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Keeping your home warm this year will run you anywhere from $600 to $1,700, depending on the source of your heat and how you approach heating your home. If keeping your house warm is a challenge, either financially or physically, you might try an alternate heating method—but for a more robust solution, you should look outside.

If you have some property around your house that can provide firewood, an outdoor furnace or boiler can be a smart investment. Modern super-efficient models use gasification, a two-stage process that uses up almost all the biomass—that is, the fuel, most typically wood—leaving behind very little ash or waste gases. While the installation costs can be pricey (ranging between $6,000 for a simple model like the HyProTherm FLFA-1000, to nearly $23,000 for something like the Central Boiler Classic Edge Titanium 960 HDX, depending on the model and your home’s specific needs), the return on your investment can be significant. Here are all the ways an outdoor furnace can improve your life.

Outdoor furnaces can heat your home

The most common use for an outdoor furnace or boiler is to heat your home. These work just like a traditional indoor unit: Wood or other biomass is burned, heating up air or water contained in a “jacket” around the heat source. The air is then forced into the home via a fan, or the water is pumped through pipes to heat the house.

There are two key advantages to having an outdoor furnace or boiler versus an indoor one:

  • Cost. If you have sufficient biomass fuel—e.g., firewood—available on your property, you can heat your house at essentially zero cost in terms of dollars. While there’s a labor component involved in gathering the wood and feeding the furnace, your home budget will thank you.

    You also typically have the option of a “gasification” model that can burn some of the smoke and combustion gasses (increasing energy efficiency to up to 95%) or installing a “dual fuel” component that allows you to use propane or natural gas (or even coal!) as well.

    While it will take some time to offset the cost of installation, once you do (and depending on the type of system you choose), you can reduce your costs significantly. This calculator can help you figure your breakeven point.

  • Safety. Having your furnace located outside the home reduces the risk of fire and asphyxiation from carbon monoxide. Simply by not having an open flame located inside your house, you’re much less likely to burn the place down.

Outdoor furnaces can heat exterior structures too

An outdoor furnace can heat more than just your house. It’s pretty straightforward to set it up to heat other parts of your property:

  • Structures. Have a work shed or a freestanding garage? An outdoor furnace can provide heat to other structures built on your property.

  • Pools. Using a heat exchanger, an outdoor furnace can efficiently heat up an outdoor swimming pool or even a hot tub.

An outdoor furnace can make working on and enjoying your outdoor spaces much easier in the colder months.

You can use your outdoor furnace to melt snow

An aspect of winter that is universally hated is shoveling snow—clearing sidewalks and driveways of that heavy stuff is a misery, especially if you live in an area that gets smacked with snow regularly. Installing heated pavement is a solution—and your outdoor furnace can provide the heat needed at a much lower cost than grid electricity, which can add up to $650 a year to your bill. Using PEX tubing buried under a driveway or sidewalk, snow just melts away, leaving you with a safe walking and driving environment without having to break your back clearing it all manually.

An outdoor furnace won’t fit every home, but if you have the space and fuel source to make one work it can significantly improve your cold-weather life—and lower your heating bills.

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