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Firewood vs #2 fuel oil - BTUs (cost per winter)
Old 10-20-2013, 04:42 PM   #1
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Firewood vs #2 fuel oil - BTUs (cost per winter)

OK, I am a bean counter and love cost benefit analysis. Is my math bogus or am I about right? There's too many variables to be correct correct but like horse shoes and hand grenades close is OK for this.

I have heated with firewood for over 20 years so I am pretty knowledgeable about it ie accept my guesstimates about the species of my firewood and the % of each in the 3 cord I use each winter. I don't generate hot water from firewood I use the furnace for that. While the composition of the wood species on a percentage basis would vary obviously from year to year, generally this is what I see.

I checked 4 websites for the BTU values of the firewood I get in 3 cord each year and averaged the 4 values for each species. I then estimated the composition of the 3 cord, I have to pick up and move every piece to my woodshed then into the house over the winter so I feel pretty confident I know wood by the bark, wood texture/color and weight based upon what grows around here.

What bothers me and what I am questioning is the equivalent gallons of #2 fuel oil if I wasn't burning wood.

So here's what I burn:

wood..........Million BTU..........% of this .........total BTU (million)
species.......per cord.............in 3 cord...........in 3 cord

oak.............23.....................30......... ..........20.7
maple..........25.....................25.......... .........18.75
hickory........27.....................15.......... .........12.15
cherry.........19.....................15.......... .........8.55
birch...........24.....................10......... ..........7.2
ash.............24.....................5.......... ..........3.6
total BTUs.............................................. ....70.95 Million

#2 fuel oil has 140,000 BTU per gallon so....

I divided the 70.95 million (wood) BTUs by 140,000 (fuel oil) BTUs and get 507 gallons of #2 fuel oil! That seems low because people with a 275 gallon oil tank have several delivery's per winter season and while they aren't all 250+ gallons deliveries (or are they?) I often see the oil truck twice in January and February.

Yeah they most likely use oil for hot water too but 500 gallons of oil at 42 degrees north latitude in the north eastern US just seems way low. I'd guess 1,000 gallons are used to heat a house. And another is variable - how large and well insulated is the house!

My house was built in 1999 the same time as the one next to me, mine is 1500 sq ft and the other is 3000. I have 1 person here they have 5, now 3 with 2 of the kids away living at college so they would use a lot more oil than I do.

Furnace efficiency is another wild card but is 500 gallons low or does it seem about right for heat? And keep in mind it is 74-78 degrees in my house all winter using a wood stove, very comfortable. I doubt most people would heat their house to that level with fuel oil.
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Old 10-20-2013, 05:06 PM   #2
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Changed my 1700 sq' ranch from electric (2x6 construction) to oil in 93. Including indirect hot water for the year I consistently use 650 gallons a year in western Ma. We do keep the house pretty cool compared to most at 68 before and after work and 62 at other times. Furnace checked at 83% efficiency last week. I'd consider the house very well insulated.

I used wood for a few years with the stove in the basement, but once I changed to oil is was no longer worth the effort the wood took. I think wood was $75 a cord vs $.56 for oil when bought in bulk in the summer (2 tanks).
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Old 10-20-2013, 05:37 PM   #3
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Before we switched to natural gas in 2012, I tracked my oil usage for at least 5 years. We used almost exactly 825 gallons per year for each of those years. I live in a 2500 sqft. house in coastal Connecticut. The house was built in 1857, so it's not all that well insulated. The heat is hot water radiators and the domestic hot water also comes off the furnace.
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Old 10-20-2013, 05:39 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by veremchuka View Post

Yeah they most likely use oil for hot water too but 500 gallons of oil at 42 degrees north latitude in the north eastern US just seems way low. I'd guess 1,000 gallons are used to heat a house. And another is variable - how large and well insulated is the house!

My house was built in 1999 the same time as the one next to me, mine is 1500 sq ft and the other is 3000. I have 1 person here they have 5, now 3 with 2 of the kids away living at college so they would use a lot more oil than I do.
1000 to 1200 gal for a 3000 sf house with about 150/200 gal for HW sounds about right. They probably keep the house around 68 and do lots of laundry. My average fill up is 200 gal.
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Old 10-20-2013, 07:06 PM   #5
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We burn between 420 and 470 gallons of heating oil per yser. Plus roughly one cord of wood, mostly for amusement. 65 miles SE of Pittsbugh, PA

I forgot square footage, it is a 3 br, DR, Lr, fam rm and half basement has me electronics shop and laundry room. Roughly a cube shape split level, with 3 car gar.
Square footage is really irrelevant, it is the cubic volume, heat loss, heat gain, directional exposure, shape of dwelling that matters. I don't feel like digging for the heat load calculations I did way back.

Some years ago I wrote in this forum, that I superinsulated the attic spaces right after purchase. Also, as purchased the furnace was adjusted to maximize oil seller's profit.

I did a heat load calculation and concluded that the house could be kept at 72 F on any -20 F day with a burner running a .5 gal/hour nozzle. That would be near continuous burn for the few days it actually happens every 4 or 5 years.

Unfortunately the speces for the furnace only allow a minimum of .75 nozzle. The kicker: when we purchased the house the burner was set up with a 1.5 gal/Hr nozzle, with 750 F net stack terperature. Stupidity cubed.

I had the local furnace guy do the change, he damn near refused. Said you need a good hot chimney, yadda yadda yadda. Never used them again.

Thus fuel consumption is not just how much heat the house needs, it is also dependent on how much heat you are supplying to heat the great outdoors. Gotta pay attenention and know what is needed to optimize furnace/burner/insulation etc.

Manual J is your friend.

Edit add: DW prefers the house at 74 to 76F, no use in peing into the the wind.
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Old 10-20-2013, 07:26 PM   #6
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I had a ~2400 sf house in Vermont that was built in the 1970s and we added insulation to the attic and we went through ~700 gallons of heating oil a year. That also included our domestic hot water. We kept the temp at ~68F during the day and let it go down to ~62F at night.

We also burned wood in the family room when the weather was colder to make it a bit more cozy (~1 cord a year).
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Old 10-21-2013, 12:04 AM   #7
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No idea about heating oil. We've been heating our home mostly with wood since I retired in December, so this past season was a bit short for comparisons. We are in central CA, nights are around 32-36F most winter nights, and we heated with propane when we were a little short on wood. We use almond wood, common fireplace & wood stove fuel around these parts. We have a Jotul wood stove, 2x6 construction, completed in 2005, approx 4300 sq ft. We used maybe a cord last year, and our 500 gallon propane tank, which was showing an 85% fill level on the day we arrived back in the US (my retirement date) is now showing 38% with no fills in between.

This past winter, I built a woodshed with 4 bays, each of which will keep up to 2 cords dry. Up until now, we only spent a couple-three weeks at home in the winter, so we just kept 1/4-1/2 cord on the back porch. I bought 3 cords of almond wood a few weeks ago, split 1 cord into nice kindling and sorted and stacked it all into 2 of the bays. The other bays will be used for a kennel and yard tools for now. I'm guessing that with a little more usage of the wood stove, and a little less usage of the propane this coming winter, we'll probably go thru 1.5-2 cords. But, the cost of wood has been going up here. I paid $220 per cord this year, but was quoted as high as $370. If I had to pay that much, I think we would shift to primarily propane with a fire to supplement on the coldest evenings. Even if I shifted to propane, I think I could almost get by with one fill of 425 gallons per year.

Not really a direct answer to your question, but an additional datapoint.

R
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Old 10-21-2013, 08:23 AM   #8
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Thanks. It seems those in my general area of the country are using about what my calculations showed but they keep the house cooler than mine. I did think that to keep the house that warm with oil would use more than 500 gallons. As I noted as well as another poster there are lots of variables and probably too many to make anything more than a SWAG.

The killer is that while I may only use 500-575 gallons of oil it presently is $3.45 a gallon. The guy I buy wood from only charges me $150 a cord which is really less than typical which is more like $200 even $225. My cost is $450 for heating vs $1900 to $2500 cuz oil won't be $3.45 in January and February. The savings is significant plus I enjoy handling wood.

My reason for looking at this is whether I can justify using oil vs wood if I was unable to do the work wood requires. Lots of moving parts, trying to decide whether I may be forced to move for several reasons. It is incredibly expensive to live in this area and winters are hard especially if I was to be cold and spending 5 times what I spend now for heat. Add to that the yard work in 4 seasons and if I can't do it and that makes it that much more expensive. So many people have left this state and are continuing to leave for financial and political reasons I wonder if it's my time. This will take another couple of years to sort out but the hand writing may well be on the wall. While I really like this region when I hear what taxes, housing, winters, lifestyle and even the politics are in other areas I am starting to wonder.
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Old 10-21-2013, 09:52 AM   #9
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One alternative to consider is whether a pellet stove would meet your needs.

A friend of mine has a high-end high-efficiency wood boiler (I'll find out the name) and says he only has to feed it every 2-3 days.
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Old 10-21-2013, 10:02 AM   #10
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You answered my questions about your wood source, buy or DIY. Sounds like your getting good prices, is that delivered?

I used to supplement our heat with an inefficient wood stove. It was DIY, with hedge(Osage Orange), burned hot! However the work required was a lot of effort. After you got used to cutting hedge, sticking your saw in hickory, was like cutting butter. Even without the cutting it's still a lot of work.

I always liked wood heat despite the work, somehow it just felt warmer. I know temperature is temperature, maybe it was the steam kettle adding humidity.

Best wishes,

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Old 10-21-2013, 10:29 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Rambler View Post
But, the cost of wood has been going up here. I paid $220 per cord this year, but was quoted as high as $370. If I had to pay that much, I think we would shift to primarily propane with a fire to supplement on the coldest evenings. Even if I shifted to propane, I think I could almost get by with one fill of 425 gallons per year.

Not really a direct answer to your question, but an additional datapoint.

R
I think if you have to pay for the wood it quickly gets more expensive than oil/gas/propane. At least in my suburban naighborhood I have been successful in scoring free wood from trees being cut down nearby. I have 2 cords and change of mixed stuff handy. Some I got fro a neighbor's yard when they took down a monster dead cottonwood and offered me the logs. Some was from another cottonwood that was being cut down 5 minutes away with the cutting crew posting the availability of free wood on craigslist, first come first serve. The rest was a large part of a very dead maple that was cut down a couple blocks away. I have to haul it (having a pickup is handy for this), cut it, split it and stack it, but free is good.
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Old 10-21-2013, 11:47 AM   #12
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Brewer12345,

Have you tried splitting any cottonwood yet? Know its a softer hardwood, seemed to remember it's grain being 'twisty'. Of couse if its green and you can let it freeze, most all wood splits easier.

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Old 10-21-2013, 12:18 PM   #13
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Cottonwood is pretty light, so if it is dry splitting is very easy. I usually leave anything that is green sitting until it is dry.
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Old 10-21-2013, 04:33 PM   #14
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One alternative to consider is whether a pellet stove would meet your needs.

A friend of mine has a high-end high-efficiency wood boiler (I'll find out the name) and says he only has to feed it every 2-3 days.
I checked with my friend. He bought a Froling boiler. See Fröling FHG He's really keen on it and will talk your ear off about it if you let him.
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Old 10-22-2013, 02:52 PM   #15
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One alternative to consider is whether a pellet stove would meet your needs.

A friend of mine has a high-end high-efficiency wood boiler (I'll find out the name) and says he only has to feed it every 2-3 days.
Possibly but the cost to buy one is probably high. One huge disadvantage is it requires electricity to feed the pellets and run a fan. I have heat, can cook and heat water even w/o electricity. I knew someone that bought a pellet stove new about 14 years ago and it was nothing but trouble with feeding the pellets, incomplete burning, dirty window. I assume they are better today or maybe he just bought a bad brand. A new wood stove would easily run $2000-$3000, I figure $2500-$2800, so my 20 year old VC is going to keep heating me unless there's a catastrophic failure. Buying a new one now would be unlikely as I question my ability to do the work in the coming years.

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You answered my questions about your wood source, buy or DIY. Sounds like your getting good prices, is that delivered?

I used to supplement our heat with an inefficient wood stove. It was DIY, with hedge(Osage Orange), burned hot! However the work required was a lot of effort. After you got used to cutting hedge, sticking your saw in hickory, was like cutting butter. Even without the cutting it's still a lot of work.

I always liked wood heat despite the work, somehow it just felt warmer. I know temperature is temperature, maybe it was the steam kettle adding humidity.

Best wishes,

MRG
Yes it is cut to 16", split and delivered and $150 is a very good price. It is seasoned but when wood is bucked to 8' or stacked tree length it can sit for a year and still not be dry inside because the bark retains the water. I get it in spring April-May 2013 and burn it not the coming winter but the following winter 2014-2015. I have to move it to the woodshed but I like handing it. I agree that wood heat is warmer than any other. Maybe it's because the heat radiates from the center of the room in my case. I do think being able to put a pot on a stove and add moisture to the house makes the warmth feel warmer. Dry air is not as warm as humid air. In the really cold winter months running the stove nonstop I'll boil off 3 1/2-4 gallons of water in 24 hours possibly 5-6 depending upon how cold it is, how cloudy how hot I am running the stove.

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Cottonwood is pretty light, so if it is dry splitting is very easy. I usually leave anything that is green sitting until it is dry.
Splitting wood - is green easier to split than seasoned? I've done both, both already split and in the round, and while most people say green is easier I say seasoned is easier to split. Green wood is denser due to being wet, I see moisture emerge where the splitting axe hit's it but doesn't penetrate more than say 3/4". Dry wood just seems to break apart easier, maybe green is more fibrous as the water holds it together?
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Old 10-22-2013, 03:03 PM   #16
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The only time I can say green splits easier is when it's totaly green, totaly frozen, and straight grained. It has to get good and cold, when it's right, it just pops when you hit it.

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Old 10-22-2013, 03:09 PM   #17
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I picked up a really nice lightly used pellet stove for $350 on craigslist - if you have the wherewithal to check it out, move it and install it there are good deals to be had. A very nice thing about pellet stoves is that are cranking out full heat within a few minutes of startup unlike log stoves.
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