Choosing a Wood-Burning Stove for Your Home

Karen Keb gives a few pointers on what to consider when selecting and installing a wood-burning stove.

| September/October 2012

If you’ve picked up this magazine, you’re probably the type of person who likes to do things for yourself: You’ve taken steps to become more self-sufficient and rely less on big industry. With the garden in place and the livestock munching grass in the field, it might be time to turn your attention to the farmhouse and its systems, and explore some ways to become more sustainable there.

Never before has the cost of home heating been so high. The price of nonrenewable home-heating fuels such as propane, fuel oil and electricity is surging due to dwindling resources and higher demand. In hard times, we inevitably return to the wisdom of our ancestors. Before having access to electricity and propane, people chopped wood and heated their homes with fire.

There’s nothing quite like the crackle of wood when it catches fire, the smell of smoke rising through the chimney, and the glow of embers on a cold night. A wood fire warms body and soul, the flames provoking thought and providing solace. And if those flames are capturing your imagination inside a woodstove, you’ll hear only their spit and snap — not the whir of your HVAC churning (i.e. money burning) to keep your home comfortable. By choosing to zone heat your main living area with a wood-burning stove, you’ll substantially cut your fuel bills whether you buy wood or grow and harvest it yourself.

Stove efficiency

Compared to open fireplaces, woodstoves are incredibly efficient at heating a room. Fireplaces create ambience; woodstoves create heat and ambience. The usual home fireplace converts only 10 to 20 percent of the wood burned to heat, whereas wood-burning stoves commonly achieve efficiencies of 50 to 77 percent. A woodstove can heat a single area or an entire home, depending on the size you choose and where you place it. It also has the added benefit of being able to heat your home even during a power outage.

Types of wood-burning stoves

There are three major types of woodstoves: circulating stoves, radiant heaters (“potbellied” stoves), and combustion stoves (“Franklin type”), with circulating stoves typically having the highest efficiencies. Circulating woodstoves are double-walled with an inner combustion chamber, usually made from cast iron. An outer shell of sheet metal promotes airflow over the inner shell, and the room is heated primarily by this heated air, while the outer shell stays relatively cool. The airflow around the inner chamber enables sufficient heat extraction to result in efficiencies of up to 70 to 80 percent. With a circulating stove, you can control draft and heat output with a damper, and some units have a fan that provides even more convective airflow.

If you have an open fireplace and would like to make it more efficient, a woodstove insert can be installed, which will help eliminate drafts, keeping more of the heat out of your chimney and in your home.

12/5/2016 12:54:31 PM

Potbellied and/or Franklin-type stoves haven't been manufactured in any serious way for over 25 years. "Vitrified" clay is most like a toilet bowl. It is NOT the clay used for chimney liners. Clay tiles are used to resist the nasty, corrosive chemicals produced by burning wood. They do not respond well to a rapid temperature change. A flue size "must" be 25% larger than the stove outlet? NOPE! It should ideally match the stove outlet size. A stove MAY be vented into a larger flue, but it will not burn as efficiently.

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