A wood-burning stove provides an old-fashioned heating alternative with up-to-date technology.
Many homeowners with an eye toward saving money, stress and mess are converting wood-burning fireplaces to natural gas systems, which offer no smell, no soot, no ash, no wood debris and an enviable 80 to 84 percent efficiency rating.
But for every three customers with that no-fuss, no-muss attitude who visit J.D. Lucas of Godby Hearth & Home in Indianapolis, there's one who comes in pining away for the wood-burning stoves they remember cozying up to at their grandparents' home.
“I’ll have people come in here and say, ‘I’m tired of the house smelling like smoke,’ or ‘The walls are sooty; I have allergies and I’m always sneezing. I can’t stand it. I want something clean burning,’” Lucas says with a chuckle. “Then, right after that, I’ll have somebody come in and say, ‘Oh, I miss the (smell of burning wood).’ Everyone has a different approach.”
Experts caution that if you want to safely install a wood-burning stove, don't skimp on quality to save a few bucks. Expect to pay between $3,500 and $6,000 for a stove, flue and installation.
Wood-burning stoves may not look like you expect
Many customers with a penchant for wood have the image of an old pot-bellied, black iron wood stove in their head. But even an old-fashioned heating dog can learn new tricks. These days, wood-burning systems come in a wide variety of contemporary looks and colors. Even better, they’re much more efficient than those of yesteryear.
“A lot of people, they’re used to the old stove, like a plate-steel stove that gets red hot and radiates a ton of heat and makes the house 100 degrees if you want it,”says Joseph Sauter of Your Chimney Sweep in Indianapolis. “What the newer stove does is get more usable energy out of the logs, making it more efficient. When they heat, you get more usable energy out into the house, as opposed to a fireplace sucking all the heat out and up the chimney.”
Homeowners with older, true masonry fireplaces — not prefabricated, factory-built fireplaces — can add a wood-burning insert that can improve its efficiency up to 80 percent, Lucas says.
“It regulates the air and the burn time, so you get more out of your wood,” Lucas says. “We have a Quadra-Fire system which actually burns the wood, then the smoke, then the gases, so you’re really getting four burns out of one piece of wood, to the point where you don’t have any smoke coming out of your chimney. You just have the heat vapors, because it has utilized all the combustible materials. The issues with today’s fireplaces are that most are factory-built and are not a true masonry fireplace. Understanding what you have makes a difference with your options.”
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Don't forget safety
Homeowners interested in adding a wood-burning stove or wood-burning stove insert should consult with a trained, qualified professional who has experience installing them, plus have them regularly inspected by a professional certified by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. The units must be installed per the manufacturer’s instructions and must meet certain building codes to be compliant and safe.
Both Lucas and Sauter say they frequently get calls from homeowners who purchased a wood-burning stove for a few hundred dollars and want it installed. They caution that the cost of the flue and installation typically far exceeds the cost of the stove itself. Expect to pay between $3,500 and $6,000 on average for a new unit fully installed.
“It’s not (as simple as) shoving a pipe down the chimney,” Sauter says. “There are a lot of different components to the system to make it proper and to work most efficiently. The idea of having a fire in your home is obviously very relaxing. People find comfort in a fire. But it’s got to be respected at the same time. [Proper] installation is a key factor with wood stoves.”
Do you have a wood-burning stove in your home, or would you like to install one? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Editor’s note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted on Dec. 22, 2012.