The 90+ temps we've survived this last week should be enough without stewing over how best to heat our home this coming winter. But, that is what has hit the top of our priority list, considering we spent almost double last winter over the year before. Propane has been our only heat source since 1999, except for a small electric radiant heater (looks like a radiator) we have used on the coldest days to warm the bathroom before a shower.
I've been researching and have found lots of interesting information - maybe too much. It's confusing trying to understand it all, and enlightening to find things I wasn't aware of. Like a masonry furnace. They can be gorgeous, use a renewable resource - wood - and do it very efficiently and cleanly. They resemble a fireplace but work differently in that you burn a very hot fire to burn up the wood quickly and then you are done for the day. The heat is absorbed into the masonry (brick, stone, etc.) and radiates warmth for the next several hours.
Far less expensive is an outdoor wood heater that pipes heat directly into your home through a tube. Cheap, unsophisticated, not pretty - but worth consideration when you don't have a lot of money to throw at this problem. There are other types of outdoor furnaces - mostly boilers that run heated water through pipes - lots more expensive, and far more work to install. Worth it? Wish I knew.
And solar - seems that our house is all wrong for that choice. Our covered porch blocks all the southern sun exposure and gorgeous mature trees in our yard shade the house in winter too! And after suggesting to hubby that they should probably be replaced with shrubs and shorter landscaping and getting a resounding "no way!" I guess that idea will need to be tabled for a while.
We want to avoid high propane bills this winter, and in the future. We want comfortable warmth, for a reasonable trade-off of time and money. We want to be earth-friendly. We want it to be easy to determine which way to turn - and that certainly doesn't seem to be in the cards! Suggestions welcome - especially if based on your own experience!