If you’re like many of today’s energy-conscious homeowners exploring your options for home heating, and considering good old-fashion firewood as a possible source for heating your home, we can help.
In this blog post, we show you exactly what questions need to be considered to conduct an accurate comparison of burning wood vs a natural gas furnace. But rather than put you through mathematical wizardry to come up with the answer, we have cut to the chase to give you our “real-world” opinion.
The answer may surprise you!
Why can you trust us?
As a writer for Today’s Cottage Living – and a property owner with a passion for country living (!), I’ve covered a variety of topics and written several articles on everything from best firewood practices, wood stoves, to DIY construction projects. This guide combines my years of hands-on experience, together with extensive research from experts on the topic to help ensure a well-rounded perspective.
Let’s get into it!
Is Firewood Cheaper Than Gas?
To answer the question: Is firewood cheaper than gas, with a reasonable margin of accuracy, several variables have to be considered.
- The efficiency of the gas furnace
- The delivered cost of natural gas, including all sundry costs.
- The efficiency of the wood stove
- The cost of firewood
- The type of firewood being burnt (softwood vs. hardwood)
- The moisture content of the firewood
Using educated assumptions, together with the most widely available types of firewood for purchase, burning firewood can cost slightly less than natural gas for home heating. But when you factor in the time, labor, and expense of hauling and stacking the wood, cleaning the chimney minimizing creosote buildup, and emptying the ashes, it is fair to say that firewood and gas costs are essentially equal.
How burning wood vs. natural gas analysis was determined?
You may be asking yourself how the comparisons were done to conclude that the two sources of heat are on par with each other. And whether your situation mirrors the data used so you can use your judgment to reach your conclusions.
Let’s take a quick look at each of the variables above.
How efficient is your furnace?
Your furnace efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). Furnaces are required to display their AFUE rating so consumers have a clear understanding of how efficient the appliance is in converting energy from fuel to heat over a typical year.
Your furnace should display its efficiency rating on the unit.
- Older, low-efficiency heating systems: 56% to 70% AFUE
- Mid-efficiency heating systems: 80% to 83% AFUE
- High-efficiency heating systems: 90% to 98.5% AFUE
For the analysis used in this article, the furnace was rated at 85% efficiency.
An AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10% escapes up the chimney and elsewhere.Source: ENERGY.GOV
Natural Gas Cost
Figuring out your actual gas price can be a real challenge. I took a look at one of my monthly bills for this article so I could pass along some advice, but I came away with more questions than answers.
Maybe the gas companies like it this way!
My total bill for the month was $112. Within this amount is a monthly water heater rental, so the net cost without the water heater was $72.
But when I took a closer look to determine how much of the $72 was for natural gas, I was shocked to see that the actual bill for natural gas was only $22. The difference is all of the associated delivery and environmental charges.
So, the easiest way to determine your cost for natural gas is to choose a month where you would be heating with natural gas vs. burning wood and divide the total cost of the bill (minus any rental costs) by the number of mcf burned. This number is your realistic cost per thousand cubic feet (mcf) for that month.
For the analysis used in this article, the cost of natural gas is $13 per mcf.
Wood stove efficiency
In 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented strict new emission standards for wood-burning appliances.
As a result, today’s high-efficiency wood stoves and fireplaces meet emission standards, measured in grams of particles per hour (g/hr) of no more than 2 g/hr.
To achieve such impressive emission results woodstove manufacturers designed innovative technologies such as catalytic combustors, and baffle systems that create a secondary burn above the wood to extract heat and reach efficiency levels of over 80%.
For the analysis used in this article, the wood stove was rated at 70% efficiency.
Cost of firewood
Some landowners can argue that their firewood is free. They can cut whatever they need. But most people, (like me!) have to pick it up or have it delivered.
For the analysis used in this article, the cost of firewood is $150 per cord.
Soft-wood vs. hardwood
The amount of heat (measured as BTUs) differs between soft woods such as pine, and hardwoods such as oak. When measuring the total BTUs for a cord of firewood is measured in million Btu per cord – mmBTUs.
Common softwoods measure 15 BTUs to 25 BTUs, whereas common hardwoods can provide 25BTUs to 30BTUs.
For the analysis used in this article, the BTUs for firewood are 18.
The moisture content of firewood
Using seasoned firewood increases the recoverable heat value of firewood. Firewood heat values are measured in million Btu per cord of wood (mmBtu/cord) with a moisture content of 20%.
By seasoning your firewood for 4 to 6 months before burning, your firewood should be ready to burn. You can purchase an inexpensive moisture reader that can pay for itself when it comes to creosote buildup and chimney cleaning.
For the analysis used in this article, the firewood moisture content is 20%.
Now that the assumptions behind the variable baseline data have been presented comes the heavy lifting. The actual calculations to arrive at the final comparison and conclusion are beyond the scope of this article, but for those of you that want to take a deep dive behind the numbers, I invite you to put your math skills to task and look behind the curtain.
The numbers used for this analysis are from an engineer by the name of Patrick Conners. Mr. Conners has rightfully earned the nickname as the Energy Guy. In his 30 years of experience as an engineer and Facility and Energy Manager, Mr. Conners has managed Operations, Maintenance, and IT Services for manufacturing, healthcare, electric utility, University, and residential facilities.
You can see all of the details used in this article and follow the Energy Guy’s step-by-step guide to conduct your own assessment at this link.
I can speak from my own experience on this topic. As a (vacation) homeowner going through a major renovation recently (2021 to 2022) that included replacing electric baseboard heating with a more economical alternative, the question of burning wood vs. natural gas was given serious consideration.
In the end, I reached the same conclusion as the Energy Guy.
Personally, I would heat with natural gas and use wood stoves for aesthetics and in locations where gas is not available.Partick Conners – the Energy Guy at efEnergy Forums.net
In addition to the Energy Guy’s conclusion, I’ll explain my rationale for choosing a gas furnace vs. a wood-burning appliance over and above any potential cost savings, to help you reach your own conclusion.
Smart Home Technology
Our vacation home is a lakefront property where temperatures plunge during the winter months. To keep our heating bills down we lower the temperature to 50 degrees when we are away.
Having the ability to open an app on my iPhone to remotely turn up the temperature before we arrive is a luxury I still marvel at to this day.
Now we only have to rely on our fireplace for a cozy ambiance.
For 30 years we relied on baseboard electric heating, together with a dated wood stove to provide supplementary heating. This meant continually feeding and stoking the wood stove at all hours of the day and night.
With our new gas furnace we enjoy even heat throughout the home, and if we decide to add air conditioning, the HVAC system is ready to go!
Additional gas appliance options
We had to run a new gas line to our home so we then had the option to install a gas fireplace, and hook-up a direct BBQ gas line. No more filling up propane tanks!
A wood-burning fireplace is tough to beat!
After all of our excitement to be free of the time and labor to source, stack, and feed a fireplace, our family was quick to miss the warmth, smell, and cozy ambiance that only a “real wood” fireplace can provide.
Fortunately part of our home renovations included a new three season porch, including a fireplace. For this fireplace the choice was obvious – bring on the wood!
So, our only choice was to decide on what type of wood-burning appliance to choose. Should we go with a wood stove, or a built-in fireplace?
You can follow along to learn from our choice and how we arrived at our decision at this article titled How To Choose A Wood Burning Fireplace.
Which is safer wood stove or fireplace?
A wood stove is safer than a traditional open-hearth fireplace because the wood stove’s firebox has a sealed glass door to keep the stove air-tight and prevent sparks and smoke from escaping the stove.
However, today’s high-efficiency fireplaces also feature a similar air-tight firebox which makes them equally as safe as a wood stove.
Can you install a wood-burning fireplace in an existing home?
Yes. As long as the necessary permit is available in your area, and your home can accommodate a certified chimney, you should be able to install a wood-burning fireplace in an existing home.
There are strict specifications for fireplace setbacks and chimney stack distances from roof lines, but your preferred fireplace supplier and installers will have all the necessary information to ensure a smooth installation
Thank you for sharing your time with us at Today’s Cottage Living!
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