The Definitive guide to
COUNTRY HEATING

Chapter 1: Rural Heating 101

The Definitive Guide to Country Heating

Living out in the country is a kind of freedom most city-dwellers can’t understand.

But you do.

It’s the open sky and the acres of fields and trees, the room to drive a quad or dirt bike, and true peace and privacy.

But with the cost of fuel going up, heating your home or shop is getting
expensive.

Whether it’s a 100-year-old farmhouse or your new build dream home, there are a lot of heating systems to consider.

That’s where this guide comes in. It will give you a rundown of what’s available and the pros and cons of each.

Here’s to finding your rural heating solution.

Heating Options and Key Differences:

Some of the most common heating sources include heating oil, wood, electricity, geothermal, natural gas, and propane.
No matter which you choose, you’ll want to keep these metrics and key differences in mind…

  • Efficiency: The percentage of a fuel’s energy that is converted to useable heat
  • Safety: The inherent risks of transporting and storing fuel, and any dangers when using the heating solution
  • Availability: Which fuel solutions are feasible in your area
  • Capital cost: Some options require a higher investment at the start, but hopefully pay for themselves over time
  • Labour and maintenance: How much time and elbow grease is required
  • Fuel price and price volatility: How dependent are you on the energy companies and the energy market

Home Heating Oil

Home heating oil furnaces can be hooked up to a forced-air duct system, or in a boiler to heat up the water in a hydronic heating system and tied into applications like in-floor radiant heat. In the winter of 2020-2021, approximately 5.3 million households in the U.S used home heating oil as their primary heat source.

Efficiency

New oil furnaces can produce up to 86 percent efficiency with heating oil coming in at 38.2 megajoules per litre.

Safety

Home heating oil has a high flashpoint (140 F) and at most temperatures is not flammable, making transporting and storing extremely safe. It’s also easy to spot a leak as the soot and smell are telltale signs.
Fumes are also known to cause minimal lung irritation.

Availability

Readily available across North America, though a majority of users are in Northeastern U.S. However, you do need to store and schedule regular deliveries to ensure you don’t run out of oil.

Capital cost: Depending on the brand and efficiency, a home heating oil furnace can cost anywhere from $2,000 – $10,000, not including installation.

Labour and maintenance: Because of the high amount of sulfur in home heating oil, soot can build up and clog the spray nozzle greatly lowering your efficiency. It’s often recommended you get your furnace professionally cleaned by an HVAC technician once a year. While it doesn’t require much work or time for you, the annual cleanings mean a regular bill to budget for.

Fuel price and price volatility: Extremely volatile. Unfortunately, because home heating oil depends on the cost of petroleum, global politics can heavily influence the price and make predicting your annual heating budget more difficult.

Who should consider heating oil?

Anyone who is looking for a lower upfront investment and relatively little maintenance and sweat equity should consider home heating oil, just be prepared to pay more per winter as fuel costs continue to rise.

Natural Gas

With natural gas, you have the option of a gas fireplace without the fuss of preparing the wood. However, fireplaces are not as efficient as a furnace.
Natural gas furnaces can be hooked up to a forced-air duct system, or in a boiler to heat up the water in a hydronic heating system and tied into in-floor radiant heat.

Efficiency: Natural gas burns cleaner than fuel oil. The energy content of natural gas is 37.5 megajoules per cubic metre. Depending on the furnace, you can get up to 96 percent efficiency.

Safety: While the odds are slim, there is the danger of an explosion as Natural Gas is extremely flammable. Odour is added for safety.

Availability: Natural gas may not be available in all rural areas. You will have to check with your local providers.

Capital cost: A natural gas furnace will cost $2,000 – $6,000 or $5,000 – $9,000 installed. Additional costs may be incurred to connect natural gas line to your home.

Labour and maintenance: A natural gas furnace requires little day-to-day maintenance, though it’s recommended to get your furnace checked annually by a professional.

Fuel price and price volatility: Extremely volatile. Unfortunately, like many fuel options, natural gas depends on the cost of petroleum and global politics can heavily influence the price and make predicting your annual heating budget more difficult.

Who should consider natural gas?

If you have access to a natural gas line in your area, you may want to consider getting hooked up depending on the price in your province or state. Natural gas has a medium upfront investment and relatively little maintenance and sweat equity, though rising fuel costs are an important factor to consider.

Propane

Propane is often set up as natural gas, and also has the option of a gas fireplace without the fuss of preparing wood.

Efficiency: Propane burns cleaner than oil. The energy content of propane comes in at 25.3 megajoules per litre. Depending on the furnace, you can get up to 96 percent efficiency. However, the fuel used to create the electricity may be inefficient: coal, natural gas, oil. Common types of electric heating include electric furnaces, radiators, and convection heaters.

Safety: Propane is highly flammable and an undetected leak could result in carbon monoxide in your home.

Availability: Propane can be easily delivered to rural areas

Capital cost: If you’re ok with a large tank in your yard, an above-ground 500-gallon propane tank can cost between $1,000 – $2,500, or up to $3,000 if
installed below ground. Depending on the furnace size and model, you can expect to pay $1,000 – $6,000, not including installation.

Labour and maintenance:

If you own your propane tank, you’ll need to schedule regular inspections and pay to fix any corroded spots that could lead to a leak. If you rent your tank, you’ll have to factor the rental fee into your budget.

Fuel price and price volatility:

Propane can often be the most expensive fuel in the area, and the price is known to fluctuate.

Who should consider propane?

If you’re looking for a heating solution that requires little labour and maintenance, propane is a great choice. If you rent your tank and have your inspections and deliveries scheduled in advance, you can relax and let others take care of things. However, it does mean less control over your budget.

Electricity

Electricity is a common and self-explanatory heating solution. However, depending on the application, electricity can be a very expensive option, especially if you’re heating a building with less than stellar insulation.

Efficiency: Electricity produces 3.6 megajoules per kilowatt-hour but unlike other sources provides a full 100 percent efficiency. Common types of electric heating include electric furnaces, radiators, and convection heaters.

Safety: As long as your heater is unobstructed, they remain a relatively safe
and dependable heat source.

Availability: Widely available

Capital cost: Electric heaters and radiators cost around $800 – $6,000 installed.

Labour and maintenance: Minimal, though if using forced air annual cleaning of ducts and heat exchangers is needed, same as gas, propane and oil.

Fuel price and price volatility: Depending on the application, electric baseboard heaters can be one of the most expensive ways to heat your home, especially considering your electricity rates.

Who should consider electric heat?

If you’re looking for a heating solution that requires little maintenance or upfront investment, electricity is a great option. However, just keep an eye on electricity rates and be prepared for higher electricity bills during the coldest winter months.

Indoor Wood Stove

Like a fireplace, an indoor wood stove can create a very inviting atmosphere.
Though they do create a fire hazard concern, and the regular ash and wood mess inside the house.

Efficiency: Wood provides 30,600 megajoules per bush cord, though an indoor stove can’t match the efficiency of other heating solutions, which means more energy goes to waste

Safety: An indoor wood stove does carry the risk of a fire and smoke inhalation.

Availability: For those who live in a forested area, wood can be abundant, free, and renewable.

Capital cost: An indoor wood stove can cost anywhere from $800 – $4,000 plus installation.

Labour and maintenance: An indoor wood furnace means regular trips to the woodshed to reload the firebox. And you’ll want to clean out the ash and wood mess regularly, including chimney cleaning.

Fuel price and price volatility: If you live on a wooded property or have a neighbour who will let you clean up their deadfall, it’s free. If you have to buy wood and truck it a long way it can get expensive.

Who should consider wood heat?

If you have wood readily available to you, an indoor stove can be a fantastic, economical option. However, you should be prepared for ash and wood mess in your home and the smell of smoke. But for those who want control over their heating bill and appreciate the cozy feeling of warming up by the fire.

Outdoor Wood Furnace

The latest outdoor wood gasification furnaces can achieve much higher efficiency numbers compared to more conventional wood furnaces, up to 90%.
Because the furnace is often outside, they eliminate any issues with fire hazards and wood mess in the home. And one furnace can pump heated water to multiple buildings using a variety of applications including in-floor heat. However, wood gasification furnaces do require well-seasoned wood.

Efficiency: Wood provides 30,600 megajoules per bush cord, and can provide approximately 90 percent efficiency depending on the top wood gasification furnaces.

Safety: Because an outdoor wood furnace is installed outside away from other buildings, the only damage that could occur is to the furnace itself.

Availability: For those who live in a forested area, wood can be abundant,
free, and renewable

Capital cost: High, outdoor furnaces can cost around $8,000 – $16,000 depending on the make and model.

Labour and maintenance: An outdoor furnace means a morning and evening trip to the woodshed to reload the firebox. Cutting and seasoning your wood is also highly recommended, which means some extra Saturdays spent working and extra tools like a wood splitter. Outdoor furnaces also require regular maintenance including cleaning out the ash and end-of-season care if you turn off the furnace in the summer

Fuel price and price volatility: If you live on a wooded property or have a neighbour who will let you clean up their deadfall, it’s free. If you have to buy wood and truck it a long way it can get expensive. Wood prices are a lot less dependent on the economy.

Who should consider electric heat?

If you have wood readily available to you, wood heat can be a fantastic, economical option. However, you should be ready to put in the sweat equity and have access to the tools to cut and season your wood.

Heat Pump

Heat pumps are a newer trend in heating. Interestingly, they don’t actually create heat but extract the existing heat outside and pump it into your home or building to raise the indoor temperature.

Efficiency: While heat pumps can be very efficient in most temperatures, during colder months they can struggle to generate much heat, making them less practical in colder climates.

Safety: Heat pumps are incredibly safe as they don’t require any fuel or produce noxious gases. They don’t have super heated components so there’s no danger of burning or scalding either.

Availability: Widely available and doesn’t require any fuel.

Capital cost: High. Heat pumps can cost anywhere from $5000 – $9,000 not including installation.

Labour and maintenance: While heat pumps don’t require much maintenance or cleaning, because of their complex nature technical support might not always be readily available in rural areas

Fuel price and price volatility: If you live on a wooded property or have a neighbour who will let you clean up their deadfall, it’s free. If you have to buy wood and truck it a long way it can get expensive.

Who should consider heat pump?

If you live in a milder climate and can stomach the higher upfront cost, a heat pump can be an excellent heating solution. Though if your winters get frigid where you live, you might want to consider a heat pump as a spring and summer appliance.

Geothermal

Geothermal moves heat from one place (the ground) to another (your home).
A loop of pipes essentially takes the heat from underground where it stays constant at around 50F year-round and pipes it into your home with a compressor. However, like a heat pump, you may still need a secondary heating system in colder climates.

Safety: With no combustion or fuel required, a geothermal system is very stable and safe.

Availability: Unfortunately, geothermal contractors are not available everywhere, and you’ll have to check your local market.

Capital cost: Quite high, upwards of $30,000. The cost of excavation and the network of pipes is a large investment, plus the cost of landscaping. You’ll also want to factor in the electricity costs to run the compressor. However, if installed poorly, the system will never reach its potential. If designed and installed well it can pay itself back in less than ten years.

Labour and maintenance: There is minimal ongoing maintenance to the installed lines themselves, but you’ll need to take good care of the equipment pumping water and antifreeze through the system as it transfers heat.

Fuel price and price volatility: Never pay a heating bill again, but expect a larger electricity bill to run the compressor. Unfortunately, you’ll still likely require a backup heating system to ensure your indoor temperatures remain consistent.

Who should consider geothermal?

If you live in a warmer climate, geothermal systems can be an optimal solution. Like heat pumps, however, they still make great supplemental heating options if you can stomach the upfront costs. Then you can watch your heating bill drop dramatically as the system pays for itself over the course of multiple winters.

Conclusion

It’s easy to see that where you live can become the biggest factor in which heating solution is available to you and which one is the most cost-effective.

Your preference for a hands-off solution vs. one that requires a bit of elbow grease can determine your ongoing costs both to your wallet and your personal time, and how beholden you want to be to fuel companies.

Finally, whether you’re interested in making the investment in a system with a higher upfront cost that pays itself off over time, or one that requires a small initial investment but costs more month-to-month is another critical decision to make.

In the end, you have to find the heating solution that best meets your needs

Why Are People Upgrading to Outdoor Boilers?

We asked customers why they were switching and here’s what they said:

  • “Looking for a cheaper heating system in the long run. Propane is too expensive.”
  • “Received my hydro bill… yikes. Always liked the idea of having more control over my heating.”
  • “Gonna take our wood stove out and I want an outdoor boiler to cut down on dirt, smoke etc. in the house. Also gonna build a garage and heat it too.”
  • “We are currently building a house and planning the heat source.”

Is a Boiler Right For Me?

An Outdoor Wood Furnace could be your heating solution if…

  • You live out in the country
  • You have access to wood
  • You have the tools to split your wood
  • You have the patience to season your wood

What is the Big Deal About Wood Boilers?

If you source your wood locally, you have a cost-effective heating fuel. The best part is you maintain your independence from fuel companies and fluctuating prices.

Not to mention a warm home, shop, and garage, as well as unlimited hot showers.

How Much Money Will I Save?

Every building and region is different, but on average, it’s estimated a home in the Northern U.S and Canada needs 100 million BTUs each winter.

So if you’re paying $2.50/gallon for propane, you can expect a total heating bill of $2,881 each winter.

If you have the time and expertise to collect and season your own wood to feed your outdoor furnace, it’s easy to see how those costs could become annual savings.

How Does an Outdoor Boiler Connect To My Home?

A boiler can connect to almost any existing home heating system, or power an overhead forced air heating unit or an in-floor heating system.Read more here or watch the animation below to see how a boiler connects to a home’s forced air heating system:

WATCH THE ANIMATION BELOW TO SEE HOW AN OUTDOOR FURNACE HEATS YOURHOME:

AN OUTDOOR FURNACE PROVIDES HEAT FOR A WIDE RANGE OF APPLICATIONS

Forced Air

In-Floor Heat

Domestic Hot Water

Baseboards

Livestock Structures

Hot Tubs and Pools


DID YOU KNOW? In most cases your outdoor furnace can connect to your existing home heating system. You save money with wood heat while your existing system provides peace of mind as a backup heat source.

Chapter 2:

Which Furnace Is Right For Me?

Gasification vs. Conventional

The process of gasification supercharges your efficiency, superheating your wood to unlock the trapped gases inside. While gasification seems like the obvious choice, the high-tech appliance costs more than a conventional boiler and requires properly seasoned wood.

While not as efficient, a conventional outdoor wood furnace is more forgiving when it comes to fuel quality. However, improperly seasoned wood still means more heat wasted boiling off moisture in your fuel.

DID YOU KNOW? For every 1 percent increase in moisture level in your wood, you’ll see a 1 percent decrease in efficiency.

For a deep dive into gasification, check out our 4 Levels of Gasification series on YouTube

Chapter 3: Sizing Your Furnace

To choose the perfect size of furnace, you’ll need to know how many BTUs your buildings require.

For an in-depth look at a technical heat-loss calculation, click here.

For a helpful ballpark calculation, first, think about your insulation level:

  • Excellent: 18
  • Good: 20
  • OK: 23
  • Poor: 25

Now, multiply your insulation level by your total sq. ft.* to find your BTU/hr

*For a basement, multiply your main floor square footage by 1.5, so a home with a 1,800 sq. ft. footprint and basement would be 2,700 sq. ft.

If your 2,700 sq. ft. home is rated with an OK insulation level, the math would look like 23 x 2,700 = 62,100 BTUs/hour.

In this case, a G4000 furnace with an 8-hour burn rate of 68,025 BTU/hour would be an ideal size.

SEE WHAT THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOOD GASIFICATION FURNACES CAN DO.

Chapter 4: The HeatMasterss Advantage

DON’T SPEND ANOTHER WINTER

PAYING HIGH FUEL PRICES