Buying a Wood Stove
Published Nov. 13, 2012
By Chris Brooks
Whether you are looking to enjoy the ambiance of a beautiful fire or seeking a supplementary source of heat for your home, a wood-burning stove may be for you. However, if you are considering buying a wood-burning stove to heat your home, you should consider several factors before you purchase. Choosing the correct size and properly installing the stove are important, as is finding a reputable dealer, complying with emissions standards, and recognizing the type of wood-burning stove that will best meet your heating needs.
Types of Wood-Burning Stoves
Prospective wood-burning stove buyers will have several options to consider when shopping. Pellet stoves offer higher efficiency and greater convenience -- you may only have to fill the hopper with pellets once or twice a day. Wood stove manufacturers may offer the choice of catalytic versus non-catalytic combustion stoves. Catalytic combustion stoves contain a ceramic element through which smoke gases pass, ignite and burn, creating a low-burning, long-lasting heat output. The catalytic element can last for six years or more with proper care, but this is a replacement cost that buyers should consider. Non- catalytic combustion stoves feature a heavily insulated firebox and use a baffle to direct the gas flow toward the stovepipe; this metal component also helps reflect heat back into the fire for a secondary combustion. The baffle also may need to be replaced occasionally. While catalytic stoves may provide more efficient heating, non-catalytic stoves are among the most plentiful options on the market due to their simplicity and ease of maintenance.
Aesthetics are another important consideration for many consumers. Wood-burning stoves are typically manufactured from either steel or cast iron. Cast iron stoves can be more decorative, but are more costly. Steel models offer a simpler design for a lower price. Many premium models feature glass doors, geared toward the homeowner interested in the ambience of a wood- burning fireplace in addition to the heat provided. Fireplace inserts also can be attractive in appearance as they more closely resemble a traditional fireplace, while free-standing stoves typically provide more heat. Some free-standing models actually offer a cook top surface.
Be sure to check and see if the wood-burning stove that you are considering comes with a fan or blower. Fans allow the stove to circulate heat more efficiently and further into your home, but this feature does require electricity, another additional cost. A blower sometimes can be added to a wood stove after purchase to improve efficiency.
Choosing the Correct Size Wood-Burning Stove
Consumers should consider their climate, how well their house is insulated, and how much space they want to heat in deciding which size stove to install. Small wood stoves are equipped with a firebox of less than two cubic feet, and will comfortably heat a room or a small cabin. A firebox between two and three cubic feet falls into the medium stove category, and will heat a small to medium home. Large or drafty houses will require a large wood stove, with a firebox of more than three cubic feet. If you are planning to use your wood stove for more than just supplementary heat, a larger model may be more suitable. In addition, a larger firebox can hold more logs for overnight heating.
BTU ratings -- which indicate the amount of heat produced -- can vary greatly, depending on the size of stove you purchase and the type of wood you burn. Your wood stove dealer should be able to assist you in calculating the size stove required to meet your heating needs.
Before buying a wood-burning stove, take a look at the cost of burning wood as a fuel versus other methods of heating. Consumerreports.org lists that it costs $9.09 to produce 1 million BTU using wood. This is similar to the cost of coal, but below the costs of natural gas, oil, and propane. If you have access to wood on your property, you can save even more money. Many homeowners who use wood stoves do so to heat a common area of the home, while relying on other heating methods for outlying areas of the house.
What About Emissions?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued the following smoke emission limits: 4.1 grams of smoke per hour (g/h) for catalytic wood stoves and 7.5 g/h for non-catalytic wood stoves (local exceptions may apply). This differentiation is made because the catalytic element degrades over time, and the catalytic stove's performance and emissions will reflect that change. These rates can be used to help you compare different models and select a more efficient and cleaner-burning model. Keep in mind, some inexpensive stoves on the market today fall outside of the EPA's fireplace standards; these units do not meet today's emission requirements and do not heat as efficiently as an EPA-certified wood-burning stove.
Installation Options for a Wood Stove
An existing fireplace can be used as the exhaust system for a wood-burning stove insert. Installing a free-standing wood stove involves adding a chimney or vent, which will add to your upfront costs. Keep in mind that inserts set entirely into the fireplace will provide less radiant heat than inserts that extend onto the hearth or standalone stoves, since less of the stove's surface is accessible with a full-enclosed fireplace insert. Either way, be sure to hire a certified professional for the installation of any required venting. Check with your local government to find out which building requirements must be met before the installation of your wood-burning stove.
Choosing a Reputable Dealer
Your wood-burning stove dealer should carry several different lines that you can compare, and should be knowledgeable and able to answer your questions about wood-burning heat. The dealer should be able to help you determine the correct size stove, and be able to provide installation and repair services according to the stove manufacturer's directions.