The glow of the flame…the roar of the fire…the muscle feel of splitting logs. These – and more – are reasons folks use wood to heat their homes. The biggest driver of wood stove sales, according to Bobby Martin of Blue Ridge Heating & Air in Christiansburg, is the cost of energy. Even if you are not blessed with wood on your property, wood is economical.
American Mulch and Stone’s Stacie Bolt says the Christiansburg business sells wood for $60 a cubic yard (four cubic yards equals a cord). In some cases, it is possible for a cord of wood to heat a small home for as long as four months. Wood heat is often cheaper than oil and can be more energy efficient than fossil fuel heat sources.
When gas and propane prices go up, so do wood stove sales. “There’s nothing like a $1,000 propane bill to motivate someone,” Martin says. One surprising factor in wood stove usage is the political climate. When people are worried about the future, Martin relates, wood stove sales rise. Wood heat is not dependent on electricity. Many people like the self-sufficiency and control this provides.
Randall Horst of Craig County has lived in a house heated solely by wood for more than 30 years. His family purchased a home in Craig County to avoid the high cost of housing in Blacksburg. One of the trade-offs of rural living is that power can go out for six hours or six days. Horst has added propane as a back-up heat source. “I don’t like the pollution aspect of wood stoves,” he says. To that end, he purchased a more efficient stove to cut down on ash output; the better stove also emits more heat with less wood.
Wood heat involves the courage to buck the trends of ease and convenience. Martin states: “Wood heat is comfortable. It is hard to warm up beside a vent [forced air heat].” It is environmentally friendly as a renewable resource. If you are loathe to cut down perfectly good trees, consider the many insect-blighted or old, dead logs. Using products that are available is a green alternative.
Wood-burning stoves offer a low-carbon alternative that produces less pollution than fossil fuel heat sources. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, which is returned to the atmosphere when their wood is burned. Cutting your own wood provides a level of satisfaction like a fulfilling day’s work, exercise, communing with the outdoors, and, for some, tradition. Martin’s customer base is all over the map, from retired doctors and business folks to young professionals. Some grew up with wood heat, and others are new to it.
Horst uses wood from his 100-acre property. As he nears age 60, he supplements his own trees with purchased wood because chopping, moving and stacking wood is not for the faint-hearted. Not only is there physical labor but also there is the planning and commitment to cut enough wood a year in advance to let it season or dry out.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that a wood-burning fire can cause health problems, especially if for someone with a history of lung disease. This is the impetus for stringent new regulations on wood stoves beginning May 15, 2020. Martin says at that time all stoves designated to burn wood must produce lower smoke and particulate emissions. Stoves now in the marketplace are grandfathered if they meet current EPA standards.
Many stoves already meet the new standards, but the EPA is requiring new labeling and testing, which can run from $25,000 to $50,000 per model. This will result in a price increase to consumers of about $400 to $600 per stove. On choosing a wood stove, Martin points to two basic considerations. First is the size of the area you are trying to heat. If you are expecting to provide supplemental heat, that is different than heating a whole home. Also, buyers must choose the type of stove like front-load, side-load or top-load.
You get what you pay for with a wood stove. Heavier stoves mean more metal and better construction. Quality is key, and a good stove costing between $1,200 and $2,500 will last years. Heating with wood is about a lot more than home heating. Martin relates that one customer said: “Life is just better with wood.”
Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper