Many older homes have one or more fireplaces that might look nostalgic, but act as a tremendous heat loss for the house. One easy solution is to block off the chimney and stop the heat from disappearing into the atmosphere, but a better one is to install a new or used fireplace wood stove insert. A good cast iron or steel stove will do a great job of heating your house.
You can now get high efficiency gas, solid wood or wood pellet inserts to provide clean and safe heat for your home. All of these have advantages, as well as disadvantages. Assuming you are comparing a wood stove with a pellet stove, it is a good idea to look at how much wood will be used.
A free standing wood stove or insert will require around 5 cords of wood for a typical Vermont winter. This will obviously vary widely, depending on where you live and what type of firewood you burn. In some areas hardwood is scarce and thus not really economically feasible. Other areas have an abundance of wood that is simply rotting in the forest because nobody is cutting it.
If you cut your own wood, you need to have some basic accessories. A good gas chain saw, chains, sharpening tools, hearing protection, a splitting maul, firewood shed, and hopefully a pick up are some essentials. It is entirely possible to buy all of your firewood, but this takes some careful planning to make it affordable.
Say the cord of firewood costs $150 green, delivered to your house. This equals $750 for one year, which is considerably less than gas or oil. Probably less than half the cost. If you buy seasoned firewood, you will pay up to double that amount.
If you add on the cost of a shed and some other accessories, the cost goes up, but not excessively, especially when amortized over a period of years. There is a lot of manual work involved as well, but generally this is not added in as an expense.
A gas chain saw can cost you $300, easily. An extra chain, sharpening file, hearing protection, and a splitting maul will add another $80. If you have to buy a pickup just for firewood hauling, it is not economically feasible. However, you can work out many different arrangements to get your firewood home.
A pellet stove is much simpler. You install the fireplace pellet stove, or a free standing one, buy some pellets and thats it. You really should, however, invest in a gas fired generator in the likely event that you lose power. A pellet stove requires electricity to operate, and you will not be able to use it if the power goes out.
A pellet stove costs more than a typical cast iron wood stove. You can easily make up this investment over time though. It is important to invest for the long term by getting a high quality stove.
Pellets can be delivered to your house and are very easy to store. You can get bulk discounts as well and save even more money.