The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Efficient wood stoves

Efficient, non-catalytic wood stoveWhile I'm on the subject of more efficient stoves, I wanted to do some research into efficient wood stoves for space heating.  Our exterior wood stove is a good choice for heat on our farm since wood is a renewable resource (and is cheaper than most other options), but I'm still concerned about the pollution that comes out the chimney.  Luckily, scientists have been plugging away at building a better wood stove and have developed models that can eliminate 90% of the smoke and use only about half the wood.

The new, energy-efficient stoves come in two categories.  The first, shown to the right, is a non-catalytic stove that increases its combustion efficiency using firebox insulation, a large baffle that extends the gas flow path, and pre-heated combustion air (which is actually a lot like the reasoning behind the design of the rocket stove.)
Catalytic wood stove
Wood stoves with catalytic converters (shown on the left) can cut emissions of even the most efficient non-catalytic stove in half, but they don't seem to use less wood.  Although I'd love to be polluting less, catalytic wood stoves aren't the best choice for most homesteaders.  The $100 to $200 catalytic converter wears out within two to six years, and you need to be relatively adept at tinkering to keep it in prime operating condition.  The startup costs are also higher

So how much does a new, energy-efficient wood stove cost?  From what I can find online, it seems like new non-catalytic wood stoves start around $1,200 and go as expensive as you can imagine.  In 2009 and 2010, there's a 30% tax credit in effect for buying wood stoves with at least 75% efficiency, which is a great deal if you can use it.  If you buy and burn a lot of wood, a more efficient wood stove might pay for itself even without the tax credit --- I estimate that we'd start saving money after about 4 years if we bought the cheapest model.

Although efficient wood stoves seem like a good idea, I'm still not ready to take the plunge.  I'm very curious about whether our current wood stove could be retrofitted to increase its efficiency.  Has anyone tried that out?

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I love wood stoves. Sadly, we don't have one now in the city. There wasn't a good place to put one and here on the prairies wood is about $450/cord. On our acreage we had 2 - a Jotul and a Waterford, one on each level as if your furnace goes at -30 C. (it did) you need to keep things humming along. They were wonderful stoves. Interesting about the catalytic converter. I was looking into a Blaze King insert for when we move to our little cabin (in the bush) as they say they are very efficient and burn a lot less wood, with 20-hour burn times at night. I have a feeling they are pretty expensive. Not sure about the converter though. I will have to check into this more. Thanks for the info. Here is a great site on wood heat, stoves, etc. It is by John Gulland, who writes for Mother Earth News. He lives in Ontario, probably a climate similar to yours. As well, the current Mother Earth has an article on raising your own chicken feed and growing your own grain. Probably not as good as your info though. :) Take care. Heather
Comment by Heather Wed Feb 3 12:58:13 2010

$450 a cord?! Wow! I guess wood heat isn't really an option there. I'll have to check out

I just read the Mother Earth News today and was shocked! Talk about great minds think alike?!?!

Comment by anna Wed Feb 3 19:45:56 2010
You should check out russian fireplaces, they are able to heat your home for about 24 hours with 2-4 peices of wood. Im told they can run on about a cord of fire wood per season. They are also very efficient with almost no emmissions. the only down side is that the massive masonary structure is also massivly expensive.
Comment by TJ Thu Oct 4 10:42:38 2012
TJ --- I suspect the other downside is that the massive masonry structure is massively heavy. :-) I'm not sure our little trailer is strong enough to support that....
Comment by anna Thu Oct 4 13:05:20 2012

Look into masonry furnaces. Compared to wood stoves, they make your house more comfortable, use less wood, require less attention, never need a chimney cleaned if operated properly, are less likely to burn your house down, last longer, are allow ashes to be removed from the basement, if planned that way, and let you have a wood fired oven, if you want.
They are more expensive, require a mason to install/build, and will stay with the house if you move, since they are part of an interior wall.

Comment by Marty Sun Jan 19 19:28:06 2014

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