Benefits of Heating with Wood
Why heat with wood in the first place? To begin with, wood is a very cost-effective fuel source. In central VA, wood costs next to nothing (or nothing at all, for many people!), and is vastly cheaper than gas, fuel oil, or electric heat pumps. Even when the power goes out, a wood-burning appliance will keep your house warm for hours on a single load of wood. You can get a toasty, full night’s sleep or go off to a day’s work and not have to worry about the plumbing freezing up. Wood is also a sustainable, renewable resource, and when burned properly, has a very limited impact on the environment. Finally, a wood stove, fireplace, or insert has great aesthetic value; people gather around the hearth to enjoy the glow of the flames and the warmth and cheer they provide.
Fireplace and Woodstove Myths
Many people believe that tile, rock or other noncombustible material acts as sufficient insulation on a wall or floor, reducing clearance requirements and protecting the underlying structure of the home. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are certain wall and floor coverings that are specifically designed to protect the home from the intense heat that comes off a stove or fireplace, but sheet rock, brick, etc. will not. In fact, stone conducts heat very effectively, and can result in wall joists becoming even hotter than they otherwise might. This heat can, at best, warp and damage the wood and other materials of your walls and floor, and at worst, actually cause fires to start within the structure of your home. Here’s an example of the aftermath of a hearth fire resulting from improper insulation of a hearth and wall.
On a related note, clearances are not necessarily the same from manufacturer to manufacturer, or even from model to model. Be careful to check the manufacturer’s requirements for any product you buy, and discuss clearances with your local hearth professional.
Traditional Masonry vs. High-Efficiency Fireplace: Which to Choose?
When choosing a fireplace for your home, there are many things to consider, and benefits and disadvantages to each system. A masonry fireplace has great aesthetic advantages, and creates a cozy ambience many homeowners are looking for. Additionally, it can increase the value of a home by a great deal. However, a traditional fireplace is generally very expensive ($12,000-$20,000 for fireplace, hearth, and chimney system). Additionally, while the room the fireplace is in will become very warm, the masonry fireplace actually pulls its combustion air from the rest of the house, resulting in a net loss of heat throughout the home.
If you decide to go the high-efficiency fireplace route, the cost will likely be marginally lower ($9,500-$20,000 for the fireplace and venting/chimney system). The high-efficiency systems provide the same aesthetic value as masonry fireplaces, but offer greater heating value for the money, as less heat is lost up the chimney, and the fireplace does not cool the rest of the house as it heats one room. However, these systems are more technologically complex, and therefore have shorter lifespans, than a traditional masonry fireplace system.