A wood burning furnace is a simply a furnace type that uses wood as its primary fuel source. In some cases, a wood furnace can simply use radiant heat in order to control environmental conditions in the home, or it can be a forced-air furnace. Forced-air furnaces force air into the furnace, heat it up, then force the heated air into the ducts for distribution throughout the home. This is also known as central heating. In a sense, a fireplace can also be considered a wood burning furnace.
While traditional wood burning furnace models have some nostalgic value, for a truly practical tool, a forced-air wood burning furnace is desirable. If the furnace is of adequate size and is working properly, it should be able to produce the desired amount of heat with little problem. Most newer wood burning furnace units have the ability to regulate the amount of burn as needed to keep the house at a nearly constant temperature.
The benefit of a wood burning furnace is in the cost. Generally, they are less expensive to operate, because the fuel required to run them costs less. However, each geographic area is different and it may not always be the cheapest fuel source. There are companies that will deliver wood to your home for the purpose of burning in a furnace.
While the wood burning furnace may be a cheaper option in some cases, there are some inconveniences when compared to other types of furnaces. For example, a natural gas furnace or a fuel oil furnace need very little work throughout the winter to keep going. At most, a fuel storage tank may need to be refilled once or twice during the heating season. This is not the case with wood burning furnaces. In fact, new wood must be manually added to the furnace periodically. In the height of the winter, this will often be two times per day in cooler climates. This means there is no chance to leave the home for significant periods of time during the winter without making arrangements for someone to keep the furnace running.
As with any furnace, it is wise to make sure no combustible material is near the unit. Some manufacturers recommend a clearance of at least four feet on all sides of a wood burning furnace. The space for a wood burning furnace may be slightly more than what is required for other types of furnaces, simply because extra care should be taken to ensure no burning embers have a chance to land on combustible materials. If the furnace is in proper condition, however, the embers should never leave the unit.