DEAR SUN SPOTS: I am preparing for the next heating season and need information. What is the most cost efficient way to heat my home?

With a wood stove, I have to buy my firewood at $240 per cord, green, cut, split and delivered, and burning wood is a lot of hard work, stacking, carrying it in, taking ashes out, etc.

Natural gas is not an option in my town, but propane gas is. How efficient are the gas heaters, and also how efficient are the infrared heaters like the EdenPure that I see advertised in the Sunday papers?

And pellet stoves are another option, but I have heard they have drawbacks also, such as not working when the electricity goes out and pellets clumping if they get damp. Plus you have to lift the heavy bag to fill the hopper.

So many questions, so few answers. Thank you in advance. — No Name, No Town

ANSWER: Sun Spots has addressed this question before. The answer is clear: Wood is cheaper, but there are some big “buts,” including the labor and homeowners insurance.

When Sun Spots began living year-round in her used-to-be summer-only cabin, her insurance company insisted that the wood stove could not be the primary source of heat. So she had to install electric heat, even though she wouldn’t dream of using it when it’s zero outside.

To see if the same caveat applied to pellet stoves, she talked to Debbie at Nationwide Insurance in Lewiston. Debbie said that the same limitation applies to pellet stoves, anything that burns wood. Debbie said that many insurance companies that used to insure unconventional homes no longer will, due, she thinks, to losses from fires.

Since electric heat is not that expensive to install, just to run, in Sun Spots’ case, doubling up made sense, especially since she really likes the feel of a wood stove and doesn’t mind the work. (She might not feel the same if she makes it to 75 or 80 years old.)

The claims from some electric heater suppliers, such as EdenPure, that they are more efficient than other electric heaters, are ingenuous. Sun Spots dealt with them at length in her March 8, 2012, column (http://tinyurl.com/7cptvqg), where she noted that watts are watts are watts. If an electric heater draws 1500 watts, it doesn’t matter what kind it is, it puts out the same amount of heat (with the caveat of whether it has a fan, which will divert a tiny bit of that power).

Sun Spots has a couple of EdenPures her mother gave her and the best feature about them is they seem to be safer than many other heaters, which may tip or have exposed hot surfaces. She used one of them to keep her guinea hens warm this past winter and managed not to burn down the chicken coop, although she had to clean the dust filter every four hours.

As for propane, Debbie at Nationwide said that insurers have recently begun allowing standalone gas/propane heaters, such as Monitors, as a primary heating unit for insurance purposes. So propane is an option but not more cost efficient than wood.

If you already have an old furnace system and want to supplement it with something less costly to run, a pellet stove could be an option, even for those who would prefer not to haul firewood.

Sun Spots spoke to Gary at the Fireside Stove Shop in Auburn. He said that pellet stoves are more efficient than traditional wood stoves. (Wood-burning stoves vary in efficiency, just as other heating units do. As for prices for wood, Sun Spots just bought hers for $200 a cord.)

Gary said his store will provide service for the pellet stoves, which must be cleaned regularly and precisely. The bags of pellets weigh 40 pounds, but you don’t have to lift and pour in the pellets. You could simply use a scoop to fill the pellet box when needed.

You would need to get the pellets home, however. Fireside does not deliver, but it would not be outrageously expensive to hire a teenage boy to haul them home for you each fall.

There is no one heating system that is right for every home or homeowner. Assessing those variables with a heating professional could save you money down the road. For that guidance, try Efficiency Maine (151 Capitol St., Suite 1, Augusta, ME 04330-6262, 866-376-2463, www.efficiencymaine.com).

Perhaps readers who have recently installed pellet stoves or some other new heating system will write and share their experiences.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected]


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