While winter is that time of year that can demand the most heating energy and fuel use, often the perimeter seasons of spring and fall often great opportunities for fossil fuel reduction by using a wood stove. The reason is simple: most homes in New England use heating oil # 2 to operate furnaces that have been intentionally oversized to handle the 3 or 4 coldest days of the year. The problem is that the furnace basically has two operation settings, on and off. When the temperature in your house drops below a certain setting the thermostat calls on your furnace to pump more heat. That furnace, regardless of the temperature or the season operates at its set btu output, such as 90,000 btu in my house, when in fact the needed btu is significantly lower. The furnace simply can’t make those adjustments. Even an outdoor reset has limitations in mitigating this problem. The furnace, after all, is designed to effectively heat your house when the temperatures are well below normal, even on a 50 degree April day. Not only that, warm start furnaces turn on and off all year-long, even in the summer, just to keep their “jacket” warm. The end result is a lot of spent fuels and good air for the sake of a little warmth. One solution to this problem is to consider installing an efficient, controlled burning wood stove such as a Rais – http://www.seacoastgreenovations.com/products/rais.aspx
Naturally, few people are going to invest in a wood stove on a whim, but this is a good option to consider if you’re already re-assessing your home heating. Wood, contrary to the “tree hugger” insinuation of conservation, is a sustainable resource if it’s local and properly harvested. During the spring our homes only need heat limited times of the day, so we can start a fire easily enough without overheating if the stove is a good one such as a Rais convection based stove. Most insulation will sufficiently store the combination of artificial and natural spring time heat. Finally, that same wood stove can be used to supplement and limit the demands of your oil burning furnace. Of course!
If you’re building a new home consider the sizing of a furnace once again. While it makes sense to have a heat system that can handle the 4 coldest days of the year, it makes no sense to install a furnace that will waste excess btu every other heating day of the year. The only people benefiting are your local home heating companies, the very people who oversize your furnace (and budget), thus improving their profit and hurting our environment. In fact, this is such a latent problem, its hard to find a a 50,000 btu furnace to heat a home that demands only 50,000 btu (in seacoast New England that’s a 2,200 sf cape). My philosophy is simple for new home heating systems: size your furnace as close to possible to the actual btu demand for all those heating days but the coldest four or so. Doing that will save you up to two grand on your furnace cost. Use the saving to get a high quality wood stove. That way, you’re never using more fossil fuels than your house demands; nor do you have to rely on starting a wood stove every day, if you don’t like that. You’ll only need to use that wood stove a few times a year, but you’ll have the luxury of using it for pleasure the rest of the heating season. Even so, if you buy a high quality wood stove such as a Rais, you’ll enjoy using it much more. That would be the best for your health, your planet, your wallet and your home style.