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Chasing Winter’s Chill

Feb 13, 2014 12:21AM ● By Erin Frisch

Staying warm has moved to the top of many to-do lists this winter! These polar vortices have delivered colder temperatures than we’ve seen in many years. Are you among those who have been considering additional or alternative heat sources this winter? If so, you probably know there are a number of factors to consider. Each type of appliance and fuel has its pros and cons, including varying degrees of efficiency and ease of use. Other factors include purchase price, installation cost, type of fuel and what it’s costing, and of course, safety.


If your home doesn’t already have a fireplace, installing one can be a costly process. Depending on the style you choose, prices can run up to $20,000. And if warmth is your primary goal, a traditional, wood-burning, open-hearth fireplace, as lovely and atmospheric as it is, is not going to keep your tootsies as toasty as other options will. What you’re giving up if you decide against a wood-burning fireplace is the sounds of a crackling fire, with colors and aromas that vary depending on the kind of wood you burn. It rates high for ambience and romance, but for warmth, not so much. To keep warm and save money, a more conventional approach is in order.


There are many options on the market for what used to be called “parlor” stoves. Some are plain and boxy, functional rather than fancy. Others are as lovely to look at as they are to cozy up to. A traditional choice is the wood-burning stove, fueled either with firewood or pellets. If you have a large stand of trees on your property, you can heat more economically with wood, especially if you are able and willing to harvest and cut and stack it yourself. Others use natural or propane gas, and may offer more “therm,” a measure of heating value, for the buck. According to the US Department of Energy, natural gas is currently the most cost-efficient heating fuel available

Wood-burning stoves are not the smoking, hulking monstrosities you may remember from days gone by. New stoves must adhere to strict EPA standards for fuel efficiency and emissions. This is definitely a lower-cost alternative to expensive heating units, especially if your home is small or you want to supplement your existing heating system or have a basement or “ell” you’d like to add warmth to. And of course, in the event of a power outage, a woodstove can mean the difference between staying in your home or heading to a motel or bunking with relatives who do have power.

Woodstoves will give you a workout, no doubt about it. Wood is heavy and dirty, and carrying it in gets old by February. Stoking the stove offers all kinds of exciting adventures, including burning your hands, dropping logs on your sock-covered feet, and giving you splinters to remove later that will take your mind off winter, at least for a few minutes. Then there’s the heart-pounding thrill of finding a very large and sleepy spider on your arm once you’ve unloaded your wood. Clearly, it’s true that wood will warm you twice, or even three or four times. That said, woodstoves do a great job of warming up a room. If you have pets, they’ll find and “hosey” the best spots around the stove for maximum warmth and comfort. Pellets versus logs? It depends on the going rate of each in your neck of the woods, and your personal preference.

Stoves that heat with natural gas or propane are certainly cleaner and more convenient than wood-burning stoves. They also do a decent job of warming up a space. You do need to be sure when shopping for one that it doesn’t rely on electricity to turn on. Otherwise, you’re going to be unhappy when the power goes out for an extended period, as it’s done because of ice storms in recent years.

Whichever type of heat source you decide on, you’ll want to make sure that you get it installed professionally. Deciding on the type of stove is just the beginning; now it’s time to do your research about clearance, codes, and EPA guidelines so that you not only stay warm but also safe. Talk to your local dealers; they know about the costs for various kinds of fuels in your area, as well as being familiar with local codes. Most local fire departments will send someone out to check on the job once your stove is installed to make sure you and your family will be safe.

Ventless Stoves and Fireplaces.

Considering that the installation of a fireplace or a stove and chimney involve construction, they may not be the best choice for some homes. There are ventless fireplaces and stoves available that do not burn wood. These are fueled instead by gas, electricity, or gel packs. These units are easier to install and can make a nice addition to a family room as a supplementary heat source or a source of heat in the event of a power outage, if the unit does not use electricity.

Finally, adding an alternative heat source to your home is a great time to make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. Stay safe, stay warm, and think spring.

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