Wood not always the cheapest heat

Many say they use wood heat is because it is cheaper to operate than other sources of heat. But is it?

If you are able to get your own wood, the answer is going to be yes.

But getting your own wood requires time, an able body, a truck and usually a chainsaw; many end up buying their firewood.

Annual home heating costs

Westisle Heating and Cooling has recently updated its calculations for operating costs for different sources of heat.

The calculations show that if firewood is bought, wood heat cost more to operate than heat pumps and efficient gas furnaces, even if a home is using a new 77% efficient certified stove. (Westisle did not include older stoves but, as they burn even more wood, they cost more to run).

Westisle looked at the cost of heating a 2000 square foot home. Two options, based on the age of the house, are presented.

The table below assumes a home is using only one type of heat.


  • The calculation for all electric sources of heat uses Tier 2 prices, and includes the 5% Rate Rider, Crisis Fund and GST.
  • The cost for gas includes Basic Charge, Delivery, Storage and Transportation Charges, Cost of Gas, Municipal Fee, Carbon Tax, Clean Energy Levy and GST. It also includes $120/year for Hydro to run the furnace fan.
  • The price used for a cord of wood is $250 (based on ads on Craigslist in Feburary 2019) plus GST & PST.
Cost per gigajoule of energy

In reality, many homes may use a blend of heating sources. While the above table shows the cost for heating a whole house with just one heat source, this table shows the cost per GJ of energy for each type of heat source.

For furnaces that use a fan, an extra $2.00 per GJ has been added in. If you pay $250 a cord for wood, but no GST and PST, then knock 12% off of the cost.

More details on Westisle’s calculations can be found in their one-page PDF.

Cost of transitioning to cleaner heat

The greatest barrier for people interested it switching from wood to healthier heat sources is the cost of buying and installing new, cleaner appliances.

Fortunately, there are a rebates in the Comox Valley through the Wood Stove Exchange Program which can help with the cost of switching to cleaner heat. This year, rebates of up to $1000 are available to replace wood stoves that are over 5 years old. (If you live in BC, but outside of the Comox Valley, check out the BC Wood Stove Exchange Program’s website to see if there is an exchange program in your area).

Other financial tools, such as low or no-interest loans, could also be put in place to help with the full cost of switching heat sources. One possible approach is to tie a loan for switching to cleaner heat to the property, to be paid back similar to Local Improvement Charges.

There are also rebates from Efficiency BC for making homes more energy efficient which will increase comfort and reduce heating costs.

A word about rising costs

We also need to ensure that our cleanest heating source, electricity, is kept affordable. People who use this form of heat should not be penalized for using it (which Tier 2 rates do). While baseboard heat is the most expensive,  heat pumps are about 1/3 the cost to run. They are the healthiest and cheapest to operate.

However, there has been a lot of news recently about BC Hydro’s planned rate hikes (8.1% spread over 5 years).

While this is not good news, it is important to keep in mind that a cord of wood in the Comox Valley has increased over 30% in two years (in the fall of 2016 was about $190 and is now about $250). So people buying their wood have faced a much steeper increase and there is uncertainty about future prices.

Other costs

Even for people who get their own wood, it is important to keep in mind that wood heat creates some very real costs for their household and their neighbours.

For one, indoor pollution rates are usually higher in homes with wood stoves, as is the rate of asthma for children.

And while one household might be trying to save money by using wood heat, the health of the person next door is being affected (especially in urban areas) and they may have additional expenses because of the pollution. These expenses are outlined in our article, “The Affordability Challenge“.

For more on other costs associated with wood heat, check out our short film, “The Cost of Wood Heating“.

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