Fire Chief FC1000E wood burning furnace on white background

Is a Wood Burning Furnace Right for You?

The majority of homes in the United States use natural gas as their primary fuel source for heat. Of the homes that don’t use natural gas, electricity and propane are the next-most-popular heating energy sources. While wood burning appliances are still around, they’re certainly not as ubiquitous as they once were.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t viable in the right circumstances.

You may have wondered at one point or another whether a wood burning forced-air furnace is right for you. There are a lot of variables, though: do you live in the right climate? Is there a potential for a return on your investment? Is your living space even fit for a furnace? It can be tough to decide whether or not a wood furnace is even worth your while.

As manufacturers of the Fire Chief FC1000E — one of the few EPA-approved residential wood burning furnaces around today — we want to help answer those questions. And we should be clear: our goal is not simply to sell a Fire Chief furnace to every home in the country. Our goal is to help you decide whether a wood burning furnace is even right for you to begin with, and from there, to help you find the right one  — whether it’s a Fire Chief or not.

By the time you’re done here, you’ll know if you should stick to your electric or natural gas furnace, or if you’re the right kind of person to give wood heating a try. And, if you decide you may be interested in a wood burning furnace, we’ll help you start to narrow your focus on the right one to buy.

4 Signs That a Wood Burning Furnace is Right for You

1. You Live in a Cold Climate

Natural gas furnaces work a bit differently than wood burning furnaces. Imagine that a natural gas furnace is like a faucet. As you turn your thermostat up, gas is fed into the furnace. That gas catches fire, and the heat from that fire is distributed into the rest of your home. Once the thermostat’s temperature is met, the gas stops flowing, the fire goes out, and the furnace turns off.

Wood burning furnaces work similarly: they’re attached to a thermostat, and warm air from the burning wood is blown throughout the house. The difference, though, is that you can’t just shut off a wood fire. Even when the blower turns off and warm air stops flowing into the ducts, the furnace itself still radiates heat into the room in which it’s located (because the wood inside is still burning).

Because wood burning furnaces are continuous use devices, they’re best-suited to cold climates, usually areas that have an average temperature of about 50°F or lower. As that heat continues to radiate, it will fight the cold air seeping in from the outside, keeping your home warm.

2. You Have Limited Access to Natural Gas

Natural gas furnaces rely on a vast national infrastructure in order for their fuel to be delivered to the device. The gas follows a series of pipes from the local gas company to a home or business — and that’s not even mentioning the huge undertaking of finding, producing, and processing the gas from its natural source.

Map of Natural Gas Pipelines in the United States

Unfortunately, some areas of the U.S. simply don’t have much (or any) infrastructure to deliver natural gas for heating, as is evident in the image above. These areas need to rely on other methods (like propane or coal) to heat their homes.

If you live in a cold climate and don’t have access to natural gas, a wood burning furnace is a great alternative, especially because good firewood is readily available virtually anywhere in the country.

3. You’ll Save Money (or at Least Break Even)

The price of natural gas varies from state to state, potentially resulting in huge discrepancies in heating costs. Depending on the price of natural gas in your area, the size of your home, and the temperature at which you keep your thermostat, you could wind up paying well over $1,000 on your annual heating bill.

Let’s run through a quick example. On average, our Fire Chief FC1000E furnace costs between $2,500 and $3,000 (let’s say $3,000 for this example). Let’s also assume that you pay $1,500 per year to heat your home with your gas furnace. Finally, let’s imagine you decide to install a Fire Chief furnace, and you end up paying $500 per year for firewood.

You would wind up saving $1,000 per year in heating costs ($1,500 for gas heating minus the $500 you spend on wood), and your $3,000 wood burning furnace would take 3 years to pay for itself.

This example is admittedly oversimplified; for example, it doesn’t take into account the electrical costs of running the furnace’s draft blower and distribution blower, and the cost estimates for firewood and natural gas can change depending on a number of factors.

Still, the opportunity to save money on heating with a wood burning furnace is definitely there. Be sure to plug in the numbers specific to your living situation to see how long it will take to start saving.

4. You Have a Pre-Existing Chimney and/or Ductwork

Like a natural gas furnace, a wood burning furnace can’t function without two vital components:

  1. Air ducts to distribute the heat
  2. A chimney to vent out smoke and other gas

The process of installing a wood burning furnace is a battle in and of itself, but it’s made much easier if your home already has ductwork, a chimney, or both. If you’re replacing a gas or electric furnace, your new wood furnace can simply hook up to the existing ducts and chimney system, saving on time and cost.

DIYers will likely be able to take on this project on their own. But if you don’t feel confident in installing your furnace yourself, have a certified installer do the work. You’ll incur hundreds of dollars more in upfront costs, but you’ll save yourself some huge headaches down the road (e.g., warm air not distributing evenly or correctly, or a home full of smoke from an improper chimney connection).

3 Signs That a Wood Burning Furnace Isn’t Right for You

1. You Live in a Warm Climate

Image of a Desert Climate

Remember: the fire in a natural gas furnace can turn on or off with the simple adjustment of a thermostat. The fire in a wood burning furnace, on the other hand, continues to burn even when the draft blower and distribution blower turn off. For this reason, heat continues to radiate from the furnace even when it’s idling.

This is advantageous in cooler climates — environments where, especially in the winter, a continuous supply of warm air and heat is the goal. In a state like Texas or Florida, though, a wood furnace — even in moderate temperatures — can quickly cause a room (if not an entire house) to overheat.

For this reason, a wood burning furnace may not be the right heating appliance for you if you live in an area where temperatures don’t often fall below 50°F.

2. You Live in an Apartment or a Mobile Home

Wood burning furnaces are, on the whole, designed to go into a house. While they can be used for supplemental heating (in parallel with a natural gas forced air furnace), apartment complexes don’t typically allow tenants any control over which central heating unit is used in their living space. Plus, a wood furnace installation requires a bit of electrical work and ductwork, and you likely can’t (or aren’t allowed to) access the components you’d need to install a wood burning furnace in an apartment.

Mobile or modular homes aren’t a good fit for wood furnaces for a similar reason: in most cases, they lack the robust HVAC system a wood burning furnace requires. The space requirement can be limiting in a mobile home, too.

3. You don’t have the Space for a Wood Burning Furnace

Wood burning furnaces tend to be big and heavy. While their dimensions may be similar (if not a bit shorter in height) than a natural gas furnace — our Fire Chief FC1000E measures 26” x 45.5” x 42”, for example — they’re quite a bit heavier. Most natural gas furnaces weigh around 100 pounds, while the FC1000E weighs 435 pounds.

You need a big enough space to put the furnace in, and the foundation of your domicile needs to be able to support the weight of the furnace over time. For this reason, apartments, mobile homes, modular homes, or houses with a lack of floor support aren’t a good fit for a wood furnace.

It’s also vital to adhere to a wood burning furnace’s clearance-to-combustibles ranges. These are the distances from which the front, back, and sides of a furnace must be kept away from flammable materials like wood, cardboard, or drywall (after all, there’s essentially a live campfire right inside the firebox).

Again, using our Fire Chief furnace as an example, its clearance-to-combustibles are 48” from the front of the furnace, 12” from the rear, and 6” from the sides. If you don’t have a roomy basement or utility closet for a wood furnace, your home may not be right (or even safe enough) for one.

How much does a wood burning furnace cost CTA

What if You’re the Right Fit for a Wood Burning Furnace?

In all likelihood, you came to this article wondering whether or not your living space is right for a wood burning furnace. You should have a good sense of the answer to that question by now based on the climate in which you live, the prices you’ll pay both for gas heating and wood heating, and your existing ductwork and electrical work.

If it sounds like a wood furnace won’t work for you, that’s ok — natural gas, propane, or electrical furnaces are completely viable options. They’re easy to use, and they tend to require less maintenance and attention than a wood burning furnace.

But if you fit the criteria and you’re starting to think about getting a wood burning furnace of your own, a great next step is to start comparing popular wood burning furnace models. This will give you a good sense of what to look for in a wood furnace, the extra features available, what you’re looking at in terms of cost, and so much more.

And, whether you buy one of ours or a different model, we hope you eventually decide to jump into the world of wood burning forced air furnaces if you can. We’re passionate about wood burning products. We build furnaces right here in the USA every day, and we want anyone who’s interested, willing, and able to have a wood furnace that will keep them warm and satisfied for years to come.

Fire Chief FC1000E Furnace

How to Install a Fire Chief FC1000E Wood Burning Furnace

The installation of a wood burning furnace is typically a pretty involved process. It can involve hiring a sheet metal fabricator, an HVAC professional, an electrician, and maybe even a mover to get the furnace to its desired location. And if you’re like most buyers, the thought of a self-installation won’t even cross your mind — many people simply defer to the professionals.

If you’re DIY-inclined, though, and you end up buying one of HY-C’s Fire Chief FC1000E furnaces, you’re in luck: we designed it to be about as self-install-friendly as a wood burning furnace can be. So if you’re interested in installing your FC1000E without professional help, you’re in the right place.

By the time you’re done with this guide, you’ll understand the 9 steps of the Fire Chief FC1000E’s installation process, and you’ll be ready to hook your new wood burning furnace up all on your own — no professional assistance required.

9 Steps of the Fire Chief FC1000E’s Installation Process

Step 1: Place the furnace as close to the chimney as possible

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 1

The first step sounds easy: put the furnace where it needs to go. It’s tougher than it sounds, though, as wood burning furnaces are heavy; the FC1000E weighs over 400 pounds, and most wood burning furnaces are installed in basements. Maneuvering the furnace into your house and into place is a delicate process, so do it carefully and thoughtfully (preferably with a dolly).

Installing the chimney flue is critical to ensuring efficient wood burning performance. Note that the connecting pipe from the furnace to the chimney may not have a horizontal run greater than five feet to function properly, so place your furnace accordingly.

It’s also crucial to abide by the FC1000E’s suggested clearance-to-combustibles ranges — the distances from which the furnace must be kept from any flammable materials (like drywall, wood, cardboard boxes, etc.). These distances are as follows:

  • Front of the furnace: 48”
  • Rear of the furnace: 12”
  • Sides of the furnace: 6”

Before moving on to step 2, if you would like to set your furnace on a furnace stand, now’s the time to do it.

Step 2: Attach the distribution blower

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 2

The distribution blower is the big, motorized fan that pushes warm air created by the fire in the firebox throughout the rest of your home. Attaching the FC1000E’s distribution blower is fairly straightforward: the furnace comes with angle brackets, nuts, bolts, and mounting screws.

Just attach the angle brackets to either side of the distribution blower with the nuts and bolts, and then secure the distribution blower to the base of the furnace with the mounting screws.

Step 3: Assemble and attach the filter box

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 3

An air filter helps to protect the distribution blower and circulate clean air throughout your home. In order to add an air filter, you have to assemble the filter box. The box consists of four panels — a bottom panel, a top panel, and two side panels. Each panel comes with pre-drilled holes and sheet metal screws for easy assembly.

Put the filter box together and attach it to the furnace around the distribution blower. After you’re finished installing your furnace, slide an air filter into the filter box. Do note that the FC1000E does not come with an air filter.

Step 4: Install the draft blower

While the distribution blower is the fan that blows hot air from the furnace into the rest of the home, the draft blower is a smaller fan that blows air directly onto the fire to keep it burning longer and hotter. Installing the draft blower on an FC1000E furnace involves 3 steps.

1. Attach the draft blower

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 4.1

The first step is to use the included hardware to mount the draft blower itself onto the front of the furnace (near the ash pan door).

2. Mount the electrical control center

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 4.2

Next, attach the electrical control center to the filter box. Two important components will connect to the electrical control center: a wall thermostat (to help regulate how much heat your furnace puts out), and the distribution blower.

The wall thermostat must be connected with 28-gauge thermostat wire (more on that in a bit). The distribution blower, on the other hand, features “plug and play” electrical components that plug into the control center similarly to a wall outlet.

3. Attach the fan limit control

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 4.3

Finally, attach the fan limit control just to the left of the flue exit. The fan limit control is the mechanism that tells the distribution blower when to turn on and off. It does so by detecting the temperature in the plenum — the open area in the top of the furnace just beneath the two ductwork attachment points.

With these three components installed, the draft blower installation process is complete.

Step 5: Install a thermostat

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 5

Connecting your FC1000E furnace to a thermostat allows the distribution blower and draft blower to know when to turn on and off to deliver (or stop delivering) heat. We recommend installing a new, separate thermostat (included with your FC1000E furnace) next to your current household thermostat.

A lot of this step should already be done for you: if you have a gas or electric furnace in your home, it should be connected to your current thermostat. We recommend running 28-gauge thermostat wire along the same path as the wiring to your existing home thermostat.

From there, just mount your new, Fire-Chief-specific thermostat on the wall next to your existing thermostat, and connect the 28-gauge wire to the new thermostat and your furnace (the connecting points on the furnace are located on the electrical control center from step 4.2).

Step 6: Connect your furnace to a chimney

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 6

When connecting your furnace to a chimney, you have two options:

  1. Connect the furnace to an already-existing chimney
  2. Build a new chimney and connect your furnace to it

Connecting to an existing chimney is common in older houses that have (or previously had) a coal or wood burning stove. Whatever the case, if you’re connecting to an existing chimney, be sure to have it inspected to ensure it’s in proper working order. It’s also very important not to connect your Fire Chief furnace to a chimney that’s already servicing another appliance.

Each homeowner’s chimney connection process will be unique. But whether you’re installing a new chimney or connecting to an existing chimney, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • We encourage lining the chimney with a 6” stainless steel chimney liner (this may be required by law in some areas)
  • The pipe connecting the furnace to the chimney should be a minimum of 24-gauge black stove pipe
  • If you need to install any pipe horizontally, remember that there should be 2” of rise for every 12” of horizontal run

Finally, NEVER use galvanized pipe to connect your wood furnace to your chimney. Doing so will result in the generation of deadly, poisonous gas. Galvanized pipes should be used for air ducting only.

Step 7: Connect your furnace to your ductwork

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 7

Next, it’s time to connect your furnace to your HVAC system. Like the chimney connection, each ductwork connection project will be unique. It’s important to note, though, that the two starter collars at the top of the furnace are eight inches in diameter, which necessitates 8” ducts.

You should never use more than a 45-degree elbow when connecting ducts; this will cause the heat not to be distributed correctly. The distribution air should be connected to the ducts at an angle, and should be directed downstream to ensure proper airflow as well.

Step 8: Connect the cold air return

Fire Chief FC1000E Installation - Step 8

Your furnace’s main function is to distribute heat into your home. Perhaps equally important, though, is to allow air to flow through the filter and into the back of the furnace to keep it functioning properly.

To provide this return air, the simplest option is to promote proper circulation to the area which houses your furnace — usually a basement. There are three good ways to ensure proper air circulation:

  1. Simply leaving the door to your basement open
  2. Installing louvers in the basement door
  3. Installing vent registers in the basement’s return air ducts

If you decide to install vent registers in the basement’s return air ducts, be sure to keep them closed in the summer to allow your air conditioning system to function properly.

If you still have your electric or gas furnace attached to your HVAC system, another option for supplying return air to your Fire Chief furnace is to connect it to the same, already-installed return air system of your existing furnace.

Should you decide to go this route, a word of caution: be sure your existing furnace does not pull your Fire Chief’s heated air into the return air ducts. To prevent this, simply install a damper to the distribution air duct of your existing furnace.

Step 9: Start your first fire

After the electrical components are installed, the chimney is connected, the distribution air ducts are set up, and you’ve ensured your Fire Chief is receiving adequate return air, the installation process is complete! All that’s left to do is plug the furnace into an electrical outlet and start your first fire.

A quick note — if you notice a moderate amount of smoke coming off of your furnace during your first few fires, don’t worry! This smoke is coming from the oils used during the manufacturing process in our factory. The issue should dissipate on its own relatively quickly.

Wood Burning Furnace Best Burn Practices CTA

What if You Have Trouble Installing Your Fire Chief FC1000E?

While this guide should give you everything you need to get your furnace installed properly, we know that every installation is unique. Should you run into any problems, reach out to our customer service team. We’ll be more than happy to help you with any issues you may experience during installation.