Wood Burning Stove Guide

Posted by .

Why Buy a Wood Burning Stove

About a decade ago when the price of oil went to all-time highs, homeowners started to take wood burning stoves far more seriously. But although going back to the ancient practice of woodburning no doubt helps reduce energy costs, there were some issues that needed to be addressed. Older designs of woodburners had very low efficiency levels, and they contributed to air pollution. Something needed to be done.

Fortunately, manufacturers took the challenge and came up with more energy-efficient, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly stoves. These next-generation wood burning stoves have a sleek design and have higher efficiency levels. So if you buy one of these newer models for your home, you’ll get far more heat from the wood you’re burning. You’ll save on energy cost, and you can help save our planet.

Types of Wood Burning Stoves

Wood burning stoves vary in size, shape, and uses. You’ll find smaller stoves that are used for cooking, and you’ll also find larger ones that are used in bakeries. But the one you’re interested in is a stove that can heat up a huge room. These are called domestic wood stoves, and they are classified into three main types.

1. Circulating Stoves

Circulating stoves have the highest efficiencies. Their working mechanism is based on the action of a catalytic combustor whose main goal is twofold – to perform in the most efficient manner through complete combustion of wood, and to reduce emissions that can contribute to air pollution.

Circulating stoves have the following features and parts:

- doubled walled
- inner or secondary combustion chamber
- damper
- usually made from cast iron

2. Radiant heaters

Sometimes called ‘potbellied’ or ‘potbelly’ stoves because of a huge bulge located in their midsection, radiant heaters were once associated with train stations, hunting lodges, and one-room schools. But as the years passed by, these stoves slowly became an alternative to provide heat for the home. And because they had a relatively smaller size, they were also used for cooking or heating water.

These days, potbelly stoves have a fancier design. They are plated with chrome, and some even come with ornamentation. But unlike other types of wood burning stoves, these fancier stoves are rarely used for heating homes. In fact, they are mostly used as decorative pieces.

3. Combustion stoves

Also called Franklin stoves, these woodburning stoves have a U-shaped conduit that sucks in hot air from the fire, passes it into a flat plate, and then releases it into the room. According to sources, though the Franklin stove was named after the great Benjamin Franklin, this design was actually an improvement of the earlier models that were introduced in his hometown. Benjamin’s design propelled other investors to create a more efficient system that involves the use of a chimney to release smoke.

Factors to Consider in Buying Wood Burning Stoves

Before you browse through hundreds of wood stove selections online, here are some factors that you need to consider before investing in this heating appliance.

1. Heating performance

Some homeowners make the mistake of assuming that the heating capacity of a stove is dependent on its size. They assume that smaller woodburners are good for smaller areas, and bigger stoves heat a larger area. While this is true in general,there are some instances when two stoves of the same size have different heating outputs.

If you browse through a stove catalog and compare the products, you’ll discover that some 25-inch (width) woodburners can heat an area of up to 1,200 sq. ft., while others with the same size can heat up to 3,000 sq. ft.

That said, what you should look at is a stove’s heating capability. But remember, just because the numbers are high doesn’t mean you should opt for the stove that gives you the highest heat output. To correctly pick the right value of a stove’s heat output for you, you should consider the area that needs heating. Too much heat makes the space stuffy and suffocating, while too little of it results in a waste of wood and money.

Aside from the area, also take into consideration your home’s insulation, the number of windows it has, and your geographic location. If your house has more windows, this can affect your insulation, so a stove with a higher heating capacity is needed to make up for it.

2. Size

Previously, the idea of stove size was blasted to give way for heat capability. But size is not entirely a bad metric. In fact, it should be a criteria especially when it comes to space considerations. A large woodburner may not fit a cramped space, and a product that is too small may not satisfy your aesthetic requirements.

While wood burning stoves have varying dimensions, these appliances are classified into three sizes – small, medium, and large. Small stoves have a firebox whose volume is less than cubic feet, medium woodburners have 2 to 3 cubic feet, and large stoves have more than 3 cubic feet firebox volume.

3. Material

Wood burning stoves are made either from cast iron or welded steel. According to experts, these materials have no significant difference when it comes to durability. What you will be concerned about, though, is the material’s aesthetics. A welded steel wood burner usually have a matte finish, while a cast iron wood stove can be polished and have a glossy shine. If your house has a modern look, a welded steel is the better option as it blends well with your interior’s design or style.

Aside from aesthetics, you would also want to consider the difference of cast iron and welded steel stoves in terms of performance. Steel wood stoves are known to heat up faster but they can’t retain heat very well. Cast iron stoves, on the other hand, take longer to heat up, but they can retain heat very well. The only problem with cast iron is that it is brittle and when it’s not maintained well, it can be subject to cracking.

4. EPA Certification

Before they are put on sale on the market, all wood stoves manufactured in the United States have gone through the strict efficiency and emission standards of the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA. Therefore, if you see one on display, it must be EPA-certified. But to be sure, look at the back part or side of the stove and look for either of these labels – a temporary wood stove paper label, and a permanent metal label.

Or, you can head over to the EPA’s website to check a product’s certification. If you proceed to this webpage http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/publications/monitoring/caa/woodstoves/certifiedwood.pdf, you’ll see a list of all the EPA-approved wood stoves in the United States. In the list, you’ll see important and useful information on a product’s emission rate, heat output, and efficiency.

If you see the product of your choice in the list, rest assured that it is efficient, money-saving, and safe to both your family and the environment.

5. Combustion technology

Wood stoves have either a catalytic or non-catalytic combustor. There have been several debates over which one has the better performance, but as manufacturers have shifted to the non-catalytic approach, it seems like non-catalytic wood stoves are the better choice.

Just like what their name implies, non-catalytic wood stoves do not make use of a ‘catalyst’ to improve their performance. Instead, they are designed to rely on their key features to create a suitable environment for combustion. As a result, they can last longer than catalytic stoves whose catalyst needs to be replaced after about 12,000 stove hours.

Non-catalytic stoves are also known to produce beautiful fire, so if you are particular with the fire’s aesthetics, a non-cat wood stove is definitely for you.

6. Efficiency

As a consumer, you have the right to know that efficiency tests are NOT regulated nor standardized by the EPA. But though this is the case, it does not mean that the efficiency values you see on a stove’s promotional flyer are false and misleading. To come up with these values, manufacturers can always hire an independent and reputable body to perform efficiency tests. But if you need EPA values, the 75%, 78%, or even 83% efficiency levels on your wood stove’s packaging may come from a non-EPA accredited body.

If you take a look at the EPA’s list of certified wood burning stoves and focus your attention on the ‘Actual Measured Efficiency’ and ‘EPA Estimated or Default Efficiency’ columns, you’ll notice interesting values.

If you browse through these columns, you’ll notice that there are only 18 products with Actual Measured Efficiency values. Seraph Industries Genesis 106 and Genesis 108 have the highest efficiency of 83.2% and Jotul North America’s F602 CB has the lowest, with 70.7%. In the EPA Estimated column, all the products on the list are given a default efficiency level of either 63% for non-catalytic stoves and 72% for catalytic stoves.

7. Orientation of Firebox

When you insert your wood logs into the firebox, you would put them in either in the vertical or horizontal orientation.

Experts suggest that a vertical orientation (in which the logs are perpendicular to the stove’s door) burns more wood and retains more heat. Others call this a refractory-lined firebox. In this orientation, the firebox is deeper, so the logs are neatly in place and the chances of them falling out of the box are very low. Aside from that, you can also maximize the firebox’s space and will have a longer time to re-load.

On the other hand, the horizontal orientation (in which the logs are parallel to the stove’s door) creates loading issues. You can’t maximize the firebox because some of the wood logs that are near the stove’s door may fall off. As a result, you will end up feeding the firebox with only a few wood logs every time you re-load. Fireboxes promoting this orientation are wider compared with refractory-lined fireboxes.

8. Other features

Manufacturers may add value to the stove of your choice by introducing other features. Some features that can help in the performance of the stove include:

- air wash system
- blower
- primary bottom air feed
- ash pan

If you love watching the fire, an air wash system ensures that your stove’s glass door is kept clean at all times. It gives you an unobstructed and clear view of the bluish and reddish orange flame inside the firebox.

A blower helps increase the temperature of your wood burning stove, and a primary bottom air feed is extremely helpful in keeping the fire from dying out especially if there’s only a few log woods left. An ash pan, on the other hand, makes cleaning easier by providing an ash container that you can conveniently pull out and then put back in.

Other features that you might want to consider include decorative elements that though they won’t have an impact on the stove’s performance, will definitely give you maximum enjoyment and satisfaction.

Questions to Ask Before Purchasing a Wood Stove

To summarize everything, here are some questions that you need to ask yourself when buying a wood burning stove. These questions can be a good guideline.

- What is the main purpose of your purchase?
Some homeowners want to buy a stove to add to their existing heating appliance, while others make a purchase for zone heating purposes.

- How much heat do you need?
Remember, consider the heat output in relation to the space or area of your home.

- Where will you install your stove?
Do you have a built-in chimney? Can you install it yourself? Do you need professionals to help you out?

- Do you have an abundant supply of firewood, or do you at least know of a place that sells cheap wood logs?
The goal of buying a wood stove is mainly to save on energy cost. But if you end up losing money and not really saving, you’d better look for an alternative.

You must be logged in to post a comment. Log in