What's the best woodburning stove?
August 25, 2006 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a woodburning stove. I want it to be my home's primary source of heat, and it needs to be the kind that fits inside an existing fireplace.

The house is 2300 square feet, has two stories, and was built in 1855, and so has pretty thick walls. But: the fireplace is in the middle of what has to be one of the first "great rooms" ever -- the kitchen, dining room and living room are all one big space (600 square feet or so). So I don't want to be cooked out of the area in trying to adequaely heat the upstairs. Also: I'd prefer to have an old-school setup - I'd like it to burn wood, not chips, and I don't want to mess with a caalytic converter. I know it probably needs a blower, but if it heats decently with convection (in case the power goes out in the dead of winter) that'd be just grand.
posted by eustacescrubb to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would be surprised if you can heat your house with a wood stove that will fit into an existing fireplace.

As for the catalytic converter, you can ignore it but it is there because of federal regs, not because customers want it.
posted by alms at 5:15 PM on August 25, 2006

You might want to ask this question in the community forum at Hearth.com.

The only woodburning stove that we could find that would fit inside of our existing fireplace was an inset, not freestanding. There are very specific issues with clearance with most woodburning stoves because you cannot control the temperature in those stoves and they get mighty hot.

I've never used one (we're still looking around for ours) but I've heard some good things about Buck Stoves. Morso gets excellent marks as well, but they are pricey. Jotul used to be good but they changed hands and now they are getting bad reviews.
posted by jeanmari at 5:40 PM on August 25, 2006

you don't want the wood stove in the fireplace--that defeats the purpose of having a stove in the first place. it needs to be able to have air circulate all around it, otherwise you are just heating up bricks in the fireplace. it really needs to be free standing to work properly.
posted by lester at 6:20 PM on August 25, 2006

If you don't mind an insert (can be ugly) then you'll probably get enough heat. We used an insert, which had a good blower, as the only heat in a single-storey house about 2400 sq feet, with ceiling fans to move the air around. Having a good blower in the insert is key, I think. This was in inland Mendocino county, N. California. We had some ice in winter but no snow. We used five or so cords of oak over winter.

The main room was 60ft by 30ft (it was an old ranch) and it was nicely warm. Two bedrooms were tolerable but not really warm, and the furthest bedroom was pretty nippy so we used electric blankets on the bed there, and sometimes an electric heater. Depending on your house layout you might get warmer bedrooms -- it was difficult to shift the warm air along the passage to our third bedroom.

I forget what model stove we had (if we ever knew). I bought it used for $100 and it was a great bargain.
posted by anadem at 6:22 PM on August 25, 2006

Fwiw inserts are wood stoves designed to fit partly inside the fireplace -- ie the insert has a heat-exchange jacket, so it doesn't need the exposure that lester points out is required for a free-standing stove.
posted by anadem at 6:24 PM on August 25, 2006

A clarification: I'm aware that putting a freestanding woodstove into the fireplace would defeat the purpose -- I didn't know the industry name for it; now I do (thanks anadem) -- so I need a stove that's a insert.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:31 PM on August 25, 2006

I know it isn't what you are asking for, so you may not want to read on....

I have a non-vented propane stove insert that is designed to look like wood burning. It does a great job of heating my two story (2000 foot) house.

I have been pretty happy with the heater's performance over the past 8 years.

The blower went out a couple of years ago and the company that sold the heater offered to sell me a new one, but told me that a ceiling fan would work just as well.
posted by busboy789 at 6:52 PM on August 25, 2006

Vermont Castings has a lovely insert with electric fan - quite nice.
posted by trii at 8:43 PM on August 25, 2006

We were actually going to get an insert but our flue was a weird shape and we couldn't do it, so we got this freestanding stove with a blower and put it not in the fireplace, but sort of half in and half out. (We have a large firebox.)

We're very, very happy with it -- It heats our entire large first floor, although we do have kind an open floor plan, and sort of heats the second floor where the bedrooms are -- enough so that once you're under the blankets, you're fine for the night.

The large glass door allows you to see the fire just fine, which is nice, and the wood burns very efficiently so that you don't need to keep loading the stove all night. In the morning there's generally enough coals in there where you can just toss in a log or two and get things hopping again.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 2:42 AM on August 26, 2006

In my experience, an old house that size is very difficult to heat completely with a woodstove. Our house is 2600 sq. ft., built in 1890, and our stove is a huge freestanding Vermont Castings (the biggest one they make) on one side of our great room (den, living, and dining rooms are all one big open space). Sitting in the den, 20 feet from the woodstove (all open space), it's usually at least 15 degrees cooler than next to the stove. We even have one of those woodstove fans, which - as far as I can tell - does absolutely nothing.

We had hoped to heat our house only with wood as well, but I don't think there's a woodstove on the market that would do it. Of course, YMMV - we live in New England and it gets mighty cold.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:15 AM on August 27, 2006

Thanks to everyone who answered -- we've visited a Buck Stoves store and a Vermont Castings store, and here's what we've learned:

Those of you who have a Vermont Castings stove and have found it can't heat the whole house -- that seems to be common. Vermont Castings seems to make its money on looks -- their stoves are pretty, but not workhorses. They actually didn't carry anything at the VC store we visited that heated more than 1600 square feet. Also, Vermont Castings no longer sells inserts that aren't catalytic. We walked in, told him what we wanted, and what we wanted to do, and rather than say "We don't sell that," he tried to convince us that we reallyt did want a catalytic stove, and that we would never be able to heat our home with a stove anyway. The VC stove costs about $1000 more than the stove we'll probably get, and it puts out less heat, and the chummney liner they wanted to put in didn't go all the way up the chimmeny!

We're probably going to go with a model 51 Buck Stove insert. This stove can heat up 2600 square feet, and the liner that goes in the chimmney goes all the way up (this has to do with the dealer/installer, not the manufacturer). It's not nearly as pretty as some of the other stoves on the market, but it seems to get good reviews. It also looks like that installation is key-- a bad installation will result in the stove geting no draw, which renders it mostly useless. But if it's properly installed, it really can heat 2600 sq feet.

Thanks to everyone who contributed -- the collection of opinions has helped us make our decision.
posted by eustacescrubb at 9:55 AM on August 27, 2006

eustacescrubb--would it be terribly rude if I asked what that model of Buck stove was going for these days (with or without installation)? If it would be rude, please ignore this question and accept my sincerest apologies.
posted by jeanmari at 6:24 PM on August 27, 2006

Just to add this in here, my wife and I just (yesterday) bought a Hearthstone stove. In case future MeFites are poking around and looking at woodstoves, you might consider Hearthstone.

To jeanmari - I don't know about Buck, but the stoves we were looking at (probably about the same size stoves as Eustace) were around $2,100 to $2,500 for the stove itself. The tubing / chimney adds a lot more on (doubling the cost, really). Installation is around $900. Delivery might be more, on top of that.

It's pricey, but A) it was a gift; B) it'll be our primary mode of heating the house, so we won't have to buy propane.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:08 PM on August 27, 2006


I don't mind at all -- the stove is around 1450, the chimmeny liner 1100 and installation of both 500.

And: we have a friend who said her dad heats his entire old house with a stove he has in his basement; we're waiting to hear what he has. I'll post with that info when we get it.
posted by eustacescrubb at 6:54 AM on August 28, 2006

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