Author Topic: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?  (Read 3871 times)

nara

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We are trying to decide if it's truly worth it to put solar panels on our house and to convert our wood burning fireplace into an actual heat source (wood burning stove). Our utility expenses are overall a very small portion of our monthly living expenses under ($300 in the winter). And we are already on a well, so we don't pay for water. Does it make more sense to just be economical with the usage of our utilities instead or will these things really make a big difference?

SwordGuy

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #1 on: March 13, 2016, 06:52:55 PM »
For solar panels, it totally depends on your usage, your home's layout and sunshine factor, and the rules which your utility uses to re-imburse you.  In other words, you'll have to do local research.

jmr5x

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #2 on: March 13, 2016, 08:51:08 PM »
I am very interested in both of these questions.  I live in the city so well water is not an option.  I would like to add a wood burning stove outside and place a heat exchanger inside my central HVAC unit so I could use the blower from the HVAC unit as well as the thermostat.  I know most of the outdoor heaters are almost $5,000.  This would save us about 100 dollars a month during the winter.  Take a long time to recoup the costs unless I could take the heater with me to our next location. 

Another option I had thought of was to go with the solar heated water supply. People put a frame work with plastic tubing on the roof with clear panels overtop the plastic tubing filled with water.  This water is then attached to a large tank of water that has a coil inside it.  The solar heat pre heats all the water in the coil (the coil would act as your hot water heater).

I  would love to have solar power as well but have not looked into it because price seems to be so high from past research. 

jac941

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2016, 12:26:09 AM »
Does it make more sense to just be economical with the usage of our utilities instead or will these things really make a big difference?

It is always better to be more economical with usage before investing in other energy sources.

To your solar question, like SwordGuy said it depends on your local conditions. In general, for solar to make financial sense most of the following need to be true:
1. You can pay cash for the system.
2. You have enough tax liability to take advantage of the tax credit.
3. You have a good net metering agreement with your local utility ... And there is a long contract on that agreement (10-20 years).
4. You have good site conditions (sun).
5. You have high and / or tiered electricity rates.

Most of the solar companies can give you a quote over the phone just by looking at satellite images and your past year of bills. If you're even considering it, get a few quotes and learn about your utility agreements to see what it would cost you. And beware that the quotes may vary widely -- so definitely shop around a lot before buying. Once you have some actual numbers it will be much easier to figure out if solar makes sense for you.

RurallyFrugal

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2016, 04:11:24 AM »
I have no knowledge of solar panels, but I'd tout the benefits of a wood burning stove. An inside stove will necessarily cause a bit of a mess, but unless you're living in a palace or have really, really bad airflow in your home, it will heat the whole place to livable temperature most of the time, completely eliminating your need for other heat. As MMM has remarked on several times in his blog posts, if you have a lot of mass (tile, stone, brick, etc.) once you get it warm, it will tend to stay warm all night too.

I have an outdoor furnace, and it was a slam dunk decision when I bought it. I live on a farm with over 100 acres of woods, so fuel wasn't an issue. Natural gas wasn't an option, and the house had propane, which got up to $2.50 a gallon at one point. I literally paid for the stove ($5400) in the first two years. Now, of course, propane is much cheaper, but I also spent the extra $100 to get the hot water heater pre-heating unit, and I have free hot water six months a year. Plus I get the satisfaction of a few days manual labor to boot. The only electricity used is the blower fan in my HVAC unit, and the water pump on the stove itself. I fill my stove every evening when I get home from work and that's it. Heat all winter, basically for free, not counting my time cutting wood (which I call time well spent anyway).

dess1313

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2016, 04:24:42 AM »
We have had a wood burning stove for years (and still do)

1. ours is a stove inside the house usually with a used furnace fan attached to a thermostatic control to help move air around
2. its expensive unless you cut your own wood.  we do.  most wood needs 2-3 years to season otherwise it won't burn well.  Takes a lot of storage area/planning
3. you need a chainsaw and not the $90 chainsaw you see at the local hardware store to do your own cutting. that's a $300-600 investment for a good saw.  plus maintenance.  chainsaw guard pants are also HIGHLY advised as well as learning how to cut a tree so you don't kill yourself when it drops wrong or jumps when falling
4. your house insurance may increase if the stove is indoors
5. need a place to cut trees from.  depending on where you are this may be hard or not.  Also a truck or trailer to haul it. distance may be a factor.
6.  A log splitter can be helpful if you have a lot of big logs but smaller logs with a good splitting axe and you can do some of it. but don't expect to do a big pile quickly.
7. you don't get the nice flat temperature that a furnace will give.  be prepared for swings as you get the hang of it. even if you're experienced you'll get big swings. even stoking up the stove at night by morning it will be cold and then as the fire gets going again its easy to get it too hot. 
8. Its also a lot harder to in spring and fall since you need so little heat
9.  wood burning fireplaces are very inefficient.  they're so drafty they're sucking out heat from your house even if you aren't using it.  this is where a good wood stove wins.  most have heat exchangers that help you get the most out of your burning.
10. if the power goes out this is one of the most fantastic investments you will have ever made.  where we lived in the winters we would sometimes have 12hrs without electricity but we were always toasty warm
11. make sure your chimney is inspected first, it may or may not be suitable to convert to a wood stove
12. get a good shop vac, you'll have lots of dust and bark to clean up

depending on the price of pellets in your area, a wood pellet stove may be a nice option. 

Its great heat, but be prepared for physical work to get it.  you do save thousands over the life of doing it but there is a lot of up front labor/cost in starting up, as well as maintaining it.  we have had ours since before i was born hahaha

Fishindude

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2016, 05:11:51 AM »
If your utilities are only $300 per winter as noted, I'd say neither would have a very quick payoff, maybe would never payoff.

You will have thousands in installing solar panels and / or getting set up to burn wood.
I burn wood because I have unlimited cutting right out the back door and we live in a rural area where power frequently goes out.  It saves some heat during coldest months, but I also utilize a lot of time, tools and equipment to acquire the firewood.

Potterquilter

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2016, 05:43:14 AM »
We did a cost/ benefit analysis last year.  Here in Florida we have the sunshine, but our bill is $91 per month on the budget. It would take 14 years to recoup the cost if a hurricane didn't rip them off. 
The only way to decide is to look at tax credits, usage and so on with your utility company. 

If we had to reduce it lower we could, by using solar cooking for instance but we are very frugal with heating and air.   Is your house well insulated?   Good Windows and door seals, and so on? 

notactiveanymore

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Re: Is it worth it to invest in solar panels or a wood burning stove?
« Reply #8 on: March 14, 2016, 08:46:47 AM »
You need to be able to mount your solar panels on a south facing slope. You need to not have trees casting shade on the roof at any time. You need to call your utility and ask for their "net-metering policy" to find out how big a system you're allowed to connect and what their customer charge is. You might be able to see that on your current bill. It should be split into an energy charge and a customer charge. Solar power will reduce your consumption of energy and thus your energy charge, but the customer charge is what it costs for them to maintain the transmission lines and maintain the capacity to provide you energy when it's a cloudy day or the sun goes down.

Recently the number I've been hearing for ROI is 7 years. But that varies widely based on your state tax credits available.

Personally, I would only do PVs if you can buy them outright. The marginal cost savings of leasing or financing panels over your regular utility costs is just not worth the headache. And if you move, you're screwed.