In some homes a wood stove just fits more naturally than a fireplace. And if you like the rugged look, then a wood burning stove can provide the primary means to heat a smaller home!
Freestanding, a wood stove can heat a large area and can heat a home where the kitchen and living rooms are on the lower floor, with an open loft above. The radiant heat produced by an efficient wood burning stove is well suited to this kind of floor plan.
The wood stove is a flexible and economical home heating option. It can be located anywhere a chimney can be installed to vent combustion air out through the top of the roof and connected to the unit by a stove or flue pipe.
Wood stoves are a type of space heater really; instead of using ducts to route warm air throughout the home, a space heater warms the air within an unobstructed area, making it ideal in a small home with a very open floor plan, such as an A-frame home.
Wood Burning Stove Function and Form
Historically used to heat many homes throughout the United States, the popularity of wood stoves declined as new technologies like central furnaces and forced-air heating systems were introduced, replacing wood stoves, which do admittedly take away some living space in a home.
But wood stoves remain popular and the technology has evolved significantly over the last couple of decades. Materials such as natural stone, porcelain, steel and cast iron are used to create functional wood burning stoves that also add style and appeal to the home interior décor.
A range of styles from the ever-popular antique wood stoves to more modern and contemporary units, a range of designs, colors and finishes are available today. Wood stoves burn fuel cleanly and evenly, conserving and maximizing fuel use and reducing emission of combustion by-products versus less-efficient, open wood burning fireplaces.
Wood Burning Stove Benefits
- Cost-effective home heating solution
- Reduces dependence on heating oil, liquid propane or natural gas fuel sources
- Firewood is a plentiful and relatively cost-effective fuel source throughout much of North America and with today’s timber industry planting more trees that are harvest each year, wood is becoming more recognized as a sustainable resource.
- Adds rustic warmth and old world charm to a home or cabin interior.
Wood Pellet Stoves
Introduced in the 1980s, wood pellet stoves burn recycled sawdust and wood by-products from lumber mills. The by-products are compressed into pellets which are used for combustion inside a hopper. A mechanical auger feeds the pellets into the flame as needed to keep the fire steady and even, improving heating efficiency; efficiency ratings for wood pellet stoves can be as high as 80 percent.
The qualities make wood pellet stoves an attractive home heating option, although as with other wood burning fireplaces, building codes and local regulations in some areas have prohibited wood burning units, so be sure to check your local building codes before buying a wood pellet stove or insert.
The main benefit of advanced wood pellet stoves is the cost of fuel; if you have easy access to pellet fuel, it can be as low as $5 for a 40 pound bag! Most units are non-catalytic. Advanced pellet stove models with catalytic converter combustion are more expensive and operation is slightly more complex.
Advanced Wood Stove Benefits
Due to more stringent emissions standards, wood stove research has led to the development of wood stoves that are EPA-certified to be a third more efficient that the old pot belly and box and step stoves of yore. This ain’t your granddaddy’s pot belly stove!
While an EPA-certified unit can run $200 more than a non-certified stove, you’ll be glad you spent the extra. Benefits of advanced wood stoves include:
- Up to one-third more efficient; savings recover the higher unit cost within 2 years.
- Up to 90 percent less particulate emissions; this also means less maintenance and reduces the chance of a chimney fire since there is also less creosote build up in the flue.
- Easier to ignite and tend than older wood stove designs.
- Many units have an air-wash feature that provides self cleaning glass doors.
Wood Stove Features and Characteristics
Location for a Wood Stove – A wood stove is designed to be a space heater. To get the most heat possible from your wood stove, try to locate it centrally in the main living area of your home. You also want to be sure that heat can pass into other rooms as freely as possible, so if you are designing a new home with space heating in mind, make the floor plan open and strategically locate the rooms in which you spend most time (kitchen, bedroom, living or family room). Try to have as little separation between rooms as possible and avoid chopping the living space into many small rooms; fewer, larger rooms will make your home’s floor plan more suitable to space heat with a wood stove.
Wood Stove Materials – Very little functional difference exists between a wood stove manufactured with cast iron or steel plate construction methods. Painted or enamel finishes also have not real affect on performance.
Stove Appliance Shielding – All wood stove units are shielded on the back and bottom sides to keep floors and walls from overheating and so they can be installed close to combustible walls.
Some units have top and side shielding; this improves warm air convection in the living space for greater efficiency.
Stove Sizing – Wood stove size greatly affects its heating capacity; do not choose an overly large unit for a small room and conversely, if you want to heat a large living space, bigger is better in this case!
Some homes use multiple wood stoves or a combination of a wood stove and gas or wood burning fireplaces to heat bedrooms or other rooms that may not receive enough heat from the primary wood stove.
Wood Stove Installation and Venting Tips
One myth is that wood stoves do use a chimney; in fact all wood stoves vent through an approved “chimney” which is a sealed “hole in the roof” with a liner inside; the chimney must be either lined masonry or Class A insulated metal.
The chimney is connected to the stove with a stove pipe or flue pipe. This gives them a much different appearance than what we typically think of with masonry or factory-built wood fireplace chimneys; the stove pipe is visibly exposed. Proper installation, fitting and flashing is necessary to install the chimney safely without damage to the roof that could result in leaking or fire danger.
As with any chimney, the flue pipe and chimney must be properly designed and installed in order to promote a good “draft”; this reduces fuel use, retains more usable heat and improves the safety and low maintenance qualities of a wood stove.
Installation Affects Efficiency and Safety
The EPA recommends professional installation by a certified technician for safety and proper performance. If you decide to try installing a wood stove yourself, be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions completely and consult with them if you have any questions. Installation factors to consider include:
- Adequate clearance between the wood stove, venting system and any combustible floor or wall materials; installing a non-combustible hearth and surround for protection of combustible materials is required with some models and depending on clearances.
- Proper assembly and configuration of wood stove appliances, venting systems and other components is critical to ensuring the proper operation, efficiency and safety of any wood stove product; assembly or installation mistakes can’t always be seen and the problems which result may not be evident until its too late (meaning a home fire)!
- Determining the correct size and heat output is something with which you should consult an expert to ensure optimal heat distribution and wood stove fuel efficiency.
- A stove or flue pipe can not be run out the window, although in some cases it may exhaust through an exterior wall at a proper height. A chimney without proper vent clearance over the roof is unsafe and could cause a fire and/or poisonous gases to enter your home. Be sure to consult your local building codes and if in doubt, make the chimney higher than specified.
- The inside and outside diameter of the flue pipe must be correct and fitted properly to both the wood stove appliance and the chimney; the venting system is the core element that determines how efficiently your wood stove burns.
- The straighter the path between the stove and the chimney the better; long runs, joints and bends in the flue pipe decrease efficiency.
- Stove and Flue pipes must also have proper clearances to keep them away from combustible walls or other objects!
- You really should have an expert at least review your plans and completed work if you plan to install a wood stove and venting system yourself.