Today Brent crude oil went just above $40/ barrel.  Roughly, a barrel of #1 heating oil provides just over seven MBTUs (Million British Thermal Units).  A third of a cord of Birch, and a half a cord of Spruce would roughly be equivalent to a barrel of oil in raw BTU’s.  (This is not taking into account the moisture content of wood, or the size for the smooth feeding of wood into a furnace).  From a utilitarian view, processed fuel oil is quite a bit easier to deal with as it flows to the burn chamber uniformly (and you don’t need to worry about drying for optimal BTU value like wood).

On the road system, fuel oil is running as little as $1.53/gallon. Thus with about $85/barrel you can get the same rough BTU’s with an equivalent of $170/cord of Spruce and $255/cord of Birch.   Burning efficiency will not yield all those BTU’s.  It  depends on what you are burning in and how you have dried/handled the wood.  With oil, you have to get your own container, pump and haul it- yet if you were collecting wood you would probably have to get your own truck/trailer, chainsaw (running off gas) and haul it.  Spillage of oil can become a hazardous waste whereas spillage of cord wood is just a big pain to pick it all up and stack it again.

While fuel oil is a concern for some per carbon emissions (with wood being carbon ‘neutral’ in many accountant’s eyes) there are problems with wood smoke particularly with  incomplete combusted wood stoves which are a air quality concern for others due to the particulates.

So, one of the key factors for many Alaskan’s of whether they will heat with oil or wood comes down to location, available time and personal preference.  Those inland off the road system may be surrounded by wood that is an actual liability (as wildfire fuel) and may be looking at almost double the price of oil delivered to their tank due to the transportation cost to fly or barge in the fuel. There may also not be pressures to keep down emission levels from inefficient wood stoves in such rural places. Plus there may be unstructured time in the day to ‘tend fire’.  In the city, it is easier to trust the oil tap to keep the BTU’s flowing to the furnace during the day (or may also have natural gas to do the trick) as well as knowing that you may be contributing to the global carbon scene yet keeping the local air clean.

With the shifting fuel prices the last couple years, have you changed your heating source?  For any reasons give?