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Light My Fire: How to Choose the Best Wood Stove for Your Home and the Earth
Sunday, 25 November 2012 00:00  |  Written by Kim Ridley | Article

Wood Pellet Stove and Bags of Pellets photo courtesy of USDAA great wood stove is like the perfect life partner: it makes you feel warm inside and out, while being romantic, reliable and low-maintenance. It’s also environmentally friendly and economical. Whether you want to heat your entire house or warm up a room, choosing the right wood stove makes all the difference. Here’s what you need to know before committing.

Will Mother Approve?
If you care about the environment, you’ll be happy to know that wood heat is a sustainable option. The Alliance for Green Heat estimates that installing an efficient wood or pellet stove in a single-family home can keep between two and four tons of carbon out of the air every year. But you’ll win Mother Nature’s approval only if you choose the right stove, have it properly installed and learn the best burn practices.

Hot Stuff
Wood stoves crank out between 35,000 and 100,000-plus BTUs (British Thermal Units) per hour. Figure about 35 BTUs for every square foot of space you want to heat, so a 1,200-square-foot ranch home would require a stove that produces about 42,000 BTUs.

Does Size Matter?
“Don’t be dazzled by all the numbers that get tossed around,” advises John Gulland, co-founder of the Wood Heat Organization, Inc., in Ontario, Canada. It’s easy to get bogged down comparing BTU output and other criteria, but “there’s a fairly narrow spread in efficiency” between the highest- and lowest-rated stoves, according to Gulland.

He suggests following a simple rule of thumb to determine the size of your wood stove. Choose a small stove to heat a cabin or large room, a medium stove to heat a small-to-medium-sized, well-insulated house and a large one for heating a big or drafty house.

Keep in mind that bigger isn’t necessarily better. A wood stove that’s too big not only overheats your space, it can also be inefficient and more polluting because you may need to run it below its optimal operating capacity.

Know Your Type
Wood stove innards changed dramatically after the EPA set new performance standards in 1988 to reduce air pollution from wood smoke. Certified wood stoves emit 7 0% less pollution (aka smoke) than pre-1990 models.

Today’s wood stoves come in two varieties: catalytic or non-catalytic. Catalytic stoves burn cleaner and produce a long, even heat, but are generally costlier and need more daily and lifetime maintenance. They’re a good choice for techies who like to tinker to optimize performance and die-hard environmentalists who want to curb the maximum amount of wood-smoke emissions. Non-catalytic models are generally less expensive and easier to operate.

Use a Matchmaker
There are many other considerations in finding the right wood stove. Mostly it comes down to your priorities. Fortunately, there are organizations out there to help you determine these. The Alliance for Green Heat, for example, provides a comprehensive checklist of questions—from environmental concerns to safety and cost—to help you zero in on your choices and match you with the best wood stove for your needs.

Wood Stove photo by Kim RidleyAvoid Blind Dates
Once you’ve determined your basic heating needs and type preference, its time to find the one. Gulland says the biggest mistake people make is trying to get a deal by shopping for a wood stove online. “We get a lot of e-mail from people who tried to do that and are now having issues and are desperate for help, but by then it is often too late.”

Instead, he recommends finding a reputable dealer in your area who also can provide installation, troubleshooting and maintenance. Also, it might be instructive to ask your dealer what kind of wood stove he or she uses at home, Gulland suggests.

Materials also affect the cost of wood stoves. Welded steel models are the most popular choice and Gulland says good-quality steel stoves are now just as durable as cast-iron ones because all of the heat-stressed parts are replaceable. Stone vs. metal is mainly a matter of aesthetics. Although soapstone can be a pricier option, some people just can't help swooning over its looks.

Money Can Buy You Love
New wood stoves can cost between $2,000 and $3,500, plus installation. That’s not cheap—and prices can run even higher.

Even better news is that your stove should easily pay for itself after a short time. The Energy Information Administration’s Heating Fuel Comparison Calculator (xls) estimates that it costs $9.09 to produce one million BTUs from cord wood, compared to $16.44 from oil. Through such savings, the right wood stove can cut heating costs by up to 40%, according to experts. That’s a very attractive number.

Get Uncle Sam's Help
The federal government was offering a 30% tax credit on EPA-certified wood stoves, but that ended on December 31, 2010. Some states, however, offer deals through wood stove change-out programs that aim to slash air pollution. These initiatives give rebates, discounts and loans to encourage homeowners to replace their old polluting stoves with newer efficient models.

Avoid Long-Distance Relationships
The most important consideration in getting the most out of your wood stove over the long haul is “…location, location, location,” according to Gulland. “Many people put wood stoves in their basements and then try unsuccessfully to get the heat upstairs, where they live.” He advises locating your wood stove in the place where you spend most of your time and want to be warmest.

All in all, wood heat is a romantic, affordable and sustainable option. Now that’s something to feel really good about while you’re cozying up to the fire.

Additional resources:
Generating Heat: Best Home-Heating Options for Both Wallet and World
All About Eco-Friendly Windows, Awnings, Blinds, and Shades
Green Home Buyers’ Guide: How to Buy an Eco-Friendly House

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Comments (4)add
Written by CANCERkILLS , December 24, 2011
The US EPA warns that exposure to a fraction of a nanogram of PAH increases our risk of developing cancer. Woodsmoke contains several carcinogens, including benzene, benzo[a]pyrene, formaldehyde. Burning 1 kg of wood in a modern heater produces more benzo[a]pyrene than the smoke from 27,000 cigarettes; more benzene and formaldehyde than the smoke of 6,000 cigarettes

Burning two cords of wood produces the same amount of mutagenic particles as: Driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon or driving 2 diesel powered cars 10,000 miles each @ 30 miles/gallon. These figures indicate that the worst contribution that an individual is likely to make to the mutagenicity of the air is using a wood stove for heating

Tobacco use is decreasing; illegal in public places, yet Lung Cancer is the most prevalent, hardest to detect early and treat. It is the number one killer in the USA of all types of cancer. It is the number 2 cause of death from all diseases in the US.

It kills more women then breast and cervical cancer combined. There is more then one cause for this increase. Residential Wood Smoke is one of them.

Free radicals produced from wood smoke are chemically active for twenty minutes; tobacco smoke free radicals are chemically active for thirty seconds. Wood smoke free radicals attack our body’s cells and stress our immune systems up to forty times longer then tobacco smoke.

In most areas 80% to 90% of our particulate matter pollution comes from wood burning. For folks with Asthma, COPD, Emphysema, Cancer, Allergies, Bronchitis, MCS this is life-threatening!!!

Wood smoke is a major source of dioxin, the most toxic substance known to science...Dioxin is passed from mothers to babies.
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Written by Fred Lopiccolo , November 24, 2011
I have just purchased a new wood stove. It's max Btu is 75,000/per hour, firebox is 2.3 cubic ft and it is rated to heat 500-2100 square feet. I have a 1500 square foot home and was wondering if this model is overkill? I have an open floor plan. living space bleeds into kitchen area and 2 bedrooms are between 20-30 feet away from wood stove. these bedrooms are on outside walls and freeze durning northern michigan months. Thanks.
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Written by Kathleen Caldwell , January 08, 2010
And whoever thought that an article about woodstoves could be entertaining - as well as helpful and interesting.
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Written by John Ackerly , December 27, 2009
Great article. Wood and pellet stoves are one of the cheapest ways to lower your carbon footprint. Solar, wind and geothermal are far more expensive. The average American emits about 20 tons per year and usually about a quarter of that is for space heating.
More details here:

John Ackerly,
Alliance for Green Heat
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