Wood Stove Primer
Wood stoves can provide an attractive, nostalgic, and efficient form of heating especially when compared to fireplaces. Newer wood stoves can achieve up to a 90% energy efficiency and, due to new EPA regulations have reduced emissions.
TYPES OF WOOD STOVES
Pellet Stoves use expressed wood pellets that consist of wood products such as compacted sawdust. The pellets are typically purchased in bags. The pellets are feed into a hopper inside the stove. The hopper feeds the pellets into the stove for combustion. During an average winter if used full time pellet stoves can consume approximately 6 tons of pellets, but that number of course depends on the size of the home and the energy efficiency of the home.
Catalytic Wood Stoves
Catalytic wood stove route the exhaust gases and products of combustion through a converter. The converter re-burns them which causes a fire that burns longer with more consistent. This can result in less pollution and better efficiency.
Catalytic wood stoves can be more expensive and do require more maintenance and cleaning.
Non-Catalytic Wood Stoves
This type of stove is more common and less expensive than catalytic wood stoves. They are also less efficient. Thy do, however, require less maintenance than a catalytic stove. They rely upon heavy insulation to keep the heat inside the unit to aid in combustion and large baffle which causes a hot flow of combustion gas. They do require more knowledge of their operation to get the best efficiency out of them. The downside is that they can release more pollutants and heating tends to be less even as compared to catalytic stoves. An upside is that from an ambiance standpoint they create a roaring type of fire.
In deciding between a catalytic and non-catalytic stove you should consider costs (catalytic stoves tend to be more expensive) and how much maintenance you are willing to do. Both of these considerations should be weighed against the efficiency of the stoves.
Pot belly stoves often conjure to mind the fat round stoves of yesteryear. They typically have a have a flat top that can be useful for adding a cast iron kettle to heat water that can add to humidity to the room or even experimenting with some cooking. They can add a decorative touch to a room.
If your stove allows, adding an exterior combustion air duct to allow it to use exterior air for combustion instead of pulling it from inside the home or through gaps around windows and doors.
Depending upon the stove, some have circulator fans that can help move warmed air. In addition, small quiet triangular shaped door fans can be added to move warmed air into other rooms.
Use hard woods rather than soft woods as hard woods can produce more heat and less waste and deposits.
FUEL STORAGE AND USAGE
Firewood should be stored in a covered location up off the ground and away from structures. Storing firewood in the home or garage, for example, can create a conducive condition for wood destroying insect activity (e.g., termites). Bring in only what you need and consider storing it in a container with a lid. This allows you to see if insect activity is present as insects sometimes emerge from the wood when brought into a warm place. Storing the wood in a container allows monitoring for this.
Keep wood pellets in dry location. Damp pellets can become damaged and can burn less efficiently and clog the auger in the feeder hopper.
WOOD STOVE SAFETY
Have the stove and its vent professionally installed according to all of the manufacturer's installation instructions and with the benefit of any required municipal permits and inspections. Attention should be paid to hearth installation, wall, floor, and ceiling heat protection and clearance to combustibles.
If the stove smokes, have it inspected by a licensed qualified professional. A properly operating stove should not smoke.
Observe all clearances to combustibles.
Watch for creosote buildup. Creosote is a tar-like substance that is very flammable and can lead to a house or chimney fire. Some causes are poor combustion, improper use of the stove, poor stove installation, or a stove or vent defect. If creosote buildup is found stop using the stove and have it, its vent, and chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional.
Pay attention to odors. An acrid smoky odor can be a sign of creosote buildup. A damp odor could indicate water intrusion down your chimney.
Hire a chimney contractor to add a rain cap and vermin screen to the top of your chimney. This helps to keep animals out (a cause of fires) and keep rain out of the chimney.
Since the surface of a stove can be hot to the touch consider adding a properly installed guard around the stove to prevent burns to children.
Have the stove, its vent, and the chimney inspected prior to the start of each heating season and have them cleaned at the end of the season of more often if used heavily. In addition to cleaning, inspections should include:
Clearance to combustibles
Door operation, seal, and gaskets