Choosing The Right Woodstove

wood stove

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Cast Iron or Welded Steal

Woodstoves are available in two different material options; Cast Iron or Welded Steel.  Truthfully, they are both the same when it comes to heating performance.  The main distinguishing factors are aesthetics and price.  Cast iron stoves are more pleasing to the eye; with graceful curves and artistic relief patterns.  However, you will pay a premium price for a cast iron stove and they do require more upkeep than welded steel stoves.  Cast iron stoves need to be rebuilt every few years to seal the joints between panels.  This prevents harmful air leakage which would allow your fire to burn out of control.  Welded steel stoves are plainer, but cost less.  Any well-built wood burning stove is an investment so it is important that you are happy with the choice you make.

Catalytic or Non-Catalytic

Wood stoves can operate with catalytic or non-catalytic combustion.  Catalytic combustion stoves have a catalyst-coated ceramic honeycomb.  Smoky exhaust gas/particles pass through this honeycomb where they ignite and burn.  The advantage is that catalytic stoves produce a long, even heat output.  However, the operator must know how to use a lever-operated bypass damper when igniting and reloading.  With proper care the ceramic honeycomb must be replaced every 6 seasons or so.


As the name implies, a non-catalytic wood stoves do not use a catalyst. Instead, internal characteristics create a good environment for combustion.  These include firebox insulation, a large enough baffle to divert gas flow, and pre-heated combustion air that is introduced through small holes in the upper part of the firebox.  The baffle and some other internal parts may need replacement as they deteriorate.  This is unavoidable due to the high heat needed for efficient combustion.

Generally, Catalytic wood stoves are more efficient and eco-friendly.  So, if you are shopping for a new stove, and wood heating is your primary heat source, spend a few dollars more to get a Catalytic wood stove.  If you are looking for supplementary heating and ambiance, don’t waste your money, just get a non-catalytic wood stove.

My wood stove is a non-catalytic stove, built in 1983.  It came with the house.  I don’t like replacing things that work.  It’s a waste.  So, as soon as this one reaches its end of life, I’m going to get a catalytic based wood stove.  Here is a picture of my stove in my living room.

wood stove

Carl, my dad, recently replaced his with a catalytic based stove.  Here is a picture of his wood stove in his living room.

wood stove


Wood stoves are also classified by orientation:  east-west or north-south.  Simply put, an east-west stove is wider than it is deep while a north-wet stove is deeper than it is wide.  The take home point is that a north-south stove can hold more wood because you don’t have to worry about the logs falling forward on the glass-front viewing panel.   However, many prefer the look of a stove that is oriented east-to-west; which can also hold a larger glass-front viewing panel.

The pictures above of my wood stove and my dad’s are both east-west orientation.  My recommendation is to go with an east-west orientation unless you are putting the stove outside the house; like in your chicken coop to keep your hens warm.  (I don’t do that) All kidding aside, it’s a matter of preference!

This is Important! U.S. Environmental Protection Agency!

No matter which stove you choose, always go with an appliance that has been certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  These stoves feature improved safety and efficiency with almost no smoke, minimal ash, and they require less firewood.  Complete combustion helps prevent the buildup of flammable creosote deposits in your chimney!  Older stoves release 15 to 30 grams of smoke/hour while EPA certified stoves produce between 2-7 grams of smoke/hour.  It is a win-win situation: less emissions and safer operation.  Be sure to look for the EPA certification label on the back of the stove.  All EPA stoves can deliver over 60 percent efficiency.  Overall efficiency higher than 80 percent is not desirable because a low exhaust temperature means a weak draft and risk of water vapor condensation which can damage your chimney.



A few more things

Now that you have some background information about wood stoves let’s talk about purchasing a new wood stove. There are several reliable sources of information that will assist you in deciding which wood stove is most appropriate for you and your home.  I recommend looking at the manufacture’s literature for performance specifications.  But be aware that none of the really useful information shown on stove brochures are standardized or regulated.  As a result, information like efficiency, heat output, heating capacity, and burn time may be inflated by the manufacturer.

Secondly, listen to the advice you receive from a knowledgeable/experienced local wood stove dealer.  It is a good rule of thumb to only trust the advice of someone that heats their own home with wood.  I also prefer to shop at a local stove shop rather than a large box store.  A local dealer, like any other dealer, wants your money but he/she also wants to you to be happy with a new stove.  Local businesses depend on word of mouth to generate business!  They are also more apt to work with you if you are unhappy with your purchase.

When visiting local retailers I suggest you bring along a copy of your home’s floor plan.  This will assist you in finding a wood stove that is the appropriate size for the space you wish to heat.  Many homeowners make the mistake of buying a wood stove that is too large for their needs.  As a result, the fires they burn are often reduced to a low smolder to avoid overheating, which wastes fuel, creates air pollution, and results in chimney creosote buildup.  A good rule of thumb is that a stove rated at 60,000 BTU can heat a 2,000 square foot home, while a 42,000 BTU stove can heat a 1,300 square foot home.  Of course, the effectiveness of your stove will also depend on the layout of your house (ex. many small rooms vs. open floor plan).

I also like to think of wood stoves in terms of small, medium, and large.  Small stoves are suitable for heating a family room or a seasonal cottage.  A small stove can also be used as a secondary heat source. Perfect for “zone heating” a specific area of your home like a family room or living room.  This can reduce fuel consumption, conserve energy and save you money while maintaining comfort.  Medium stoves are suitable for heating small houses,  medium-sized energy-efficient houses, and cottages used in winter. Large stoves are suitable for larger, open plan houses or older, leakier houses in colder climate zones.

Some other features you may want to consider when purchasing a wood stove include whether the stove has an ash pan, a cooking surface, if it can be operated open with a screen and if it has a glass viewing panel.  Other aesthetic considerations include whether it has plated doors and trim, pedestal legs and all the various color options.  While none of this affects heating performance it can still influence your enjoyment of the stove.

Sitting by my wood stove is something I look forward to on a cold winter’s night! I hope you end up loving your wood stove as much as I love mine.  My pets can’t get enough of it!  My dog, Ben, and my two cats, Fig and Mango, are almost always napping by our stove.  Here are a couple of pictures.


Mango Fig Wood Stove Mango Fig  Ben Wood Stove IMG_2698 IMG_1947


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