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Wood-burning stoves have been around for a long time. In fact, wood stoves first came into use in the 1500s. Today, they’re used to heat homes all over the world. In the US, they’re most commonly found in areas that experience cold winters, though their improved efficiency over the years has made them appealing for homeowners who simply want an alternative to a traditional gas or electric furnace.
Read on to find out how wood stoves work, what components are needed, and other considerations you’ll need to make before purchasing a wood stove. Once you’re ready, find a professional chimney expert to install your new wood stove.
How do Wood-Burning Stoves Work?
Wood stoves are made of cast iron, stone, or steel. They burn wood, as the name indicates. Wood stoves have the following components:
When you light a fire in a wood stove, the heat from the fire warms the stove and the air in the room. The smoke from the fire is drawn out of the house through the stove’s chimney.
The damper allows you to control airflow to the stove, which affects how large the fire grows and how much heat it puts out. A baffle (or baffles, depending on the design and size of the stove) increases the combustion time of the fire gasses. This is an important feature, since partially combusted gasses are serious air pollutants.
Wood stove efficiency
When you think about warming your hands by the fire in your living room, you probably envision sitting in front of a roaring fireplace. However, fireplaces are an inefficient way to heat a space. Wood stoves are a much better option.
Today’s wood burning stoves are more efficient and environmentally friendly that the wood stoves our great-great-grandparents would have used. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first enacted energy efficiency standards for wood stoves in 1988; since then, wood stove efficiency has only improved.
The wood stoves of old, however, have a bad rap. They were smoky and hard to control, and they required a lot of firewood. Wood stoves manufactured today adhere to strict, federally regulated emissions standards. These EPA standards ensure that wood stoves use firewood efficiently and do not vent smoke or other harmful indoor air pollutants into the house.
As of May 2020, EPA standards for wood stoves will be even stricter.
Types of Wood Stoves
There are two types of wood stoves: catalytic and non-catalytic. Both types of stoves meet EPA standards; the primary differences between the two are in maintenance levels and heat output.
Catalytic wood stoves contain a ceramic honeycomb-shaped component that burns the gases and particles from the wood burning inside the stove. By burning pollutants from the fire, the catalytic stove creates more heat and fewer emissions. The increased efficiency is an attractive advantage for purchasing a catalytic stove.
However, catalytic stoves require more frequent maintenance. The catalytic combustion component must be inspected regularly and replaced every once in a while. If the stove is maintained and used properly, the catalytic combustor plate can last around six seasons.
Proper maintenance for a catalytic wood stove involves cleaning the catalytic combustor plate once every week or two during the cold season, scheduling regular stove and chimney inspections, and burning the proper materials in your stove.
Non-catalytic wood stoves are less expensive than catalytic wood stoves, and they require less maintenance. Even though they do not contain a catalytic combustor plate to reduce emissions, non-catalytic wood stoves must still meet EPA stove certification requirements.
Non-catalytic wood stoves produce slightly more emissions than catalytic versions, and they are not maintenance-free. High heat can do a number on the stove components over the years, so be prepared to have internal parts replaced on occasion.
Wood Stove Installation
Size and location
Room size and stove size are important considerations when purchasing a wood stove. If your stove is too big, the room will be overheated. If the stove is too small, you’ll find yourself huddled around the stove and not enjoying any other parts of the room.
The location of your wood stove is key. It’s best to put the stove in a well-insulated room, which rules out placing it in the basement, a typically less-insulated area of the home. Place your stove in a room on the main floor of your home.
Wood stoves work best when placed in the middle of a room, since heat will radiate outwards from the stove. Placing a stove in the middle of your living room will obviously affect where you place your furniture, so draw out a plan to make sure your space will be usable when the stove is installed.
Stove clearance measures the safe distance between a wood stove and the floors and walls adjacent to it.
Certified stoves meet emissions requirements outlined by the EPA. Current standards, put in place in 2015, dictate that certified wood stoves cannot produce particulate emissions of more than 4.5 grams per hour. In 2020, the standard will be changed to 2.0 to 2.5 grams per hour, depending on the type of wood used to test emissions.
Antique stoves are unlikely to be certified. If you’ve always dreamed of using your great-grandparents’ ancient wood stove to heat your home, think about displaying it for looks only and using a newer model that is safer and more efficient.
EPA-certified stoves will have a label on the back of the stove. The label will tell you when the stove was manufactured and which set of emissions standards it complies with.
If you install a wood stove in your home, make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in the correct locations and functioning properly.
A wood stove requires some additional components besides just the stove itself. The wood stove heating system also needs a chimney, stovepipe, and protection for your walls and floor.
Chimneys and stovepipes must be properly constructed and maintained for your wood stove to operate safely.
- Hire a professional chimney company to check on an existing system, if you have one, or install a new chimney system if you don’t.
- If you’re replacing an existing wood stove or building a new home designed to accommodate a wood stove, a chimney company will have the expertise to install (or update or repair, if necessary) the chimney system.
Floor and wall protection keeps your home safe.
- Noncombustible floor pads keep stray sparks from setting your floor on fire. Install a floor pad level with the surrounding floor to prevent tripping. Noncombustible materials used for floor pads include concrete, slate, ceramic tile, or brick.
- Walls surrounding a wood stove should be protected with heat shields, usually made of sheet metal. These shields should be installed by a professional, who will know the local building code requirements for installation, spacing, and the clearance needed between the wall and the stove.
Wood Stove Maintenance
Schedule regular chimney cleanings to prevent creosote build-up. Have your wood burning stove cleaned twice yearly, especially right before you start using the stove again.
Not all maintenance needs to be handled by a pro. On a regular basis, remove the ashes from your wood stove and dispose of them properly. Removing ashes from your stove can be messy, so read up on some ash removal tips.
A one-inch layer of ash in the bottom of the stove actually helps you build a fire and keep it going, so you do not always have to remove ash every time you start a fire. Just don’t let the ashes build up to more than a couple inches. At the end of the cold season, remove all the ashes from your stove.
Alternatives to Wood Stoves
If you have an existing fireplace and you’d like to switch over to a wood stove, consult your chimney professional to determine whether a wood stove, pellet stove, fireplace insert, or other type of hearth heating system is right for you.
Pellet stoves burn wood pellets instead of wood, and they are the cleanest residential heating appliance that uses solid fuel, in terms of emissions.
A hopper feeds pellets into the stove automatically, which creates a more consistent and longer lasting fire than a traditional wood stove. Pellets are denser and contain less moisture than wood, so they burn more efficiently.
Pellet stoves produce less ash and creosote, and pellets are an easier fuel source to store than wood. A pellet stove does require electricity to power the hopper and the internal fan that distributes heat, so it needs to be installed near an outlet. Pellet stoves are more expensive than wood stoves, but they are the better option if you have allergies or live in an urban area.
A fireplace insert operates like a wood stove but is designed to be inserted into an existing fireplace. Fireplace inserts can be very efficient if installed properly. Often, fireplace insert installations are accompanied by chimney and flue upgrades to ensure the system works efficiently.
You can choose from different fireplace inserts depending on the fuel you want to use. Gas fireplace inserts are popular because they are easy to operate and don’t require storing piles or wood or bags of pellets. They can use either natural gas or propane. Wood-burning and wood pellet fireplace inserts are also available.
The Bottom Line
If you want to enjoy a roaring fire in a brand new wood stove this winter, hire a professional to make sure everything is done right. Safety is the number one priority, and a professional chimney company will make sure your system is installed and operating safely and correctly.
Ensure that your investment won’t go to waste by using your stove according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and scheduling regular cleanings and inspections of your stove and chimney each year.
Once your wood stove is installed and your maintenance is scheduled, sit back, relax, and enjoy the toasty fire!
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