With winter approaching, a key question many are asking is: which is a cheaper way to heat your home - a wood burning stove or central heating?
Soaring home heating bills are expected in the coming months, with NBC News reporting a projected 28% price increase for natural gas heating, 27% for heating oil, 10% for electricity, and 5% for propane. It’s never been more important in these high inflationary times to keep the cost of energy as low as possible.
It had been estimated that about 11.5m households used wood as their main or secondary source of heat, according to figures from the US Energy Information Administration in 2009. That figure is understood to have risen in the interim period, and with energy prices on the rise, more people are looking at smarter ways to save money on their heating bills.
Before we get into the merits of a wood burning stove vs central heating, consider our other articles about home energy savings, including heat pumps vs solar panels, oven vs air fryer, electric heaters vs radiators, fan heaters vs oil heaters, dishwasher vs hand washing, and our audit on how to save on energy bills.
Wood burning stove sales rising globally
Russia’s war with Ukraine has led to a sharp rise in the underlying cost of energy in many countries, which is sadly being passed onto consumers. Households are researching alternatives to central heating and other traditional sources of energy, with technology such as solar panels becoming more popular, supported in the United States by new tax credits for energy efficient home improvements in the Inflation Reduction Act.
In the UK, our sister brand The Money Edit reports that a number of firms have seen a big rise in demand for wood burning stoves.
One firm called Anevay stoves saw month to month growth of between 10% and 20% since the start of 2022. Others have reported similar figures too. But are wood burning stoves a cheaper way to heat your home?
To help answer this important question, we’ve sought help from our expert friends at The Money Edit to give you that all-important information.
Wood burning stove: Pros
- The UK’s Energy Saving Trust says wood burning stoves give as near an experience of a traditional fire as possible, and they estimate they can cut a home’s heating bill by a whopping 10%.
- Burning wood does not place a burden on the country’s energy infrastructure, as you are not using energy in the same way.
Wood burning stove: Cons
- A quick look at Google shopping shows the initial outlay of a wood burner plus installation be anything from $649 to $1299.
- Unfortunately, not all recently-built homes can house a wood burning stove, as there is nowhere for the smoke to go, unlike, say, an older home with a chimney.
- The cost of wood itself will soon add up. You can buy bundles of stove-ready wood online for anywhere from $10 to $90.
- As you may expect, a wood burning stove cannot reach all rooms in your home, especially if you have a big place on multiple floors because, unlike a radiator system you are reliant on the single source of heat from the stove itself in whatever room it is housed in. The residual heat may reach nearby rooms and hallways but possibly not your whole place.
- Given we are talking fire, burning and heat, there are naturally fire risks with a woody burning stove if you fail to follow safety instructions to the max.
- There is also the expense of a chimney sweep every now and then.
Central heating: Pros
- This is a comfortable way to heat your home as it is the only type that can bring a consistent source and regulated temperatures across your entire home, assuming you have radiators in the most optimum places.
- You can control when the heating comes on based on your preferences, sometimes via an app when you’re on your way home from work, the school drop-off or just from a day out, and you want to come home to a cosy, warm place.
- It allows you to customize your home’s heating, such as installing underfloor heating in some rooms.
- You can set some rooms to off, some to on, depending on your movements. For example, do you need to heat your home office on a weekend if you are not working there?
- Energy experts tend to consider them among the safest forms of heating as there is no burning of wood required. However, it is important to keep your boiler serviced to a high standard.
Central heating: Cons
- Central heating is more expensive to install and buy at first, and requires longer payoff times.
- The system can produce drier air than radiator heat, leading to complaints of dry skin and chapped lips.
- It requires extensive ductwork to be installed throughout your home, sometimes disrupting ceiling clearance and sight lines.
Our expert friends at The Money Edit say that gas central heating is the cheaper of the two options, as burning wood can be expensive, plus you have the initial outlay to consider on top. That’s even though underlying energy prices have risen across the world.
This may come as a shock if you thought wood was cheap.
There is also the fact that a central heating system is more efficient at heating your whole home, while still giving you control via increasingly innovative tech.
Plus central heating systems are safer if used correctly.
Ben Demers manages digital content and engagement at Kiplinger, informing readers through a range of personal finance articles, e-newsletters, social media, syndicated content, and videos. He is passionate about helping people lead their best lives through sound financial behavior, particularly saving money at home and avoiding scams and identity theft. Ben graduated with an M.P.S. from Georgetown University and a B.A. from Vassar College. He joined Kiplinger in May 2017.
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