Burning Question: Is It Time For A High Efficiency Woodstove?

A high-efficiency woodstove can offer significant energy savings as well as providing a sense of security and comfort. Here's how to make the switch.

by Michelle Bruhn
PHOTO: images by Michelle Bruhn

As urban homesteaders we are always looking for ways to do more with what we have. We love the process of helping to heat our home with locally harvested wood instead of burning fossil fuels. It’s a great way to make good use of the resources around us while creating a cozy home and saving money too!

There’s a lot of information out there on whether wood burning is a positive or negative for the environment, and so much of it comes down to how you burn the wood. Burning wood is basically carbon neutral, as burning spurs the tree to simply release carbon it sequestered during its growth.

The possible negatives are the small particles that are emitted in the smoke and soot, which can be harmful for those with lung issues.

One way to greatly help this issue is to burn with a high efficiency woodstove. 

Also readHow To Choose & Start Heating With A Woodstove

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What Makes a Woodstove High Efficiency?

The secret to higher efficiency burning comes from the ‘Secondary Combustion’ feature. This feature is found in most new woodstoves. There will be a few extra pipes with holes in them running along the interior top of the stove. Stoves with this feature usually need another air supply piped in as well. These features, along with a baffle plate by the flue pipe, helps increase the time heat and smoke stays in the stove.

By capturing the heated air and recycling it around, it gets even hotter. It also burns off more of the harmful emissions. The higher efficiency comes in the forms of both heat produced and lowered emissions. 

When we switched out our old drafty fireplace for a woodstove a few years back, we knew we wanted a high efficiency woodstove. Many newer woodstoves run at around 80 percent efficiency, which is a huge leap up from the 32 percent efficiency of an open fireplace.

The EPA has ratings on hundreds of different woodstoves on their website to help guide your purchase. 

high-efficiency woodstove fan

How Did We Make the Switch?

We removed the existing fire brick and internal damper, down to the exterior brick chimney. Don’t remove any lintels (metal supports for brick) without a structural review.

Adding a metal flue pipe was also necessary for us. My husband removed the interior brick up as high as he could, then built a plywood form and filled it in with concrete to create an arched look. After removing the form there was a solid structure to finish the face off with slate and a rough sawn oak mantel from my parent’s land. 

Note: It’s critical that you use non-combustible materials and follow installation specs based off your stove model. You also need to follow local code. 

We wanted the space above the woodstove exposed, as opposed to a woodstove insert where you block off the space above the stove behind an airtight hearth surround. While a woodstove insert will greatly improve your efficiency, we wanted the feel of a stove instead of a fireplace.

We use the top of the stove to heat water, dehydrate items and simmer potpourri all winter long. 

Also read : What You Need To Know About Woodstoves

How Much Energy Does It Save?

Comparing our energy usage to our neighbors, we save around 50 percent on heating costs (61 compared to 121 therms for 11/22). Your local energy company likely has a way to see how your energy usage compares as well. We purchased a heat powered stove fan to increase air flow away from the stove. We also have an electric space heater upstairs (farthest room away from the woodstove) to keep that room comfortable during long below-zero stretches.

With rising energy costs, using a woodstove to help heat our home just makes sense.

We were able to create a quaint nook to house the woodstove, which is the center of our homelife for much of our cold Minnesota winters. We love knowing we’re using a local resource (we’re lucky to have access to nearby oak) and work together as a family to prepare that resource to keep us cozy.

For us it is worth the effort. We enjoy the relaxation heating with wood brings and feel good knowing we’re not using a fossil fuel. The lowered heating bills are the cherry on top.

Is it time for you to switch your fireplace to a high efficiency wood burning stove?

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