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How To: Choose a wood stove

November 13, 2009

Beyond their romantic glow and homey crackle, modern wood stoves produce low-cost heat, and burn cleanly and efficiently, producing minimal ash and smoke. You pick the technology and choose the ideal-size stove to match your heating needs. Buy the most efficient stove you can afford and it will pay for itself in the long run.

Before you rush out and buy the first wood stove that looks attractive to you and your family, consider how often the wood stove will be used and how much you can I afford to spend.

And certainly consider whether young children will be present when the stove is in operation -- a possible safety hazard? Ask yourself, also, if there any other significant problems to consider, such as the ability of other family members to operate the stove when needed? Then, evaluate your home's floor plan to determine where you should install a wood stove. Some stoves can heat an entire house, but others work best as zone heaters for the most-used areas.

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A stove placed in one room will heat adjacent rooms if there's good airflow at the ceiling and floor.

Show a dealer a sketch of your home, the area that needs heat, and a description of the insulation surrounding that area. The dealer will help you calculate the proper stove size, expressed in British Thermal Units (BTUs). You'll waste money if you buy too big a stove, and it will either create a smoky fire or use more fuel than necessary.

You might want to talk to one or more professional chimney sweeps (csia.org) about the brands you're interested in and get their recommendations.

A catalytic combustor stove ($1,000 - $2,000) cuts normal burn temperatures in half for a slow, controlled fire with the fewest emissions. Look for a cast iron or plate-steel stove body 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick and a tight closing bypass plate 5/16 inch (8 mm) thick. Also look for a design that protects the combustor from direct flame.

Consider noncatalytic (also called recirculating) stoves ($500 to $2,200) for their two-chamber combustion, which injects jets of preheated air into the fire to boost heat and reduce emissions. Look for a cast-iron or plate-steel body 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick.

To resist warping, the fire chamber's baffle should be 5/16-inch (8 mm) plate steel with V-shaped supports. These models have no combustor to maintain, but their smaller fireboxes mean you'll have to use shorter logs and load them more frequently.

You could also buy a super-efficient pellet stove ($1,700 to $3,000) for the cleanest-burning option. They burn easy-to-handle pellets formed from wood waste. A thermostat-controlled auger delivers fuel from a hopper to the firebox. Fans pull air in and exhaust gases out through a house-warming heat exchanger. Pellet stoves need battery backup during power outages.

Get toasty warm beside stylish stoves in steel or soapstone. Design options to consider include legs or a pedestal base, colorful porcelain finishes and tile accents. Check out well-known brands such as Castle Pellet Stoves (www.castlestoves.com) and Cumberland Stove Works (www.cumberlandstoveworks.com).

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