A wood burning stove can be an excellent, efficient and low cost alternative to heat your home. Stoves made today are not your like grandfather’s old stove, with its chimney bellowing smoke and pollutants into the air. New wood stoves are very efficient and when used correctly are an environmentally friendly source of heat. However not all stoves are created equal and knowing what to look out for could save you a lot of hassles and headaches in the future. Let us run through all the information that you need to know in order make sure you are buying the right wood stove that will keep your family warm for years to come.
Why Buying an EPA Certified Wood Burning Stove Is Worth It?
In 1988 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set new standards for smoke emissions from wood stoves. Stoves with high smoke emissions have a negative effect on the environment, our health and since they are so inefficient the also cost more to run. The EPA is going to release another set of mandates to lower the levels even more in year 2020.
Older and non EPA certified stoves can emit as much as 30 gph (grams per hour) of pollutant filled smoke. Per the EPA’s regulations new stoves cannot emit a number higher than 4.5 GPH and the next phase will reduce that number to 2.5 gph. Check the numbers because a lot of manufacturers have stoves with emissions below the required 4.5 gph some goes as low as less than a gram per hour.
While efficiency and emissions aren’t directly related usually a wood burning stove with a lower gph rating is going to be more efficient. This means for every piece of woodyou put into the stove you will get more heat into your house and send less up the chimney. Plus, we all need to do our part to reduce any negative impact on the environment so check the gph ratings on the stoves you see while you’re shopping.
Watch out for deceptive and misleading advertising on some of the cheaper stoves. By specifically designing their stoves outside the guidelines outlined by the EPA some manufacturers have found loopholes to produce low quality and inefficient stoves. These stoves may be advertised as “Meets EPA Requirements” but this means something altogether. They are not so much as meeting requirements as they are exempt from having to meet them at all.
While you might be attracted to their low prices stay far, far away from them because you will definitely get what you pay for. In the rest of the text on this page none of the information applies to these cheap low quality stoves.
Cast Iron Vs Steel Wood Stoves – Which is Better?
When talking about how they are made there are 3 basic types of wood stoves. Cast Iron and Steel being the most common and the other is soapstone. It used to be that cast iron stoves were superior over steel because the cast iron was better able to handle the heat and would last longer. Now manufacturers have improved the quality and design of the steel parts so there isn’t much of a difference if any at all.
|Cast Iron Wood Stove||Steel Wood Stove||Soapstone Wood Stove|
In fact, a steel wood burning stove may have an advantage over one made of cast iron. A steel stove’s firebox is made up of pieces held together with a welded seam while a cast iron one is constructed of separate panels held together with fasteners, high temp gaskets and cement. The benefit of the steel is that eventually the cast iron stove will need to have the gaskets replaced in order to maintain the air tight design needed for an efficient burn.
One advantage cast iron stoves have over steel is the way they retain and distribute heat. Steel stoves tend to heat up and cool down quickly while due to their greater mass cast iron stoves will store some of the built up heat and distribute it more gradually. Soapstone stoves take this one step further due to the extra mass the stone adds. Some manufacturers of steel stoves have started adding cast iron panels to the outside of their stoves to give them better heat retention.
How you intend to use the stove should play a big factor when deciding which type is best for you. If you are putting the stove in a cabin or vacation home, you may appreciate the speed a steel stove will heat up after you arrive. If the stove is in your home and is going to be used every day than the longer heat retention from a cast iron or soapstone will be appreciated (especially overnight).
Pros and Cons of a Catalytic Combustor
When a fire burns the exhaust gases coming off are very flammable. When mixed with fresh air these gases will burn and give off more heat. Modern stoves have a couple of different methods to gain burn these flammable gases. In order to improve efficiency and reduce emissions some stoves will have a catalytic combustor and some will use set of air tubes for what is sometimes referred to as secondary combustion.
Generally, a wood burning stove that features a catalytic combustor will be more efficient, but depending on the models the difference may only be a few percent. Stoves with catalytic combustors are more difficult to operate correctly than a stove without one. You have to physically engage the catalytic combustor for it to work and this is usually accomplished with the push or pull of a lever.
Before you can engage the cat you have to get the stove up to its correct operating temperature. Engaging the cat too early will result in a poor burn and may even put the fire out. Some models will require you the disengage the cat when you are adding wood and engage it again once the wood is fully burning. This means you will spend more time tending to the stove.
On a wood burning stove that uses secondary air tubes there are no levers to worry about. Whether you are starting a fire or adding wood the only adjustment you may have to make is to the primary air control. The primary air control is featured on every wood stove and it is how you control the burn rate and heat output.
The other drawback to a catalytic combustor is that over time it will degrade and need to be replaced. How soon this happens largely depends on how you use and maintain the stove. You have to clean and maintain the catalytic combustor in order to keep in working correctly. If you are burning anything other than quality seasoned firewood you will shorten the cat’s lifespan.
If you are interested in a stove with a catalytic combustor be sure to find out how much a replacement is going to cost, some can be upwards of $400. It’s better to know what you are in for when you have to replace it.
How to Properly Size a Wood Burning Stove
You want to buy a wood stove that will properly and effectively heat your space. The first step is to determine how many square feet you are trying to heat but keep in mind that all spaces are created equal. A room with vaulted ceilings, a lot of windows or exterior walls will require more Btus to heat. Also the age of your home will play a part as older homes tend to be draftier and not as well insulated as new homes. The area that you live in also plays a part in how many Btus it will take too heat a space i.e. the colder climate zone you’re in the more Btus that you will need. There are some really great Btu calculator apps that you can download that will help you accurately estimate your heat load. Once you know approximately how much heat you will need you can start to shop for a wood stove.
Manufacturers will give their stoves a Btu rating and or an estimated amount of space in ft² that it will heat. However, they all have their own methods for testing so while these ratings are a good starting point they have to be taken with a grain of salt. This is where the advice of an experienced hearth professional will be crucial. It is their experience that will help them understand how each stove is going to perform for you and they will use it along with the manufacturers guides to find you the perfect stove.
One other important factor to take into consideration is not only the size of the space you are heating but also they layout. This is information that any good professional will ask you to help you understand if and how you will be able to get the heat to move around effectively. There is no sense buying a large stove to heat your 1600 ft² house if the heat will be trapped in two rooms.
Where Can I Install a Wood Burning Stove?
There are a lot of factors when determining where you should install a wood burning stove. Not only will where you put the stove determine how effectively the heat will move around but can also affect the installation cost dramatically. The chimney pipe required for a wood stove is expensive so putting the stove in a location where you need less pipe will make a big difference in the overall cost.
Also if you already have an unused chimney flue you can possibly tap into and use the it to vent into. If you have a fireplace you should check out our page on wood burning fireplace inserts. These are all things we will look for when we come out to meet with you.
Burn Only Quality Seasoned Firewood
Whether you go with a catalytic or non-cat stove it’s important to remember to burn only quality seasoned firewood. You should not burn any type of construction debris, yard trimmings or trash in your stove. Modern stoves are designed to be burned at a specific temperature or range of temperatures usually referred to as ideal operating temperature. This is when the stove is going to be its most efficient and burn the cleanest. They test these stoves with seasoned wood and that is all you should put into them.
In order to find a good source for wood talk to your local stove shops. A lot of them may purchase wood for their personal use or for their showroom and they will know who has good wood in your area. A properly seasoned wood should have a moisture content of somewhere between 15 – 20%.
You may want to invest in a moisture meter to test the moisture content of your wood to make sure it is seasoned properly. They are relatively inexpensive and will ensure you are giving you stove what it needs to perform at its best for you.
Take a Look at The Wood Stoves These Manufacturers Have to Offer