Thoughts about heating fuel for my home.

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sirlight

Member
Dec 4, 2021
93
Albany, OR
My house is an early 1960's era ranch house of roughly 2000 square feet. I mostly close off the back half of the house during the winter, only allowing a portion of the heat from the living room to enter. I currently have been heating with fir firewood in a fireplace insert, but I do have the option of using the baseboard resistive electric heaters. All the work I have been doing cutting, splitting and stacking firewood has me thinking again about costs of heating fuel options to heat the house for the season.

I have recently been getting all my firewood logs from a local arborist, so my only costs other than equipment maintenance is fuel for the chainsaw and log splitter. In the past, my wood cost me more since I had to pay $10 per cord for the firewood cutting permit and spent about $20 to $25 in fuel to drive to the forest.

My heating season runs from about the middle of October to early June. Currently I have been burning between 3 to 4 cords of fir firewood per heating season. Fir firewood typically contains about 15 million BTU per cord. So based on this, I have an average need for about 53 million BTU per season to keep warm. Wood heat is not as efficient and some other fuel types, so that need to be taken into account when making a comparison.

Current prices in my area for fuel types as follow are:
Fir firewood, $250 a cord delivered
Oak firewood $400 a cord delivered
Wood pellets ($292 a ton)
Propane $2.79 gallon
Natural Gas $11.96 per 1000 cubic foot. (10.37 therms)
Electricity $0.0949 per KWh

I have done all the calculations and was surprised by the results. These are the costs of the various heating fuels to provide the 53 million BTUs that I need each heating season. I have corrected the results to account for the efficiencies of the various heating methods.

$1177.78 Fir firewood (75% efficiency)
$974.71 Oak firewood (75% efficiency)
$1250.59 Wood pellets (75% efficiency)
$516.60 Propane (85% efficiency)
$685.88 Natural Gas (85% efficiency)
$1460.14 Baseboard electric (100% efficiency)

Last time I did this calculation it was about 8 years ago and wood heat easily beat most other heating methods. Natural gas came in a close second being only slightly more expensive than buying delivered firewood. Surprisingly, at the moment propane now beats natural gas and wood heat comes in third. One thing is clear from this analysis. Prices for gas, propane and electric have increased, but not as fast as firewood prices have. In my area if you are buying your firewood and have the option to heat with gas you are much better with gas. All this is of course irrelevant to me since I do not have the option to heat with gas yet. Even if I did have gas here, I would still be much better with wood since I get the logs for free and cut my own wood.

Now that I am done stacking most of my wood, I have a much clearer idea where I stand for the coming seasons. In the barn and stacked outside I have the following firewood:
10 cords oak (290 Million BTU)
2 cords fir (30 million BTU)
2.5 cords cedar (38 million BTU)

Doing the calculations, this is 358 Million BTU of firewood or 6.75 years worth. It also has a value of $5125 if I had to have it delivered. Not bad for a couple weeks of work to split and stack all this fuel. It is a "pile" of work, but it is a rewarding and very affordable way to heat the house.







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stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,483
Long Island NY
Nice.

You may get a better electric price if you use mini splits as they have efficiencies of 200-400 percent, depending on the outside temps. A decent one should be still 200 percent efficient at 17 F outside.

Free wood still beats things though .
 

Todd

Minister of Fire
Nov 19, 2005
9,879
NW Wisconsin
I’ve been keeping an eye on the numbers as well. In my area it’s still a little cheaper to heat with wood but not by much. I’m lucky to have enough acreage to have my own life time supply but if I get to the point where I just can’t or don’t like to process firewood anymore I’d probably opt the propane route verses buying firewood.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
98,134
South Puget Sound, WA
15 MBTU is low, that's more like pine. Most BTU/cord charts show a higher value for doug fir. It's more like 18-20 MBTUs/cord and some list it as high as 26 MBTU/cord. One of the things that affects the heat potential is the density of the wood which can vary a lot depending on growing conditions. For example, high-altitude sitka spruce in drier regions is much denser than that growing around sea level in a wet area. It grows much slower at high altitudes. You can see this in the tight growth rings.

You are getting great propane pricing. Much better than the Seattle area. Is the electrical rate, the base charge, or the final price after all the fees, svc. chgs., & taxes have been added?
 
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sirlight

Member
Dec 4, 2021
93
Albany, OR
15 MBTU is low, that's more like pine. Most BTU/cord charts show a higher value for doug fir. It's more like 18-20 MBTUs/cord and some even higher. One of the things that affects the heat potential is the density of the wood which can vary a lot depending on growing conditions. For example, high-altitude sitka spruce in drier regions is much denser than that growing around sea level.

You are getting great propane pricing. Much better than the Seattle area. Is the electrical rate, the base charge, or the final price after all the fees, svc. chgs., & taxes have been added?
Guess I looked at white fir (about 14.5 Million BTU/cord) on the same chart. What I have been burning is douglas fir. You are correct that it has much more BTUs. Doug fir is very common here in Oregon and many people burn it as firewood.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
98,134
South Puget Sound, WA
It's my preferred firewood. Some years that's all I burn.
 

Highbeam

Minister of Fire
Dec 28, 2006
20,261
Mt. Rainier Foothills, WA
Douglas fir isn’t even a fir. It’s not comparable to white fir.

Your propane price matches mine at 2.60-2.69 per gallon retail price to fill portable tanks. Not sure how the delivered bulk price differs.

It’s nice to know the different prices but since you don’t have gas and are looking at hypotheticals for equipment you may as well consider the mini split heat pumps that deliver superb efficiencies well over 100% in even the coldest weather you can expect in Albany. Seasonal average is ridiculously high and since your power is cheap it might be the winner.
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
7,897
Northern NH
Dont depend on propane prices to stay low on btu basis when other fossil fuels are high. Propane can be blended with compressed air and converted to synthetic natural gas. If there is big enough differential and the US cranks up shipment of LNG to Europe, propane can be injected into US natural gas grid and industries will switch to propane where they can. I worked on a CHP project for a papermill that could burn compressed natural gas from two different supply systems, propane or fuel oil (for limited durations of the year).

Wood is far less prone to this type of arbitrage with fossil fuels plus a years worth can readily be so stored at home with no special storage equipment. Its also highly likely not to be subject to carbon taxes. Sure there is learning curve for wood and for most folks they need a backup as wood requires someone to be home to stoke the fires but once a person has gone to "the wood side" they start to realize intangible benefits like running house temps higher and the radiant heat of a wood stove.
 

Woodsplitter67

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2017
2,765
Woolwich nj
I would most likely burn wood even if the pricing of wood heat was close to purchasing any utility heat. The reason I say this is because the quality of the heat is so much better. The heat from a stove is constant, its the kind of heat that warms the bones Where propane/oil/gas/electric heat cycles and you feel the draft/cooling of the house. Not to mention that you have a view to look at with a woodstove/insert which is relaxing and calming. Iv never heard of anyone ever cozying up to baseboard heat..
Many of us are lucky being able to provide our own heat with very little or no cost to aquire our wood, really its just the cost of processing. The people that have taken the time to get ahead and reduce their depends on big oil/electric companies are so much better off right now than the general public who have been groomed into dependency.

When I joined this site I Inadvertently joined a club of people that are more resilient then most, more independent, more resourceful, more prepared then the general public
The work you did figuring out the cost of each way of producing heat is great.. most of the general public couldn't figure that out..
 

stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,483
Long Island NY

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
98,134
South Puget Sound, WA
Your propane price matches mine at 2.60-2.69 per gallon retail price to fill portable tanks. Not sure how the delivered bulk price differs.
That's reasonable these days. I need to get down to your neighborhood.
 

sirlight

Member
Dec 4, 2021
93
Albany, OR
Douglas fir isn’t even a fir. It’s not comparable to white fir.

Your propane price matches mine at 2.60-2.69 per gallon retail price to fill portable tanks. Not sure how the delivered bulk price differs.

It’s nice to know the different prices but since you don’t have gas and are looking at hypotheticals for equipment you may as well consider the mini split heat pumps that deliver superb efficiencies well over 100% in even the coldest weather you can expect in Albany. Seasonal average is ridiculously high and since your power is cheap it might be the winner.
Yes, these are all things to consider. There is natural gas at the street about 700 feet from my house. I have looked into it and it would cost me a few thousand dollars to run the gas line to my house. That plus the cost of adding central heating is turning me off. If I did have central heating powered by gas, at least I could use the blower to move the heat from the wood stove in the living room around the rest of the house.
That's reasonable these days. I need to get down to your neighborhood.
The price I used ($2.79) is the price to get tanks refilled at the local farm store. I would suspect bulk price is a little lower. Still, $2.79 is $1 a gallon more than it was a year ago.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
98,134
South Puget Sound, WA
We're a buck higher for propane here. Haven't seen $1.79 propane since around the year 2006.
 

ericm979

Feeling the Heat
Nov 2, 2018
253
California
I think your propane number is low. I get $1616 for 53M btu @ 2.79/gallon, using 91450 btu per gallon.

At that price (which is about what I pay as well), 1 cord of hardwood (Madrone or tan oak) is about $850 of propane, taking the efficiencies of my stove and central heat furnace into account.
 

Caw

Minister of Fire
May 26, 2020
1,541
Massachusetts
Electricity $0.0949 per KWh
Is this accurate? That is incredibly low. We pay $0.24 per kWh here in MA when you include all the standard delivery fees etc. It's one of the main reasons I got solar ASAP at this house to power my heat pump and water heater, etc. My house is 100% electric + wood.
 
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sirlight

Member
Dec 4, 2021
93
Albany, OR
Is this accurate? That is incredibly low. We pay $0.24 per kWh here in MA when you include all the standard delivery fees etc. It's one of the main reasons I got solar ASAP at this house to power my heat pump and water heater, etc. My house is 100% electric + wood.
Yes, it is accurate. There are some fees also, but that under $0.0949 is the KWH fee for under 1Mwh per month. Base charge is $10 and there are a few other small charges. I have solar too (it does work here in Oregon), and the months where the solar covers all usage, my bill is around $10. Solar was such a slam dunk with all the subsidies that I shocked every house does not have panels here. My payback was under 3 years. I say "was", because almost all the subsidies are over now. My 7.2KW system generates about 8Mwh per year.

https://www.pacificpower.net/conten...ation/oregon/tariffs/Oregon_Price_Summary.pdf
 
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Caw

Minister of Fire
May 26, 2020
1,541
Massachusetts
It's kind of sad that I pay almost as much in fees as you do for your base power!We have fixed rate here in MA. I pay about $0.17 pre kWh base + another $0.07 per kWh in fees on top of the $7 monthly customer fee and the "you own solar folk you" solar distribution fee for a total of about $0.24 per kWh.

We have an 11.8 kw system on our roof (32 x 370 watt panels) we purchased and had installed last June. We got to he 26% credit and our payback is about 6 years taking into account projected power cost increases. The first 12 months it made 11.375 MWh so we've been very happy with the performance. My house is 100% electric so it covers us fully from March through September. Biggest users are the AC, Washer/dryer, water heater and I have 2 kids so they are constantly in use. So far this year our statement is -$280 ish. We'll likely only have a bill in Jan/Feb.

It's really too bad most of the subsidies are going away or already gone. I absolutely love my system and am constantly telling anyone who will listen about the benefits of it. Between checking the solar app and looking out back at my wood stacks all I see is money in the bank!

How about the solar here this month? It's been insane. We could really use some rain but I'll take the solar $$$! My grass is brown but my electric credits are huge. In fact, we've already surpassed last July and it's only the 23rd.

Screenshot_20220723-204052.png Screenshot_20220723-204546.png
 

sirlight

Member
Dec 4, 2021
93
Albany, OR
How about the solar here this month? It's been insane. We could really use some rain but I'll take the solar $$$! My grass is brown but my electric credits are huge. In fact, we've already surpassed last July and it's only the 23rd.

Not wanting to get too far off topic here, but it has been a really wet and cloudy spring and early summer in my part of Oregon. This year so far is shaping up to be my worst year of solar production since I had the system installed.

Solar.jpg


The years can really vary for solar since we have so many rainy days here. The system meets about 90% of my electric needs, but if I was not heating with wood, I would be spending alot more on electric. On the plus side, all this rain in the spring made for a really great hay harvest.
 

Caw

Minister of Fire
May 26, 2020
1,541
Massachusetts
Ive been really happy with the setup I have here:

Heat Pump - shoulder season and central AC
Solar - power the pump
Wood Stove - heavy lifting in the winter

I get my wood dropped in my driveway log length for cheap so I'm really spending very little to heat and cool my home.

Heating oil is the most common form of heat here and it's around $4.50 gallon right now iirc. I know folks paying $800+/mo to heat their big houses in the winter. NG/Propane are obviously cheaper but I'm not convinced they are greener than wood with a modern epa stove when you consider how they are harvested and processed.

My family has become wood stove people. They love to huddle up in the living room after a day out in the snow etc. Nothing beats the radiant heat of a hot stove when you're chilled to the bone. Another benefit as mentioned before is I can keep my house 72 without much effort or extra cost while the oil guy next door is paying through the nose to keep it at 68. T shirts all year round here! It's actually easier for me to keep it 72 than 65. That's just where the house lives when the stove is cruising 24/7 on a cold winter day.
 
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fbelec

Minister of Fire
Nov 23, 2005
3,488
Massachusetts
there is no way one can compare the efficiencies of electric baseboard to wood or gas or oil. it maybe be that propane or natural gas has a higher number of how much gas goes in and how much gas goes up the chimney. that is like comparing apples to oranges. the only thing that is comparable is the price to heat a home. the same house you can compare that (yes it's cheaper to heat my house with oil than gas or it's cheaper to heat my house with gas than oil) but one can't compare the efficiencies number unless you are going from one boiler to another. or costs for oil in my state vs. your state. the bottom line is what it costs to heat my home. that's it.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
18,120
Philadelphia
I would most likely burn wood even if the pricing of wood heat was close to purchasing any utility heat.
I might need to burn more years than I may have remaining on this planet, to pay back the costs of multiple stoves, chimneys, sheds, splitter, tractor (then a second bigger tractor... then a third bigger tractor), chainsaws, lost time...

But if I could do it all over again, I would. Nothing beats collapsing in front of a wood stove in the evening, and nothing smells like home in the fall, more than that first faint whiff of wood smoke when you pull into the driveway and hop out of the truck.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
18,120
Philadelphia
Yeah, don’t ask me about the year I pre-payed 1000 gallons of oil at $3.25, and then watched it drop below $2.25. Was that 2015?

The economics have changed quite a bit, since then.
 
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stoveliker

Minister of Fire
Nov 17, 2019
6,483
Long Island NY
I might need to burn more years than I may have remaining on this planet, to pay back the costs of multiple stoves, chimneys, sheds, splitter, tractor (then a second bigger tractor... then a third bigger tractor), chainsaws, lost time...

But if I could do it all over again, I would. Nothing beats collapsing in front of a wood stove in the evening, and nothing smells like home in the fall, more than that first faint whiff of wood smoke when you pull into the driveway and hop out of the truck.

Me thinks the long lay back oeriod should be assigned to the hobby of equipment here. Not to the heating itself.

It is the tractors etc. that stretch things here. But you'd likely have bought those anyway, even if you hadn't heated with wood ...?
 

nola mike

Minister of Fire
Sep 13, 2010
894
Richmond/Montross, Virginia
Just checked what I'm paying. 1.70/ccf for gas, up from $1.20 in may. $0.15/kwh for electric. Friends said they got a cord of hardwood for $250 (which seems a bit cheap in northern VA). I paid $185/ton for compressed bricks last season, don't know what they are this year.