Near the top of the List of Essentials is is keeping warm. One surefire way to do that is with a wood-burning heat stove. Wood stoves are reliable as a main source of heat or as backup but can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 new, so buying used is a practical way to go. Before you buy however, there are a few things you should know.
First of all, you need a good, certified wood stove. Why certified? Because they use less than half the wood that the previous generation of wood stoves used, don’t exhaust clouds of unburned soot into the air, and have close clearances to combustibles, some as close as 4″. Also because certified wood stoves are mandated by the EPA in all fifty states.
Virtually all certified stoves have a ceramic window that looks like glass but is impervious to heat, through which you can enjoy the fire and keep up with the need to adjust the wood or to feed in more. I don’t recommend getting a stove with a catalytic combustor as they are more expensive and have a declining efficiency. The efficiency of a non-combustor-equipped stove never changes and newer standards have been met without combustors since 1990, when the current EPA standards were established.
The fire chamber in certified stoves is engineered to burn wood efficiently without smoldering, even when shut down all the way. This gives you more heat from each piece of wood while exhausting cleaner and hotter, thus almost completely eliminating creosote buildup in the chimney. By the way, never connect a 6″-exhausting certified stove into a 8″ chimney. Because of the engineered burn, all certified stoves are designed for a 6″ flue which has a stronger draft than an 8″. Be sure to use listed stovepipe and adhere to the clearances on the pipe and the stove for a safe installation. Your insurance company can deny a fire claim caused by a stove that is improperly installed or is not safety listed. Also, I recommend a wind-directional rotating cap on all wood stove installations. They are the solution to back drafting, caused by a high wind forcing itself down your chimney and filling your house with smoke. You will want one after the first time the smoke alarms wake you up in the middle of the night!
Here are some things to look for on a used wood stove :
• All legal wood stoves must have an EPA sticker on the back. This sticker shows the production date, efficiency, grams per hour (gph) of emissions, as well as the clearances to combustibles for various applications.
• The production date should be July 1, 1990 or later.
• Inside the firebox and above the secondary air tubes is the baffle plate. Look for warped baffle plates from overheating the stove. This is more common in a smaller stove used to heat a larger area. The steel plates are removable and can be replaced for about $50.
• A cracked glass can be replaced for about $75. This is usually Robax ceramic and is impervious to heat although it breaks like glass. The prevention is to make sure the log fits inside the stove before closing the door on it.
• If the stove needs a paint job, use Forrest Stove Bright paint. After wire-wheeling off the rust and loose paint and cleaning with lacquer thinner, fog on the first coat. Follow with a slightly heavier second coat, and finish with a normal third coat. This paint fully cures under heat so a small fire must be built initially, followed by a hotter fire until out-gassing is completed. When the smell goes away the paint is cured. Open the windows during the curing process.
• The braided gasket around the door can be replaced for around $20 and will need to be glued in place. The special glue is around $10.
• Firebricks can be purchased at your local wood stove store. They are around $4 each.
Once installed, a wood stove should give you a lifetime of trouble-free service. There is however some maintenance involved. The ash will need to be removed from time to time and the window cleaned daily. The inside of the stovepipe will need to be cleaned annually with a wire brush but don't be surprised if you don't find much creosote. The newer stoves burn clean, remember? They accomplish this by burning hotter inside the firebox and exhausting hotter (and cleaner) into the flue pipe. The newer flue pipes are packed with ceramic wool and rated to 2100 degrees. The unburned creosote that used to build up in the old triple-walled air-cooled flue pipes is sparse and, with annual maintenance, so are flue fires. The newer insulated pipes get hotter quicker and stay hot longer, thus increasing the draft and practically eliminating creosote buildup.
Keep your eyes peeled on Craigslist for a good deal on a used stove. Just last week I called on a newer Lopi for $400 but someone offered them $450 and they took it. That was a $1,800 stove when old new four years ago and it was barely used. Once in a while I will find a certified stove in good shape for around $200. I am always on the lookout for used stoves for friends and sometimes I’ll turn one over for a profit.
If you buy a used stove manufactured after July 1, 1990, it will comply with the Phase II standards which are 7.5 gph of particulates. Washington is the only state to have it’s own standards which are 4.5 gph. Most new stoves and some used ones will meet this standard and some are as low as 1-2 gph. Check “EPA Certified Stoves” online if you find a used stove you are considering. This site lists most of the stoves which have been certified but not all of them. Some stoves presently being manufactured in other countries are missing from the list.
Inside the house, I keep a weeks worth of firewood near the stove in brick bins built for that purpose. The raised hearth is 3 1/2″ thick concrete and full of rebar, allowing me to split kindling right on the hearth. Under the hearth is a large kindling drawer where I also keep paper. Implements are hanging on hooks nearby. I use a coal hod to carry out the ash and to carry in more kindling.
My favorite wood stove is a Brass Flame. They are certified of course, and are built like a Sherman Tank. They have a double-air opening for quick-starting the fire, they look good and burn efficiently. I have found used ones for several friends and relatives. I am a little prejudiced in this department; my brother developed the Brass Flame and it was the first stove to pass the emission standards without a catalytic combustor. All certified stoves on the market now copy his combustion process, the big secret being lots of secondary and tertiary air. He made 10,000 of them before selling to Earth Stove, who made them for a few years and then sold to a bigger company, who dropped the line. If you can find one, you won’t be disappointed! Other brands I look for are QuadraFire, Lopi, and Avalon but I will consider others, especially if they are in good shape.
When heating with wood, it is a good idea to keep a pot of water on the stove to replace the moisture removed by the dry heat. An old cast-iron kettle serves well for this purpose. Another addition that is very helpful is a ceiling fan, positioned close to the stove and used to move the heat away from the stove. Without a fan, the heat takes a longer time to fill the house. Since heat seeks cold, it does eventually warm the place up, but in the dead of winter, who wants to wait? This small addition makes a big difference!
One more thing that makes a big difference in helping to heat your home more efficiently is bringing in outside air directly to the stove. This is required in mobile homes and all new homes, but is a good idea in any home. If you have a crawlspace under your home, a 3″-4″ pipe into the crawlspace is adequate for this purpose. In my case, I put in a 4″ pipe to open air before the slab was poured. Pedestal stoves are designed for outside air while stoves with legs will need to be adapted. Special outside-air adapters can be ordered or made for any stove.
When buying a wood stove, look for one with a flat top on which you can cook your food in a pinch. All newer stoves have a baffle plate around which the exhaust must go and in the process the stove top heats up nicely. Stoves with a stepped-top lack the space for a frying pan. During power outages, your stove can do double duty, heating the home and cooking your supper!
To clean the ceramic glass in the morning when the stove is cold, I simply get a piece of newspaper wet with water and emulsify the creosote, scraping it off with a razor. Even the best stoves get buildup on the window.
It is comforting to have my three cords of oak firewood put up for the winter, knowing that if a storm or blizzard should blow through or the power should go out (sometimes for days) my family and I will be warm and able to cook on our trusty wood stove. Our kids remember those times as special, with all of us in the same room not far from the stove while outside the snow is piling up and the wind blowing. There is nothing like the steady warmth of wood heat to soothe the soul and warm the body. It is primal. To me, it seems the way God meant it to be!