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Wood stove or gas fireplace (help needed)

Post in 'It's a Gas!' started by shuaike, Jul 23, 2012.

  1. shuaike

    shuaike New Member

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    Hello, I've been following this forum for a month and now am considering buying a stove to heat up my house. However, discussing with a few dealers really make myself confused in choosing a woodstove versus a gas fireplace :(

    My goal is very simple: to make the house warm enough in the winter time :)

    I'm living in seattle area and the winter is not that harsh. The house was built in 1978 and is about 1700 sqft (layout attached). I konw nothing about the isulation though, but I assume it's not too bad. The previous owner upgraded windows 2 years ago. The only heat source is electical baseboard which is useless in the winter :( The house has two chimneys, one is a masonry chimney in the living room and the other is a stainless chimney in the family room (the previous owner may have a wood stove here using this chimney).

    I was thinking to buy a pacific energy T5, or spectrum or other medium size wood stove. However, recently, a dealer strongly suggested me to use a gas fireplace instead. He claimed a fire place of about 30000 output BTU can heat up the whole house which I really doubt...

    My wife and I both work and no one's at home during daytime. We usually turn off the baseboard when we left to work in the morning. We are hoping to buy a woodstove/fireplace to heat up the house as quickly as possible when we get back home after work.

    Here are a few questions that worries us a lot:
    1. Is a gas fireplace really able to heat up the whole house? and how long would it take to bring the house from say 40F to 75F?
    2. In terms of operation cost, would the wood stove cheaper or more expensive? (I have no source of free wood)
    3. If we were to buy a wood stove, we probably will fire it up from Oct to April. The temperature here is about 35F, and we will only burn wood from say 6 PM to 8 AM. Would you estimate how many cords do I need for the whole winter?
    4. Would the wood stove give lots of heat in half an hour or would it really starts to warm after a couple of hours? (The dealer claims the gas fireplace warms the house up faster than the wood stove)
    5. How much BTU do I need for this 1700 sqft house?

    Too many questions but this is the first time in our life to buy/use a wood stove/gas fireplace. Any comment is appreciated !

    Thanks in advance.

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  2. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

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    That's what we're here for... Like I said, welcome & get ready for a bunch of replies & other opinions & stuff...
  3. Wood Duck

    Wood Duck Minister of Fire

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    I think your main problem is that you let the house get pretty cold during the day and then expect it to warm up quickly when you get home each evening. This is a tough thing for any heater. I have a wood stove in my finished basement, and the stove is able to heat the basement up as hot as I'd like it to be - in other words the stove is more than large enough for the basement room. However, if I let the basement get cold and then try to warm it up, it takes several hours to heat. From a cold start a wood stove first has to develop a nice hot fire (at least 15 to 20 minutes with a cold stove), then heat up the stove (another 20 minutes at least), and then heat up not just the air but also the walls, furniture, and all of the other cold stuff in the room. It takes about two hours for my wood stove to heat up the air in the room from 40 to 75 or so, and it takes another couple of hours before the stuff in the room is up to room temperature. From a cold start the stove seems undersized, but if I keep the room reasonably well heated for more than about twelve hours at a time, I realize the stove is more than adequate.

    Aside from the wood stove we have electric baseboard heat and it keeps the house nice and toasty (we turn it down when we leave, but not off). The wood stove helps reduce our electric bill and I enjoy it, but it isn't necessary.

    I don't know if a gas stove heats up faster than a wood stove, but with a large wood stove you could load it up before you leave for work and most of the day it would be putting out heat, so you would not come home to such a cold house every evening and it would not take as long to reheat the house.

    I think if you get a medium to large wood stove and burn it most of the time (including loading it up before you leave for work, so I am assuming you'll burn close to 24 hours a day) you will burn about four cords of wood each winter.
  4. shuaike

    shuaike New Member

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    Thank you so much for your replies DAKSY and Wood duck!
    I tend to buy a wood stove as it gives more heat but my wife prefers a gas because it would save lots of work :confused:

    As you said, I guess the best thing is not to let the house get cold during the work day.
    One concern though regarding "you could load it up before you leave for work", wouldn't that be too dangerous to let a fire run by itself when nobody's at home?
  5. Wood Duck

    Wood Duck Minister of Fire

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    Most people who use a wood stove as a significant part of their home heating get to the point where they are comfortable letting the stove burn while nobody is home. I would not recommend you do this at first, but after a while you will get to know what the stove will do based on the air setting and the amount of wood, and you will know when it is safe to leave the stove unattended. I never load the stove then immediately leave the house, but rather load the stove an hour or so before I want to exit the house so that the first, most dynamic part of the burn is over before I leave. After the fire has settled down I can reduce the air supply for the long, slow decline of the burn cycle, and then I can leave the house.
    DAKSY likes this.
  6. 49er

    49er Member

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    You will want to find out if the area you are in has any restrictions on wood burning. Where we live the local air board regularly declares no burn days during the winter based on forecasted air quality and will fine you if you burn wood. We loved our woodstove and the heat it put out, but it was useless on the no burn days which seem to be getting more and more common. This was our first year with a gas stove and while we liked the steady heat of the woodstove better, we think gas will be the better option going forward. With gas you can also get a programmable thermostat to warm up the house before you get home.
  7. eclecticcottage

    eclecticcottage Minister of Fire

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    We heat with wood, period. I usually get up an hour before leaving for work and the very first thing after letting the dog out is to reload the stove so I can get it settled in before leaving. It's not any different, really, than leaving a gas appliance running when you're not home. There's still a flame, no matter what.

    I still say a gas stove will heat a house, we did it in the NE for 14 or so years, and with a house that was built in the 20's with not so great insulation. I don't know that every room will be an even temp, but that goes for a wood stove too. Just remember what I said in the other thread, consider sizing up rather than going with the size the mfg says will work for your house. Especially with a gas stove, if it's a little big it will just run less. If it's a little small, well...you're a little chilly.
  8. ROVERT

    ROVERT Member

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    You'll have to have a ridiculously oversized heater (whether it be boiler, furnace, gas stove, gas insert, elect. baseboard, etc.) to bring the temp up 35 degrees "quickly".

    You might want to look into your insulation/ weatherization. Dropping down to 40 degrees during the day seems a little extreme for a climate such as that of western WA. I know you have short days and not a lot of sun, but you might want to look into improving your heat loss.

    Overall you're just asking way too much of a heater. I think you could probably heat your home to a reasonable standard with a 30000 btu stove, but not the way you are wishing to do so. I think if you start setting your heat back to 50-55 instead of turning it off, you'll do much better when trying to bring it back up to 75. It's still going to take some time, but it will be a lot easier to get there.
  9. firecracker_77

    firecracker_77 Minister of Fire

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    As others have said, you can't raise the temp that quickly with a stove or fireplace from cold. A fire needs to have some coals to really start kicking heat and that takes time. Smaller pieces will create more heat more quickly, but a cold fire is not instantaneous. A cold gas fireplace or stove isn't going to be instant either. I have both wood stoves and a gas stove heater. My gas one has less mass and less stone, so it heats more quickly, but the BTU output is much lower.

    Look at getting a large stove of 3.0 cubic feet and load it up before work and then choke it back for a low burn. The fire should still have heat when you get home and meanwhile your space isn't 40 degrees.

    For the record, furnaces would have to work pretty hard to overcome 40 degrees when all the objects in the room are cold.
  10. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Are you in Seattle proper (like Queen Anne or Capitol Hill, or in one of the more outlying neighborhoods? If you are in a densely populated area, nat. gas may be a cleaner, more neighbor friendly fuel. I wouldn't assume the house is well insulated. Get it checked out with an energy audit. http://www.seattle.gov/light/conserve/hea/

    I'm not sure why one would want to bring an occupied house up from 40 to 70::F. Is this a realistic or common scenario that the house will face?
  11. dafattkidd

    dafattkidd Minister of Fire

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    I love wood heat. I heat about the same area of a drafty house in the North East, however I wonder if a pellet stove would be a better answer here. Have you considered a pellet stove?
  12. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    It sounds like your insulation is atrocious, especially if the weather is fairly mild. You only need to add as many BTUs into your home as your walls and roof leak, so if you need hundreds of thousands of BTUs, I'd first consider ways to keep that heat in. Expensive but effective methods would involve opening up your walls and dumping in loose-fill or spray foam. Lower hanger fruit would involve mounting insulated curtains on your windows, laying down some extra fiberglass and/or radiant barrier in your attic, weather stripping your doors and windows, and also checking any crawl spaces or other possible places for leaks.

    If you get a vent-free gas stove, it will produce a wet heat (because one of the combustion outputs is water vapor) and this may actually feel warmer than a dry heat produced by a wood or gas stove with venting of combustion gases. This is also why quartz infrared electric heaters tend to *feel* warmer than electric resistance heaters. They warm the moisture and the moisture-laden air tends to stay down around where people are instead of floating to the ceiling. You might want to try a combination of an inexpensive (e.g. ProCom) vent-free gas stove and a quartz infrared electric heater (e.g. Duraflame) first, before considering a more substantial investment in something that penetrates your walls. These will produce the feeling of warmth more quickly without having to put out as high BTUs. They also are small enough to fit in many different rooms, so you can tailor your production to the most trafficked living spaces.

    Wood stoves and pellet stoves can take awhile to heat up a space, but they feel great right in front of them. So if you want to be able to come in and warm up your bones, they're pretty nice.
    firecracker_77 likes this.
  13. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    Ive got thoughts on a few aspects of this... I'll try not to be too long winded.


    #1 I'll add another vote to do an energy audit and look at your insulation/weatherization first - before you invest in any heater. Insulation is the gift that keeps on giving, install it once and your energy use regardless of source is reduced permanently. Not only will you use less fuel but you can buy a smaller heater. If you get a big unit now and then insulate later it may end up oversized. Insulation can also be very cheap. If you have an open attic you can often blow in cellulose and double or triple the R value, reducing the house heat loss as much as 30% or more for less than a grand - in some areas work like this is almost free via subsidies and rebates. I see the previous owner got new windows... unfortunately that's the trap people get sucked into when they talk to a window salesman rather than an energy auditor - you spend 10, 20, 30 thousand dollars replacing all your windows and end up only cutting 5-15% off the whole house energy usage vs. doing a whole house air sealing and insulation job that might cost only a couple grand and reduce the fuel use up to half.
  14. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    #2 - Sizing the stove. I'll again agree with the other that you dont even want to try to get a unit that will raise the house from 40 to 75. First off if you insulate well your house is not likely to loose that much heat and even if it did you would need multiple hundreds of thousands of BTU to do it.

    I'll give you an example. I'm at 1400ft2, somewhat insulated (R8-12 walls and R18-R30 in diff. parts of roof) and in colder climate (NE). I have two heat sources - a VC wood stove (45k BTU in theory) and a gas fired steam boiler central heat (140k BTU). When we first moved in I would usually use the stove on weekends only and during the week while at work leave the gas heat set to 60. Except for the coldest days it would rarely drop lower than that in the 9 hours I was gone, but when we got home that 140k gas unit would take 1-2 hours to bring the temp up just to 68. And it never felt cozy in the evenings, probably because all the furniture was still cold.

    Now, running the stove, on a winter day if I burn it overnight I'll wake up to around 65F, restart the stove and it will take 1-3 hours to bring it back up to 68-70 depending on outside temp

    If I had to guess, to bring this house up 30+ degrees in a couple hours Id probably need a 250k+ boiler. Thats massive.
  15. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    #3.. Gas vs. Wood

    If you are looking at cost, you can do the math pretty easily. Using the cost per therm of gas, BTU per therm (100k) and efficiency of the unit you are looking at you can figure out your BTUs/dollar for gas. Do the same for wood using an example stove. You can look up the BTU values for cord word based on the types of wood you get up there - around here we have lots of hardwoods so I figure 20-22 million BTU/cord.

    Or just use Craig's calculator http://www.hearth.com/econtent/index.php/articles/fuel_cost_comparison_calculator/

    For me, the math works out to around $275 a full cord as the breakeven point above which gas is cheaper.

    One last comment - and this is just my opinion - but I would steer clear of vent free options. I dont like the fact that all the CO and CO2 being produced is trapped in your room air. You are breathing that. 30 years ago when we had drafty houses maybe it was no big deal (I can remember as a kid having an open kerosene wick heater in the kitchen - stunk up the place when you lit it) but in today's tight houses I'd want to vent those fumes outside. Just MHO.
    DAKSY likes this.
  16. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    The vent free gas stoves emit almost no CO. It's almost all CO2 and H2O. That's why they're rated as safe. That said, a CO monitor and decent ventilation is still a good idea. You should be changing out the air in your house, especially if tight, every few hours. E.g. with a heat recovery ventilator.
  17. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

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    Correction: They are NOT VENT FREE. They are IN-HOUSE VENTED. ALL the by-products from the combustion process are vented into the air envelope of the home.
    ALMOST no CO. I think I'd rather have less than that. As far as rated SAFE, they are not approved in AT LEAST five states & all of Canada. Also, they not only burn O2 + gas (LP or NG), but they also burn anything else that is air-borne within the home. Aerosol sprays, Dog hair, Cat dander, etc...If it can burn, it will be burnt & you will smell it. This issue will be bandied about on this forum until they stop making those products, & the BAD reasons will outnumber the GOOD reasons until that time...
    Heatsource likes this.
  18. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    Unless you have extremely poor air quality to begin with, I wouldn't worry too much about incinerating anything but LPG/NG and O2. I have had no issues with them at all. And if you do have such issues, then a heat recovery ventillator and some good vacuuming ought to be in your plans. The humans in your house put out more toxic fumes than a vent-free (I.e. not to the outside) gas stove does. If you don't want to breath it in after combustion then you probably don't really want to be breathing it in at all!
  19. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    I'd love to see the study proving that. AFAIK human beings dont exhale CO or NO2. And the chimneysweep page references a study estimating the CO2 output of a big vent free (30k BTU) is as much as the breathing of 50 people.

    Not trying to start a war, if its code legal in your state its entirely your decision but I'm with daksy... never in my house.
  20. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    Besides a heat recovery ventillator, you should also have some house plants for healthy indoor air. Humans put out some nasty stuff, not just from breath but also gas from digestion and both particulates and gases from the skin. There are also cooking byproducts. Plus off-gassing furniture, rugs, and other products. Plus detergents and cleaners. Et cetera. A gas stove is nothing compared to these. This conversation reminds me of people who worry about hydrofracking a county over but don't think twice about spraying their lawns with pesticides or washing their car in their driveway.
  21. DAKSY

    DAKSY Patriot Guard Rider Staff Member

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    Like I said, you will find both sides to the argument in here, & some will agree with using them, most won't. You like em, you use em. Gimme a DV ANY day of the week. I will leave the conversation now, as the mods may be lurking...
  22. firecracker_77

    firecracker_77 Minister of Fire

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    I went for DV. Added expense, but I leave that thing running 24/7 for 180 days of the year. No worries and no moisture issues. Houses typically don't like moisture. We may desire it, but the house is fine without it.
  23. Thomas Anderson

    Thomas Anderson Member

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    Indeed, I wouldn't suggest it as the primary heat source, but as a way to bring comfort up quickly. That's what the OP indicated was their primary goal.
  24. Grisu

    Grisu Minister of Fire

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    If you can get gas in your home why not go with a gas monitor like a Rinnay Energysaver? That can be ducted outside, is fairly energy-efficient and throws out heat within a few minutes. We have one of their bigger units and that can almost by itself heat our main floor of ~1400 sqft. During the day you can turn it on low and reduce your electrical bill substantially.

    We have actually all three (including a woodstove) and what we do is run the gas monitor on low and when we come back from work fire up the woodstove in the evening. In the morning I sometimes fire up the stove but most of the time we just turn the monitor up for the hour we need to get out of the house. The electrical baseboards are in the bedrooms and supply some heat in the early morning when the stove is getting cold again. Over the weekends, we pretty much rely on the stove for all our heat.
  25. firecracker_77

    firecracker_77 Minister of Fire

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    I don't notice much of an increase with our gas bill at home because of the space heater. They aren't as efficient as an H.E. natural furnace, but you are using far fewer BTU's I think in the end just heating a smaller area.

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