The Essential Wood Stove Buying Guide

wood-stoveA wood stove has been the traditional way to heat a home over the years and it often is the centerpiece of turning a house into a home. Even though we’re nestled deeply into the 21st century, this type of home heating still makes a lot of sense. Using wood to heat a home has many benefits, from an added beauty and ambiance in the home to independence from fluctuating utility bills. As long as you’re willing to manage the supply aspect of the wood going into the stove, you’ll have a successful experience with your new wood stove! 

The only issue that many of today’s homeowners face is the fact that there are a lot of different options that are on the market right now. You can get something pretty black and basic. You can find wood stoves that have tremendously intricate enamel adornments. You can even have your wood stove double as a cooking top if you want!

Where do you begin the selection process? This buying guide will help you use our reviews to select the very best wood stove for your home. Let’s take a look!

Do You Want Something to Heat the Whole Home?

The first decision that you’ll need to make with a new wood stove is about your actual need. Are you looking for a wood stove that will centrally heat your entire home? Or are you looking for a stove that will heat a room or two? Each type of stove has an advantage:

  • Central Heating. When your wood stove is acting as the primary heating source for your entire home, then you’ll be able to maintain a nice, even temperature throughout each room. The wood that you use to fuel the fire is often kept out of sight and you won’t have to worry about spilling ash in your living room when you’re cleaning the stove out. They work best in a large home, but will heat any home when properly managed.
  • Room heating. When installed properly, a stove that heats one primary room can give the remainder of your home the heat it needs as well. You’ll often see this with a wood stove placed in the living room. The heat allows rooms like the basement to stay cooler and it saves a lot of energy.

These are the strengths to consider, but there are also weaknesses to consider with both types of wood stoves as well. A central heating stove is often a lot messier and it can make a smaller home smell like wood or smoke when the fire is burning too hot. If you’re heating with a smaller stove from a living area, colder weather can mean that the outer rooms of the home could get too cold and the pipes could freeze and even burst under certain conditions.

Ready to start comparing products now? Read our reviews of the best wood stoves, or keep reading this guide to learn more.

What Material Should Your Wood Stove Have?

Although you can find wood stoves made of almost anything today, there are two primary types of options you’ll want to look at during your shopping process: cast iron and steel. Both work very well and there really isn’t any difference in how they perform, so the bottom line ends up being aesthetics and price for this part of the decision.

From a long-term perspective, however, welded steel wood stoves tend to perform better because the joints don’t expand like they will in a cast iron stove. Usually at least once every 5 years a cast iron wood stove needs to be at least partially rebuilt to seal its joints so the heat it produces goes through the chimney outlets instead of through the home.

If you have colder winters, it is important to know that you’re going to get what you pay for. A cheap stove made of either material is going to struggle with daily use, so look for the best combination of quality and affordability that works with your budget. In general, the more stove you can afford, the better your experience is going to be.

What Kind of Combustion Should Your Wood Stove Have?

Did you think that you were just going to throw some wood into your new stove and heat your home? That’s the idea, but the process of combustion can take a couple different forms as well. The question here is whether or not you should invest in a catalytic combustion wood stove. With a catalytic combustion, you have a more complicated stove, but in return you get a steadier, longer heat output from your wood. The only issue is that the ceramic combustion element tends to degrade over time and usually needs to be replaced at least once every couple years.

You won’t be able to burn anything but wood in a catalytic combustion stove.

The other version creates a better combustion chamber within the firebox and this often creates a beautiful fire that homeowners really love. You’ll still have maintenance to perform and parts to replace with this type of stove as well, but these stoves are usually a little cheaper. The sacrifice you make is that instead of a long, steady heat output, you’re getting a peak output that is followed by a degrading slope of heat.

What Heat Output Do You Need For Your Home? 

Wood stoves measure their output through the use of British thermal units, where are more commonly known as BTUs. The BTU measures how much heat energy is needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one full Fahrenheit degree. Each wood stove is rated with a maximum level of BTU output so that you’ll know whether or not the stove you’re thinking about purchasing will actually heat your home adequately.

Here’s a quick reference guide to get you started with what your home might need:

  • a home that has modern energy efficiency upgrades will generally need about 24k BTUs per every 1,000 square feet to properly heat the living area;
  • a standard home with regular insulation will generally need about 30k BTUs per every 1,000 square feet;
  • homes that have energy leakage problems and are inefficient may need 35k BTUs per every 1,000 square feet.

When considering your maximum output, it is often a good idea to add about 20% above your initial calculations when using this basic guide because the heat flow can often vary in a wood stove. That way your worst case scenario is that your stove will have extra room to heat instead of not having the right amount of power to fully heat your home on a cold day.

The type of fuel that you use for wood stove will also affect the performance you see. Softwood fuel often produces a higher peak output than hardwoods, but the harder woods will burn longer and more consistently at a lower output

How Big is the Firebox on the Wood Stove?

A lot of the focus on selecting the right wood stove goes toward the materials used to construct it or the amount of heat it produces, but the size of the firebox is also an important consideration. The larger the firebox you have, the larger the blocks of wood you can place inside of it and create longer burns. You’ll find that the standard firebox length is 16 inches and this is practical for most people because it keeps the weight of the wood that needs to be hauled to a reasonable level.

For wood stoves that are designed to heat small rooms only, you’ll want to look for a smaller interior on the firebox because you can save some cash on your purchase. Room heaters don’t need a lot of extra output, which means you can keep your fuel needs smaller as well. The only exception to this rule is if you plan to use a room wood stove to heat the entire home – then you’ll want a standard sized firebox.

There are some wood stoves on the market today that will take 18 inch or even 20 inch logs. These stoves are best for larger homes that need to be heated and will take extra efforts to load. There’s a big weight different between a standard log and a 20 inch log and you’ll need a lot of extra forearm strength to haul the wood for the 20 inch firebox!

You Can’t Overlook the Design Elements of the Stove Either

When you’re looking for a wood stove, you want to select a product that will be easy to use, yet effective enough to keep your home warm and toasty! There are four basic things to look for in a quality design… and you’ll want to make sure your new stove contains all four of these design elements before finalizing your purchase.

  1. The fire doesn’t spill smoke when it is lit. Modern stoves recycle the smoke from the fire to keep the temperatures hot and the heat consistent. Only a small amount of smoke should escape through your chimney or venting system and you should never get overwhelmed with smoke when you’re adding wood to the fire.
  2. You don’t smell the wood stove. A good wood stove will have the interior parts necessary to prevent odors from escaping into your home, especially when it isn’t lit. There should be an air flow prevention tool in place that won’t cause cold air to spill into your home when your fire goes out too.
  3. There’s no backdraft. Many of today’s homes have a kitchen fan installed and this can create problems with certain wood stoves. You don’t want a backdraft situation.
  4. There’s weather protection. Your wood stove should work under any conditions, but unfortunately some setups are influenced by wind speed and direction because of the exhaust placement and lack of backflow prevention.

So what do you need for an effective design? It starts by having a chimney that is long enough to prevent the above issues from occurring. A short chimney creates a wood stove that will be highly influenced by external surroundings and has a greater chance to create smoke and ash pollution within the home.

You’ll also want to install a straight chimney. Any bend in the chimney is a place where a joint can expand and break under heating and cooling conditions. It also takes longer for the exhaust to escape and this can mean air pollution problems over time.

If you’re using a wood stove that is intended to heat a room, then select one that has glass doors to the fire. Not only will this give you a better overall visual aesthetic, but you’ll also have another way to heat the home because the glass will conduct heat into a cooler environment. For larger wood stoves that are designed to heat an entire home, you’ll want a good door that will seal solidly and stand up to the rigors of the head.

As a final design consideration, you’ll want to make sure your fire from the wood stove is exhausted through the highest point of the home. If you do not do this, then there will be portions of your home that will not heat properly and you’ll increase your risks of air pollution.

Which Wood Stove Is Right For You?

Modern stoves are required to meet all government regulations. They keep air pollution to a minimum, yet still provide you with a cost-effective and sustainable alternative to heating a home than systems that utilize electricity or fossil fuels. Although size matters depending on the amount of square feet that needs to be heated, the maximum BTU output should be the first consideration during your selection process. Once you figure out how many heating units you’ll need, you can begin shopping with the rest of the information from this guide.

Heating with a wood stove is a cost-effective way to stay warm during the cooler days. Use this guide and our comprehensive reviews to select the very best stove that will meet all of your needs for years to come!

Now that you’ve learnt all about wood stoves, read our reviews of the best wood stoves to find the right one for your home today.

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