This year marks our fourth winter of heating exclusively with wood. It's the sixth year of heating with wood, if we counted the two winters that wood was the primary heat source with a heavy supplementation by our oil furnance (we installed a more efficient woodstove in 2008 and began heating 100% of the time with wood), and before that, our woodstove was always a supplement to the furnace, anyway. We used it when we were home all day, and at night, to take out the chill.
When I wrote Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs, I devoted a whole chapter to fire, in which I discuss, mostly, how to heat one's suburban home in the absence of modern amenities, like electricity, natural gas, or oil burning furnances.
The point is/was, as the price of oil becomes less affordable (the price per barrel was over $102 today) and less available for use as a heating fuel, as electricity becomes prohibitively expensive and/or scarce, as natural gas lines stop delivering, more people will need to find alternatives. In fact, Mainers already know this, and the State has seen a substantial increase in the number of people who are, now, heating with wood.
We have a woodstove, but installing a more efficient woodstove in our house was simply a matter of taking out the old one and putting in the new one. For other people, the change won't be/isn't so easy.
When I was researching my book, one of the great heating technologies I stumbled on was the masonry heater, and let me just say, if I could have picked any option available to me, a masonry heater would have been high on the list. Not only are they incredibly efficient heaters, but they are also, quite simply, beautiful. And, of course, the pièce de résistance for me is that some designs of masonry heaters also include cookstoves and ovens. I like having multi-purpose functionality in my house.
A masonry heater is definitely a viable low energy choice for people who are in the process of building a home, but adding one to an existing structure is a bit more complicated. Not impossible, mind you, because nothing's impossible, but difficult and expensive.
I also knew about rocket stoves for low-polluting, low-fuel cooking, and in fact, I mention them in the book. These little gems are incredibly efficient, get incredibly hot and use almost no fuel - just a few twigs to cook a whole meal. The simplest ones I've seen are a couple pipes, one inside the other with a layer of insulation in between. Fuel goes in the bottom and heat comes out of the top.
I'd never considered that a really good, inexpensive-to-build, highly efficient option for heating a home would be a marrying of these two technologies until I saw this article today, and I have to say that this is just the coolest thing I've seen in a very long time. The article mentions the book, Rocket Mass Heaters, which might be a good investment for someone who could use an alternative heating system (and also for someone with some masonry skills who might be looking for a new vocation ... :).
The coolest thing, though, is that the picture on the front of the book is of a woman sitting on the bench that makes up part of the heater, and on the top of the heat exchange/fire box (which is a metal drum) is a water kettle - heating water for tea. I like multi-purpose functionality :).