Heating your own home is all about comfort. The goal is to efficiently create warmth, with minimum effort and cost, to enable easily living the rest of your life (obtaining food in all forms) while winter rages outside.
Fireplaces satisfy that basic urge to bring the flame into the home, creating the direct warmth on the face and the extended, rubbing hands around a campfire feel. The mantle provides a place for stockings with care, and a visual focus for the artwork of the Home. During a gathering of friends, the ambient flame welcomes guests to feel safe.
While it satisfies a basic psychological urge, unfortunately, in addition to being dangerous when not-maintained properly, the fireplace is not able to offer much heat into the room, spitefully pushing it up the chimney instead. Even worse, it sucks already conditioned air from every nook and cranny throughout the house, causing drafts and discomfort.
Woodstoves are a great compromise to the nearly-hands-on afficianados, providing much of the ambiance of an open flame, but turbo-charged to provide serious heat. No other source can match the saturating blanket of warmth, the embracing feel of entering a room toasty and sizzling.
The word “cozy” is perhaps best defined by an evening heated by a woodstove. As darkness descends and winter cold creeps in, the appliance becomes the center of life. The warmer you want to be, the closer you get. Children play on the floor in front of it. Animals sleep practically under it. Mittens dry on hooks behind it. The sizzle and crackle is as soothing as classical music.
Cheaper to install ($2-3000 plus labor), and one third the cost to run, wood heat is a great alternative for the energy conscious, but requires a year round commitment not suitable for the feint-at-heart. No matter how comfy the sound, heat by woodstove takes constant attention, and armfuls of work.
The adage is absolutely correct that woodstoves heat you twice: once when you burn, and once collecting the wood. As winter ends, the real work begins to secure and cure enough cords (typically 3-5 at $150 each) by late Fall. The stack must remain dry and close enough to be easily hauled inside. The chips of bark and dust fall where they may, littering the pathway, and just when you are really settled down and comfortable, it demands another log.
Efficient designs allow for stoves to burn all night, but like feeding a pet, there is a problem for those who spend the Holidays away. Additionally, the amount of heat enjoyed is directly proportional to the proximity to the stove, so the far reaches of a home tend to remain chilly and comparatively uncomfortable.
While a great solution for someone concerned with economics and a greener lifestyle, in cold climates the drawback of a woodstove is that it requires the support of another system to ensure that pipes are never frozen. Discussion of these will follow in future entries.