Which home heating fuel is best for you? Perhaps you should choose two. One as a primary heat source and one as a power failure and price protection fuel.
The choice of which home heating fuel you should use as your primary heat source is not as clear-cut as it used to be. You should give some thought as to whether you should stay with what you have or make a switch to save money.
You should also have a back up source of heat. Do you have a plan ready to use when the price of your primary heating fuel spikes upward? Do you have a back up you can use to keep from freezing during a power failure?
Here is the chart I developed.
The cost per million BTU heat output is calculated using typical efficiencies and moisture content for these fuels.
Hard Coal produces the most heat per dollar
Hard coal is hard to find outside of the coal producing parts of the US. If lots of folks burned coal, it would increase air pollution. Soft coal smokes even more.
If you have a coal stove, it is a good choice as a power failure back up heat source. There are a few problems with burning coal.
First, the skills needed to do a good job of burning coal have long been forgotten in most parts of the country. You need coal bin to store the fuel and a way of disposing of the clinkers and ash.
Firewood is the second thriftiest
It takes a lot of work to cut and split firewood so it can dry for a year before you use it. It also needs storage space that should be covered to keep it dry. Firewood is said to warm you twice, once when you make it and again when you burn it.
I priced it based on cut, split and delivered prices for a full cord (4 ft x 4 ft x 8 ft stacked).
There is risk involved in that using firewood to heat a home is a major cause of house fires. Your homeowners insurance cost will be higher if you are burning wood inside your home.
One answer is an outdoor water heater wood burning furnace that keeps the fire out of the house. The only drawback is that you need an electric water pump and controls to make it work. It is not a power failure option. It takes work to feed the fire and dispose of the ashes. Wood smoke is almost as bad as coal smoke.
Using a wood stove, fireplace insert or a fireplace with glass doors can work as a power failure heat source.
Natural gas is an all around winner
If it available where you live, it is a low cost easy to use choice. It is great for heating, cooking, clothes drying and water heating. Some gas appliances will operate just fine when there is an electrical power failure so it can be your back up fuel if you plan for it.
The Blue Flame line of natural gas heaters are 99% efficient and do not need to be vented. Many models work without electrical power. Some natural gas fireplaces can be used during a power failure to provide heat. Check yours and be sure it will work without electrical power.
Natural gas is the cleanest burning home heating fuel.
Premium Wood Pellets are neater that wood
Wood pellet fuel is made from sawdust and other wood waste making it a good renewable fuel. It cost a little more but in some ways, it is better than firewood. Pellets have a lower moisture content, a high heat value and lower percentage of ash compared to firewood.
You need a special stove for burning wood pellets or an iron basket to use them in your fireplace. You need some available space to store the 40-pound bags of pellets. Wood pellets are a fairly clean and cost effective way to heat. They work as a power failure fuel too.
Shelled Corn works just like wood pellets
The demand for corn to be used for food, cooking oil and ethanol make it more expensive than wood pellets. Corn makes about twice as much ash as wood pellets do, otherwise they work the same. They work as a power failure fuel too. You do need a stove that is designed to burn corn.
Heating Oil, Propane or Heat Pump
If you don’t have natural gas available, and you don’t want the work or mess of using solid fuels, you need to choose between Oil, Propane or Electric as your primary heat source.
If you live where you have mild winters, where low temperatures stay above 20 degrees F, an air source heat pump is a good choice. If you live where the lows often dip below 20 degrees F, you need a ground source (expensive) heat pump, heating oil, or propane.
Heat pumps need a back up heat source when the weather goes cold. Gas, propane or electric resistance heaters are the possibilities.
Heating oil and Heat Pumps do not work during an electric power failure. Heating oil is used only for heat in a forced air furnace. Some folks consider heating oil safer than natural gas or propane.
Heating oil and propane both require a storage tank and, all weather, delivery truck access. Heating oil packs a lot of energy in a small volume so oil storage tanks are relatively small. A 150-gallon tank full of oil lasts a long time.
Propane, like natural gas, can be used in several appliances. Propane storage tanks are big and hard to hide. These big tanks need to be next to the driveway located a short pipe run from the house. Many propane-fueled appliances do not need electricity to operate. Propane can be used, in some heaters, during a power failure.
I grew up in a cold climate house that was heated with heating oil. It provided good reliable comfort, but I think I would prefer propane because it will do several jobs and work when the power is off.
Electric Base board or space heaters are a good plan B
Electrical resistant heaters are normally too expensive to use as your main source of heat. They use electrical energy at 100% efficiency but that is still too expensive, unless you use them only to avoid wasting money. I know that that is a strange statement but read on.
You can save money using an electrical heater in just one room where you need the heat the most. You save by letting the rest of the house cool off. If you can, for example, warm up the living room to a comfortable 70 degrees using an electric heater. While letting the rest of the house be 65 or cooler, you will save on your total heating bill.
You should also have a few electric space heaters on hand, in case the price of your heating oil or propane spikes up making it more expensive than electric. Most homes will not be able to plug in more than one or two space heaters without blowing circuit breakers. You can only have one space heater and no other appliance on each circuit or you will not be able to keep hem running.
Why consider Charcoal?
I have used charcoal in the fireplace during a power failure. Folks, in some parts of the world, do use charcoal as their primary cooking and heating fuel.
The price is based on large bags of briquettes at an end of the season sale. You might get a better price by buying in bulk. I was surprised that it came in the middle of the pack in terms of heat value per dollar.
I recommend it only as an outdoor cooking fuel and as an addition to your power failure firewood supply for use in a wood stove or fireplace.
Be careful when burning it indoors as it has a carbon monoxide risk.
Click here for a free money saving report written by the Energy Boomer titled HOW SAVE MONEY ON YOUR NEXT HEATING BILL