintenance this year.

As a result, propane prices are setting new records. The average price of a gallon of residential propane for the week ending Jan. 20 hit $2.96, according to the Energy Information Administration, up 60 cents from mid-October, the highest price ever recorded by the agency. Prices in the Midwest are even higher; on Friday, prices ended at $4.30 a gallon in the Midwest, down from a peak of about $5 a gallon. Read full article here.

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Propane shortage slams farmers.

A propane squeeze caused by January’s bitter cold has put the hurt on Minnesota’s livestock industry, as farmers scramble to find costly fuel to keep their animals warm.

Some turkey growers are being told by suppliers that the propane spigot might get turned off if the cold keeps up over the next week.

Shortage worries are particularly acute in the ­turkey industry, and Minnesota is the nation’s leading turkey-producing state, with about 250 growers.

Fuel suppliers have told some farmers that they have “five days left of propane,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. “The big concern is availability.”

Farmers — along with propane users of all stripes — are paying huge premiums for the fuel these days. Wholesale spot prices in Minnesota have gone from about $3.75 per gallon a few days ago to just south of $5 a gallon. Last fall, the propane price was $1.55 per gallon, and most of the run-up since then has occurred this month. Read full article here.

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U.S. propane shortage hits millions during brutal freeze.

Millions of Americans are feeling the pinch of a propane shortage this week as brutal cold exposes the supply vulnerabilities of a fuel that heats homes, schools and businesses across wide swathes of the United States.

Prices of the fuel, a liquefied petroleum gas, have rocketed to all-time highs in Midwestern states, distributors are rationing supplies, and some schools have shut due to a lack of the fuel during this year's second bout of Arctic weather.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued emergency orders suspending the limits on the amount of time truck drivers can spend on the road for 10 Midwestern states and 12 Northeastern states, a rare regional order. Read full article here.

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Prolonged cold blast worsens propane shortage across Midwest.

America’s chronic cold is creating a significant propane shortage across the Midwest — leading Wisconsin to become the latest state to declare an energy emergency in advance of more arctic air blasting eastward this week.

Some 14 million Americans who rely on that type of fuel have been shelling out more and more to heat their homes while the strong demand has outpaced the already-low inventories, energy officials say.

Twenty-four states, including Ohio, Illinois and Alabama, have already declared energy emergencies — which helps to loosen transportation rules so that out-of-state truckers can drive longer hours to make needed propane deliveries. Read full article here.

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Now is a great time to research alternative heating products. Take the time to learn about the products available to you and the changes the EPA will be making to the wood burning industry.

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NH Introduces Non-Residential Wood Pellet Rebate Program

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Tue,Dec 31,2013 @ 11:27 AM

WoodMaster Commercial SeriesNew Hampshire has released a rebate program for commercial and industrial bulk fuel fed wood pellet central heating systems.

Key Components of the Rebate Program:

  • The rebate will cover 30% of the costs of purchase and installation, up to a maximum of $50,000, for investments in non-residential bulk fuel fed wood pellet boilers and furnaces of 2.5 million BTU or less.
  • An additional rebate for 30% of the costs of thermal storage tanks, up to a maximum of $5,000, is also available.
  • The budget for this program is $629,000 for state fiscal year 2014, ending June 30, 2014.
  • The new program also requires rebate recipients to "benchmark" the energy performance of the building that will house the new heating system to demonstrate opportunities for additional efficiency improvements.

Read the full description of the rebate program here.

Read the terms and conditions of the rebate program in Step 1 of the application form here.

Topics: energy-efficient fuel, alternative energy sources, wood pellets, commercial boiler, commercial boilers, Commercial Series, woodmaster, energy-efficient heating, renewable fuel, alternative energy, alternative heating, alternative fuel, natural energy, renewable energy, wood pellet heat, wood pellet heating, WoodMaster Commercial Series, alternative home heating

Wood/Solar Combination Heating

Posted by Kelsey Loeffler on Thu,Mar 21,2013 @ 09:42 AM

Certified WoodMaster dealer, Kim Quirk with Energy Emporium, shares the following article relating to a recent Flex Fuel install.

Here in New England many home owners have their own source of wood they can use to heat their home. Or, they may decide that local wood or pellets can replace fossil fuels helping them achieve a level independence from foreign oil.

Working with a few of these customers, I have had the opportunity to put together combination wood and solar heating systems for both home heating and domestic hot water.

Burning wood or pellets in a highly efficient gasification boiler will provide more heat then a typical home can use each hour…especially in the spring and fall. So many of the new wood or pellet boilers recommend (or even require) a large water storage tank.

Solar hot water systems also require a water storage tank because the sun can only provide heat during the day. That heat needs to be saved until it is required.

Since both systems can benefit from a water storage tank, then it makes sense and can save money to design one storage system that can be heated by either energy source. The wood does most of the heating in the winter; and the sun for the summer. The heated water can provide house heating, which we only need in the winter, and domestic hot water, which we need year round.

The Energy Emporium recently installed a large, very well insulated, 2000 gallon water tank from American Solar Technics that is heated with both solar (Sunda evacuated tubes) and a gasification wood boiler (WoodMaster’s FlexFuel30).

Solar / Wood storage tank

Solar / Wood storage tank

Wood/Pellet Boiler

Wood/Pellet Boiler

Solar Thermal Collectors

Solar Thermal Collectors

In the pictures above, the storage tank is in the process of being completed. Once the liner is sealed, 3-4″ insulation is added on top and then a final layer of 2″ foam board will be added on all sides.

The Woodmaster Flexfuel is used with cord wood or pellets. It can decide to start or stop the burn (for pellets) based on temperatures it reads in the water storage tank. It can also block out some times (daytime, for instance) when it will not burn so the sun has the chance to do as much heating as possible.

The solar thermal collectors were built in two rows with northern row 3′ higher than the southern row to avoid shading. The angle is optimized for winter heat production. Each solar collector array has its own coil in the storage tank.

We added datalogging equipment on the solar loops and temperature sensors at 3 places in the tank as well as the boiler in and out. Over time we can report on the efficiencies of cord wood versus pellets and how much energy the sun is adding to this tank. The expectation is that in the spring, summer, and fall the solar collectors will provide most of the heating.

In the image below, the green line indicates the temperature of the storage tank. The red and blue are temperatures of the heat exchanger and the shaded red area indicates that heat is being transferred to the storage tank. Notice that, even in February, when we have a nice sunny day, the solar heating between about 9:30am and 3:30pm was able to boost the 2000 gallon tank temperature. At about 5pm the pellets kicked back in to boost the water temperature for the evening.

Solar Hot Water Data

Solar Hot Water Data

Topics: bioenergy flex fuel furnace, woodmaster, woodmaster flexfuel series, WoodMaster FlexFuel, Flex Fuel, alternative fuel, affordable heating, alternative home heating

Choose Wood Heating.

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Wed,Jun 13,2012 @ 11:14 AM

Outdoor Wood Heating SystemWith the ever-increasing price of oil, natural gas and electricity, many homeowners are now considering using wood to heat their homes and workshops. Along with the potential cost savings that an outdoor wood heating system or other type of efficient wood stove can provide on home heating bills, using wood as your home heating fuel of choice is great for the environment - here's why:

1.Wood Is a Renewable Source of Energy

Any type of wood can be used for heating including trees that are storm damaged, diseased and unsuitable for other uses like furniture production. Trees grow quickly, require minimal care and new trees can be planted immediately after existing trees are harvested. Trees that are used for heating fuel are often grown in areas that would otherwise be unusable for any other purpose including traditional agriculture, housing or commercial development.

2. Burning Wood Is Carbon-Neutral

As a tree grows it acts as a natural air filter, absorbing carbon dioxide from the environment and in turn releasing pure oxygen back into the air. When wood is burned in an outdoor wood heating system or other appliance, the carbon dioxide the fire creates is equal to the amount of carbon dioxide that the tree absorbed during it's life, a process that is commonly referred to as the "carbon cycle". The same thing happens when a tree dies and decays naturally: the carbon dioxide it absorbed while growing is slowly released back into the environment as the tree breaks down and rots.

3. Wood Is Locally Sourced

Unlike other heating fuels like oil, natural gas and coal which are often shipped thousands of miles across international borders before reaching the consumer, wood that is burned for heating is usually sourced close to where it will be purchased and used.

Traditional fossil fuels are nonrenewable, costly to extract and transport, and require a complex system of distribution to get the fuels to the end user, the customer. By contrast, wood is 100 percent renewable and getting the fuel to the end user is usually a very simple, straightforward process that can be as easy as cutting down a tree in your own back yard or buying the wood from your local firewood dealer.

4. Outdoor Wood Heating Systems Can Heat Your Household Water

In addition to providing an eco-friendly and affordable source of home heating, an outdoor wood heating system can serve double-duty as a water heater. Many models of outdoor wood furnaces are hydronic which use hot water to transfer heat to a home. That same hot water can be captured and used for your household hot water needs with the installation of a simple heat exchanger, eliminating the need for a gas or electric water heater.

If you already burn wood, do you know where the type of wood you burn ranks? Using good, seasoned wood is an important part of getting high efficiencies out of your outdoor wood heating system, and in turn, saves you even more money.

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Topics: eco-friendly, woodmaster outdoor wood-burning furnaces, affordable fuel, alternative energy sources, rising cost of fossil fuels, affordable heat, affordable heating source, affordability of wood heating, affordability, affordability of heating with wood, energy-efficient stove, energy-efficient heating, alternative fuel, energy independence, alternative home heating, outdoor wood furnace, outdoor hydronic heater, outdoor wood furnaces

Homeowners Investing in Energy-efficiency

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Mon,Apr 09,2012 @ 02:35 PM

According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 61% of homeowners say they are unaware of any current tax rebates and/or incentives for energy-efficient home upgrades in their area.

If you are in this category, there are many resources available to help you out.  One of the best we have found is DSIRE.

DSIRE is a comprehensive source of information on state, local, utility and federal incentives and policies that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Established in 1995 and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, DSIRE is an ongoing project of the N.C. Solar Center and Interstate Renewable Energy Council.

With two easy ways to search for incentives in your area, this site is very user-friendly. 

Go to http://www.dsireusa.org/ and use one of the following two options to find incentives in your area:

    1. Click on your state.  A list of incentives for your state will be brought up.

    1. Click on the ‘Search DSIRE’ box and fill in the information that pertains to you and a list of the incentives available will be brought up.


 To find a WoodMaster dealer near you check out our dealer locator.

Topics: eco-friendly, woodmaster stove, clean burning, wood stove, woodmaster, flexfuel, energy-saving boiler, high efficiency furnace, energy-efficient stove, Flex Fuel, alternative heating, wood master, northwest manufacturing, WoodMaster Dealer, affordable heating, carbon footprint, energy independence, clean burn, home heating, heating systems, alternative home heating, lower heating costs, outdoor wood furnace, clean energy, outdoor hydronic heater, outdoor wood furnaces, green technology

Do your homework before you buy.

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Wed,Mar 21,2012 @ 02:38 PM

Thinking about buying an outdoor or indoor alternative fuel furnace? Before buying, do
your homework.

Calling around to different dealers in your area is always a good start.  However, if
you’re more interested in what actual owners of these furnaces have to say, check out some forums. Here are a few popular ones where you can find a lot of useful information:

Hearth.com
There are many different categories, a few with good wood stove information are The Boiler Room and The Hearth Room.

Forestry Forum
The best category on this board is Firewood and Wood Heating. You’ll be able to read a lot about what people think of the different brands out there.

To find a WoodMaster dealer near you check out our dealer locator.

Topics: wood stove, woodmaster, alternative heating, alternative fuel, WoodMaster Dealer, alternative home heating

Wood heating is hot again

Posted by Kelsey Gagner on Tue,Oct 18,2011 @ 11:10 AM

As oil costs continue to climb, people continue to seek alternative home heating options. According to the recently released US Census figures, wood home heating is growing the fastest.

Between 2000 and 2010, wood heating grew by 34%, beating electricity by 10%.

Michigan and Connecticut lead the way, with increases of 135% and 122%, respectively. (These percentages reflect households using wood as a primary heat source.) Six other states increased wood heating by more than 90%: New Hampshire (99%), Massachusetts (99%), Maine (96%), Rhode Island (96%), Ohio (95%) and Nevada (91%). 
Rural phenomenon

Not surprisingly, wood heating’s rapid rise is taking place in the country. According to the US Census, 57% of households who primarily heat with wood live in rural areas, another 40% in suburban areas and only 3% in urban areas.

Average Joe’s making the switch

We’ve mentioned before how affordable wood heating can be. The census data supports this claim: low and middle-income households are much more likely to use wood as a primary heating fuel. Residential wood heat accounts for 80% of residential renewable energy. 

Wood is good

President of the Alliance for Green Heat, a non-profit organization based in Maryland, John Ackerly explains, “The rise of wood heat is good news for offsetting fossil fuels, achieving energy independence, creating jobs and helping families affordably heat their homes.”

Over the last decade, households using fossil fuels as their heat source have significantly declined: propane dropped 16% and oil 21%. Those who switched to wood cut their home heating bills by half or more.

Home fuel rankings

Considering both primary and secondary heating fuel, wood now ranks third in fuels used, following gas and electricity. When only primary heat is considered, wood ranks fifth, after oil and propane as well.

As of 2010, 2.1% of American homes, or 2,382,737 households, use wood as a primary heat source. That’s up from 1.6% in 2000.

Have you switched to wood as your home’s primary heat source? What fueled your decision to switch?

Topics: Wood furnaces, wood as heating fuel, affordability of heating with wood, wood home heating, wood heating, woodmaster, wood master, energy independence, alternative home heating

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