Propane vs Electric vs Wood heat? Who Wins?

Frogburner

Member
Feb 23, 2017
10
Missouri
This post may get hot, but that's what we want, so here we go.
You all have heard people talk about, wood boilers dont pay off, or why didn't you just get a propane boiler? I get tired of hearing negative about wood burning, we burn it in the winter to heat the house and the hot water. I myself believe it is the only way to go. Being from Southeast Missouri, our winters aren't near as hard as others, but I still believe if you have they supply then why not use it. What's everyone else's opinions on how to keep the house warm in the winter. Going out and loading the stove doesnt bother me after working in the cold all day.
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,103
Nova Scotia
All comes down to preferences. Sometimes changing ones.

Each year that goes by I find more things I'd rather do than handle wood. Even though I like making firewood.
 

shawntitan

Member
Dec 7, 2007
70
NJ
I’m also in a warmer climate than many people here (Southern NJ) I run a traditional New Yorker boiler, in a shed 75' from the house, tied in to a coil in my existing hot air oil furnace. Put it out there because there wasn't enough headroom in my basement/to keep the mess outside... Debated back and forth on buying a gasification boiler... Probably made the wrong choice, but in 2007 when I was shopping, gasification was totally unheard of here in NJ, and I was afraid to take that kind of shot on technology I knew nothing about... Also, that was during a big rush on wood burning devices related to the rising price of oil, so my options for ANY wood boilers were seriously limited. It seems like gasification boiler/storage set ups really works best for radiant heat, which I don't have, however...Struggled the first years with too much creosote/short burn times... Switched to coal and haven't really looked back ( I was buying my firewood anyhow) I debate still if the investment (10k+) was worth it, based on how much oil I was burning (600-700 gallons a year including my DHW) but it's money already spent, so I just go with it... It DOES feel good knowing my money is going to a coal mine in PA, instead of some oil company... Natural gas isn’t an option where I live, although I tell my wife, when I finally get my set up running 100% to my liking, they’ll finally run it to my house.
 

Medic21

Minister of Fire
Feb 26, 2017
562
Northern Indiana
Bang for the buck, propane hands down right now. A few years ago electric would have been cheaper around here.

And, I did pay almost $4 a gallon for propane in the recent past, so....

It is impossible to put a true dollar value on wood burning unless you buy all your wood cut, split, seasoned, and stacked for yourself. In that scenario the cost would be more than and petroleum product available. I will probably recoup this cost from the boiler I’m installing when it’s time to replace it.

I will have a lot of fun and spend a lot of days in the woods with my son and, there is no way to place a value on that either.
 

TCaldwell

Minister of Fire
Wood is a lifestyle, some embrace, some say it’s too much work. I’ll burn until I am physically unable, regardless of the economics. I enjoy the time in the boiler barn, it’s relaxing! The wood processing is my gym. The whole process has exposed me challenges that would have been overlooked if I just decided to turn up the thermostat.
 

__dan

Feeling the Heat
Oct 5, 2011
319
I look at it the same way, fuel cost and then equipment type. The Froling into the radiant slabs is working perfectly, great heat and DHW is 3 - 4 cord / year. I have been keeping 4 year ahead on cut split in the yard and I just got two nice easy trees this spring, 4 more cord in three days, half nice oak that fell by itself.

The intangibles about liking and taking pride in my firemaking were unexpected. I did expect that if I had any other system I would be unhappy and bugged about needing something I can live with. The $15k in installed material cost is money well spent and giving great payback every year, est. $1.5k / year fuel plus something for the positive intangibles, peace of mind and pride of having five years of heat in the yard.

The Froling made my system, love that boiler.
 

Dc31

New Member
Jul 31, 2018
3
Massachusetts
I look at it the same way, fuel cost and then equipment type. The Froling into the radiant slabs is working perfectly, great heat and DHW is 3 - 4 cord / year. I have been keeping 4 year ahead on cut split in the yard and I just got two nice easy trees this spring, 4 more cord in three days, half nice oak that fell by itself.

The intangibles about liking and taking pride in my firemaking were unexpected. I did expect that if I had any other system I would be unhappy and bugged about needing something I can live with. The $15k in installed material cost is money well spent and giving great payback every year, est. $1.5k / year fuel plus something for the positive intangibles, peace of mind and pride of having five years of heat in the yard.

The Froling made my system, love that boiler.
I, likewise, have a Froling, installed in 2014 supplying retrofitted radiant heat in a house that my father built in 1940. He had installed a gravity hot air furnace during construction that only lasted 70 years. (Then it was sold for reinstallation in another house.) The other intangible associated with wood heat that is rarely discussed is the improved state of the woodlands resulting from removal of low-grade wood for firewood. In the time since I installed the Froling, I have easily recouped its cost by selling high-grade veneer oak and maple logs and working up the tops and other waste as firewood. On my approximately 50 acres of woodland, I have put a real dent into the low-grade to the point where I need to cut grade logs in order to generate firewood to heat the house. Here I am cleaning up a couple oak logs while making firewood. In 1919, 100 years ago, this tree was a stem 1 in. in diameter.
 

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STIHLY DAN

Minister of Fire
Jan 15, 2013
1,431
So NH
Its all in your situation. If money was no object obviously fossil fuels win. For me, money is an object, so is time. At this point in my life its a toss up on what wins.
 

Bricks

Member
Jan 13, 2009
70
West Central Wi.
For me I hate the new high efficiency furnaces, come in from put side and being cold it sucks to stand on a register with only luke warm air coming out. Boiler running that register is putting out nice warm air and feels so good.
 

hobbyheater

Minister of Fire
Nov 14, 2011
1,098
Have had a gasification boiler with storage since the early 80's ,the $'s spent back then know looks like money well spent!
The Boiler
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The splitter .
wood gathering (2).jpg

Getting firewood is just a lot of fun .
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For us wood heat is probably the most expensive option after electric, but are installing a wood stove because we like the heat from a fire and getting wood. Up here we sit on some of the largest natural gas fields in Canada and natural gas is dirt cheap, the highest monthly bill we have had is $140. But we like the fact that wood is renewable, natural gas can be used for other appliances like the water heater, stove, dryer, and to heat the house when we can't tend to the stove. For us it is a luxury, and I'll be happy if the natural gas saved pays for the fuel in the truck to get the wood.

Electric is quite expensive here, even though it is generated from cheap gas, and is roughly 5 times the cost of natural gas. Propane is only used in remote areas where natural gas isn't available, which isn't many areas here, but also is cheaper than electric.
 
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Pertzbro

Feeling the Heat
Aug 2, 2016
302
NW Iowa
I've seen 90°F before in my living "stove" room. Rest of the house is 70 or so. If i have my basement burner going which ties into the whole house HVAC i can have 85 in living room and 75 in the rest of the house solely on wood when it's in the teens outside.

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Seasoned Oak

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2008
6,547
Eastern Central PA
This post may get hot, but that's what we want, so here we go.
You all have heard people talk about, wood boilers dont pay off, or why didn't you just get a propane boiler?
Around here propane is expensive. Just about no one uses it for primary heat. Nat city gas is much cheaper but depending on your local gas co they tend to nickel and dime you to death with fees. Wood is awesome but not for the lazy. I use coal for my main source which is about the lowest cost per 1 million Btus but a good Mini split is right down there with the best of low cost btus.
 

Drewby

New Member
Aug 20, 2018
31
LaCrosse wi
Around here propane is expensive. Just about no one uses it for primary heat. Nat city gas is much cheaper but depending on your local gas co they tend to nickel and dime you to death with fees. Wood is awesome but not for the lazy. I use coal for my main source which is about the lowest cost per 1 million Btus but a good Mini split is right down there with the best of low cost btus.
Isn’t a mini split the same as electric heat in the terms of btus to watts?
 

maple1

Minister of Fire
Sep 15, 2011
10,103
Nova Scotia
Isn’t a mini split the same as electric heat in the terms of btus to watts?
No, not at all.

Depending on the situation (outside temp) & equipment, mini-splits can output 4x the BTUs that electric resistance heat can, for the same amount of input watts.
 

Seasoned Oak

Minister of Fire
Oct 17, 2008
6,547
Eastern Central PA
Isn’t a mini split the same as electric heat in the terms of btus to watts?
Mini splits cost to run beats most heating fuels. Using the 2.5 factor where your minisplit is 2,5 times more effecient than resistance its somewhere around half the cost of oil, Propane would have to be $1.15 a gallon to compete. But it is still about 50% higher cost per BTU than coal . Against wood Minisplit comes in at roughly $250 per cord if your buying the wood . So yes very competitive with most heating types.
 
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Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
16,486
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
The range of COP is between 5 and 2 for heating depending on outside temperature. Some crappy ones get down to 1.5 or so when it's cold. Even at extremely low temperatures you are getting nearly twice as much heat out of a minisplit than you would if you just burn the electricity in a resistance heater. The downside is in equipment cost, reliability, aesthetics, and installation difficulty.

It's really easy and cheap to get started with a resistance heater. The fuel cost is higher than a heat pump which only matters if you use it! That's why electric resistance heaters actually make a pretty good backup heat source. Zero maintenance.
 
I went through this process. Batch burning wood and repairing my existing hydronic heating system or ground/air source heat pump. Ground source was the most expensive at close to $80K! Air source was about the same cost as wood and repairing the radiators.

I went with air source heat pump and 14kw of solar panels. It was cheaper than ground source, and with an 8 year pay off is cheaper than wood over time and requires no maintenance. If you have the room, solar has become quite a competitive fuel source and it runs my all electric house very well.

Now I just burn wood in the stove because I like it.
 

bupalos

Member
Jan 26, 2009
193
ne ohio
Let me just give a general rec to all the responses on here that don't boil this answer down to the shortest term dollars-and-cents modern American answer. Wood is kind of a lifestyle, as is simply being aware of the external realities around the total energy production and consumption cycle, and not just outsourcing that to a corporate economy that delivers whatever you want whenever you want, hides the waste, and stores up a giant un-payable bill for future generations. I guess anything that suggests the overwhelming global scientific consensus on what we're doing to ourselves and the planet is, you know.... CORRECT... might get one accused of "politics," so I won't go that far. But I do think the greater mindfulness implied in a lot of these answers is great and I want to second them.

Also dollars and cents-wise for me, wood has been a total no-brainer if you don't account my labor (which again, I mostly count as a positive). It had a 2 year payback period and I've been using this system for 90% of my heat for 10 years now. I'm probably +$15,000 or so against oil/propane/electric, all of which were used before.