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Natural Gas or Wood Stove?

Post in 'It's a Gas!' started by Sandycane, Sep 29, 2008.

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  1. Sandycane

    Sandycane New Member

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    I have received a lot of helpful advice in another thread regarding the purchase and installation of a new wood stove.
    However, after reading a few of the threads in this section, I wonder if I am doing something stupid by wanting to switch from NG to wood?
    If I read correctly, next to free wood, NG is the cheapest fuel for home heating, right?

    My main reason for wanting the switch was so that I wouldn't be dependant on the gas company and their possible unreasonable rate increases. But, unless you gather your own wood on your own property you are likely to pay higher prices for wood you buy as time goes on, right?
    (Another reason would be in case of a national disaster.)

    I think what I need to know is, what is the current and future status of availability of NG in the US?
    If there isn't an impending outage as there is for oil (Peak Oil http://lifeaftertheoilcrash.net/ ), I'm thinking prices should remain reasonable and supply steady...unless or until all those who are currently using oil convert to NG. :gulp: ...even then, if supply is good, shouldn't be a problem, right?

    Any thoughts?

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  2. Sandycane

    Sandycane New Member

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  3. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    The eternal question: did I do the right thing? I'm not sure and the Ouija board hasn't been the most reliable thing lately, but I did the same thing a couple years ago and haven't looked back. I have a 90% condensing furnace on NG and a Quad wood stove. I am refining my scrounging techniques as I hate paying for firewood when the tree guys are all landfilling the stuff.

    The price of gas, until a few years ago was dirt cheap. Supply was plentiful and everyone began hooking up to it if they had a gas pipe in the neighborhood. The increased demand coupled with Katrina shutting things down has thrown a real wrench in the works. Now everyone is getting edgy and the price was shooting up with the price of oil, even though there was no reason for it. It has settled back, along with the price of oil, but will probably never be "dirt cheap" again. Supplies should be reasonable for the forseeable future and demand will be stable, unless CNG for vehicles takes off (see Pickens, et al.). Anyone who could switch from oil to gas probably already has.

    In comparison, the price of gas in an efficient heater or furnace is probably close to firewood at $200 a cord. I haven't punched up the numbers lately, but it's close. If you have to pay for firewood, you don't want to go overboard, but can benefit from the zone heating effect (not heating the entire house). The added assurance that the stove will work in an outage is nice, but you can't beat the bone warming "glow" you get off a wood stove on a cold day. There are lots of benefits that only you will notice; I like the fact that is is carbon neutral.

    The ability to switch fuels as the price fluctuates is something that most people don't have. When gas spiked to $1.60 a therm in 2005, I was burning the Fisher 24/7 and wishing I had a newer efficient stove; thus the Quad. My neighbors were reporting $500 gas bills that month, but ours was under $100. $200/cord is a bargain when gas is that expensive.

    Enjoy your new stove and stick around: the next few years are gonna be interesting!

    Chris
  4. Sandycane

    Sandycane New Member

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    Hi Chris.

    Actually, the stove I bought this weekend, before finding this forum, has been declared a POS by some members...it's still sitting on my front porch.
    I asked the man who cut down some trees for me in the Spring to stop by tonight. He told me a story about a hunting trip many years ago that ended with the cabin burning to the ground and he and his buddies spending the rest of the night cutting down cedar trees around the house to prevent the fire from spreading. He said the cabin was 1900's, solid wood and the stove pipe was vented through a window, which caught fire and the wind blew the flames into the loft area. They made it out with nothing but the clothes on their back...minutes later the house was a pile of embers.

    My house is 1900's and solid wood. Don't think I want to take the risk...although I'm still thinking.

    'Interesting' is putting it mildly. lol

    Oh, btw, I asked the wood-cutter what kind of wood stove he has - he doesn't have one. :roll:
  5. R&D Guy

    R&D Guy New Member

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    From what I've seen NG is still quite cheap although like so many other things it varies state to state I guess. Now that being said it's still cheap enough that I don't notice the gas bill when it comes in except maybe in January and February, but even then its only been around $150 give or take $20 for a 2600 sq foot house with 3 gas fireplaces, gas range, water heater, NG BBQ, and furnace. So I don't follow the price increases very closely since it seems to average out to the cost of living. Unlike LP, most utility companies have long term contracts with their suppliers so the cost doesn't jump up and down like LP, and I don't think it's ever had the kind of jumps like LP.

    I do still pine over the wood stove we had in our last house (pun intended). I had it set up about 5' away from the TV against the same wall so I could watch it during commercials or whenever. I use to scrounge for wood too and loved it when a utility bill would come in and it was only a little higher than it is in the summer. Two things I really don't miss is the smoke that from time to time would enter the house if I opened the door to quickly, and all the mess! Wow did it ever trash the backyard and there was a nature trail between the back slider and the wood stove.

    Sorry I'm realizing I'm no help here.
  6. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    AH! I missed that thread. Agreed on most counts that the Longwood was a poor choice, even for emergency use. I know a guy who has one of them in a shop, but doesn't trust it enough to walk away from it while it is burning. They are hard to manage, even with experience.

    Everyone has a horror story about a woodstove gone wrong, but there are far more people that have had nothing but good experiences. The neighbors tell me that the fire dept. was at our house several times for chimney fires before we moved in. The stove was a "smoke dragon" that didn't draft well and could make creosote big time if it wasn't watched carefully. I read up on it (here!) and put a liner in the oversized (and crumbling) chimney and burned it for several more years with little trouble. We liked the results and developed the "bug" that makes you look forward to cold weather. Eventually, we bit the bullet, bulldozed the chimney (as well as the room it was in) and put in a new Class A chimney and a Quadrafire (a Lexus compared to the Longwood!). It was hard to fork over $3000 for the stove and chimney, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it over again if we moved to a house that didn't have a good stove.

    It looks like you already have zoned heat with multiple gas heaters. It is going to be hard to beat that, especially if you are doing it for $600/year. A house that old in a colder climate would change things a lot and make the decision easier. I say stick with the gas and save your pennies for a modern EPA compliant stove properly installed to code, even if nobody is checking the code in your area. I'd also suggest a good CO detector in every room with a heater, if you haven't already done it yet. Anything that burns can make CO and you do want to wake up in the morning!

    Good luck and stay warm!
    Chris
  7. pumiglk

    pumiglk New Member

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    Saw threads in both places - thought I would weigh in. I use (used) propane for the last 5 years) before that it was oil and weekend wood (different house). Watched heat bill climb from 600 with oil wood combo to nearly 4K anticipated this year per pricing contract at $3.89 (if memory serves). Enough was enough! I have 12 acres of forest and a hundered acres around me with neighbors willing to let me cull i.e. wood is free. We had a big fireplace, we were feeding wood for pleasure (heat was 10 foot proximity only), so I had three cords of wood split and drying since early spring. For me, even getting a BIG, beautiful, high quality EPA stove the payback is likely less than two years, even counting the three cords of wood I purchased to make sure I had enough this winter.

    However in your situtation I am not sure I would switch. You have identified the saftey issues - IMHO it is not worth doing with a substandard set-up. Any money you may or may not save, is balanced against castastrophe. Moreover, if you don't groove on cutting your own wood or don't have a ready supply, NG is BTU for BTU still the cheapest fuel. We may not have stock markets in the US but we do have plenty of NG, at least for a while. Access is a problem for many but if you have it, capitalize on it. While your wood prices seem low compared to up here even at a cord a year you still are looking at 3-4 year return, assuming a simple installation/reline and economical EPA stove (i.e, combination is 1500-2000); I would not consider the stove you have a a reliable heat source for the house (take them up on the offer to return). That makes the assumption that the stove is properly placed and will still circulate well. In all likihood you will still burn some gas to keep the kitchen area warm unless that baby is cranking. In addition, once you start installing these things, all sorts of clearance, hearth requirements etc are bound to emerge which are going to drive the price/or hassle factor up. My thoughts are, how effecient are those natural gas heaters you have. Would a newer direct vent natural gas stove, centrally placed (maybe living/dining room) provide you many more bangs for your Gas-buck, as these can be installed nearly anywhere relatively inexpensively. If you like the idea of wood as an alternative I would plan well, research thoroughly and put the investment in the best set-up you can mange for your particular situtation. That will yield the fastest and safest pay-off. Meanwhile I would love to have a little of your NG :)

    Sorry for the long post
  8. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    US and Canada have good NG supplies, but keep in mind as price of oil goes up, so will NG. Producers shoot for the sweet spot price of gobs of profit but not so much that people will start looking seriously for alternative fuels. Also, NG is likely to be increasing in demand as oil supplies continue to decline, which also will lead to price increases.

    I've been burning wood safely with the same stove for 18 years. No gas man cometh to my house!
  9. Sandycane

    Sandycane New Member

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    Thanks for the comments...the more I read, the easier it will be to make a decision...eventually.
    I made an error in an earlier post on the cost of a cord of wood: I asked the wood cutter again last night about his price and the $65 is for a RICK not a cord.

    My immediate problem is getting my kitchen flue unclogged so I can use the NG stove in that room. I don't know what to do about that. The guy I paid $125 to clean it out hasn't come back and I sure can't get up on that steep ridge cap to do it myself. My neighbor tried yesterday but got scared to death when he got to the peak. I guess all I can do is keep trying to get the guy back here... I do have the form he left saying I Could use it for gas and pictures showing it IS still blocked if I have to take him to court but I don't want to have to do that.

    Year before last I actually bought a ventless NG heater but returned it after reading the manual and warnings.
    All I know is this whole issue is making me nuts and I don't know what to do about it.

    Thanks for helping out.
  10. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    1) Caulk windows, doors, and all air leaks you can find.
    2) Insulate, especially ceilings and attic.
    3) If drafts, locate and seal.
    4) Get used to lower heating temps; wear a sweater or sweatshirt.
    5) Realize that every $ spent on heat goes "up in smoke," so seek conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.
  11. pumiglk

    pumiglk New Member

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    Jebatty is right on track. Those are likely your best investments dollar for dollar unless the house is all tight already.
  12. Redox

    Redox Minister of Fire

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    Good for you! I wouldn't have one of those in my house as there is so much that can go wrong.

    I referred back to the drawing on your original post and yeah, you don't have a lot of wall space in that kitchen. That is going to be hard to keep warm with anything less than a ducted system. Might I suggest a little bit or electric baseboard in there to warm it up in the AM? I hate to suggest electric resistance heat, but it is useful for situations like this. I think TVA electric rates are fairly competitive.

    The chimney guy probably knows his limitations and I wouldn't expect him to be able to fix everything for $125. Let's consider his opinion that the chimney is marginal and think about alternatives. A direct vent heater is a good possibilty as it will let you put it in more places. Basically, it can go on any outside wall and vents directly through the wall with no chimney. They are a little safer and more efficient than your gravity vented heaters. They can be as simple or as elegant as you want while still having all the benefits of zoned gas heaters with no chimney issues to worry about.

    You haven't mentioned any central system, so I'll assume there isn't one. Many on this forum would consider TN to be the deep South and I know you probably need some A/C at times. A one story house should be easy to install ductwork in and can give you heat and A/C with one system. A heat pump with electric backup for those few times when it gets very cold would be the cheapest form of central heat, and save you money in the long run in your climate. Many here scoff at the idea of a heat pump, but they make a lot of sense in southern locales. Heat pumps do require having a tight house, so all the suggestions for insulation and weatherstripping still apply, but might be a good long term goal.

    Chris
  13. Sandycane

    Sandycane New Member

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    :lol:
    The entire house is one big 'air leak'.
    Okay, I started that project 5 years ago. I insulated the crawl space above the attic (that I could crawl into) and insulated the underside of the metal roof in the attic above the dining room. I also had a new window installed on the north side attic bedroom and had the guy build a wall with 2x4's around it and filled it in with insulation. I did the same thing in one of the downstairs bedrooms. Besides these two rooms, no other wall in the house has insulation in it. I checked into blown insulation back then and decided it would be a bad idea because any moisture leaking in from the siding would wet the cellulose, make it compact, drop to the bottom and sit there and mould. There is nothing between the hardwood floors and a crawl space beneath the house that goes from 3' under living room to ground under the kitchen...I think any kind of duct work would be next to impossible. Btw, all the plumbing under the kitchen, bath and laundry room is barely underground and impossible to get to without cutting a hole in the floor (which we had to do 12 years ago when the commode froze up).
    See #1 :roll:
    :cheese: (this is me with chattering teeth in the winter)
    I bought two room thermometers last year to see what the room temp was... I keep it at 65. People shiver when they come to visit, I pass out sweaters to the guests. I actually prefer it cooler than hot, better for sleeping. My daughter is one who wears shorts in her apt. in the dead of winter.
    This was exactly my concern when I bought the vent-less NG heater. I noticed that the vent pipes were hot as a firecracker and all that heat was going right out the chimney.

    The heaters are old but work great. What sort of new NG heater would you recommend replacing them with? ...or, better yet, how to make these more efficient?

    Note:
    As bad as all this sounds, I love this house, it is priceless to me and irreplacable. This was my grandparents home and my dad was raised here. The view is breathtaking, the silence is music to my ears and the neighbors...well, I don't have any close by (except Mom in her mobile home in the back yard). :coolsmile:
  14. woodburn

    woodburn Member

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    Sandycane- I faced the same dilema and went with the wood stove. I do not regret it. It heats the house beautifully and I get my wood for Free. It is A LOT of work cutting, splitting, and stacking, but I enjoy it for the most part- great exercise! A big reason for me was having heat in the face of a disaster, and that I have a buddy with a tree service. If I had to buy wood at the $240 a cord it goes for around here, I wouldn't be too happy. I think I would rather pay what I THINK would be a little more for gas and be able to push a button and walk away. I guess its a matter of preference really. Also you need a decent amount of space to stack at least 2.5 cords a year if you really want to use it.
  15. RedRanger

    RedRanger New Member

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    Wood, Sandy, wood. Once installed, you will always gravitate to it. It will make you warm getting it, splitting it, and stacking it. And keep you younger as well. Young Lady: I`m 62, and am saying that when the day comes when I can no longer do the wood burning, then it is time to bury me. Cause I will never be as comfortable again as I am right now with the fire burning. ;-)
  16. guy48065

    guy48065 New Member

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    In my case my room & the fireplace surround dictated that I go with gas due to the greatly reduced clearances. I was looking forward to burning wood but I have to admit the convenience and easy heat control is nice, too.
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