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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Which Home Heating Fuel is Best?

Which Home Heating Fuel is Best?

When a bitter cold forecast comes to fruition, homeowners are keenly aware of what it takes to keep the house warm. There is no boilerplate answer to choosing the best heating source. Factors such as climate, lifestyle, and budget all play a part in deciding the most practical system.

If you have a woodlot and live by the adage that burning wood warms you twice (once when you cut and stack and again when you burn it), then a woodstove is ideal. On the other hand, if you’re on the prairie with few trees, a pellet stove may make more sense. You have to weigh the variables.

Fossil fuels have a polluting reputation of spewing unburned particulates into the air. In some parts of the country, there are stringent regulations on the type of stoves you can use, as well as when you can burn, which is problematic if you depend on it as a primary heat source.

Fortunately, many traditional fuel options, such as wood, coal and oil, have been greatly improved with higher efficiency rates and advancements in air quality issues. It’s worth taking a look at some you might have dismissed. Here is how several of the more popular options stack up …

Wood Heat
Installation Costs: Expect to pay between $1,500—$5,000 for a new stove, depending on the style and chimney requirements (whether you have an existing chimney or have to install a new one). Choosing an EPA-certified woodstove adds a few hundred dollars to the final bill, but it pays for itself in a short amount of time since it burns the wood more thoroughly.

Fuel Costs: Wood can be as cheap as the fuel and maintenance for your chainsaw if you have a cost-free source. If you’re buying it, expect to spend $145—$225 per cord (a stack that is 4-ft. high, 4-ft. wide and 8-ft long) depending on your location and the type of wood. Most people use 4—6 cords per season.

Fuel Availability: What to burn is a matter of what grows around you. In the eastern part of the country, hardwoods such as oak and maple are the best options because they burn hot and clean. Other regions have more pine and larch, and while they’re not ideal, they’ll work. Regardless of the species, be sure to clean the chimney regularly to minimize creosote buildup.

Cleanliness: One of the greatest drawbacks of wood is the mess. When you haul in wood you’re often bringing in bugs, as well as shedding a lot of bark and pieces. Cleaning the ash out of the bottom of the stove usually kicks up dust, as well.

Air Quality Issues: The EPA-certified stoves produce far less smoke than older models, and use a third less fuel. Less smoke means better burning.

Pellet Stoves
Installation Cost: New stoves cost $1,700— $3,500 installed. They can be vented through a wall and don’t need a high-tech chimney. Pellet stoves rank high in efficiency because they burn a small amount of fuel as needed. This mini-inferno warms the air in the heat exchangers before blowing it into the house.

Fuel Costs: Price varies considerably based on location, but estimate $130—$200 per ton. Most homeowners burn 3—5 tons per winter.

Fuel Availability: Pellets are made from recycled sawdust and resemble inch-long rabbit feed. Some even burn unprocessed corn and fruit pits, (cherry). They’re usually packaged in 40-pound bags, found at pellet stove dealers, as well as home improvement stores.

Cleanliness: A ton of pellets come on a 4 x 4 pallet, take up half the space of a cord of wood, and can be stored in the garage, basement or anywhere. Since there’s no dirty wood to haul inside, pellet stoves are much cleaner. Forty pounds of pellets produce only one cup of ash.

Air Quality Issues: Pellet stoves are one of the cleanest fuel burners with an efficiency rate of around 85% making them exempt from the EPA’s smoke emission requirements.

Heating Oil Furnace
Installation Cost: You can pay between $2,500—$4,000 for a mid-efficiency furnace and twice that amount for the high efficiency units.

Fuel Cost: Prices fluctuate according to many outside sources, include the value of the dollar on the world market, but full-service fuel delivery was roughly $3 per gallon in early 2011.

Fuel Availability: Popular in the Northeast, but it can be found in most regions. In very cold areas of the country, many homeowners mix a higher grade fuel, which is more expensive, with the standard #2 heating oil to reduce the chances of the oil gelling in the tank.

Cleanliness: Oil burners do produce soot, which is why it’s imperative to have it professionally cleaned and serviced each year. This involves vacuuming the soot out of the burner, changing filters and adjusting electrodes to ensure it’s operating at its best.

Air Quality Issues: According to the Energy Communications Council, heating oil burns nearly 95% cleaner than it did in 1970, and with new fuel blends, the industry is aiming for zero emissions. By July of 2012, all of New York must use a cleaner low sulphur fuel that will even further improve air quality and efficiency.

Propane Wall Furnaces
Installation Cost: Wall furnaces are an easy and relatively inexpensive way to add supplemental heat or warm up a cold spot in the house. They typically cost $1,000— $2,000 installed. They can be vented directly through the wall.

Fuel Costs: Liquid propane prices fluctuate throughout the year and are usually cheaper during the warm months. Estimate paying $1.75—$2.75 per gallon.

Fuel Availability: Propane is available in most areas of the country, and is a viable fuel source for those who do not have natural gas close at hand. Homeowners install either a below ground or aboveground tank that is filled as needed.

Cleanliness: Propane wall furnaces are a reliable, low maintenance choice to take the chill off of a room or as a backup heat source. There’s no mess and very little fussing.

Air Quality Issues: Propane creates no particulates, although you want to keep the exhaust vent away from open windows or doors to prevent the noxious gases from flowing back into the home.

Natural Gas
Installation Cost: Like propane, you can install a wall furnace for $1,000—$2,000. The larger, self-standing units that heat the entire house will cost between $2,000 and $3,500, depending on the efficiency level. The best ones are 96% efficient; they cost more to install, but will make a dent in the monthly bills.

Fuel Costs: Costs are highly variable depending on your region. Transportation charges and taxes also play a significant part in determining your final bill. Costs per 100 cubic feet (ccf) vary between $.53 ccf—$.79 ccf in the Northeast, but the transportation costs could easily double the final payment amount.

Fuel Availability: Natural gas is a popular option in many parts of country, but its availability depends on local utility companies and whether the infrastructure is in place.

Cleanliness: Like propane, there is no smoke or mess involved with natural gas.

Air Quality Issues: Natural gas furnaces must be vented to the outside because of carbon monoxide issues, but there is no smoke or other particulates.

Anthracite Coal Burners
Installation Cost: A new stoker stove will cost $2,000—$4,000, but it usually pays for itself within a few seasons. The hand-stoked models are less expensive, but you have to do the fire tending yourself. Like a pellet stove, it requires electricity to operate the internal workings and the fan to circulate the warm air, but once loaded you don’t have to feed it for at least a day.

Fuel Costs: Anthracite coal is typically $200—$235 per ton delivered, although it can be purchased in bags at a slightly higher price. Most homeowners use 2—4 tons per year.

Fuel Availability: Anthracite coal is readily available in much of the East and Mid-Atlantic region, and is shipped as far west as Minnesota.

Cleanliness: You have to clean out the ash pan every few days depending on how much coal you’re burning, and occasionally clear out the “chinks”–the bits of particles that aren’t pure coal and that will clog the airflow. There is coal dust when you load it, but many people think it’s far less messy than wood.

Air Quality Issues: Since anthracite thoroughly burns there are no particulates released into the air and no creosote in the chimney or vent.

$easonal Heating Costs
While there are many variables when choosing the best heating source for you, an important consideration is what it will cost you to keep your home warm during the coldest months of the year. Here are estimates based on heating a 1200-sq.-ft. home from the months of October to March.

- Wood: Heating with wood may be practically free if you have your own source. If you have to buy it, estimate $580—$1,350 for 4—6 cords.

- Wood or corn pellets: Figure on between 3—5 tons for most homes, which calculates to $390—$1,000, depending on availability.

- Heating oil: The average homeowner will spend $2,400—$3,000 for 800— 1,000 gallons of oil for the season.

- Propane: Using 400—600 gallons, your seasonal cost would be $700—$1,650.

- Natural gas: Average household usage for natural gas is 72 ccf per month.
Since the cost of transportation and taxes varies so greatly heating you
bill can range from $420—$720 per season. If you have other gas appliances,
obviously your cost will be higher.

- Anthracite coal: Budget $400—$940 for 2—4 tons.

31 comments

1 Andrew Higgins { 07.18.14 at 4:13 am }

Great, Informative Post, like this one must be maintained so I’ll put this one on my bookmark list of Cheap Heating Oil. Thanks for this wonderful post and hoping to post more of this. Have Great Day

2 Joe { 05.03.14 at 10:51 pm }

I burn rice coal, about 3.5 tons a year. I live in the northern Adirondack mt.Ny we have many -20deg days. Last year $1100 for 3tons. House is 2200 sq ft all on one level have propane boiler for radiant heat in the addition appox 500 sq ft. Propane for instant hot water heater, dryer , generator, monitor heater (spring and fall ) and cook stove. Last year propane 490gals. Veterans price last year $ $1275.00. The coal has saved me, if you burn coal that is wet you have very little dust and it seems to burn hotter. I will burn coal as long as I can. Thanks Joe

3 Mardi { 03.06.14 at 9:37 am }

Propane was outrageous for this home. it was well over $4000.00 for the whole winter season. we switched to pellets stove. Much easier on the checkbook.

4 Maria Bindert { 03.01.14 at 3:47 pm }

Well we originally had a heat pump and it cost us about $3,500.00 in a season. It quit working and was too much to replace so we ended up putting in a propane stove. In January it cost me $700.00 and this month $800.00 to fill the tank. That was only two or two half months so far this winter. Says there is a shortage of propane driving up the propane price. We have the thermostat set at 65 and upstairs is 60 degrees. I am still cold spending that kind of money on fuel! I don`t know but it is way too expensive here in Eastern Ontario. Going to look at a pellet stove to put in the basement to help warm the house as right now it is cold!!!

5 SALLY { 03.01.14 at 9:25 am }

We have dual fuel heat pump which is great during busy times but we really enjoy our wood stove which is in the basement. It was always boiling until we found someone to make blank regular air vents.There are 5 of them and one cannot tell the difference from the regular heat vents. It has resulted in more livable temp downstairs and a beautiful 70-76 on upper floors.
The only trouble it took years to find someone brave enough to cut into the floor !!! He was worth his weight in gold!!

6 Nicole Cooper { 02.26.14 at 11:24 am }

The one thing I do disagree with is the estimated cost for propane heating. For me it is $5 per gallon at this time. We use our wood burning stove to save money.

7 Mario J. Gagnon { 02.25.14 at 6:29 pm }

Hi, I have a wood stove and also an oil furnace . I burn 7/24 with the wood stove 6 to 8 cords a year mostly maple I buy $ 500. worth of wood. And burn approx. half a tank of oil Around $400. worth give or take . I live in Northern Ont. Jan. & Feb. month are very cold here”specially this year…hey people” . It usually cost me between 800 to 1000 a year to heat lil over 2000 sqft… I feel it’s fairly reasonable cost for the size of the house, bit a work for the firewood but I have no fear of work and I enjoy it, we love the smell and cozyness of a wood fire .Great backup heat and cooking surface without power “peace Of mind”, I also have a infrared heater i use “when we get extreme cold weather, -35 or more.”..

8 Donna { 02.25.14 at 3:18 pm }

One aspect of all the heating solutions that is totally ignored here is the ability to produce heat without the aid of electricity. I believe a good wood stove is the only method totally free of any additional energy requirement. I initially was looking at a pellet stove until I realized electricity was needed to feed the pellets into the stove. In an area where loss of power could be an issue (as several storms in the midwest and east this year), a good wood stove is the only viable solution.

9 megan { 02.25.14 at 2:44 pm }

I haven’t seen oil prices at $3/gallon since 2007. I had a small woodstove to help with heating, but switched it for a coal stove. Not all coal stoves need electricity, mine has a gravity-fed hopper and optional electric blower. If i don’t use the electric blower, i can use an Eco-fan to help the air circulate. There is coal dust that settles on everything, much the way wood ash/dust does, so that can be a deal breaker for some, but that steady, even heat is hard to beat. After the intial wood fire to start the stove for the heating season, it’s been five minutes a day or less to maintain.

Neighbors of mine at my last location swapped their wood stove for a pellet stove. They felt the pellet stove was less work. They were happy with their decision until a power outage, when the pellet stove had to be hand fed every 20 minutes or so. As someone else mentioned, they found splitting and stacking the wood harder to do as they got older.

10 kevin vogel { 02.25.14 at 12:51 pm }

I use a wood pellet stove and have grown up with a fuel oil furnace and wood stove and lived in places with electric heat and even had a edenpure heater and Propane furnace but nothing even holds a candle to our pellet stove, Right now wood pellets are getting hard to get but we raise birds so we just switch to corn and we have our feed and fuel and the heat is so much better.

11 Doug Malech { 02.02.14 at 12:38 pm }

Have used deadfall ( mostly poplar ) for 30 years. Great way to keep in shape but have to clean the chimney at least once a month. Live in the far northeast part of Alberta and winter can be 7 months long. The most diesel I have ever burnt is about 100 gallons a year but warning to all – as we get older it gets harder to keep up!

12 Kevin { 01.03.14 at 1:59 am }

I’m in Idaho and use a wall mounted PV driven fan solar air heater that I calculate to offset about a cord of wood burned per year. Its awesome! I heat mainly heat with wood (About 1.5/2 cords) with back up electrical heat.

13 Tim { 12.31.13 at 8:12 am }

What wall hung boiler are you installing for $1,000.00 to $2,000.00 ??? I sell Navien and Baxi and they run $1,800.00 to $3,000.00 for just the boiler. About the same cost as a midrange boiler. The install labor is about the same or more if you have to relocate piping in a remodling job.

14 Rawlins D. Apperson { 06.01.13 at 7:37 pm }

I use Propane in Seward, Alaska. My force air furnace is 95%effecent, the Tank less water is high effecent. I dropped 25 gallons of propane use when I installed these two appliances each month, including in the winter. I also cook and dry our clothes with propane. Propane is a lot cleaner to operate, than fuel oil.
>I service, clean, and operate fourteen fuel oil burners at work. So, I know how time comsuming it is to maintain these at 78 % t0 80% effecency in year!

15 Karyn S. { 05.28.13 at 6:40 pm }

I’m in the middle of a huge renovation. We live in the mountains on a lake in NJ. No natural gas is available. We just installed a LP unit, ductwork etc. for our 2nd fl.
I just found out today that our oil burner downstairs is past it’s age and should be replaced. The HVAC sub. suggested going all liquid propane and install a unit for the downstairs. He said it runs more efficiently. I need an immediate suggestion as he is going to quote me in a few days. The house is about 2200 sq. ft. The backup generator and stove will also run off a propane tank. If you think it would make sense to switch now, I would probably need a tank larger than 100 gal.

Thank you

16 Troy Howard { 04.25.13 at 11:09 am }

Sorry that is meant to say 80% efficient

17 Troy Howard { 04.25.13 at 11:07 am }

The authors btu counts vary alot from heat source to heat source but 36 million / year is the middle of the propane scale using an 805 efficient appliance so lets assume that.

Electric at $.12 per KWh is $1,391

Geo Thermal heat Pump at $.12 per KWh is $463

Air Source Heat Pump with electric backup HP 70% load $389 EH 30% Load $417
Total $806

Hope this helps

18 Deana { 02.24.13 at 11:15 pm }

I live in central Alberta and our winters can get very cold. I will go with the gas being the cheapest, no work and no mess, the house stays clean and there is no smell.

19 Jo Salisbury { 02.17.13 at 7:56 pm }

What about using electric heating methods such as a heat pump? In New Zealand we use these and they double up as an air conditioning unit in the Summer. Very efficient.

20 MK Chesley { 02.14.13 at 9:45 am }

I would like to see comparisons of electric heat alone as well. And do these figures reflect any of the electrical cost to run the pellet stove?

21 Liam Klyfshamra { 02.08.13 at 7:36 pm }

We live within the boundries of the Manistee National Forest in N.W. lower Michigan. We get Federal fuel wood permits good for 5 full cords per permit. You can cut standing dead within 200ft of forest roads and fallen dead from anywhere within. We are on permit 2 and other wise it’s the cost of gas and chainsaw upkeep. I save even more when you consider I do not have to pay a gym membership to stay in shape. We heat a 2500 sq.ft house built in 1893 with just a wood stove and keep it 68-70 even on the coldest days.

22 JANE HAZELL { 02.07.13 at 9:34 am }

Here in Ohio, currently Propane costs are around $3.89 a gallon. We have apr. 2500 sq. ft (including basement) to heat. We heat with wood. We have a propane furnace that gets used only if the wood burner goes out during the night (hardly ever)…The last year we heated with only propane (2009) we went through just about $400 per month for propane. We buy our wood from a neighboring farmer that had his land logged & we pay $120/ cord of wood. A cord last us a month..big savings over propane!!

23 Chris Barth { 02.07.13 at 8:58 am }

My family had used a corn stove, which was wonderful. We could have it warm enough in our house to run around in shorts, when it is 5 degrees or colder outside. But since the drought we had here in Nebraska hit, corn is too expensive to use. A 50# bag of cleaned and bagged corn cost us about $5.00, had went up to about 8-9 bucks a bag…too expensive! So we are currently using a pellet stove, and are just into our 3 tons of pellets. It is easier to use, lots cleaner and keeps us toasty warm. We use fans also to help circulate the air throughout our home.

24 RJ { 02.06.13 at 10:02 pm }

We use a pellet stove that can also burn grains and cherry pits. We mix 3 gallons of corn to each 40lbs of oak pellets for the times the forcast is for teens and lower and we usually have to turn it down 1 setting from the time we don’t mix corn. Most grains have an oil in them but use straight corn and you will clean every other day. otherwise, it’s once every 7 to 10 days. We are in NWMo and see our share of bitter cold temps. I suggest you get a stove that has an agitator in the fire box to avoid a clinker if you burn much grain. We have a US Stove Co and use 3 to 3 1/2 ton a year and about 10 bu corn. Corn prices are high now so unless you farm and won’t miss a few bushels, it may not pay to use corn except in colder conditions like we do. We have also tried soybeans, milo, and rice. Cherry pits in this area are tough to get but are reported to be the hottest burning of all. The stove we have uses 150 watts so we have an inverter and marine battery for those times the power is out. I have plenty of timber for free firewood but this works better for the wife’s athsma and allergies.

25 ALBERT LILLY { 02.06.13 at 4:08 pm }

WE HAVE ELECTRIC HEAT, RESISTANT FORCED AIR FURNACE. WE USE OUR WOOD STOVE FOR 95% OF OUR HEAT HERE IN WEST CENTRAL INDIANA. WE BURN ABOUT 3 CORDS OF WOOD, USING YOU MEASUREMENTS. AT A COST OF $150/CORD, WE SAVE ABOUR $700 A HEATING SEASON. OUR HOUSE IA A RANCH STYLE, SO WE USE A FAN TO CIRCULATE ALL THRU THE HOUSE. WHEN REAL COLD (+5) OR LOWER, WE SOMETIMES LIGHT OUR 11,000BTU KEROSENE HEATER. USUALL KEROSENE USUAGE IS 10 GALLON A SEASON AT $4.19 A GALLON.

26 Trish Burns { 02.06.13 at 3:29 pm }

Yes, no electric and more importantly where’s the Solar comparison?

Just use the 30% Fed tax credit, which we can all get thru 2015, any local incentives are just bonus anyway!

27 Gary Hirsch { 02.06.13 at 2:49 pm }

I have used cord wood for 40 (forty) years with 2 stoves in my house and one in my garage/workshop. The initial cost is offset by the savings incured over the first 2 years! Ceiling fans circulate the warm air, making the heat comfortable thruout the entire house hold of 1200 sq. ft. upstairs and 800 sq. ft. downstairs. The first free standing stove I installed was in my basement, and it was wonderful! If I use both the upstairs insert and the stove in the basement, I useually have to open a window or two to off set the 90 plus degree heat that is obtained thruout the dwelling. Most uncomfortable! Yes, it is a bit of work to maintain and store, but in my experiance, it is most worthwhile! My units are pre-EPA regulations, but if kept clean (the chimmneys) there is little or no smoke emmitted except at first ignition on a cold stove. I will use this method above the rest, as I have tried all, and settled to this method of heating my dwelling. One most important note here, when the utilities go down on a cold winters storm, mine is the only house where you can stay warm, and with a few candles, have light and stay comfortable during the worst of storms here in Colorado. A final note, my fuel is scrap, and logs are dropped here by cutters needing a place to discard their waste. So, point being, after the initial expense, being absorbed the first two years, my heating costs have only been my labor for well over 30 plus years!!

28 Ginger Brownell { 02.06.13 at 1:31 pm }

Since I burn oil, I must say that you are way off in your figures on oil heat. First of all the price per gallon is closer to $4.00 per gallon around $3.85 give or take, and you are required to buy a minimum of 150 gallons making it very difficult and expensive to heat with oil……….my brother in law is trying to convince us to go with the coal , but I like the pellet idea….sounds much cleaner.

29 Karen Byers { 02.06.13 at 11:44 am }

Like Alice, your comparisons do not include electric heat. It would be interesting to see how it compares…as that is what I’m heating with…electric heat in the ceiling.

30 alice otoupalik { 02.06.13 at 10:53 am }

Yes these are helpful comparisons but you didn’t include electric heating.

31 Richard Warner { 02.06.13 at 9:11 am }

Nice comparisons. One needs to figure out which is best from there.

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