Everything You Need to Know About Wood Stoves

a wood stove in a cabin style room

Wood stoves are an efficient way to heat your home, and they tend to have a distinctive, rustic style. Here's an introduction to these classic heating devices.

Wood Stoves are Highly Efficient

Because they project controlled, radiant heat in every direction, wood stoves can create three times as much warmth as open fireplaces for the same amount of fuel.

They're Easy on Your Wallet

Less expensive than oil, gas, or electricity, wood stoves can save homeowners hundreds of dollars on annual utility bills.

They're Better for the Environment

Wood is relatively carbon neutral compared to fossil fuels like natural gas, propane, and coal. It takes longer to produce than solar or wind power, but since many kinds of tree grow relatively quickly (absorbing carbon as they do), some organizations classify wood as a renewable resource.

They Take Upkeep

From preparing wood, to feeding fires, to sweeping chimneys, wood stoves take a little more effort to use and maintain. Some people appreciate these simple, physical challenges. Others prefer systems that do more of the work themselves.

You’ll need an ample supply of clean, dry wood each winter. Purchasing this can be expensive (though warmth from the most efficient stoves costs significantly less than other heating options), and cutting and storing it can be time consuming. Plus, you'll need a relatively dry place to keep it for at least part of each year.

cozy wood stove scene with hot drinks and slippers

They Require an Upfront Investment

At the time of writing, wood stoves are available for between $200 and $1,000. You'll also need a mounting platform of some kind (stone, cement, and tile are popular choices), an ax or hatchet, and your first order of wood.

Wood stove installation can cost between $3,000 and $4,000 as of this writing, and while it's possible to do yourself, this is one job for which you should probably enlist the help of a professional You wouldn’t want to miss any important safety steps of installation that could ultimately lead to a house fire.

Over the years, your stove will save you money compared to other sources of heat, but it will take some time before the savings overtake the initial cost.

Placement is Key

An important part of the installation process if finding the right spot for your wood stove. Every wood burning stove requires access to a chimney or the installation of a chimney kit to omit smoke. For that reason, many wood stove users opt to install theirs along a wall or in a pre-existing fireplace. However, wood stoves heat a room most evenly when they occupy a relatively central space.

The minimum safe distance between a wood stove and surrounding walls and floors is determined by the materials on these surfaces, the age and material of the stove, and the safety codes of your area.

The stove pipe will connect your wood stove to the chimney and provide a safe outlet for smoke. This mechanism can be single or double walled. Double walled stove pipes are generally more efficient and require less clearance than that of a single walled pipe. Prior to installing the necessary stove pipe, the professional you work with will need to evaluate whether your chimney is up to the specified codes to accommodate one. If it’s not, adjustments must be made to rectify that.

wood stove in fireplace

Wood Stove Accessories

Firewood Rack - It takes quite a bit of wood to keep your wood stove going all winter, so you may want to invest in a rack to hold wood somewhere near your stove.

Log Carrier - Make it easier to cart wood across your lawn and into your home.

Bellows - A bellows is commonly used to help jump start a fire in a fireplace or wood stove.

Ash Vacuum and Container - Getting rid of the ashes at the bottom of your wood stove is an important, albeit pesky, part of maintenance. Wood stove ashes can also go right in your compost bin.

a wood stove with oven and cooking surface

Thermometer - Especially if you use your wood stove to cook, you should keep an eye on how hot it's burning. A thermometer can also alert you when the temperature is too low—wood stove chimneys that drop below 250 degrees Fahrenheit can suffer creosote build-up.

Kettle and Cast Iron Pans - One reason wood stoves are so popular is that they work even if the power goes out. You can use the top of some wood stoves as a cooking space, and others have ovens so you can bake your dinner while you heat your house!

Wood Stove Maintenance

Monitor the doors of your wood stove to ensure the gasket seals are intact and not crumbling, and there are no cracks or leaks in the metal or glass.

Once a year, have your stove and chimney checked and cleaned by a certified technician. They'll monitor for air leaks and other wear and tear while clearing out soot and other debris. Start the cold season with an inspection, so you don't start a fire before you've cleared out any foreign objects like bird nests or cobwebs that could pose a hazard.

cleaning a stovepipe with a metal brush

Types of Wood to Burn

The efficiency of your stove depends heavily on the kind of wood you’re feeding it. Using the wrong types can cause thick smoke, which can leave build-up in your chimney and potentially lead to a fire.

Good - All your stove's wood should be dried for at least a season. Maple, oak, ash, and birch all have steady burn time. Oak, a dense hardwood, will burn a particularly long time, Maple is especially easy to source in North America, and ash is a cinch to split, making it a favorite of the fireplace set. If you have plenty of space, you can buy greener wood for a slightly lower price, then put it away and age it yourself (this usually takes at least six months).

Bad - Burning items such as driftwood, trash, or artificial logs can hurt your wood stove and could lead to dangerous fire leakage. Most soft and highly resinous woods should be avoided as wood stove fuel. These include pine, poplar, cedar, eucalyptus, and alder.

Wood Storage

Stacking haphazardly can lead to moist, decayed, or moldy wood. It can also attract unwanted pests like insects and rodents. Store your wood neatly with some exposure to air so moisture can be released, and keep it relatively shielded from rain.

Try not to let weeds or other plants grow too near your pile, as this makes conditions more pleasant for bugs and bigger critters, and can cut down on the airflow available to your wood.

stacked wood

Wood Stove Safety Tips

Keep a fire extinguisher within reach of your wood stove in case of an emergency, and be smart about what you store around your stove. Items such as lighters, matches, or lighter fluid should not be anywhere nearby, as they could easily catch fire or even explode if exposed to too much heat. Wood should not be stored within three feet of your wood stove, and the same goes for all furniture and rugs.

You’ll also want to have the right safety accessories on hand. These include non-flammable gloves to protect your hands while adding wood to a burning fire, and a fire screen of some kind, particularly if small children or pets are present.

Ashes will build up over time on the bottom of your stove. When these accumulate to more than one inch, they can pose a fire or smoke hazard, so shovel them out with a scoop the day after a fire, when they've had a chance to cool. Add them to your compost, or put them in a metal container with a lid well away from your building. Never leave ashes in a regular trash can (inside or out) as a rogue ember could lead to a fire.