Burning Wood Is More Expensive Than Gas!?!?!

SufficientSelf.com Posted By SufficientSelf.com, Nov 7, 2010 at 6:10 AM

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  1. SufficientSelf.com

    Oct 31, 2010
    Northern California
    Did that get your attention? :D

    Ok, what do y'all think about this:


    I saw this sign at the wood stove store. Basically if you have to buy wood at $300 a cord (which we may have to do) it is about TWICE as expensive as gas!!! And that doesn't even take into account stacking, hauling, moving firewood!!

    If I don't buy pre-split and seasoned wood I may be able to get free rounds dropped off at the house, but I'll still have to rent a splitter, split, haul, etc. etc. etc. If I only burn 1-2 cords a year is it worth it? I always just expected wood would always be cheaper than heating with gas!!

    My frugal foundation has been rocked to the CORE! Should I abandon all my excitement for getting an NC-13 (which I thought would save me money) and just get a pretty free standing gas stove?

    I bow before the hearth brothers and ask for your wisdom and guidance!
  2. madrone

    Minister of Fire

    Oct 3, 2008
    Just South of Portland, OR
    If I had to buy wood at $300 a cord, I'd install a gas stove. Wood makes sense for me because it's free (short of the effort and chainsaw expenses.) I use my NG furnace during the Fall and Spring, and burn my scrounged free wood when it's coldest. I love wood heat, but economics has the final say in what's heating the house at any given moment.
  3. SufficientSelf.com

    Oct 31, 2010
    Northern California
    Ya, I'm seriously questioning life and all my decisions leading up to this point! I mean, even if I get fantastic wood at 1/2 the going rate on craigslist ($300 a cord) I'm still breaking even with gas (based on the data above, if it is accurate).

    I love fires, but I agree madrone... at the end of the day economics really carry a large part of the decision. I was even willing to put in the effort to get free wood, split it, stack it, haul it into the house, deal with ashes, etc., but that was when I though gas was way more expensive than wood.

    It would be interesting to do a calculation on how long it takes me to split and stack a cord of wood (and renting a splitter) and compare that to the price of gas and then figure what my time is worth. I mean, splitting wood is fun, but after a cord or two I think I'd be interested in doing some other things instead. :)

    It saddens me to think about not having a wood burning stove, but the price and simplicity, ease, cleanliness of gas is just super compelling! Maybe I just primarily heat with gas and then supplement for ambiance with wood?
  4. begreen

    Staff Member

    Nov 18, 2005
    South Puget Sound, WA
    Prices are going to vary a lot by region and what is available for fuel. Pellets are about $100/ton cheaper here, but no NG in this rural neighborhood. Propane is pushing $4.00/gal. Wood, if you buy it is expensive, around $200-250/cord softwood, $350 hardwood. But back east we have folks reporting they get hardwood for $150/cord.
  5. EatenByLimestone

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 12, 2006
    Schenectady, NY
    I have a little one this year and scrounging took a back seat to time with her. I bought wood for next year at $120/cd.

    2 cds oak and hickory
    1 cord maple (probably soft. I didn't look that closely)
    1 cord maple, elm and cherry

    If you only burn for ambiance, you will never break even. Unless you get free wood and do the install yourself. Even then, you are probably looking at 10+ years.

    I pass a few places offering pellet brands I recognize (Barefoots) for just over 200/ton.

  6. Dune

    Minister of Fire

    Jan 14, 2008
    Commonwealth Of Massachussetts
    I never understood buying firewood. (I will buy it if it is severely underpriced) When I wanted to start burning wood, I started collecting wood. After I had 3 or four cords I installed a stove. I will not have gas in my house, so the option is oil or wood. Free wood is far cheaper than oil. Paying retail for firewood instead of using street gas is probably not worth it. Propane costs about twice as much as natural gas arround here.
  7. woodgeek

    Minister of Fire

    Jan 27, 2008
    SE PA
    A lot of us back east do not have gas as an option.
    rvdremen likes this.
  8. SolarAndWood

    Minister of Fire

    Feb 3, 2008
    Syracuse NY
    Just out of curiosity, was that PG&E propaganda or a good guy assessment done by the guys at the stove shop?

    Our choices are electricity or propane. It made the investment in wood a pretty easy decision.
  9. richg

    Minister of Fire

    Nov 20, 2005
    It's early in the morning, I'm hung over and can't do math right now. BUT: that price comparison looks flawed to me, and there are many other factors that go into heating system choice aside from "at this very minute" pricing. Abouy the comparison:

    -it is dated 09/2009: I have not clue about gas prices now, but here in northern NJ we see pellets at about $225 per ton and a cord of hardwood at $180-225
    -They list "gas" at .96 per therm, but if the gas is burned in a central furnace, the rate per hour rises from .96 to $2.48 per hour, far in excess of the cost of wood they list
    -Natural gas is a fossil fuel; while it may burn clean, it is not greenhouse neutral. Wood heat produces particulate emmissions but is greenhouse neutral
    -Propane, which is used by many folks where there are no gas lines, is derived from petroleum.

    That price comparision looks more like a sales gimmick to me.
  10. MarkinNC

    Minister of Fire

    Oct 3, 2010
    Leicester, NC
    I'd be skeptical of the numbers. I went to a propane site, the one they advertise on commercials, and the prices were all skewed in favor of propane. I believe the comparison was with propane for less that $2 per gallon.

    In our local paper and on CL, I don't believe I have seen wood for ever $200 per cord. I am going to go out on a limb because I am just getting in to all this, but, IF I had to buy my fuel I think pellets maybe the way to go cost wise.
  11. SolarAndWood

    Minister of Fire

    Feb 3, 2008
    Syracuse NY
    Depends on where you are. Coal is a lot cheaper than pellets here.
  12. savageactor7

    Minister of Fire

    Jan 25, 2008
    Well yeah there must be a certain cost point that it doesn't pay to burn wood if it's not free to the user. For this house I'd pay for coal before propane. For me one of the beauties of heating with a stove is that the farther you get away from it the cooler it is...and that's the way I like it.

    Sure propane is a nice backup but most times your pay to heat rooms you're not in.
  13. fjord

    New Member

    Aug 17, 2010
    Whew. Another: "I saw it, put it online, it has to be true". Happy Time Change to you all.

    The figures in that sign are flawed; impolitely, B.S. For you Google researchers, do your own diligence. Compare apples to apples, BTUs to BTUs of ANY fossil fuel cost. It is easy, there are 100's of charts from many agencies and websites. Nice one is right here. Basic fact is that buying C/S/D firewood up to a price of +/- $500/cord is still cheaper than all fossils, unless KIng Faisal or Mr. Chavez give it away. Do the math. What's a "therm" ? :lol:

    For the few here who do their own harvesting, scrounging, humping.......priceless.

    For the majority using wood as entertainment, romance, a green statement, the supplement to a 65 F central furnace, or the chance to post on a wood heating blog, yes, wood is $$$$$.

  14. cycloxer

    New Member

    Jul 9, 2008
    Worcester County, MA
    I'll post my calculation later, but NG can be cheaper than wood. I have NG hot water baseboard heat as well as my wood stove. I consistently pay $250 per cord of oak, which is maybe not a great price, but this is top shelf quality oak that stacks out 5-10% over a cord every time. The point is that you need a quality, cost-effective source for your fuel. Also, the spot price of NG has been very low over the past year:

  15. John_M

    Minister of Fire

    Dec 10, 2008
    Central NY
    Certainly, I am intellectually unable to ascertain the accuracy of the data in the posted comparison. However, I can say this for certain: Up until last year I burned about 1,200 gallons of propane yearly and paid about $1.80 to $2.00 per gallon for that LPG. Propane has provided heat, domestic hot water, cooking and clothes dryer for the previous 5 years. Last year I installed a wood stove, constructed a hearth, purchased a chainsaw w/accessories, a nice wood splitter, and built some racks and a four cord shed for seasoning the wood. My total expense was about $10,000. I fell the trees on my own property.

    Last year I burned almost four cords of firewood and 400 gallons of propane. I saved about 800 gallons of propane @ an average cost of $1.90 per gallon. So, during my first year of burning with wood, I "saved" about $1,520.00 . At that rate it will take me about 6 years to "save" the cost of the entire wood stove installation. Assuming propane and other petroleum based fuels will continue to increase in price, I will begin truly saving considerably more each year.

    These "savings" do not begin to take into account all the work involved in felling, hauling, bucking, splitting, and stacking the wood. I mostly enjoy doing all this work provided I am not rushed by weather or season to "'git 'er done". I enjoy the labor. In my life, maintaining the chainsaw and splitter are enjoyable pastimes and the costs are minimal.

    Then there is the pure pleasure of using the stove: the first fire of the season; a fire that roars to life each morning with just a little tinder and kindling... and just about when your coffee is ready. The warmth is immediate. Others are more able than I to articulate the enjoyment of sitting in front of a warm stove and watching the flames warm the house. Those who burn with wood will know what I am unable to describe. The satisfaction and pleasure I gain from heating with wood is, to me, worth every penny of the cost. :)

  16. eujamfh


    Dec 5, 2009
    There are sites on the web that will run numbers for you if you plug in the price of fuels...wood routinely comes in cheaper. We have heat pumps, and an efficient home and in the shoulder season the new (last year pumps) are cheaper to run than if I have to buy wood. But, for us, once the temp is below mid-30s, the heat STRIPS come on and that is where the bills starts to rise.

    I agree with John M. For us, if I was running electric heat only....the house would be much much cooler in the dead of winter. But with the wood heat, I can keep the house mid 70s without batting an eye at the end of month bill. Wife likes it better, kids can run around in dress up dresses without wearing a bunch of sweaters. I ran the numbers what we saved from the first year we were in the house compared to the previous owners, and the cost I have invested will take 6 years to recover (stove w/install, new liner for second stove, splitter and saw). But, that is not taking into consideration what it would cost running the electric in the mid 70s temperatures...doing that and I am sure I would break even (less sweat equity) in 4 years. I think I saved about $1200 last year.

    Plus - that assumes the stove, splitter and saw are worthless and can not be sold. Looking at those numbers...I think I am even in an easy 3 years.

    And as John M pointed out....I love the work. Its really one of my hobbies...and there are few hobbies I have that actually PAY me back.
  17. geoffm24


    Sep 1, 2010
    Western MA
    If you are paying for wood then the cost savings against natural gas are minimal. I spent about $2,000 for the entire year on gas and that includes our hot water heater prior to the wood stove. I figure I spend roughly $1,400 per year on actual heat for the house out of that $2,000. So if you spent $200 a cord and went through 5 cords your savings would at best be $400. When you start adding things like $150 a year for a chimney sweep. firestarters, gas for the chainsaw, equipment costs etc. the "savings" are in fact nothing at all. Since I pay little to nothing for wood, enjoy the smells and heat, like hand splitting, like stacking, like being outdoors, like having the stove room at 75 degrees, etc it is a money saver as well as ambience maker.
  18. Chettt

    Feeling the Heat

    Oct 21, 2007
    Western Michigan
    Here's the real way to compare fuel prices. If you go into a house that is heated by oil, electricity, gas etc. the inside temperature will usually be between 60 and 67 degrees. You come into a hearth.com members home and it will be 70 to 85 degrees.
  19. BrowningBAR

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 22, 2008
    Doylestown, PA
    Even if I were to by all of my wood at $200 per cord (8 cords x 200 = $1600) I would still be cutting my heating costs by at least 50%. And that is at a minimum. Currently heating oil is at about $3.00-$3.10 per gallon and inching up. That puts me at at least $4,500 for heating oil.

    I'm no math genius, but $1600 sure seems a LOT cheaper than $4500.
  20. fjord

    New Member

    Aug 17, 2010
    Doing the intellectual math of BTU to BTU--quantity, area heated, cost / BTU--factoring in ONLY the cost of fuel, cheap NG does come only CLOSE to bought wood.
    Then the capital cost of wood getting gear of the $10,000. has to be factored over amortized time like it was said.

    There are the vital intangibles: learning the art of wood burning, gaining the safe skills to fell and harvest trees, the satisfaction of harvesting your own fuel. Managing a sustainable woodlot. Using a close to carbon free fuel (ashes to ashes). The needed exercise ( you, you poster, wood harvesters don need no stinkin health clubs ). Lest we forget: the joy of being near the heat of a wood stove in January Downeast. This ain't Virginia, Virginia.

    There's a poignant quote from one here (sorry) by Aldo Leopold on comparing getting your own wood to food from your own farm. Says it all. Priceless.
  21. branchburner

    Minister of Fire

    Sep 27, 2008
    southern NH
    Burning Wood Is More Expensive Than Gas!?!?!

    Yeah, and going fishing or skiing or playing golf is more expensive than watching TV. That's not even counting all the damn walking involved!

    If you don't enjoy burning wood and all that goes with it, why bother? There are easier ways to save a buck, and on this level, feeling good about saving the planet has a lot more to do with just feeling good than with actually saving the planet.

    BTW, I prefer watching TV to going fishing or skiing or playing golf. But I prefer cutting, splitting , hauling and stacking to watching TV (with certain exceptions - go Pats!). Getting paid for burning wood is just a big bonus.
  22. certified106

    Minister of Fire

    Oct 22, 2010
    Athens, Ohio
    For me it's a no brainer Electric is .17 cents per KWH and propane is any where from 1.99-2.69 per gallon in the summer (more in the winter), so on that scale to heat with propane and keep the house 66°- 68°all winter would cost me about $1800. Even if I bought all my wood split, cut, delivered and stacked (which I dont), and burnt 5 cords (which Idon't) it would cost $750. That doesn't even take into account the fact that burning with wood the living area of the house is 75° and the bedrooms are 66° which is exactly how I like it. Not to mention that I don't have to listen to my wife and kids complain about how they are freezing to death and watch the dog shiver. So even if they cost the same amount of money I would choose to heat with wood just for comforts sake.
  23. ChoppingAccountant

    Nov 13, 2009
    Central WI
    Here is what I use to calculate the cost difference. It is from a Department of Energy website.


    Nationally, natural gas prices are cheaper now than in at least 5 years. Running the number for myself with my specific equipment in mind, c/s/d Oak would have to be under $110 for it to make economical sense. Around here, $150 is the going rate so I a burning what I can (have) scrounge and run the furnace otherwise.

    The point was made above that you need to factor in other costs as well such as chainsaws, trucks and burning skills. I see the points being made but if one already has the equipment, those costs are sunk and you should only consider the marginal cost of running and maintaining. The depreciation can be accounted for before purchase in the decision making process but not after it is spent.
  24. btuser

    Minister of Fire

    Jan 15, 2009
    Principality of Pontinha
    I have NEVER been excited about turning a thermostat. I get excited about lighting the stove EVERY TIME!
  25. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage
    Minister of Fire

    Feb 14, 2007
    I won't even check their figures, but....

    Well, well, well. According to these guys, I've lost a ton of dollars over the past 50+ years because I stupidly burn wood. Not only that, but if I burned NG, which I can't, I could turn my thermostats down, put on some extra clothing and be uncomfortable all winter. Because I burn wood, I don't turn the thermostats down, I remove clothing (indoors) in the winter and I am very comfortable all winter. But it costs me a lot of money....at least according to those guys. And how many people can get by with 30,000 btus?

    Not only the above, but I also own a chainsaw for cutting the wood and I am constantly buying gas and oil for the saw; I have to purchase chains for the saw and I have to buy files to sharpen the things. I own a splitter and I have to buy gas and oil to run it. I own an atv and a trailer for hauling the wood and that atv takes gas and oil. I just purchased a new trailer this summer so there is another $400 I spent. In addition to that, I also own an axe, splitting maul, sledge hammer, 3 iron wedges, cant hook, chains, come-a-long, etc. Man, that is a tremendous investment!

    In addition to the above, we purchased a new wood stove 3 years ago. At that time we also put up a SS chimney and also built a new hearth. Well, the stove and chimney were costly. But, my neighbor owed me some time and dollars so he built the hearth for us and even put up the chimney. The stove was purchased at a big discount so that was worth a lot.

    In addition to the above, I spend a lot of time cutting, splitting, stacking, moving to house and all with the wood. Then there are the ashes to contend with and the mess it makes wherever you split wood and the messes with ashes, etc. It takes space. We just put up a new shed and a portion of it will be used for wood storage.

    So what have we got for all of this?

    In our case (I have more experience with our own rather than using someone else's situation), we have a few extra things. Like the atv, but even without cutting firewood we would have an atv. The trailer; even without hauling wood we would still have that trailer. The saw; even without cutting firewood we find we have a need for the saw. The splitter. This is an added expense and tool. We have owned it a bit over 20 years and paid somewhere around $800 for it. That's $80 per year. We have taken in perhaps $1000 (probably more) so that brings the cost down a bit. Still not cheap but I would hate to be without one. The hydraulic splitter was purchased after an injury made it almost impossible for me to split the wood by hand. The various tools like cant hook, axe, etc. are minimal cost and will last a lifetime. Still those dollars could have been put in a bank to earn 1-2% interest!

    I have no idea how much time I spend annually with the putting up of the wood but is this not better than paying and having to drive to a gym? The body needs exercise and I enjoy putting up wood a whole lot more than doing some silly exercises or having to drive somewhere and pay to sweat.

    All in all, we have burned wood for a good many years now and have never regretted it. I have a problem visualizing us not burning wood so long as we live in the north. I'd hate to be without it for sure. We do stay much more comfortable with wood heat and it is better for the environment. In our case, we own a woodlot so the wood is there. We could just leave all the trees that die every year for the woodpeckers and insects, but they still have plenty. Overall, for me, it is the fact that I can be comfortable in my home during the coldest part of winter. Of course, that means I usually stay at home during winter because when I go to someone else's place I almost freeze! Another benefit is that my wife is able to do a lot of cooking on our wood stove which saves the dollars we would normally spend on LP. If the neighborhood gets cut off from electricity, like during some freezing rain period, the neighbors come here to stay warm.

    A couple other points is the fact that I can sell firewood to earn back some of those dollars. I also can use some firewood as a tithe or as a goodwill offer to some folks not as fortunate as I. It is written, "...Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." So we do every year try to help some of those folks....but we do it not expecting anything in return. We've even been known to dump some wood in somebody's driveway when they were not home. Hopefully they never find out where it came from.

    So maybe the wood burning has cost us over the years. I can't really put a pencil to it exactly but methinks it is not true at all. I believe we have saved a lot of dollars over the many years, have received much satisfaction for doing for ourselves and others, have received much benefit with the exercise and the very best part is that we will stay very comfortable in our home rather than having to live in a cold house. The rest is all gravy. Also, most folks have hobbies; what's wrong with having wood cutting as a hobby? Does it then cost you as much? You get back a lot in return for a little money spent.
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