Q&A About Wood Stoves
Where can I find stove ratings?
I realize you are constrained from offering advice on stove selection. It would be really helpful if you could offer sites that provide comparisons of wood stove efficiencies, emissions, general utility. If there are any, I would hope that you would know of them. I have read your advice to talk to 2 or 3 salesmen and find that it would be helpful to know more, and from a relatively unbiased source. I'd appreciate your thoughts.
As far as we know there is no rating of stoves that we consider reliable enough to recommend. The problem is that few people have experienced enough different brands and models to be able to say which is better.
To illustrate the problem, I was just yesterday reviewing a long series of comments about people's experiences with wood heating equipment posted at Mother Earth News magazine's web site.Notice that people tended to really like the stove they used, whether it was an elegant, expensive Vermont Castings or a 1975 Fisher Mama Bear. People tend to like the stove they have, so how relevant is their opinion to someone looking for a new stove?
You'll also find stove reviews at HearthNet, but you'll see the same problem. Also, lots of people connect good stoves to lousy chimneys, then blame the stove for poor performance. Or they burn wet wood in a good stove, and so on.
Here is EPA's list of certified wood stoves. But don't be distracted by slight differences in emissions performance. Note that the efficiency numbers are meaningless.
Our article on the subject says most of what we have to say. Pick the dealer you like first, then buy the stove they recommend. The best dealers almost always carry good stoves.
Two final thoughts. First, there are plenty of good stoves on the market to choose from. You could pick one of a dozen different stoves and be perfectly happy with it. Second, there is no 'best stove' on the market, just the stove that suits you the best.
John, Posted January 2010
Does a fan increase stove efficiency?
Great site! Here's something I've been puzzling over. How much difference does having a fan blowing across the stove make with regard to it's heat delivery efficiency? I have a "high velocity" fan on it's lowest setting blowing across the stove pretty much all the time, and I've been wondering how much this increases the efficiency of the stove. Thanks, Mac.
I don't use a fan of any kind and I don't promote them. There hasn't been much independent research on the efficiency of fan use, but many years ago I do recall one obscure study that found only a very slight difference in efficiency when the fan was used, and this was on a fireplace insert with small air circulation passages around the entire firebox.
I think the effect of stove fans is mostly psychological. If you could see air flow, you would see a huge plume of warm air flowing towards the ceiling from your stove. It would then flow down the far walls, across the floor and back to the stove. That convection flow of air, while it is gentle, is probably moving much more air than the fan, and it costs no electricity to run it. I suppose a fan might be useful to aggressively mix the air if a room had cold floors, but I can't think of another advantage.
Stove manufacturers like to sell accessory fans for their stoves because it runs the price up quite a bit. A retailer friend of mine likes to tell customers who ask about efficiency boosts from fans that 'you'll get the same effect if you let me tape your $200 to the back of the stove'.
John, Posted January, 2005
Do wood stoves dry out houses in winter?
My wife and I are thinking of switching to a woodstove in our log house but I'm concerned about the inside of the house becoming too dry. I've heard stories about people with wood stoves whose furniture won't stay together and the woodwork splitting. A childhood friend's father used to put a pot of water on top of the woodstove to keep the air humidified. What's the real truth?
Wood stoves are not specifically implicated, but do exhaust air from the house and this air must be replaced with air from outdoors, which in cold winter weather, is dry. Hence the theory that wood stoves dry out houses. Wood stoves are no different from oil or gas furnaces or any other device that removes air from the house. But a wood stove uses very little air; about the same amount as an inefficient bathroom fan. Compared to baseboard electric systems, yes they do contribute to lowering humidity, but not compared to all other options.
The real cause of low winter humidity in houses is leakiness of the house. Here's proof - new, tightly constructed houses need active ventilation systems in winter to control the build up of humidity produced by cooking, washing and breathing. Without active ventilation, the windows of a tight new house would mist up and run with condensed water vapor.
So, in old houses we humidify, and in new houses we dehumidify. All this has little to do with the heating system, except that a wood stove in a house does constitute part of the ventilation system. If you want higher humidity in your house in winter, spend some time and money on weatherization. On the other hand, there is no way you will ever get a log house tight enough to need active ventilation to control moisture.
I want to build my own wood stove
I am interested in building my own wood stove. I have been out pricing various brands. I have found that the manufacturers are rather proud of their work (expensive). So, I figure I can build one, as I work at a machine/fabrication shop. Do you know of anywhere where I can find some plans for a stove?
Here is the advice I give people who want to build their own wood stove: DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT! And here is why.
You can't burn wood cleanly and efficiently without a good combustion system, and you can't design and build a one-off combustion system that is any good. One of the reasons why good wood stoves cost at least $1000 is because it took a lot of practice, trial and error and bucket loads of money to get them to work properly and to pass both safety and emissions test standards.
Thirty years ago wood burning technology was crude, sort of like folk-technology and anyone with a welder could call himself a manufacturer. It is not like that any more and it is a good thing. A lot of folks got burned, both literally and financially, buying stoves built by people who didn't know what they were doing.
Consider this: I started my wood burning career over thirty years ago as a welder on the stove assembly line; I know exactly how modern wood stoves work because I've hung out with their designers and I'm a member of all the standards committees. I have a shop 100 feet from where I'm sitting where I could build one. But I wouldn't even consider building my own wood stove. I know that it would cost me way more in time and trouble than what I would pay for an 'off the shelf' stove that would be way better than I could build.
There are no plans available for a good wood stove. If I spent $100,000 developing a successful stove and have a factory building them, why would I make the plans available for anyone to build it? If you were to find stove plans, they would undoubtedly show you how to make a lousy one because no one in their right mind would suggest that a wood stove is a project for amateurs (you may be able to weld, but you're not a wood heat expert). My suspicion is that you have greatly underestimated the actual complexity buried in a good wood stove.
You have written to us looking for advice. Here is mine: Go out and buy yourself the best stove you can afford and invest your do-it-yourself time in getting your firewood in. Then sit back and enjoy the cozy beautiful fire.
About John's answer . . .
(Some people associate wood burning with a sort of pioneering independence. That's fine, of course, as long as they don't put other people at risk. The problem is that misplaced self-confidence causes house fires. "Carol" sent the following message in response to the above answer. JG)
Someone asked where to get plans to build a wood stove. John answered like a politician or preacher. John said it's too 'complex'. (Maybe for you John). Instead of encouraging the man, (with a few caveats), John, in the tradition today's American, said: 'it's too complex, better buy one'. You're a real pioneer John!! And here's my message to John the pioneer: F.Y.!! Carol
Another reader responds . . .
While searching for info about moisture content in wood I came across the reply from Carol about building your own stove. I would like to add to your reply about building a wood stove.
If you have a mortgage you need insurance. If you heat with wood fully or partially the insurance company needs to know and they will ask if you do heat with wood when requesting quotes. Most will send an inspector. If the wood burning system has flaws (clearances, obvious chimney problems, etc) they will ask you to either correct it or do not use it. There is a document you need to sign and mail to signify the work is completed. If you choose not to correct the problem and use the system, your insurance coverage could become void. Then the bank will be after you as you need insurance to have a mortgage. Insurance coverage approval is totally within the insurance company's control.
When we bought our home in Aug of 2002 we replaced the old stove (Red Devil) with a Regency (EPA). The inspector came in and checked the entire home, but most of his time was around our newly installed stove, like a bee around a flower. We had some clearance issues, but no show stoppers. Just an adjustment. If we kept the old stove we would not be allowed to use it as it had no labeling with the exception of the brand name. I am not alone in this experience as I have heard from wood heating friends similar stories. The insurance companies will probably get stricter as time goes on as the insurance industry is not doing well these days and are trying to keep riskier polices off the books.
So I say to Carol, building your own wood stove to heat your home is not a direction to choose. Maybe to build one to heat an ice fishing hut or garage to take the chill off and one must be very cautious still, but not to heat your home because you would be putting a great deal at risk. John's advice is indeed correct.
What is the most efficient stove?
If I'm going to spend about $1200 or so for a wood burning stove, I intend to buy the most energy efficient. Can you give me a list of the most efficient?
Our only suggestion is to buy a stove that is EPA certified. Here is why. There are two components of overall efficiency:
- combustion - how completely the wood burns, and
- heat transfer - how much of the energy released is transferred to the space to be heated.
EPA certification is a guaranty of good combustion efficiency, so that part of overall efficiency is covered.
Modern wood stoves don't have heat exchangers as such, but rather use the entire stove body and flue pipe as the heat transfer surface. This is because the heat output of the stove is variable, regulated by the combustion air control, and, at its lowest burn rate, an excessive amount of heat transfer surface would cause the exhaust to be too cool to provide good draft. Therefore, all EPA certified stoves run within the same band of overall efficiency (combustion and heat transfer) - about 70 percent plus or minus 10 percent. The lowest firing rate that maintains good (flaming) combustion produces the highest overall efficiency because the slower gas flow rate through the system allows more time for heat transfer.
The stove operator has a lot of control over the net efficiency it delivers. For example, wet firewood cuts net delivered efficiency in two ways: first, boiling off the water consumes a lot of energy and second, the very large air setting needed to keep wet wood burning results a high gas flow rate that 'rinses' the heat produced into the chimney before it can be transferred to the room. Also, firewood pieces that are too large don't burn well at low firing rates and, again, demand large air settings that reduce heat transfer.
When I buy a new wood stove (which is way more often than most normal people do) efficiency is not one of my criteria because I know they are all pretty much the same and that I'm the guy in control of net delivered efficiency. I'm interested in convenience, looks and other specific preferences.
You'll find a good discussion of effective firing technique in our Tips and Techniques section.
Is Ashley still around?
I'm trying to find out if Ashley still makes wood burning heaters. I had one in my shop and lost it when the shop burned down (no, the cause of the fire was not related to the heater, it was related to sparks from the metal grinder). I'm trying to find a replacement so I can heat my shop when I build it back.
If Ashley heaters are still being made, what is their website?
It is most likely that Ashleys are no longer made in the same manner as you are used to. We're not a commercial site so we don't keep up on all the old stoves. You could try http://www.hearth.com
However we would encourage you to look at the new EPA stoves, which we describe on our site. You could certainly do better than the Ashley. I used one in the 70s and I can assure you that new EPA stoves will run rings around that old technology with half the wood consumption for the same heat, virtually no chimney cleaning, 90% less smoke, and so much more.
Advice about a 20 year old Riteway stove
I have had a Riteway 37 since the late 70's. It has been a great stove and will burn wood or coal equally well. I burn mostly wood. I recently found a brand new Riteway Catalytic converter and would like to install it. I'm not sure how to install it since the 8" pipe comes out the side of the stove. Does the converter lay on its side or should I put an elbow on the stove and mount the converter in a vertical position? Seems like a dumb question but I really want to do it right. By the way 8" stove pipe and fittings are hard to find. This summer I would like to replace all the fire brick since they are all cracked so I will be looking for them. The stove is a real tough cookie and except for some minor stuff it has been trouble free for 20+ years. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks,
I had a Riteway 2000 (the other model they made, smaller than the 37) for about 3 years in the early to mid 70s, and it was a really good stove for its time. It's time is not now, however. The Riteway does not owe you much. It would be an amazing experience for you to get a new EPA certified stove which would have a nice clear view of the fire, burn 2/3 the wood, produce 90% less smoke, require virtually no chimney cleaning, take up much less room, could be installed much closer to the walls and furniture. I could go on but I won't.
The catalytic add-on unit is probably not of much use. Good catalytic units are integral with the stove's internals. I've tried a few add on cats; none of them worked. They are not usually even really recommended by the manufacturer or retailer. I'd avoid it. Keep looking and I'm sure you'll find eight inch flue pipe. It is out there. As far as I know the 37 uses standard (cheap and widely available) firebrick so that should not cost you much and be easy to do.
Which stove to buy?
Greetings, I just found your site by searching for "wood heat", this is the first spot the search took me and I found much more that I had hoped for. Congratulations on a great site doing a big service. Thank you.
Now, my question. I am ready to replace my wood stove, it is at least 15 years old and not efficient at all. I am heating most of a 2000 sq ft log home with an open design, the stove sits back in a stone alcove, there is enough hearth for the front of the stove to protrude several inches out of the alcove.
OK, that was the set-up, here's the question. Which is the better stove for the application: a cast stove, or sheet steel; one with a catalytic converter or without; radiant or convection? I was totally sold on a cast, catalytic unit and found some on sale. I drove into town yesterday to pick one up and the salesperson just flat out told me that I needed a sheet steel stove because it would be my main source of heat, and catalytic stoves require too much special attention. I live in a small clearing in the woods and many times the weather keeps my smoke trapped close to the ground, so I like the idea the that smoke being a clear as possible.
Any suggestions or information would be greatly appreciated.
That debate about which stove is best – cat/non-cat; radiant/convection; cast/steel – has been going on for thirty years and shows no signs of topping. And the next dealer you go to might tell you exactly the opposite.
Here at woodheat, there is no consensus on the matter. Cal heats with a catalytic cast iron stove and I heat with a steel non-cat. Both of us do fine. I'm sure that whatever stove you buy, provided it is properly sized for the application, will work fine and satisfy your heating and aesthetic objectives. There is lots of product choice and many of them are very good. We think your best resource is a good dealer with experience and a good reputation. If you start with a good EPA certified stove, then feed it properly sized and seasoned wood and run it carefully, I would be just about willing to guarantee you will never again see 'smoke trapped close to the ground'.
Thank you for the information. Like many items in our consumer-based lives, it appears that the "bells and whistles" aren't nearly as important as proper use of the item itself. I will visit your site again, s'long for now.
We want the most efficient stove
Do you have any information that would include emission/efficiency ratings on various brands of woodstoves? My husband and I are looking for help in choosing the most efficient wood burning stove for a home we plan to build in the foothills. Thank you,
EPA publishes a list of certified stoves which contains their emissions figures, but not efficiency. Actually, the list does give efficiency figures but they are just defaults; catalytic stoves are given an efficiency of 72%, non-cats are assigned an efficiency of 63% and pellet stoves are all listed as being 78% efficient. These are highly suspect figures and their continued use is no credit to EPA's supposed scientific impartiality.
I don't think EPA's list is worth getting, but you certainly should be choosing a stove that appears on the list. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about the actual emissions and efficiency figures because all certified stoves are at least 60% efficient and most are closer to 70%. Their emissions can't exceed 7.5 grams per hour of operation and most new stoves are down around 3 or 4 grams. These variations are not as great as the variations you create yourself by the type of wood you burn and the way you operate the stove.
The more important thing is to find a good reliable stove/fireplace dealer who can give advice on stove sizing, location, chimney needs and so on. Beyond that, you just need to choose a stove that fits your budget and decor objectives.
Building his own wood stove
I have a two and a half car garage that I have set up as a woodworking shop. At present, it is not heated. I wonder if you could give me some direction as to where I might be able to find plans to build my own woodburning stove.
I do not consider wood stove construction to be a do it yourself activity. I gave up doing that in the 1970s when it became apparent that woodburning technology was as complex, and in some ways more complex, than other technologies that no one would consider as do it yourself. On the other hand, you can burn wood in any steel box. If you do find plans for a wood stove, I would be surprised if the author really knows what he's talking about because if he did, he wouldn't publish plans. My advice is to buy a decent wood stove and apply your technical skills to woodworking.
In love with a Franklin stove
Hi...My husband and I just bought a gorgeous Franklin wood burning stove from an elderly neighbour for $25. I'm not sure why we bought it except that I fell in love with it the minute I saw it . . . it's so rustic! Anyway, we heat with oil, but want to put the stove in our living room. I am absolutely terrified about the risk of fire though. My husband insists that we can do the installation ourselves . . . any suggestions? Also, if we did decide to go with a professional installation, any idea what it might cost?
Yes, Franklin stoves are nice looking. But they are lousy wood burners. A Franklin might be worth installing in a summer cottage, but certainly not in a main residence. The first clue is the price you paid; it's about what it is worth. How about using it just for decoration, and not attempting to actually burn wood in it? How about buying a nice set of electric logs and putting them inside?
A Franklin can be installed safely (provided it is structurally sound) using the detailed requirements of NFPA 211 in the US or CSA B365 in Canada. But the chances of someone who has never done it before using one of these codes to install an uncertified stove correctly (safely) is slim to none. At the very minimum, you need coaching from an experienced sweep or installer who knows the code intimately. It is very complex to interpret.
I would strongly recommend that you get professional advice before doing anything with the Franklin.
Am I burning too much wood with my old stove?
I have a 2750 sq.ft ranch home with 9 ft. ceiling on the main and basement levels. I built this home myself 4 years. ago and it is built around R2000 requirements. I have a high-efficiency forced air propane and a heat recovery ventilation system. I use an old double glass door wood stove measuring 17"deep x 24" high x 32"wide in my basement.
I use a lot of wood in my attempt to keep my furnace from kicking in. This heating season I have used approximately 7 cords of wood [4 ft.x 8 ft. piles]. Is this too much wood and is my stove inefficient? I cut my own wood from a local bush lot that was logged and pay $5 a cord. The wood is ash, oak, maple. I live southwestern Ontario.
All I can say is its a good thing you don't pay much for the wood. I do have some suggestions for how you might cut your wood consumption and some things you might look into. For comparison, my 1500 sq ft house uses just about three full cords for the whole winter. I don't think you should need more than double that because your's sounds more energy efficient.
Also, your stove is all wrong, both in terms of shape and age. It is probably delivering something like 45 - 55 % efficiency under ideal conditions. However, because you are heating such a large space from the basement, your firing rate, and therefore flue gas heat losses are probably very high. So, your delivered efficiency is probably less than that - perhaps 40%. For comparison, a new EPA certified stove delivers something more like 70% efficiency, if it is run in the right heat output range.
Unless you spend most of your time there, heating your house from the basement is a big mistake, as I have been telling people for 30 years. You end up with high air temperatures and really high heat loss from the (usually) concrete floor and less than perfectly insulated walls. Transferring heat from basement to main floor is not as easy as it seems. A wood stove is a space heater, for heating spaces, not a central furnace.
You have two options. First, you could put a wood furnace in series with your existing conventional furnace for central heating . This would work and probably cut your wood consumption while improving your family's comfort, but you would miss all the pleasures of the fire. Fortunately, there are now some EPA certified wood furnaces to choose from.
Or you could open your cheque book and buy one of the big, efficient, factory-built, EPA certified fireplaces for your living room. You can attach ducts to these and connect them to your furnace ductwork to spread the heat around your home. Some of these fireplaces are powerful whole house heaters (eg RSF Opel, Regency WarmHearth and Security BIS II, Fireplace Extraordinare). Picture yourself in your living room in front of this gorgeous fire, knowing that its heating the house and saving you money at the same time. This, to me, is what wood heating is all about. If you don't want to lug wood upstairs, buy yourself a wood waiter, a little electric elevator designed just for the purpose. Now we are talking about a truly civilized system.
Okay, I just spent about $9,000. of your money. But look at it this way, what other expenditure that size would give you the same amount of lasting pleasure and comfort? None, I would submit.
One other thing, I found that my HRV was over-ventilating the house, since there is only me and my spouse here, so I put it on a timer. It's on for a few hours first thing in the morning and from dinner to bedtime. Made a huge difference. Mind you, if you have a lot of people around or a full time smoker, you can't do that.
Wood stove recommendations
Hello, we are ready to buy a new woodstove. we want a clean burning efficient stove with a picture window. We would prefer a stove that gives the option of top /rear venting. We are heating about 1600 sq feet, and are considering an addition. Can you help us with some suggestions. thanks
We don't make specific brand recommendations. Clean burning stoves are EPA certified and most of those perform very well. Most modern stoves have glass doors with airwash to keep it clean. The top/rear take off option is mostly available in cast iron stoves which look nice and work fine, but tend to me more expensive than welded steel. In fact that objective reduces your options to relatively few; Vermont Castings and Jotul being the main ones.
Depending on where you are and how well insulated and sealed your house is, you could need a fairly large stove. But a large stove can only perform well to heat a large area if the area is reasonably open plan, so you need to judge that. The best advice I can give is to visit two or more retailers and hear what they have to say. They can probably give you better advice than I can because they can ask you the right questions.
A pricey question; a tie breaker solution
Help, we are torn on what to do. I have an opportunity to pick up an older Timberline dual door, 8" flue size stove. A friend of mine prefers to send checks to the local oil company and removed this stove. Too bad because he had a nice set up: a brick base tastefully done and the stove pipe going into an existing brick stack. I think he is crazy!
Anyway his loss my gain (possibly). He offered the stove to me for $200, then we talked of trading up on something I have that he wants, etc. I was very excited about this, but chose to do my own research. My plan was to install the stove on the lower level of our raised ranch home. We have two rooms downstairs but sometime in the next year I plan to make one big room that is 20' by about 20'. I planned to let the heat rise and heat the upstairs. During the extreme cold I had all intentions to burn wood at least 3 days a week, and lots of overnight burns. Could probably talk the wife into running the stove so possibly as much as 6 days. The pipe alone for the installation would be $1200.
Here is where I get confused. A gentleman that has over 30 years experience (installed my parents Timberline insert) told me that it is a superb stove and if I could swing the cost of the pipe to go for it, or have a mason build a stack for me. Another friend has the same stove and said that the price is a steal. He has two stoves in his house and really is up on the subject. Two local retailers told me that the stove is dirty, old technology, will run me out of the house and should be in a junk pile. The one retailer has a great shop with Jotul stoves, etc. and appears to be very fair and honest. Another web site web master told me to go with " a new efficient stove" but I really don't know what his stake is with his sponsors, or if that is even a fair analysis.
My wife and I stopped by his shop and priced out a Jotul OSLO F500. Looking at stoves we estimate that we need a stove to heat 900-1300 square feet so this model is right there. The new stoves are very attractive but I am not much into spending another couple of thousand dollars if I don't have to.
Any comments suggestions are very much appreciated!! I will use your comments to break the tie, all I know is that we will be getting a stove in the next year or so. My last question, if we waited until the off season, do you think we would see a significant savings in the cost of a new stove if we decide to go that way.
We at woodheat.org get a number of letters like yours. We certainly appreciate your concern which you so well expressed. If you check our web site you'll see that we support environmentally appropriate woodburning. We would definitely vote for a new EPA certified stove. The Jotul is lovely and would be a good choice. There are lots of very good stoves on the market now. There is no standard for clean burning other than EPA.
EPA stoves will reduce smoke by up to 90%, while increasing efficiency by about 1/3, and reduce chimney cleaning to an absolute minimum in comparison with the Timberline. Another important benefit is that the fire view on an EPA model will really be a treat. It's unlike any other fire you've seen, and of course superior to the Timberline's cast iron doors. Many folks who change to the clean burning stoves tell us that this is a wonderful and surprising aspect of heating with wood that they hadn't considered previously.
Your placing of the stove seems to be a good one. Your plans for a new chimney and pipes will make the system work well, since as you understand you are installing a system, not just a stove. We would recommend that you use a properly sized, certified, insulated metal chimney running straight up immediately above the stove (not through the wall) and connected to the stove with a good quality certified double wall flue pipe. This will give you the best performance; preventing smoke spillage in mild weather, while making the stove easy to start, load and accelerate.
We have no commercial links with the industry as a nonprofit agency, so I hope that you take this in the spirit it is given.
I will take your letter as the tie breaker then! We agree on the Jotul - what are your other favorite stoves out there that you like. I don't want to pick up a stove and not be happy. I know you get asked a lot. Thank you again for your assistance!!!
Favorite stoves . . . this can cause us problems, as we try to be impartial. I can say that there are two possible configurations for EPA stoves: catalytic and non-catalytic. Most (the vast majority) are non-cats and a few are cats. Cats will generally burn longer, and require more maintenance (in the way of parts). Non-cats are usually easier to use but do not generally burn as long as catalytics. It's like manual and auto transmissions. Some like manual, although they are more work because of higher performance, some like auto because of ease of use. I will say I like cats, but I am in the minority around here.