I worry this title will attract all kinds of unlikeable traffic, but there you go.

Something we seem to do an endless amount of here at Newlands Manor is sourcing cheap firewood. The main reason for this is the obvious, fireplace-related one. It’s also because the fireplace is hands-down the most efficient way to heat this old house. We and insulation put in to bring it up to code, we put some heavier curtains in the bedrooms, and we took out the old gas central heating (natural gas is simply too expensive).

All in all we’re unlikely to see most of the money back in savings on the heating bill, but we are substantially more comfortable than the first winter we were here.  And man, that first winter with only a 3.5kW heat pump and some heaters in the bedrooms? FREEZING. In total we had about 8kW of power and the bills were really starting to ramp up. Then the worst happened, a power cut in the evening, July, wind blowing sleet sideways from the South. Thank goodness for the welcoming neighbours and their fire.

Second Chef had been suggesting very strongly that we needed to change the heating to a toasty, heartening fireplace, and that night I agreed. And not only am I glad I agreed, we haven’t looked back.

Of course, now I seem to spend all summer getting wood together to see us through the winter. But this fireplace puts out 17kW, so we are extremely warm indeed. Last year during the epic snowstorms when it was -1C outside and people were tweeting non-stop about their heat pumps stopping the coldest part of our house was 16C. Now that is what they call in the business ‘sweet as’.

But as I say, I’m not sure that we’re saving all that much money. A cord of wood bought in the city cost at leas $480, and you need at least two to make it through our long winters. I’ve been sourcing free/cheap firewood whenever I can, but… it’s still an annual bill of at least $1,000. Now, 1k will buy you a heck of a lot of electricity, and more than likely enough to buy you 17kWh of heating when you need it. When it’s working that is.

And because I’m a glutton for punishment, I sat down and worked out exactly how much power we’ve saved. So here’s a nice graph using three-month rolling average and a smoothed line.

The blue line is the first year when we only had the heat pump, and it pummets when we get in the fireplace. Looks like a reasonable saving in electricity right? Well, that’s actually only around $200 saved. A reasonable amount, sure, but the firewood cost is far and above it. And as the next graph shows, 2010 wasn’t particularly different to 2011 (data from Cliflo).

The years vary, but overall there is less than 0.1C difference in the minimum and maximum average temperatures (2011 was warmer).

The question this begs is, if you’re not making big savings, why not just stick with the heat pump? The answer is: solely because the fireplace provides a far more comfortable heat, is more reliable, doesn’t put a constant flaming draft in the house, and you can spend your winter heating money when you have spare cash instead of when the power company demands it (we can put away up to 4 cords if we find any great deals).

Before we got the fireplace we did our reading, and most sources said that the cost was around the same unless you have your own source of firewood (I’m dreaming of having enough land to put in a coppice). Of course… that didn’t take into account the amount power bills are likely to increase in the near future.

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