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What are the pros & cons of wood-burning & multi-fuel stoves?

In 2008, a precipitous rise in oil prices led many to reconsider long abandoned heating options.

Both wood burning stoves and multi-fuel stoves are considerable cheaper alternatives to traditional oil and gas heating methods. Although the price of oil has since retreated, many people are still intrigued by the environmental and economic potential of these traditional heating sources.

Strictly speaking, a wood burning stove is any stove that burns wood, wood pellets, and other wood based products and biomass exclusively. A multi-fuel stove will burn the same in addition to coal and peat.

Both have their pros and cons, and we will evaluate several of them here…

Wood Burning and Multi-Fuel Stoves

In the first place, there are several advantages and disadvantages that both stove types share vis-à-vis oil and gas.

The most obvious advantage is price, the primary reason for their reintroduction into the heating market. Once you get past the overhead cost of purchasing the units, the unit price per mass of fuel is considerably for both wood and multi-fuel stoves, and their owner will quickly recoup the overhead costs associated with their installation.

The material used to fuel these stoves is also generally easier to obtain than their oil and gas counterparts, which require refinement before their suitable for domestic use. Wood, of course, is readily abundant in most temperate climes, and peat has traditionally been readily available as well.

In short, the option exists, for both stoves, to obtain their fuel relatively cost free. Common disadvantages for both stoves include extensive maintenance requirements, both stoves must be ventilated properly and regularly cleaned, and both are considerably more likely to ignite large fires than either oil or gas heaters.

Comparing Wood Stoves to Multi-Fuel Stoves

Wood stoves have several advantages when compared to multi-fuel stoves. For starters, wood stoves are cheaper than multi-fuel stoves, both in terms of buying the actual stove itself as well as heating costs. In fact, wood stoves and wood fuel are the cheapest readily available heating option on the market.

Secondly, wood stoves are the cleanest of all heating options in relation to environmental footprint, provided they are properly maintained. Lastly, wood stoves can be converted into multi-fuel stoves, but not vice versa, with a few alterations, namely the addition of a grate. Disadvantages vis-à-vis multi-fuel stoves include the necessity to be particular about the location of the wood stove. It can’t go on a wood floor and, due to ventilation requirements in light of modern day home construction techniques, may even need to be placed outdoors.

Wood stoves will also readily produce dangerous carbon monoxide if the piping is blocked.

Comparing Multi-Fuel Stoves to Wood Burners

The advantages of multi-fuel stoves include the ability to utilize wood as well as coal and peat. Coal also produces greater heat per volume than wood.

Multi-fuel stoves are also slightly less of a fire risk than wood stoves. Multi-fuel stoves will not readily produce carbon monoxide when not using wood, and multi-fuel stoves generally do not need to be placed outdoors.

Disadvantages of multi-fuel stoves include being substantially dirtier’ than their wood counterparts. Multi-fuel stoves will produce a toxic thick smoke when burning coal, which pollutes the local environment. Peat, which is cleaner, is not as common today as in years past, mainly due to many peat bogs being designated environmental protected zones.

Finally, multi-fuel stoves are more expensive than their wood counterparts, mainly due to their greater utility and being a slightly more advanced technology.

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