Comparing Heat Pumps vs. Wood Stoves
Pros and Cons

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Compare heat pumps vs. wood stoves to find the best solution for your home heating. See the advantages and disadvantages of both systems and what each heating system offers.

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Why comparing heat pumps vs. wood stoves?

This article is not about the most efficient heating system for your home and which brand or model to select, but it gives you some essential information about two popular home heating systems - heat pumps and wood-burning heaters.

During the winter months, energy usage can increase significantly so as your utility bills, so it is important to select the right type, device, and reliable fuel supply.

Due to today's high energy prices and lack of natural gas in some areas, heating on electricity or wood can save you money and ensure your comfort.

And if you select an energy-efficient and eco-friendly model, you can rest assured that energy costs and gas emissions will be acceptable.

This is why we wanted to compare heat pumps vs. wood stoves, so that you can choose between advanced and modern technology found in heat pumps, and old-fashioned and reliable wood heating with a proven record.

What are the heat pumps and why should you buy one?

Heat pumpHeat pump
photo: Carrier

Heat pumps are electrical devices that operate by capturing heat and moving it from one place to another. They don't generate heat as other heating devices (a furnace, for example).

There are several types of heat pumps designed to heat homes with the highest energy efficiency of all electric types.

Homeowners can choose between air-source and geothermal systems as the two main types.

Air-source heat pumps are designed to capture heat from the surrounding air, while geothermal systems take heat either from the body of water or ground.

When heating is required in the winter, heat pumps will bring heat from the outdoors to your home.

In the summer, when cooling is needed, they would operate in the opposite direction, removing the heat from your home and extracting it to the outside.

According to some manufacturers, heat pumps can produce up to four times as much energy as the electricity used to operate. And that is their main strength.

They also have a few drawbacks, which are listed below.

For the best results, heat pumps are recommended in areas with moderate climates.

Advantages of heat pumps

  • High efficiency. Heat pumps are up to four times more energy efficient than electric and gas condensing models, whose maximum efficiency can reach 99%.
  • Complete HVAC solution. Not only that heat pumps can heat homes, but they can also provide cooling and dehumidification, keeping your home comfortable for many years. Heating is more comfortable, and the heat is distributed evenly without temperature fluctuation.
  • Whole-house climate control. Heat pumps use a ductwork system to deliver heat to the whole house. And if properly sized and installed, every room is heated equally and centrally controlled. When using programmable and smart thermostats controlling and monitoring the operation is even better. It becomes more convenient and helps you improve comfort and energy usage.
  • Air quality. The air quality is better with a heat pump because it allows you to control humidity and make the air cleaner while using the built-in filter. The device doesn't dry out the air when heating, and it removes the excess moisture during the summer.
  • Environmentally-friendly. Heat pumps are powered by electrical energy, so they don't burn fossil fuel to generate heat - directly. But, if the used energy is made by burning coal or nuclear energy, then we are no talking about eco-friendly solutions.
  • Long-lasting. If properly installed and well maintained, heat pumps such as geothermal can last over 50 years.
  • Little maintenance. For efficient and long-lasting operation, heat pumps require just basic maintenance.
  • Safe. Heat pumps don't burn gases and do not produce harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, making them safe for your family and the planet.
  • Better savings. A heat pump usually pays for itself in a few years in areas with moderate climates. In addition, homeowners can get rebates and federal/state tax credits by purchasing of one of these systems.

Disadvantages

  • The initial investment can be higher than for other heating systems.
  • Professional installation is required.
  • Energy efficiency decreases with the temperature drop. The efficiency is lower in cold weather, so that supplemental heating might be required.
  • Heat pumps do not produce intense heat, so that it might be uncomfortable for some, especially in cold winter and if the house is not adequately insulated.
  • Cannot operate during power outages.

What are the wood stoves and why should I buy one?

Wood stoveImage by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

While wood-burning stoves are mostly built to heat one or two rooms, some models include blowers and other fancy elements that can help you heat the whole house.

They are efficient, and if you live in an area where you have your own wood or get it for a lower price, even better. Note that the quality of the fire depends on the wood type you are burning and the moisture content.

When burning wood, wood stoves generate heat and release gases into the outside atmosphere. While many will say that such stoves are polluting the planet, the truth is that they are not because they are carbon neutral.

That means that they produce gases that are not harmful, and if you own one of the models that meet or exceed clean air standards, you are ok.

Advantages of wood stoves

  • Modern and advanced wood stoves can achieve around 70-80% efficiency.
  • Wood is a renewable resource.
  • They operate even when there is no power, making them very reliable.
  • Wood stoves can last long as they don't use moving parts and electricity.
  • Except for heating, wood stoves can also be used for cooking.

Disadvantages

  • It takes longer to light the fire and heat the room.
  • Wood stoves are not clean as heat pumps; they produce smoke and soot, which can be a significant source of air pollution (especially when the wood is not burned completely).
  • Creosote, as a combustion by-product, can cause a chimney fire.
  • Not convenient as when pressing the button on the electric devices. Before the wood stove starts heating your home, you must often arrange wood delivery, split the logs, and bring the wood inside the house. Also, you will have to remove and dispose of ash.
  • Wood stoves provide only heating.
  • Not as safe as heat pumps.
  • Requires constant care. Someone must always be at home to take care of the fire and cleaning.
  • They can hardly be used in urban areas, especially in apartments.

Things to consider when comparing heat pumps vs. wood stoves

Emission and its impact on the environment

Since heat pumps are powered by electricity, they do not emit pollutants - directly. But they can contribute to pollution by using electricity from "dirty" sources, such as coal, oil, or nuclear energy. In addition, electricity coming from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and hydro, is clean, and doesn't impact the climate and air quality.

When wood stoves are burning, they release pollutants, which can contribute to environmental hazards such as smog and acid rain. This depends on the wood type and its quality, how you store it, whether burning is complete or not, stove type (EPA certified or not), and other factors.

Wood is a carbon-neutral energy source, so when it is burning, it releases into the atmosphere the same carbon dioxide as it was absorbed during its life cycle.

Efficiency

Since heat pumps operate on a different principle than other heating systems, by moving heat and not generating it, they can produce heat with over 100% efficiency. According to some manufacturers, the efficiency can be up to 4 times higher.

Even though they can operate in various temperature climates, they are recommended mostly for mild climates.

Wood-burning stoves are also efficient.

Wood is an affordable heat source and renewable, as opposed to other fossil fuels. It costs less than burning natural gas or using electricity.

When it comes to the efficiency, we know that the open fire burner, such as the traditional fireplace, is only 10-20% efficient and most of its heat escapes out the chimney.

Modern and advanced wood-burning stoves can achieve high efficiency of approximately 80-85%, which is close to the efficiency of an average gas furnace.

And if you select one of the EPA-certified wood stoves, you can see much higher efficiency than other options.

The most efficient wood stoves come with innovative features, such as the catalytic converter.

Note: There are two types of efficiencies related to wood stoves; combustion and overall. Combustion efficiency shows how the wood stove converts wood into usable heat, while overall efficiency shows how much heat is transferred to the space. The former is the one you can often find advertised - because it is higher, while the latter is the one you need. If you need correct information about a particular device, check out EPA certified wood stove database.

Easy of use

Electric heat pumps are very easy to operate and monitor the operation. Everything is electronic, you just press the button, and it works. Or, even better, use the smart or programmable thermostat to program when to turn on and off.

On the other hand, wood stoves cannot operate unless you feed the burner with firewood. But first, you need wood delivered and split into the recommended size.

Then, once burning is done and ash is collected in a larger amount, you have to clean it and dispose of the residues.

Furthermore, once a year or so, you need to call a professional to check and clean the chimney to provide a proper draft and remove deposits such as creosote, which can cause a chimney fire.

Comparing costs

As stated by homeadvisor.com, heat pumps might cost you between $4,000 and $7,000, depending on the type and size. The most expensive type is geothermal (over $10,000), while split systems cost much less.

An average price range for wood stove installation is between $1,200 and $4,500, and if a chimney is installed up to $7,000.

So which is better, a heat pump or a wood burning stove?

Homeowners today can heat their homes in many ways; gas, oil, electricity, wood, solar, or combined. But, not all systems are cost-effective, efficient, and environmentally friendly.

Once you start searching for the best option, it gets complicated.

This is why we have compared two popular systems for heating homes - heat pumps with advanced technology and wood-burning stoves with the old but proven system.

If you like the feeling of lighting your own fire, the smell of the wood, looking at the fire, cracking and popping of the logs, wood stoves are for you. And if you prefer modern technology, money is not an object, and everything is working with a push of a button, buy a heat pump.

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