What You Need To Know About Woodstoves

Heating your home with wood can be a great way to create coziness inside during the winter, but before you buy, here’s what you need to think about.

by Carole Howell

The perfect woodstove, be it a traditional indoor model or outdoor furnace, can reduce your heating bill and make your farmhouse more welcoming. Choosing the one that will work best for you depends on a number of factors beyond the price.

Indoor Woodstoves

If you’re looking for an indoor woodstove, answer these five questions before you make an investment.

1. Steel Or Cast Iron?

Welded steel stoves are plain and cost less than the traditional cast iron. High-quality steel types have replaceable parts, while cast-iron stoves are usually more ornate and need to be rebuilt every few years to seal joints. There’s no real difference in heating performance between the two.

2. Cordwood Or Pellets?

True to their name, traditional woodstoves are fueled by hardwood cut to standard stove length and purchased either by the cord or fraction of a cord. Depending on where you live, a cord of wood costs around $200, and you may need six or more to get through the winter.

Pellet fuel, a product made of recycled wood waste, is the cleanest and most convenient-to-use solid fuel. Pellet fuel is measured in dollars per ton, which averages about $250. You may need more than seven tons of pellet fuel for the average winter, but pellet stoves burn more efficiently. Plus, the pellets are available at farm-supply stores in 40-pound bags, not bark, so if bringing the outside in is a concern, pellets are the way to go.

3. Cat Or Noncat?

Woodstoves come in two types of combustion ­technology. Catalytic woodstoves have a more ­efficient burn and are designed for and usually chosen by those who want to use it for a major ­portion of their heating, while noncatalytic stoves are more popular with people who want to use their stoves for decorative or supplementary heat.

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4. Balmy Or Blistering?

An oversized stove in a small room could make your living space uncomfortably hot, while a stove that’s too small could be little more than decoration. Consider your climate, the type of wood you burn, stove placement, and your home’s shape and energy efficiency to help decide on the proper size. To circulate heat to other areas of the home, choose a model that features a fan or blower.

According to The Wood Heat Organization, a small stove with a firebox volume of less than 2 cubic feet is sufficient for a small room or cabin; a medium stove with a 2- or 3-cubic-foot firebox will heat small to medium-size houses; and a stove with a firebox of 3 cubic feet or more will heat an open floor plan or a poorly insulated home. An experienced local dealer — not the clerk at a big box store — should be able to help you decide what stove will work best for you.

5. Who’s Installing?

Plan to add installation to the cost of any stove. In addition to a method of exhaust, unless you’re installing on concrete or brick, you will need a noncombustible floor pad, which is crucial in homes with wood or carpet flooring. You may also need a heat shield over the wall behind the stove to reduce the risk of damage or fire. Stoves featuring an electric start, control, and feeder system may require additional wiring.

You should also check building and inspection codes specific to your area. An improperly installed wood stove can be dangerous. Ask your dealer to recommend a certified installer who is familiar with local regulations.

Outdoor Wood Furnaces

Depending on how you plan to use your stove, an outdoor woodstove could provide more than enough warmth with less mess and maintenance. While traditional woodstoves are basically space heaters, the cutting-edge technology and versatility of outdoor wood furnaces takes heating with wood to an entirely new level of comfort, convenience and cost savings.

An outdoor woodstove, unlike its indoor cousin, works quite simply as a boiler to heat and circulate water through insulated, underground water lines, where the heat can be distributed evenly with an existing forced-air heating system. Technological innovations allow outdoor stoves to work automatically. When heat is required, a fan introduces fresh air to fuel the fire.
The right size outdoor stove can heat an entire home, and the heated water can be routed to a water heater or used to heat a pool, hot tub or outbuilding. Cost varies according to most of the same factors as a traditional woodstove and the features you desire.

The demand for outdoor wood stoves, often called boilers or hydronic heaters, is rising, even though they have been heavily regulated and even banned in some states because of smoky pollution. Today’s outdoor woodstoves use computer controls and catalytic converters to regulate secondary combustion and earn EPA certification. Efficient burning also means less wood and lower operating costs.

Under normal conditions, the size of stove you need and the amount of wood you use depends on how much space you’re heating, your climate, the type of wood you’re using and your home’s insulation, among other factors.

Besides adding wood once or twice a day, removing ash and adding water every few weeks, outdoor woodstoves require only a very small amount of maintenance, and work consistently well for many years.

New EPA Rules

In 2015, the EPA updated standards for the clean use of residential wood heaters. Fortunately, improved wood-heater technology is already helping to improve air quality, especially in communities where people often depend on wood for heat.

As of Jan. 1, 2016, all new wood-burning stoves must meet the new, more stringent, standards. These include outdoor and indoor wood-fired boilers, indoor wood-fired forced air furnaces, and single burn-rate woodstoves. It doesn’t apply to heaters already in use.

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