It can be a daunting task looking for the right wood burning stove for your home. There are so many different variations of stove to choose from, all with varying sizes, designs, features and heat outputs.
We bought both a wood burning stove and multi fuel stove a few years ago, and there were a number of things we had to think about before buying the right one. I’ve therefore put together this guide to explain the main things to look for when buying a wood burning stove.
The main things to look for when buying a wood stove are:
- Wood burning, multi fuel or pellet stove
- Freestanding or insert
- Steel or cast iron body
- Size & heat output
- EPA Certified or DEFRA Approved
- Catalytic & non-catalytic
- Ease of use
- Secondary combustion
- Ash bin
I’ve explained these things to look for when buying a wood stove in more detail below, showing you what our own wood burning stove look like, what features it has and why we chose it.
What To Look For When Buying A Wood Burning Stove
1) Wood Burning, Multi Fuel Or Pellet Stove
Depending on what your preference for type of stove is, what type of fuel is available in your area and at what cost, and what type of fuel you’ll want to burn, there are three different types of stoves that can fall under the category of wood burning stoves:
- Wood burning stove
- Multi fuel stove
- Pellet Stove
Wood Burning Stove
If you’re looking to only burn wood in your home and want simplicity, then look at buying a wood burning stove.
Here’s what our own wood burning stove looks like:
Wood burning stoves are designed and setup to only burn wood, meaning that other types of fuel such as coal can’t be burnt efficiency in a wood burning stove.
The controls on a wood burning stove (the air vents) are setup to only burn wood and so they can be a bit more simplistic than the controls on a multi fuel stove (which allows you to burn types of fuel other than wood).
While many wood burning stoves have two controllable air vents (one near the bottom and one near the top), our wood stove only has one, meaning that we only need to use one handle to control the whole fire. We find that it makes the process of lighting and maintaining a fire in your wood stove a bit easier.
If you’re looking for simplicity and ease of use, look for a wood burning stove with one controllable air vent. Understanding how to use two air vents on a stove isn’t much more difficult however, and so there is a compromise to be had with the other things to look for when buying a wood stove.
Even if you don’t intend to burn other types of solid fuel in the immediate future, getting a wood burning stove that can be converted to multi fuel maybe an option for you.
Our wood stove can be converted to multi fuel by installing an multi fuel conversion kit, which replaces the base of the stove to include a grate, ash pan compartment and extra air vent.
If burning other types of fuel might be of interest to you further down the line but you still want to buy a wood burning stove, then look to buy a wood burning stove that can be converted to multi fuel.
Multi Fuel Stove
If you want to be able to burn types of fuel other than wood, such as coal, look to buy a multi fuel stove.
For reference, here’s what our multi fuel stove looks like:
We typically only burn wood in our multi fuel stove, but it’s setup in a way that allows us to burn coal if we wanted to.
Wood requires a source of air from above the fire to burn efficiently, which is why wood stoves are setup to supply air from the top.
Coal needs a source of air from below the fire to burn well, and so multi fuel stoves cater for burning coal as well as wood by allowing you to control the airflow to either above or below the fire.
From the outside, multi fuel stoves look very similar to wood burning stoves, but there are slight differences that allow them to be able to burn other types of fuel:
- A metal grate at the base of the firebox instead of a flat surface.
- An ash pan compartment with pull out ash tray.
- Extra air vent to provide air to below the fire through the ash pan compartment.
If you want to be able to burn different types of fuel in your home, look to buy a multi fuel stove.
If you want to burn pellets instead of wood logs or coal, then look at buying a pellet stove.
Pellet stoves use a hopper system to feed pellets (typically made of wood, but other types of pellet fuels are available) to the fire in a pellet stove at a regulated rate to ensure that a constant amount of heat is being produced.
Unlike wood burning stoves or multi fuel stoves, pellet stoves have electrical components that will require a mains electric supply to be operated, although some models can come battery operated as an additional feature.
I’ve explained the main things you need to know about pellet stoves here.
2) Freestanding Or Insert
We installed our freestanding wood burning and multi fuel stoves inside our existing fireplaces, but we could have opted for a fireplace insert that fills the entire opening of the fireplace.
A stove insert works just like a freestanding stove except that it must be located within your existing fireplace. A freestanding stove has more flexibility in where it can be located, and doesn’t have to be placed in your fireplace if you don’t want it to be.
You also have more freedom of choice when it comes to fireplace inserts, such as choosing a fireplace that is:
- Electric, or:
Whether you’re looking to buy a freestanding stove or fireplace insert, either one will be more efficient at providing heat to your home compared to an open fireplace.
3) Steel Or Cast Iron Body
Wood burning stoves are typically made from one of two materials: either steel or cast iron. Both are great conductors of heat and so are perfect for use within stoves, but release the heat in slightly different ways.
Steel wood stoves release the heat more quickly into your room, but don’t retain and radiate the heat for as long. Cast iron stoves take longer to heat up but radiate out the heat for longer periods of time, even after the fire has gone out.
Cast iron stoves are cast as one main unit, and so you’ll be able to find more choice of patterns and design. Steel stoves provide a more modern and sleek look.
Steel stoves are typically easier to manufacture and so you’ll find that they’re generally less expensive than cast iron ones.
Both our wood burning stove and multi fuel stove are made from steel, although the door of our multi fuel stove is made from cast iron.
Depending on the type of heat output, cost and design you want from a stove, you should look at either a steel bodied or cast iron body when buying a wood stove. Whichever material of stove you go for, both can be very efficient at burning wood.
4) Size & Heat Output
When buying a wood burning stove, you should look for one that is the right size for the amount of space it’s heating in your home.
Buying a stove that’s undersized for the amount of space it’s heating can lead you to constantly running your stove too hot.
A hot stove can be burning through the wood too quickly to be efficient if the air vents are wide open while you try to bring the room up to temperature. A stove that’s constantly running too hot can also lead to damage due to over firing, where the components can crack or warp due to temperatures they weren’t designed for.
Our stove thermometer shows that high temperatures are too hot for a wood stove:
On the other hand, buying a stove that is oversized for the space it’s heating can lead to a stove that’s being underutilized and underperforming.
If a fire in a wood stove is too small for the size of the stove, then the stove may not be able to reach optimum operating temperatures where the wood is burnt the most efficiently. A stove that is underperforming can produce more creosote (tar) and smoke as a result, and this is shown on our stove thermometer:
The right size and heat output of stove is therefore important when looking to buy a wood burning stove.
Get a professional to give you a better idea of the size and heat output of a wood burning stove for your home, as it will depend on:
- The size of the room or home you intend to heat.
- Whether your existing fireplace is large enough to provide the required offset distances.
- How airtight and well insulated your home is.
I’ve discussed the other main things you need to consider when buying a wood burning stove here.
Wood burning stoves have official efficiency ratings that give you an indication of how efficiently a stove burns the wood. The higher the efficiency rating of a stove, the better it can perform at producing the most amount of heat from every piece of wood.
A stove with a higher efficiency rating means that less heat is being lost up the flue.
Look for a wood burning stove with a good efficiency rating and it will burn wood just a well as, but expect to pay more for wood stoves with higher efficiency ratings.
Anything over 70% efficiency is fine when as you won’t be able to notice the difference between a couple of percent. Our wood burning stove has an efficiency rating of 78.9%, and it’s very good at heating our living room
Look out for wood stoves that meet the new EPA regulations that take effect on May 15 2020 when the smoke emissions is reduced to 2.0g/h.
6) Certified (Or Approved) Stoves
For comfort that your stove isn’t too harmful for the environment, look to buy a wood stove that is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Approved. Modern and approved stoves produce very minimal smoke and burn the wood as efficiently as possible, where less firewood is needed to produce the most amount of heat, and while also reducing ash deposits.
Many modern wood stoves are EPA approved and so it’s peace of mind when looking to buy a wood burning stoves that it has been classed as being efficient.
For more information, you can see the entire list of EPA Approved wood stoves here.
Again, look out for EPA Approved stove that meet the 2020 regulations of 2.0g/h smoke emission limit.
In the UK, stoves are governed by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA). A DEFRA approved stove is required if you live in a Smoke Control Area found in many larger towns and cities.
Many wood stoves (like ours) are already DEFRA approved but if you live in a Smoke Control Area be sure to look to buy a wood burning stove that is DEFA Approved.
I’ve explained DEFRA Approved stoves in more detail here, showing how and why our own stoves are DEFRA Approved.
7) Catalytic & Non-Catalytic
Wood burning stoves with catalytic combustion typically provide a more efficient and cleaner burn of wood, but can be found on higher end stoves because they add a level of complexity to a fire.
The majority of wood stoves are non-catalytic. These stoves can still provide high efficiencies and heat outputs through processes such as secondary combustion (more about secondary in another one of our articles here). Most stoves uses a combination of firebox, baffle and tertiary air inlets to produce an efficient burn of wood (which is how our own wood stove works.)
For wood stoves with catalytic combustion, smoke passes through a catalytic element before exiting the stove. The element is a honeycomb like structure that helps to burn off waste smoke and particles to provide a cleaner burn. The downside is that the element must be replaced periodically to ensure that the stove is operating effectively. A catalytic stove also requires more input from yourself to ensure you’re getting the most of out it.
One of the things you should look for when buying a wood burning stove is therefore whether you want to produce the cleanest burn possible when burning wood in your home by using a catalytic stove, at the expense of a more costly stove and maintenance regime.
The EPA website explains catalytic and non-catalytic stoves in more detail here.
Many wood burning stoves incorporate airwash systems, but if you want your stove to keep the glass door clean then look to buy a wood stove that has an airwash system built into it.
I’ve explained how airwash works in wood stoves here, but in essence airwash works by providing a flow of air down the inside of the glass to help prevent particles from settling on the glass and obstructing the view to the fire.
Both our wood burning stove and multi fuel stove have airwash. Although one seems to work better than the other, they do help to keep the glass clean for long periods of time before we have to use any sort of cleaning product.
If you want your glass to remain clean throughout each fire then look for a wood burning stove with an airwash system incorporated.
9) Ease Of Use
The air vents on a wood burning stove are the main control for managing a fire.
If you’re looking for a wood burning stove that’s on the easier side when it comes to operation, look for a wood burning stove that has one controllable air vent rather than two or more.
Our wood stove has one air vent that’s located underneath the stove with a control handle that sticks out the front. This vent controls both primary and secondary air to the fire, while there are a set of vents at the back of the firebox which supply tertiary air (more about the types of airflow in stoves here).
10) Secondary Combustion
Secondary combustion, also known as secondary burn, is the process of burning off waste gases from the fire to produce even more heat. Fresh air is supplied to the stove just above the fire to aid in secondary combustion.
Many modern and efficient wood stoves will have secondary burn as part of their operation, but it’s a term to look for when buying a wood burning stove to ensure that you’re getting an efficient stove for your home.
11) Ash Bin
Many Wood Stoves have a removable ash bin located underneath the firebox, allowing for easy removal of ashes between fires.
Our wood stove doesn’t have an ash bin, but if you’re wanting to keep your stove burning for long periods of time then look for a wood stove that has an ash bin.
If you want your stove to push heated air into your room, look for a wood burning stove that has a blower included or available as an optional extra.
Our wood stove doesn’t have a blower, but it heats our living room just fine without one.
You can also buy a stove fan to help spread heated air around your home if your wood stove doesn’t have a blower.