DAN'S GUIDE TO CHOOSING A WOOD STOVE OR FIREPLACE
Following is some of the information we provide customers when they stop in one of our stores. Let's get right to it!
Basically there are 3 kinds of stoves available to the residential public: Steel Stoves, Cast Iron Stoves and Soapstone Stoves. There are 2 kinds of burning technologies: Catalytic and Non-Catalytic. All stoves have to be tested to meet EPA Government Regulations for emissions. The most common testing laboratories are Omni, Warnock-Hershey, UL, Radco and some others whom provide certification.
Folks are not really shopping for efficiency anymore but it seems to be the very first thing that they ask for. The definition for efficiency is not what the customer expects. Efficiency is the amount of carbon particulate per million that is vented out from the stove from the wood burning process to the outside.
Non-Catalytic technology usually has a primary and secondary air inlet to provide oxygen to the combustion chamber of the stove to burn the wood hot enough to meet efficiency standards by the EPA. This means that almost all stoves have to burn very hot to burn wood efficiently with minimal particulate emission.
Stoves are designed in a manner to burn wood efficiently by design. This means that if you put wood into a stove it is expected that you will burn that wood efficiently. In order to do this the manufacturer has designed the stove to accept air into the firebox chamber at a designed and engineered rate to burn a variety of common wood to EPA efficiency standards. The controls on the appliance have to be manufactured in a way that neither the Dealer nor the Consumer can easily manipulate airflow design in order to slow down the fire or increase the fire.
Some control has been given on the primary air intake to provide a range for air adjustment for the various wood consistencies that are normally encountered. The controls do not have an off position. The primary control will provide about a 10% +/- adjustment to the total burning performance of the stove.
In all Non-Catalytic cases the larger the stove the more wood that can be placed into that stove so an old standard called “Burn Time” is increased. The wood in a smaller stove will burn very closely to that in a bigger stove. But because you cannot put in as much wood in a smaller stove you have less burning time. So by default purchasing a larger stove and putting less wood into it will do the same as a smaller stove given the same wood/fuel amount. The benefit of the larger stove is obviously more heat.
CHOICES: Steel, Cast Iron OR Soapstone
Steel only comes in a painted black color whereas Cast Iron Stoves come in several enamel colors besides black. Steel stoves look very much the same and not very much can be added to them for “bling bling”. With steel one can have choices of pedestal, or legs. Legs and doors also come in black, gold or silver finishes for a more pleasing look. We accept the fact that steel stoves are the “Ugly Guys” in the stove world but can product the fastest heat in a cabin.
Cast Iron stoves are much more decorative and come in many colors and can vary in looks quite a bit from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Soapstone Stoves only come in one stone color (Gray) but the castings that hold the stone together come in many enamel colors.
Steel stoves and Cast iron stoves are the choice to make when selecting a cabin stove because they can get really hot quickly and give heat to a cabin when most needed. The soapstone models are a nice choice for the home wood burner as they release the heat much more slowly and have a high comfort heating quality. In Alaska heat is a nice thing to have!
BURN, BABY, BURN!
The only catalytic stove that we promote is the Blaze King. This is the exception to the Non-Catalytic type stoves. The catalyst is a combustor that once activated by heat from a fire will burn the carbon particulates to a very high efficiency level. Much higher than Non-Cat stoves. Consequently the catalytic stoves burn rate can be lowered about 4 to 5 times than that of a Non-Cat.
Going back to the Blaze King catalytic stove. It has a reported 63 hour burn time on a full load of spruce. The Blaze King Company advertises it as a 40 hour burn time as they are very conservative in their estimated and do not have any issues with customer expectations. Drawbacks from this type of stove is it’s steel and it’s ugly. Gosh darn the truth sucks! The glass on the door will go very black on the lower air control selections but will clear up some with a medium burn rate. Nonetheless it’s the choice that this “Fat Man” will make in Alaska! I Hate to cut wood and wood is the most expensive fuel in the world! Wait till you have a bad back and little knee joint movement then you can make that call.
Wood burning fireplaces have a lot of front choices. Please see our fireplace pages for the many manufacturers and styles.