Hearthstone Craftsbury vs. Vermont Castings Intrepid II

Question sent in from Ellen-

Hi Stove Guy, Your website is a great resource for first-time buyers like me (and probably long-time owners, as well!). Thank you for compiling this information and for sharing your personal expertise. I am shopping for a wood stove for a small house. The main level is 800 sq. feet. There is a converted attic space that is an additional 500 sq. feet (also a basement that is 800 sq. feet if that is relevant, but I have no plans to use this as living space). I have pretty much narrowed my options down to two: the Vermont Castings Intrepid II and the Hearthstone Craftsbury. They both seem appropriate for the space I need to heat and they both seem to be high quality with low emissions. I am torn… I really like the top-loading feature of the Intrepid II, but the Craftsbury is bigger, which I like because I want this to be a focal point of the living room (which may not be an issue either way– it’s 200 sq feet). I am wondering if you have any advice or points to consider? Any thoughts are very appreciated! Thanks, Ellen

Well Ellen, they are both great stoves. I do love the top loader in the Vermont Castings as you know, but unless there is a really good reason I typically shy away from the catalytic stoves because of the replacement costs. The Vermont Castings Intrepid II is a catalytic stove. The Hearthstone Craftsbury is not.

So my recommendation in your situation would be the Craftsbury not just because of the non-catalytic system but also because I would go with your gut on how it is going to fit into your room. Your new stove will be off more than it is on and having it look right in the room is critical.

I used a Craftsbury for a few years in my own house as the sole source of heat and was extremely impressed with it.

Hope that helps,

The Stove Guy

Small wood stove in moderate climate

Question from Diane-

First, thank you. Your reviews are tremendously helpful. We live in Southern California, where people are not so well informed on wood stoves, even though many use them in areas not connected to the gas grid. So the resource you provide is most appreciated. Second, we have access to tons of wood, so we are looking to buy a wood stove to heat our 1100 sq ft home. It has three main living areas separated by walls/doors, and a bathroom. We need it for about half the year, most of which it is only needed for parts of the day/night to raise the indoor temperature by 10-15 degrees. We’d ideally like it to be our main heating source, supplemented by an existing fireplace in the living room. If you have a recommendation for the best stove(s) for this application, I would be most grateful.

Diane,

In your case I may suggest a catalytic stove. Simply because it can burn at a cooler temperature and not have problems. A non-catalytic stove requires a hotter fire to engage the secondary burn system and since you live in a very moderate climate I think that may tend to be an issue for you. The catalytic stove is a lot more forgiving in that if you want a smaller or even cooler fire it will still burn efficiently and blast you out of your home. There is the downside of having a catalyst that you have to replace every few years but that is still what I would recommend for you guys.

So with that being said maybe the Vermont Castings Intrepid II might be a good option. If you did not want to go with a catalytic stove I would make sure it was a fairly small stove. Rated to heat 600 or 700 sq feet. Again just because of the fairly moderate climate.

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy

 

How to buy a new wood stove.

How to buy a wood stove.

I often get asked, “Where do I start?” There are so many styles, shapes, prices, models and options out there. It is easy to get overwhelmed. So I thought I would give you some basic principles on where to start. There are basically three general types of wood stoves on the market, Steel, Cast Iron and Soapstone. These are the general materials they are made of. Below is a brief summary of each type, pros and cons.

Steel Wood Stoves

Kuma Ashwood Steel Wood Stove

Kuma Ashwood Steel Wood Stove

Steel is very traditional, the least expensive and very efficient. If you get a good quality steel wood stove it can last a lifetime. They have a pretty basic design, squarish box on a square pedestal or cast iron legs. This type of stove is actually what I currently own in my home, because of the number one reason, the cost! The best brands in order would be Country Stoves (especially their new Grandview is amazing), Enviro, Kuma, Lopi, Quadra Fire, and Regency. If you are on a budget or just want a basic looking stove that will heat well and last a long time, invest in a good quality steel wood stove. Depending on the stove and options these units typically range from $1000 to $2500, anything less than $1000 is most likely not going to last you many years to come.

Lennox Grandview Steel Wood Stove

Lennox Grandview Steel Wood Stove

 Cast Iron Wood Stoves

Vermont Castings Encore Wood Stove

Vermont Castings Encore Wood Stove

Cast Iron wood stove is somewhat synonymous with saying Vermont Castings wood stove. It is all they do, and what they have done for a long, long time. The benefits to cast iron are, you can have a lat more detail to the casting, rather then a stamped out or bent piece of steel they have forms that they cast them in and can get a lot of decoration. Because of the nature of cast iron they can also be dipped in a porcelain enamel coating and have some beautiful colors that steel is unable to have, like the Red Encore pictured above.  Jotul is another very good brand although I do not believe they offer as many pretty colors as Vermont. So basically they are much prettier, just as efficient and should last you just as long as a good steel stove. You are mainly paying more for looks, which is not a bad thing when you consider in most parts of the country it will be sitting in your living room not burning more than it will be burning. Typically range in price from $1800 to $3500.

Jotul Wood Stove

Jotul Wood Stove

 Soapstone Wood Stoves

Soapstone Heat Life Graph

Soapstone Heat Life Graph

Soapstone wood stoves have completely different properties of heating than cast or steel. These stoves are made with a naturally quarried product that is then built into a stove. The good ones have a cast iron frame that holds the soapstone pieces together. Typically the soapstone is about 1 1/4″ thick and the inside of the stove is the inside of the piece of stone and the outside is the outside. Steel and cast iron are both basically transparent to heat, they let the heat generated by the wood fire just flow out into the room. Where the soapstone will actually bank up the heat in the stone and let it out over a much longer period of time. This results in a much longer even heat, and prevents what most wood stove owner know as “sweats to shorts” to “sweats to shorts” with the big peaks and valley of the heat output when stoking the fire. I am kind of partial to these stoves if money were not an object but they are some of the most expensive wood stoves out there, ranging from $2000 to $5000. There are two suppliers in the US, Hearthstone (which I would prefer to steer you towards, because they should have a local dealer near you for the best service) and Woodstock (which are all mail order.)

Wood stock soap stone wood stove

Wood stock soap stone wood stove

Hearthstone Soapstone Wood Stove

Hearthstone Soapstone Wood Stove

So there you have my summary on the three main categories of wood stoves, if you have any experience or knowledge to share please leave it as a comment below for other readers to share.

Yours truly,

The Stove Guy

Stove smoke coming back into house, why?

“I have only burned my stove a few times this year and I am getting a bunch of wood stove smoke in the house? What is wrong with my stove?”

This is a question that I hear all the time around fall about stove smoke in the house. A lot of people do all the maintenance they are supposed to do, have the chimney and stove completely cleaned and inspected in the summer. They have cured wood and have burned stoves for years and yet for some reason are getting the stove smoking back into the house. The answer is simple but sometimes hard to figure out.

Here is the typical scenario.

The nights are starting to get chilly but it is still getting warm during the day. So I say to my wife why don’t we start the wood stove for the first time, we could build just a little fire to take the chill off and let it go out. So we do that and enjoy a loving evening around the first fire of the year. (At this point all the wood stove smoke goes nicely up the chimney)

We may do this another time or two, or maybe even just this once then the next time we try to start the stove it is really hard to start and we get a bunch of stove smoke back into the house every time we open the door. So we think there is something wrong with our stove, and call our stove guy!

So the solution to all the stove smoke coming back into the house is pretty simple. What is happening is that when you are burning a “cold” fire the chimney is not getting “charged”, or hot enough. Also the secondary combustion (reburn tubes) are not getting hot enough to ignite the unburnt smoke. So all of this “cool” smoke goes up the chimney and ends up condensing or hardening on the first cold thing it touches. Both on the inside of the chimney and also the reason for your stove smoke coming back into the house, the “spark arrestor” that is in the chimney cap (pictured below).

Spark arrestor that cause stove smoke backup

Simpson DuraVent Chimney Cap w/ Spark Arrestor

The spark arrestor is their so that if a live ember flew up the chimney the spark arrestor would catch it before it hit the trees or the roof of your house. The solution to the stove smoke coming back into the house is to get up on the roof with a screwdriver and bang on the spark arrestor screen a few times. This will break loose enough of the condensed creosote to let your stove draft properly. I always recommend to my customers to check their local codes and then completely remove the spark arrestor, if code permits of course. Because I think they are a bigger pain than they are worth.

I hope this helps you get off to a succesful burning season with a little less frustration. And as always if you have any specific questions shoot me an email and I will try to answer all questions and maybe we can all learn from them.

Your Truly,

The Stove Guy

Safe Wood Burning Stoves, Top 10 Suggestions.

As we have discussed in previous articles there are a lot of families turning to wood stoves for an economical way to heat there home. With this trend of the increasing use of wood stoves I thought it would be a good idea to list ten suggestions for how to have safe wood burning stoves in your home.

Safe Wood Burning Stoves, Top 10 Suggestions:

  1. Have your stove installed by a NFI (National Fireplace Institute) certified technician. These technicians have gone through quite a bit of training to get this title. They also have annual requirements to maintain it. This does not guarantee a perfect installation but it definitely is a step towards having safe wood burning stoves. You can click on the link above and type in your zip code to find someone in your area.
  2. Probably the least well known and the most important is to burn dry seasoned wood and burn a hot fire. If you burn wet wood the fire will not burn as cleanly. The stove and chimney will get dirty. That creosote buildup is what will eventually ignite and cause a chimney fire. Your door glass on the front of the stove is a great indicator of how dirty the chimney is getting. Dirty black glass = dirty black chimney, and vice-versa.
  3. Keep everything back away from the stove. (Stacks of wood, curtains, furniture, etc. etc.)
  4. Put a smoke detector in the room with the wood stove, and test regularly.
  5. When removing ashes, put into METAL container with a lid and put outside immediately. It is amazing how long that hot coals can hide snuggled all down into those ashes.
  6. Have the chimney cleaned/inspected by a qualified chimney sweep once per year. This is the best prevention step you can do because I good chimney sweep can see issues before they happen and help you correct them.
  7. Read your owners manual! Even if you are having a professional install your stove, you need to read your owners manual double check all clearances to combustibles and read the manufacturer’s recommendations for proper operations. Each stove is a little different and even if you have had safe wood burning stoves all of your life I still recommend reading the manual.
  8. Another huge point to having safe wood burning stoves is to GET THE RIGHT SIZE! Too many people out there are used to having a big firebox. Where I can “Stuff a 22 inch piece of wood into” These new efficient wood stoves are a lot more efficient and use a lot smaller piece of wood to heat the same or larger area. One of the most common problems I see is that people tend to want to size their new wood stove by the size of wood that it holds rather than the square footage of their house. This becomes a big problem and leads back into #2. Even if you have dry, seasoned wood and the stove you bought is way too big it will be very hard for you to burn the stove at the proper temperature and blow yourself out of a 90 degree house.
  9. Be very careful with children around wood stoves. You should train them when they are young that wood stoves are hot and hurt when you touch them. If you do not teach them how to be safe and respect a fire, then it will be inevitable there will be an accident. You can’t watch them 100% of the time so teach them well. That is the only way to own a safe wood burning stove if you have children.
  10. If you are installing yourself, do not “cut corners”. This is your families safety you are talking about, having safe wood burning stoves in your home is the only way to do it. Make sure the clearances in front of the door are correct, along with all the clearances to combustibles easily met. It is not worth the risk.

 

Well thank you for reading my Top 10 suggestions for SAFE WOOD BURNING STOVES! If I could add one more thing it would be to use common sense in all your wood burning. That may be the one thing we are missing most in our world today!

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy

A Wood Stove, How does it work?

Here is a walk through of a Non-catalytic wood stove. I took a picture of a cutaway display model stove so I can show you what the inside looks like.

We will follow the path that the air takes for combustion. First the air is drawn into the stove at the bottom. This is where the damper controls how much air is allowed to come into the stove.

 

Wood Stove Primary combustion air

 

Next the air travels up along the air chambers on both sides of the stove and gets preheated before it comes into the firebox.

Path that combustion air travels to get into the wood stove.

Each manufacturer does this next part a little differently, with varying degrees of success. I would talk to an experienced salesperson or see the fire burning before you buy. This picture shows the “Air Wash” which is where the air comes into the firebox down past the glass. This keeps a “curtain” of air moving between the glass and the fire to keep the glass staying clean.

Picture of the air wash system in a wood stove.

Next your main combustion happens which is burning up all but roughly 100 grams per hour of fuel.

Location of main combustion in the wood stove.

That unburnt fuel hits these “Re-burn Tubes”. There is a little bit of secondary combustion are drawn in from another location outside the stove. When that fresh oxygen mixes with those unburnt particulates and the temperature is hot enough they will re-ignite. This secondary combustion is what makes the stove EPA certified and have an average of about 3 grams per hour of emissions.

Reburn tubes in this epa certified wood stove.

Lastly the air flows forward in the stove then back past the top plate to pick up the absolute most heat it can before it exits up the chimney system.

Air exiting process in the wood stove.

This is how an EPA certified wood stove functions.

The cutaway that I walked you through here is a Country Stoves Striker 160, made by Lennox Hearth Products.

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy

Is an epa certified stove more efficient than the old style?

Wood stoves can come in all shapes and sizes, but when you break it down they are basically a metal box that you can build a fire in. This fire creates heat and the heat transfers through the metal to warm your house. The difference between and EPA certified stove and a non-certified stove is what we will discuss here.

The catch is that they have to be vented to the outside of the house for the smoke and exhaust to get out. And naturally a good portion of the heat and un-burnt smoke goes up the chimney. This can lead to both a lot more wood being burned than is necessary and unnecessary air pollution that is a big deal in different areas.

So about 22 years ago now the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) stepped in and started requiring manufacturers to pass specific testing and enforce EPA certified stoves to be the only ones that could be sold. An EPA certified stove is still the only type of wood stove that you can buy to heat your home in the US, Canada and many other countries.

The US just last year passed some laws that will not allow you to sell your home with an un-certified  wood stove present. It must be removed and recycled before closing.

So what is the difference between an EPA certified stove and a un-certified wood stove you ask. Well as you might guess it is the emissions, which is what the EPA’s job is to regulate. Most older un-certified stoves emitted up to 100 gr/hr (Grams per hour), EPA certified stoves are required to be less than 7.5 for non-catalytic and 4.1 for catalytic currently, with laws coming in the near future threatening to tighten that up even farther.

The benefit to a consumer besides polluting less is actually getting a lot more heat into your home for every piece of wood that you burn. The difference between that 100 gr/hr and the average EPA certified stove of about 3.5 gr/hr is that you are burning every little bit of fuel up and thus using a lot less wood to get the same or more heat. Other benefits are less ash, cleaner glass door, and a cleaner chimney.

A cleaner chimney actually makes a wood stove safer because you have a lot less chance of chimney fires. That 100 gr/hr building up on the inside of the chimney the igniting at a later date is called a chimney fire and I think is one of the major causes of house fires with wood stoves. That risk is signifigantly reduced when you only have about 3.5 gr/hr of particulate going up the chimney.

Hopefully this has given you some good information about what an EPA certified stove is and why it is important. Anything sold since roughly 1990 will be EPA certified, there will be an article in the near future with how to tell if a stove is EPA certified or not. Stay Tuned!

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy

A guide to wood heating

A Guide To Wood Heating

This is a guide to wood heating was published by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, an agency of the Canadian federal government. From its first publication in 1993, this booklet has been very popular. Tons of copies of this book were ordered and distributed by insurance agents, fire departments and wood heating retail stores.

Although it was written for Canadian citizens, so the references to installation codes and laws may not be applicable outside of Canada, there is a lot of useful information in it’s 80 pages that can be applied anywhere.

Most of our articles will expand in more detail on some of the topics discussed in this book, but I thought it was a nice free resource to make available to anyone that was interested.

If you do take the time to read it please leave us some comments on sections you particularly liked or didn’t like..

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy

A Guide to Wood Heat

Do people actually still burn wood to heat their home?

Yes absolutely, people burn wood stoves as their primary heat source is on the rise in most parts of the country.

According to the US Census bureau in 2010 over six million homes in the United States burn wood as their primary heat source (only 2% of the population, but still that is a lot of people). This is even higher for those having a wood stove as a secondary heat source. It definitely depends on what part of the country you live in. Below is a map that USA today published in an article toward the end of last year.

USA Today Map of users that burn wood stoves

Increase in wood stove users from 2000 to 2010

I personally think that although burning wood can be a lot of work, very messy, and not convenient all the time, it is one of the best ways to heat your home. It gives that wonderful, dry, penetrating warmth that I don’t think you can really get from any other type of heat.

Whether you live in the country and have access to your own wood or need to buy your wood, it can be one of the most economical ways to provide warmth for your family, which is one reason I think we are seeing the trend we are above. A lot of us are trying to save money any way that we can and heating our homes is a big bill every year.

One of the main reasons a lot of people ask if anyone still burn wood stoves is because of all of the laws, regulations, and media coverage on wood stove smoke and pollution; but I would say that there are countless government programs and rebates out their at the moment to promote people to either install a new “epa certified” wood stove or upgrade their existing 20+ year old uncertified stove to a certified one. So I don’t see wood stoves going away anytime soon, but I do see laws in the future banning the use of uncertified stoves and tightening up even farther on what constitutes an “epa certified” stove.

The current federal standards are that a non-catalytic wood stove has to be less than 7.5 grams per hour of emissions and a catalytic stove less than 4.1 grams per hour. Some states have even stricter requirements like Washington state says that non-catalytic wood stoves have to be less than 4.5 grams per hour. These numbers are down from around 60 grams per hour that your traditional “steel box” wood stoves would have been.

Yours Truly,

The Stove Guy!