Heating with wood: an economical and ecological solution

Heating with fossil fuels is becoming less and less popular these days. This is because the CO2 emissions released by this type of heating are harmful to the environment. In France, for example, oil-fired boilers will gradually be banned from homes by 2022. Warm, authentic and energy-efficient: wood heating is becoming more and more popular. But it is also for its ecological aspect that it is appreciated, because unlike oil or electric heating it is a renewable and carbon neutral energy. In addition, if its combustion is well optimised it is very economical. However, there is a wide choice in the types of wood-burning appliances and it is not always easy to choose the one that will best suit your needs...

Wood: a renewable and economical resource

 Heating with wood is an interesting alternative because it causes little pollution. In fact, the carbon footprint of wood is negative, making it the best ecological option! The price of wood remains lower than that of fuel oil, electricity or even gas, whose prices fluctuate enormously. In addition to its economic and ecological advantages, wood is a fuel that gives off a gentle and pleasant heat.

Which wood heating system should I choose?

For a main heater

  • Masonry heater: With a very good efficiency of about 90%, the masonry heater works with logs. Moreover, it is particularly economical and autonomous as it can heat a home between 8 and 24 hours (per flare). One of the advantages of the masonry heater is that it can be customised to the individual's home. However, it is important to take into account that a masonry heater is quite large and heavy and will therefore take up space in the room where it is installed. The price of a masonry heater ranges from €5,000 to €16,000.

For a central heating system that provides hot water

  • The wood-fired boiler: The pellet boiler is a perfect alternative to the oil boiler which is gradually disappearing. They have a very good efficiency, and emit little ash and pollutants (also fine particles). Wood-fired boilers are completely self-sufficient and can heat the home throughout the heating season. One of the great advantages of wood-fired boilers is that they can be automatically optimised via electronic control. However, this wood-burning system requires very regular maintenance and has a higher initial cost. You need a boiler room large enough to accommodate your wood boiler. There are also manual wood boilers that work with logs. The price of wood-fired boilers varies between €3000 and €14,000. Wood-fired boilers can also be used to heat water for sanitary purposes, unlike systems such as stoves or fireplaces.

For supplementary heating

  • The log-burning stove: Very simple and quick to install, the log-burning stove requires little maintenance. In addition, it gives off a gentle and pleasant heat. As a little bonus for decoration fans, there are some very nice modern models to enhance the aesthetics of your interior. Ideal for use with a main heating system, the log-burning stove is not sufficient to heat an entire large dwelling. In addition, it should be noted that it is a heating method that does not have a great autonomy since it is frequently necessary to add logs (several times a day). The price of a log-burning stove varies between 1000€ and 5000€.
  • The pellet stove: The pellet stove has a much higher efficiency than the log stove. Another advantage is that this system is quite autonomous, it only needs to be recharged about once a day (autonomy on average between 12 and 72 hours*). The heat is easily distributed by a fan. The heat emitted by the pellet stove can be adjusted via a thermostat located in the room. However, this system is more energy intensive than other types of wood heating because it requires electricity. Like the log stove, the pellet stove can only be used for supplementary heating. Be aware that some pellet stoves may make noise if they have a fan. The price of a pellet stove varies between 1600€ and 6000€.
  • The fireplace insert: While traditional fireplaces are often depicted as open, there are ways to make them closed sources of heat, such as with a fireplace insert. This appliance is installed by inserting it into the open fireplace (several sizes and models of inserts exist) and thus allows the fireplace to be closed. The insert is very practical because it improves the efficiency of the fireplace by a large amount, which is only about 15 percent. It also has several safety advantages thanks to the glass in it: it prevents the risk of fire or even carbon monoxide poisoning. The insert therefore allows its users to do without having to constantly monitor their fireplace. The wood for this type of installation can be chosen in the form of logs or pellets. The price of an insert varies between 500€ and 4500€.

To avoid fires or carbon monoxide poisoning, it is important to install a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector in your home. A carbon monoxide detector has a different alarm tone to a smoke detector, so you can tell them apart.

Installing a wood-fired heating system: grants and subsidies available

The price of a wood-burning appliance is certainly attractive in the long run, but it can have a high initial investment (between purchase and installation). For example, for the installation of a stove or insert the price can be as high as 1500€. For a boiler the cost varies between 2000€ and 3000€. Nevertheless, wood is a more environmentally friendly heating system and the government, as part of its energy transition, wants to financially encourage each household that makes this type of purchase. In France, financial aid exists to support households in their energy renovation project and thus reduce the cost of a wood-burning appliance. This aid is particularly interesting if you have a fossil fuel heating system that you want to change to a more environmentally friendly energy source or if your system is getting old and therefore less efficient.

  • Energy saving certificates (CEE ): this is a scheme set up by the State to provide financial support to households or companies wishing to undertake energy renovations. This scheme can be combined with other aids depending on the country of residence. It is the energy suppliers who offer the CEE directly to individuals or companies. The CEE can take various forms: free services, vouchers, discounts, etc. It is possible to claim a bonus for the replacement of an oil, gas or coal-fired boiler.
  • Affordable Warmth: the amount of this eco-loan in England varies between €1000 and €15,000 depending on the work to be carried out.
  • Able to pay: This loan helps households when they install an air source heat pump, solid wall insulation or solar panels in their home. 
  • Boiler Replacement Scheme: In Northern Ireland, this scheme offers households a grant of up to £1,000 to replace their inefficient boilers with energy efficient ones or switch to a wood pellet boiler. It is available to households with an income of less than £40,000 a year and that own an inefficient boiler that has been in use for more than 15 years.
  • Local support: local authorities can also offer financial support for the installation of a wood heating system and more generally for the energy renovation of your home depending on your country of residence.

What type of wood to choose?

Heating with wood is an interesting alternative, but it is important to choose the right wood fuel. Although no wood species is prohibited for use, they are not all of the same quality and calorific value. When buying, do not hesitate to ask a specialist dealer for advice.

Conifers, softwoods and hardwoods give off a pleasant heat when burnt. However, it all depends on the type of device you have and the comfort you want.

Precautions to be taken with wood heating

While using a more environmentally friendly energy source is driving many individuals to switch to wood heating, this method of heating is not exempt from risks. It is therefore important to find out about good practice before or when buying a wood-burning heater.

To avoid polluting or endangering your health, wood must be chosen with care. The following tips will help you to heat your home with wood without fear:

  • Pay attention to humidity: As well as producing much less energy than dry wood, wet wood poses a considerable health risk by releasing fine particles. Wet wood is also dangerous because it causes poor combustion which can lead to fires. Using wet wood can also damage your heating system (stove, boiler etc.). According to the French ADEME, ( Ecological Transition Agency) wood chips should not exceed 30%, logs less than 20% and finally less than 10% for pellets. One of the warning signs that wood is too wet is that too much steam is emitted during combustion. You must therefore be careful when storing your wood.
  • Paint, varnish: if wood is painted or varnished it becomes a dangerous fuel because it emits toxic emissions.
  • Maintain your wood-burning appliance well: for inserts, closed fireplaces or stoves, it is necessary to clean the glass, the ashtray and the inside of the hood well. For boilers it is important to check the fuel level and to clean and empty the boiler frequently.
  • Checking the performance and monitoring the obsolescence of your device: In order to limit the emission of fine particles in your home and to ensure the good performance of the appliance, it is very important to pay attention to the label. Indeed, the Green Flame label certifies the quality of your appliance by ensuring that it does not emit fine particles and that it provides an excellent performance. Moreover, appliances with the Green Flame label or appliances with a good energy performance are eligible for financial aid for installation. According to the French ADEME, inserts or stoves made before 2002 are less efficient and should be replaced. 

In order to have healthier air in your home, the Netatmo Smart Air Quality Sensor analyse different important factors to detect potential problems and pollutants.

What are the alternatives?

Although wood heating is a popular alternative, some households, either because they live in cities or because of personal preferences, are looking for another type of renewable energy. Other solutions exist:

  • Solar heating: It is an unlimited and free source of energy and heat. It is possible to capture solar energy with a photovoltaic system. This is an environmentally friendly alternative, but it is expensive to install.
  • The heat pump: this solution has several advantages. Easy to use and install, the heat pump system also consumes very little energy. The heat pump is also eligible for state aid for its installation. However, the size of the outdoor unit is quite large, making the heat pump more suitable for houses with a garden. Its price can vary between €5,000 and €20,000 depending on the type of heat pump (air-to-air, geothermal, air-to-water, etc.).

Further optimisation of your wood heating system

Connected thermostats allow you to create a heating schedule and thus heat your home at the right time and at the right temperature.

According to French ADME*, the use of smart and/or connected thermostats would reduce the cost of heating bills for households. 

According to the agency, these thermostats represent a "small but very profitable investment" as the savings in the first year are likely to cover their purchase price. The Intelligent Thermostat ON/OFF allows you to program and control the room temperature of your home remotely. It uses the thermal characteristics of your home to manage your wood stove or boiler with more finesse. 

*ADEME sources https://librairie.ademe.fr/cadic/1867/guide-pratique-poele-bois-chaudiere-insert.pdf?modal=false