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annual operation/fuel cost of all types of heaters

 
master steward
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In time I hope to convert this thread into a wiki with comments.  So this first post will stop being an introduction and instead be a wiki page.  

Mud and I (and Andres) are keen to make an infographic about home heat choices.  Across the top will be types of heat.  And down the left side will be attributes/metrics.  With each metric will be a link to a thread that will act as a source for that row of information in the infographic.  Or, hopefully, a bit of a bibliography.  This thread is one of those threads.





All of this number crunching is focused on "average for montana". And the average montana home is 2000 square feet.  

Starting with some base data:

montana heat prices in 2015 according to "montana-dakota" Average price of electricity in montana in 2014:  $0.0988 per kwh

montana heat prices in 2022 from northwesternenergy

Note that for wood, northwesternenergy uses a price of $150 per cord - which is very low.  We have decided that this number is an average, reflecting that some people get their own wood and some people buy wood.  Further, for our calculations, we decided that the first half cord of wood comes from the immediate property - for free.

Electric Baseboard

$2121
(number from montana-dakota expanded using more recent prices from northwesternenergy ($0.136/kwh))
(parts of the US currently have electricity at $0.38/kwh which would add up to $5926)

Mini Splits

$1326
(number from montana-dakota expanded using more recent prices from northwesternenergy ($0.136/kwh))
(parts of the US currently have electricity at $0.38/kwh which would add up to $3705)


In Ground Heat Pump

$606
(number from montana-dakota expanded using more recent prices from northwesternenergy ($0.136/kwh))
(parts of the US currently have electricity at $0.38/kwh which would add up to $1693)


Natural Gas

$636
(number from montana-dakota expanded using more recent prices from northwesternenergy)


Propane

$1485
(number from montana-dakota for electric heat, morphed using pro-rated and expanded data from northwesternenergy)


Wood Stove

6 cords
0.5 cords is free
5.5 cords at $150 per cord
$825


modern wood stove

3 cords
0.5 cords is free
2.5 cords at $150 per cord
$375


Pellet Stove

$1437
(number from montana-dakota for electric heat, morphed using pro-rated and expanded data from northwesternenergy)


Masonry Heater

1.2 cords
0.5 cords is free
0.5 cords at $150 per cord
$180


Rocket Mass Heater

0.6 cords
0.5 cords is free
0 cords at $150 per cord
$15





 
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This is a hard one.  Prices/availability vary so much from place to place and are constantly changing.

I think the infographic would still be worth it, maybe with a little fine print (propane based on x$ per pound, electric based on y$ per kwh, ...)

Or, better yet, maybe put the math in parentheses below the value, so people can re-figure it out based on their own local rates. (1000KWH X $0.14/KWH)
 
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I can give you a pretty good idea of two of those in WI.  I believe we get somewhat colder temperatures than you do, but I would think they are fairly comparable.  Your numbers for the ones I have experience with are very close to what I have personally paid.

LP cost me almost exactly $1600 in a badly insulated trailer house, and $1200-$1300 in a much bigger but very well insulated house.  This year will be less as I plan to use the two wood stoves more.  I cut my own wood, so monetary cost is minimal and I enjoy cutting wood, so I don't really consider labor a factor.  A person could easily consider it though.

Wood pellets - Just over 3 tons a year is average.  I have used 4 tons in a very cold year.  Last Friday, 3 tons cost me $721.00.  Barring really cold weather, that will last the winter with the few bags I had left from last year.

Good seasoned fire wood here will cost anywhere from $60 to $100 a face cord, not delivered.  I haven't tried to heat our new house solely with wood, so I don't have a total for that.
 
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I heat my mediocrely insulated ranch house with about 3.5 to 4 cords of less-than-ideal firewood each winter.  By less than ideal, I mean fully seasoned but not prime species.  I use a lot of birch, some maple, some poplar and some pine.  If I had oak it would be closer to 3 cords.  

Wood here, I believe, is around $300-350 per cord delivered but probably not fully seasoned.
 
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https://www.pickhvac.com/calculator/heating-annual-cost/

Electric Baseboard

$2431


Heat Pump

$830


Natural Gas

$493


Propane

$1,631


Wood Stove

zero to $1500


modern wood stove

zero to $750


Pellet Stove

$400 to $1000


Masonry Heater

zero to $300


Rocket Mass Heater

zero to $150
 
paul wheaton
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https://www.northwesternenergy.com/docs/default-source/default-document-library/billing-and-payment/rates-and-tariffs/montana/fuel_comparisonmt.pdf?sfvrsn=6db3469f_14

starting with wood - say we translate this graph to 5 cords of wood for a montana winter

   $1040

electric baseboard   $4000

air-to-air heat pump $2580

in-ground heat pump $1330

propane $2810

pellets $2710

natural gas $1200






 
Mike Haasl
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Just checking the wood heat numbers....

Per that chart, 1 cord of wood is 200 therms (or 20 million BTUs).  

Per a fancy forestry site, Doug Fir is 26.5 million BTU/cord (or 265 therms/cord).  So the 200 number is only for the lightest of soft woods.

5 cords of doug fir would be 1350 therms of heat.

If that's the metric, and it's for a 72% efficient wood stove, that means .72x1350 therms is the heat the house needed.  Or 972 therms.  

Electric baseboard would then be 972 therms x 100% efficient x 29.3 kWh/therm = 28,480 kWh.  Multiply that by 0.136$/kWh gives $3,873

So if that's how you want to convert things, I think you're in the ball park.
 
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Note that the "72% efficient" wood stove doesn't give 72% of the heat content to the house. Much of that goes up the chimney in waste heat.
 
Mike Haasl
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Isn't that the remaining 28%?  I've seen the efficiency of modern wood stoves debated in circles endlessly and if anyone has a perfectly defensible number to propose, then this would be the time to post it.  Then Paul/Mud will be able to do the math easier.

Barring that, 72% seems like a good number.  At that ratio, times 5 cords per year, it gives 972 therms per year.  From there the costs of other forms of heat are relatively easy to calculate.
 
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I paid $255 per cord for unseasoned wood in Vermont in early 2022, so $250 sounds like a very realistic price for wood in US states where wood is plentiful.

"Zero" seems optimistic for fuel cost. Even if the trees are on your property, you are likely to be using a chainsaw and fuel. If they're not on your property, you will be spending money on gasoline or diesel for a pickup or towed trailer. And your own labor time is worth something, since it represents an opportunity cost. You could be doing something else productive with that time. Or you could sell the wood you cut to someone else for cash.

So I suggest the grid assume all heating fuels are purchased at the prevailing rate, and remove the "zero to..." language.

Next, what's the average home size in Montana? I have no idea, but it's going to be a significant factor in driving home heating prices. If someone on this thread can provide that figure with a reliable source, it will help readers outside Montana put it into context.
 
Glenn Herbert
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I believe the 72% or whatever is the ratio of actual BTUs generated to theoretical heat content of the wood. Then some of that goes up the chimney as waste heat, and some as creosote and other unburned compounds. Also remember that a 72% efficient wood stove often does not burn at peak efficiency in real life.

Remember that if a wood stove actually delivered its efficiency rating to the space as heat in real life, there really would be minimal room for RMHs to improve on that. We know that is not the case from direct experience.
 
paul wheaton
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This thread is about fleshing out one row of a greater document:

https://permies.com/t/204534/creating-heat-infographic

...  so this whole document is gonna focus on montana.  Largely because it is recognized as a cold state - thus eliminating conversations about florida or "what part of california" or "in texas ..."  

...  the size of the average home in montana is 2000 square feet.  So it makes sense to suggest that these numbers are for a 2000 square foot home in montana, with average insulation in an average place in montana (thus average weather/climate for the state).

All that said, the goal is come up with excellent sources for the data.  I think northwesternenergy is a solid source - that is the power company for a lot of western montana.
 
paul wheaton
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"Zero" seems optimistic for fuel cost. Even if the trees are on your property, you are likely to be using a chainsaw and fuel. If they're not on your property, you will be spending money on gasoline or diesel for a pickup or towed trailer.  



Excellent point.  

Maybe for wood burning, we can say that most wood burning operations are rural and there are a few "probablies" that come with that:

   1:  probably have a half cord of wood, free, every year, on average.  Branches that fall of trees in the yard, plus wood scraps from projects in the shop.  So, for everybody, the first half a cord of firewood, every year, is a freebie.

   2:  some folks will buy firewood, but most will get firewood.  

           2a: get firewood.   One cord is very local - within a few hundred yards.  And the rest is from a few miles away.  A few pickup truck loads.  So there is fuel and maintenance for the truck, plus fuel and maintenance for the saw.  Not a free thing.   The northwesternenergy document states $150 per cord.  So if you are getting your own firewood, maybe the expense is closer to $30 per cord.

           2b: buy firewood.  The document says $150 per cord.  Which seems really low. This makes me think that $150 per cord is an average that includes the people that get their own.  


Hmmmm .....    

Okay, here is my idea for a grand summary using the NWE document:   $150 per cord is an average between people who buy their own and people who fetch their own.  So to be very average for the sake of simplifying the document, rather than saying something like "zero to $1500" - maybe the thing to do is to hammer down this average, combined with the first half a cord being free.

Therefore:

wood stove
5 cords
0.5 cords is free
4.5 cords at $150 per cord
$675

modern wood stove
2.5 cords
0.5 cords is free
2.0 cords at $150 per cord
$300

masonry heater
1 cord
0.5 cords is free
0.5 cords at $150 per cord
$75

rocket mass heater
0.5 cords
0.5 cords is free
0 cords at $150 per cord
$0



??
 
paul wheaton
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I gotta say, that I think 5 cords of wood, on average, is low.  I would guess six is a bit low for 2000 square feet.  At the same time, I think most people heating with wood probably have a smaller square footage.  So I think 6 cords is about right, but we might be talking about an average home size that is closer to 1500 square feet.  Plus, I think most of the homes heated with wood, will also be the homes that are older and/or could benefit, on average, from better insulation.

I know of larger homes with an outdoor boiler burning 20 cords per year.  And homes a little larger than 2000 square feet burning 12 cords of wood per year.  I also know people heating with 3 cords per year, but when I press them for details I start to hear about other heaters being used a LOT!    So my gut says that 5 cords is too small and it should be about 6 cords.  

I found this from the bozeman daily paper

Typically, a 2,000-square-foot house with modern insulation with wood for its sole source of heating will take four to six cords (per winter)



Anecdotal, but showing what is close.  Also note "with modern insulation".

Combing google ...   a lot of anecdotal stuff ...  "I have a 1200 square foot home and i use five cords!" ...   lots of stuff in warmer climates where they use a lot less wood.  

Can anybody find some harder data on how much wood for montana?


 
paul wheaton
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Here is something about montana heat prices:

https://www.montana-dakota.com/wp-content/uploads/PDFs/mt-home-energy-guide-2015.pdf

natural gas $446
electric $1541
air heat pump $963
ground heat pump $440
propane $1145

These are annual numbers.  The document was created from 2015 data.  It seems that this is a company that is paid by a bunch of utility companies in montana and the dakotas.

The data from northwesternenergy.com is from october 2022.  
 
paul wheaton
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Average price of electricity in montana in 2014:  $0.0988 per kwurlh

The current price of electricity according to the northwesternenergy document is $0.136.

.0988 * 1.376518219 = .136

Therefore, if I use 1.376518219 on all the numbers from montana-dakota.com I get

electric $2121
air heat pump $1326
ground heat pump $606

And then if I use the numbers from the northwesternenergy document to convert from current electric heat prices to current natural gas, propane and pellet prices to get the same heat ...

natural gas $636
propane $1485
pellets $1437




 
paul wheaton
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For the moment, I am going to adjust the wood numbers to start with 6 cords of wood for a conventional wood stove.

wood stove
6 cords
0.5 cords is free
5.5 cords at $150 per cord
$825

modern wood stove
3 cords
0.5 cords is free
2.5 cords at $150 per cord
$375

masonry heater
1.2 cords
0.5 cords is free
0.5 cords at $150 per cord
$180

rocket mass heater
0.6 cords
0.5 cords is free
0 cords at $150 per cord
$15
 
Mike Haasl
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I think I'd bump up the modern wood stove to 4 cords.  I think my house is pretty average in most departments and I go through around 4 cords of wood a winter.  Not oak, crappier hardwoods and pine.
 
paul wheaton
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Mike Haasl wrote:I think I'd bump up the modern wood stove to 4 cords.  I think my house is pretty average in most departments and I go through around 4 cords of wood a winter.  Not oak, crappier hardwoods and pine.



2000 square feet?  Average insulation?  Winter climate comparable to montana?



 
Mike Haasl
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1260 square feet per floor, two floors.  Good/proper/new insulation in the attic, R3 in the walls (yes, it's silly).  Well sealed.  So that's why I'm calling it average.  If the walls were better it would be above average.  

Winter climate likely the same as the "average Montana".  We're USDA zone 4a here which is the most common color when I look at Montana as a whole

USDA zone map
 
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I have a 500-gallon propane tank, but they only fill it to 80% and I only buy it in summer when it's cheaper. I start the winter full and end up at about 50 - 60% at end of season, so generally use about 25% or 125 gallons. When I filled this past summer, the bill was around $250.

I also have the smallest Vermont Castings stove made and the smallest Stihl chain saw made. My spot under the porch where I stack my wood is about 6' long and I stack a single row about 6' high. I cut my wood to 12" to 14" length. I just looked up and found that a cord is considered 128 cubic feet. I estimate I burn a bit over 1/2 a cord per year sometimes a bit more but never a whole cord, I don't think. We burn a lot more cooking outside than heating the house.

On a cold (25 F or lower) but sunny day, the house is plenty warm from the sun. A hot fire of very well-seasoned black locust burned for a couple hours in the evening keeps it warm till we do to bed. A single 12" log of very well-seasoned black locust dropped in the hot coals will burn, not smolder, all night. The furnace is mostly just used when no one will be home all day.

I harvest from my own renewable wood lots and haul it over to the primary stack with my hand cart. I estimate in a full day of work and one 2.5 gallon can of gas I can cut three or more years of wood. I don't really know for sure because it's been three or four years since I cut wood.  My most wasteful thing is because I don't know how to sharpen a chain, so I just buy a new one every four or five years.

Anyway, estimate high and add it all up per year.
$250 for propane
$2.00 gas
4 hours work
expense of 0.25 saw chains - I have four in stock

About 5 years of well-seasoned black locust is currently under cover, another fifty or more years' worth is standing. If need ever arises I'll ditch the propane.

One of those RMH sounds kind of fun but can't justify the effort and expense of replacing my current system, plus I don't think we really have room for it.

I de-bark my already seasoned firewood as I move the winter supply to the porch. Any live critters I find I feed to my fish all the bug poo and whatever else falls out is saved for my seed starter the next year. Bark itself is used for kindling or sold on Ebay for growing orchids.

Apologies if this is completely irrelevant to Montanna.  Do you guys even have black locust?





 
paul wheaton
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Mike Haasl wrote:1260 square feet per floor, two floors.  Good/proper/new insulation in the attic, R3 in the walls (yes, it's silly).  Well sealed.  So that's why I'm calling it average.  If the walls were better it would be above average.  



So if your house was 2000 square feet (smaller) and has average insulation (better) then you might use 3 cords of wood per winter?

 
paul wheaton
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Mark,

It sounds like you are doing a hybrid situation.

Even more, black locust has a LOT of BTUs per cord.  A lot more than pine or fir.  

Would you say that our numbers seem about right to you?  Naturally, we would like to find sources for really hard numbers, if you can find them.
 
paul wheaton
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I updated the first post.  I suspect that it is not yet perfect, but I think we are getting there.
 
Mark Reed
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paul wheaton wrote:Mark,

It sounds like you are doing a hybrid situation.

Even more, black locust has a LOT of BTUs per cord.  A lot more than pine or fir.  

Would you say that our numbers seem about right to you?  Naturally, we would like to find sources for really hard numbers, if you can find them.



I guess you could say it's hybrid, sort of a compound hybrid maybe. The house has a 600 sq ft footprint with two little bedrooms in an A-frame upper story, so 1200 sq ft all together. Downstairs is 3/4 underground on the north and west, mostly windows on south and east.  It doesn't freeze downstairs even with no heat at all. It also stays fairly cool in summer but hot humid air coming in when the door is opened makes it damp without a dehumidifier. I haven't figured out a non-electric method to deal with that, I'm afraid maybe there just isn't one.  

I'll look over your numbers and do a little figuring, but I didn't even know what a cord was, so I don't know if I can be much help or not.


 
Mike Haasl
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paul wheaton wrote:

Mike Haasl wrote:1260 square feet per floor, two floors.  Good/proper/new insulation in the attic, R3 in the walls (yes, it's silly).  Well sealed.  So that's why I'm calling it average.  If the walls were better it would be above average.  



So if your house was 2000 square feet (smaller) and has average insulation (better) then you might use 3 cords of wood per winter?


My attic is R48 or something (meeting current code) and with the excellent job of leak sealing, I'd say the house is actually equal to an average 1999 built house.  Since my house is two floors, it has less surface area than a 2000 square foot ranch.  So I think it's still comparable to an average house.

Crazy idea...  What if someone posted to the Montana subreddit saying they're doing a bit of research and see if they can get a half a dozen Montanites to say how much wood they go through with a modern wood stove?
 
paul wheaton
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Mike Haasl wrote:Crazy idea...  What if someone posted to the Montana subreddit saying they're doing a bit of research and see if they can get a half a dozen Montanites to say how much wood they go through with a modern wood stove?



Because most people that burn wood, use wood heat about 25% of the time.  So they will say they burn on 2 cords of wood and when you start getting into the details, you hear about all the other stuff they do for heat.  Plus, there is a lot to go into about what sort of wood stove they are using.  So you would need to make a questionnaire that covers a LOT of statistical variations.
 
paul wheaton
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Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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I'm feeling like my numbers are getting pretty solid ...
 
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