With the ever-increasing cost of energy, more and more people are choosing to heat their homes with alternatives such as wood burning stoves. There’s good reason for this too, stoves are reasonably priced, easy to operate and install, and heating with wood can help reduce bills drastically.
Furthermore, no one can deny how good a natural log fire looks, no other type of heating appliance can compare to the warmth, light and crackle of a wood fire.
However, selecting the best wood stove for your circumstances isn’t easy and there are a number of factors to be considered. It’s important to take these into account to ensure you end up with a stove that creates the right level of warmth for your home and safely. Check out this article for some of the best wood stoves we have reviewed this year.
Factors You Need to Take into Account
1. Determine the Correct Heat Capacity for your Living Space
It’s only natural to look for a stove with a good heating capacity, since obviously you want a stove that can warm your house with ease. Yet, many people seem to forget the importance of choosing one appropriate for your living space, as it can easily become uncomfortable if it gets too hot too fast.
Ideally, you want your room to be a comfortable temperature, which is typically considered to be around 21 ºC (69.8 ºF) throughout the year. The majority of stove manufacturers provide an indication of square feet of space the unit will heat. This is typically given in square feet and can vary dramatically e.g. 3,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. However, these numbers are not always helpful, since it would depend on your location, climate and other factors such as how well your home is insulated.
For this reason, after taking into the above considerations, stoves are largely available in small, medium and large. The size you opt for is usually a reflection of the firebox area, which can make a big difference on the heat output. The following is a suggestion of how to choose the correct sizes stove your home:
Small stoves – These usually contain a firebox of around 2 cubic feet and are good enough for heating a large living room.
Medium stoves – These usually contain a firebox of around 2 and 3 cubic feet and are good enough for heating medium sized properties.
Large stoves – These usually contain a firebox of around 3 cubic feet and can be used to heat larger homes or open planned living areas.
2. Choose an Efficient Model to Save Money and Time on Maintenance
There has been massive strides made to make stoves more efficient and this is a continuing effort to the present day. In the 1980’s the U.S EPA made sure that all catalytic wood stoves met an emission limit of 4.1 grams of smoke per hour and for non-cat stoves of 7.5 g/h.
In recent years, the EPA strengthened their clean air standards for residential wood heaters, to ensure all new wood-heat technology was designed to be cleaner and help improve air quality. For example, in 2015 the limit was set to 4.5 grams an hour of particulates and after May 15, 2020, 2 or 2.5 grams an hour.
You should take these changes seriously too, as the high-efficiency wood burning stoves make a real impact on daily use. In fact some of the most efficient wood stoves available today are over 30% more efficient than older stoves. This means that you will be using less fuel in the form of firewood and therefore spending less time preparing, chopping and maturing all that wood.
So when shopping around for a wood stove it’s a good idea to opt for an EPA certified model, since they are over 60 percent efficient and many can even offer 80 percent of the fuel’s potential heat to your home. This is a huge benefit over uncertified models that can often fall into the 40% range or less. For more details about the exact wood stove models that meet the EPA qualifications check out this guide.
3. Should You Choose a Steel or Cast Iron Stove?
Another factor to consider is the type of material your stove is constructed of, specifically the type of metal. The two most common variety of metals used in stove construction are steel and cast iron. You will find many claims made about each and arguments in favour of one over the other, but the reality is that is no performance difference between them. The cast iron variety tend to offer curvier and more traditional design styles, while the steel stoves tend to be more contemporary looking and often less expensive.
When comparing durability of the two, cast iron stoves have had a reputation of having a longer life span due to the parts being able to be easily replaced. Although today the steel stove makers have upped their game and have made sure that all parts that are under a lot of strain e.g. intense heat are very easy to replace.
4. What about the Heat Output?
Typically stove manufacturers provide the pinnacle heat output in British Thermal Units (BTU’s) and this usually ranges from 20,000 to 90,000 BTU’s. Yet, this isn’t all that it seems, as having your wood stove running at the highest heat output can lead to serious damage to the stove itself. Furthermore, the average sized property only required between 5,000 to 20,000 BTUs per hour to keep it comfortable and warm, even during the winter months.
5. Catalytic or non-catalytic wood stoves?
The argument between catalytic and non-catalytic wood stoves has been going on for many decades. Catalytic models utilise catalyst-coated ceramic honeycomb that causes a chemical reaction during combustion, resulting in a strong and constant heat output. However, this component degrades over time and typically needs replacing every 5-6 years, but with poor maintenance, it can need changing even sooner. In addition, you often after activate a damper at around 500 ºF, which some people find to be inconvenient.
As you may have worked out, non-catalytic stoves or re-burn stoves do not use a catalyst, but instead release exhaust fumes into the firebox itself. In addition, they are designed in such a way to allow additional oxygen into the firebox, causing the fuel to “re-burn” several times, in effect causing a series of mini-fires in order to generate a lot of heat fast.
So which is best? Today, many stove manufacturers are frequently opting to produce non-catalytic stoves, but many non-catalytic stoves are popular too. Contrary to some opinions, non-catalytic stoves ARE capable of meeting EPA efficiency requirements and many of them do.
So, which should you choose? Ultimately the choice is yours, both non- and cat stoves do offer long burn times, with catalytic models often exceeding the burn times of non-cat. However, bear in mind that catalytic models require more maintenance and do take a little longer to reach their peak heat output. Whichever you decide on, it’s clear that although the argument is still ongoing both types remain much cleaner than older stoves.