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Your Complete Guide to Wood Stoves


Wood-burning stoves have been around for a long time. In fact, wood stoves first came into use in the 1500s. Today, they’re used to heat homes all over the world.

In the US, wood stoves are most commonly found in areas that experience cold winters. Wood stoves are more efficient today than ever before, which makes them a nice alternative to a traditional gas or electric furnace.

How Do Wood-Burning Stoves Work?

Wood stoves are made of cast iron, stone, or steel. They burn wood, as the name indicates. Wood stoves have the following components:

Stove
Chimney
Damper
Baffle

When you light a fire in a wood stove, the heat from the fire warms the stove and the air in the room. The smoke from the fire is drawn out of the house through the stove’s chimney.

The damper allows you to control airflow to the stove. This airflow control affects the size of the fire and how much heat it puts out.

A baffle (or baffles, depending on the design and size of the stove) increases the combustion time of the fire gasses. This is an important feature since partially combusted gasses are serious air pollutants.

Wood Stove Efficiency

When you think about warming your hands on a chilly winter day, you probably envision sitting in front of a roaring fireplace. However, fireplaces are an inefficient way to heat a space.

Wood stoves are a much better option.

Today’s wood-burning stoves are more efficient and environmentally friendly than the wood stoves of the past. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first enacted energy efficiency standards for wood stoves in 1988. Since then, wood stove efficiency has only improved.

The wood stoves of old, however, have a bad rap. They were smoky and hard to control. Plus they required a lot of firewood. Wood stoves manufactured today adhere to strict, federally regulated emissions standards. These EPA standards ensure that wood stoves use firewood efficiently and do not vent smoke or other harmful indoor air pollutants into the house.

The EPA standards for wood stoves were made even stricter in May of 2020.

Types of Wood Stoves

There are two types of wood stoves: catalytic and non-catalytic. Both types of stoves meet EPA standards. The primary differences between the two are in maintenance levels and heat output.

Catalytic Wood Stoves

Catalytic wood stoves contain a ceramic honeycomb-shaped component. This piece burns the gases and particles from the wood burning inside the stove. By burning pollutants from the fire, the catalytic stove creates more heat and fewer emissions.

The increased efficiency is an attractive advantage for purchasing a catalytic stove.

However, catalytic stoves need more frequent maintenance. The catalytic combustion piece (the honeycomb-shaped bit) needs regular inspection and periodic replacement. If the stove is maintained and used properly, the catalytic combustor plate can last around six seasons.

To maintain a catalytic wood stove, you should clean the catalytic combustor plate once every week or two during the cold season. Be sure to schedule regular stove and chimney inspections, and only burn the proper materials in your stove.

Non-Catalytic Wood Stoves

Non-catalytic wood stoves are less expensive than catalytic wood stoves. They also need less maintenance. Non-catalytic wood stoves still have to meet EPA stove certification requirements.

Non-catalytic wood stoves produce slightly more emissions than catalytic versions. They are not maintenance-free, either. High heat can do a number on the stove components over the years, so be prepared to have internal parts replaced on occasion.

Wood Stove Installation

If you’re interested in adding a wood stove to your home, there are a few things you should know about the installation process.

Size & Location

Room size and stove size are important considerations when purchasing a wood stove.

If your stove is too big, the room will get too hot. If the stove is too small, you’ll find yourself huddled around the stove and not enjoying any other parts of the room.

The location of your wood stove is key. It’s best to put the stove in a well-insulated room. This often rules out placing it in the basement, a typically less-insulated area of the home. Place your stove in a room on the main floor of your home.

Wood stoves work best when placed in the middle of a room since heat will radiate outwards from the stove. Placing a stove in the middle of your living room will obviously affect where you place your furniture. Draw out a plan to make sure your space will be usable when the stove is installed.

Safety Considerations

Stove clearance measures the safe distance between a wood stove and the floors and walls next to it.

Certified stoves meet emissions requirements outlined by the EPA. Antique stoves, though beautiful and charming, are unlikely to be certified. EPA-certified stoves have a label on the back of the stove. The label will tell you when the stove was manufactured and which set of emissions standards it complies with.

If you install a wood stove in your home, you must have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors installed. Test them and replace the batteries twice per year.

Additional Components

A wood stove requires some additional pieces beyond just the stove itself. The wood stove heating system also needs a chimney, stovepipe, and protection for your walls and floor.

Chimneys & Stovepipes

Chimneys and stovepipes must be properly constructed and maintained for your wood stove to operate safely.

Hire a professional chimney company to check on an existing system. Plan for annual inspections to make sure everything’s safe. If you don’t have a chimney system, you’ll need one.
Chimney companies have the expertise to install and make any needed repairs to the chimney system.

Floor & Wall Protection

Floor and wall protection keeps your home safe.

Noncombustible floor pads keep stray sparks from setting your floor on fire. Install a floor pad level with the surrounding floor to prevent tripping. Noncombustible materials used for floor pads include concrete, slate, ceramic tile, or brick.
Walls surrounding a wood stove need to be covered with heat shields, usually made of sheet metal. These shields should be installed by a professional. The pros know the local building code requirements for heat shields.

Wood Stove Maintenance

Schedule regular chimney cleanings to prevent creosote build-up. Have your wood-burning stove cleaned twice yearly, especially right before you start using the stove again.

Not all maintenance needs to be handled by a pro. On a regular basis, remove the ashes from your wood stove and dispose of them properly. Removing ashes from your stove can be messy, so read up on some ash removal tips.

You don’t always have to remove ash every time you start a fire.  A one-inch layer of ash in the bottom of the stove actually helps you build a fire and keep it going. Just don’t let the ashes build up to more than a couple of inches.

At the end of the cold season, remove all the ashes from your stove.