Wood burning stoves are appliances commonly installed in homes, and in particular within existing open fireplaces, as a way to help maximize the heat output and efficiency from burning firewood.
There are a number of benefits and downsides when it comes to both buying and using a wood stove, and so what are the main pros and cons of wood burning stoves?
The main benefits of wood stoves include their typically high efficiency ratings and ability to produce much more heat and fewer emissions compared to traditional open fireplaces. However, the main downside can be the potential high initial cost of purchase and installation of a wood stove.
The initial cost of a wood stove needs to be considered against the potential savings over the lifetime of the stove.
We have both a wood stove and a multi fuel stove in the family and so we’ve put together this complete guide to the main pros and cons for wood burning stoves, explaining what we love about our stoves and any issues we’ve had to deal with.
Wood Stove Pros And Cons
The main pros and cons for wood burning stoves are outlined in the table below:
|Wood Stove Pros||Wood Stove Cons|
|High Efficiency||Cost of Purchase|
|High Heat Output||Installation Costs|
|Lower Emissions||Learning Curve|
|Less Firewood Used||Hot Body|
|No Electricity Required|
Wood Stove Pros
Modern wood burning stoves can be very efficient.
Efficiency refers to the ability for the wood stove to not only be able to extract the most amount of heat from every piece of wood, but to also be able to transfer that heat out into the room.
Wood stoves are designed to be as efficient as possible. Manufacturers are having to meet more stringent regulations regarding emissions and so the main way to be able to achieve this is by making their stoves more efficient.
In the US the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) certifies stoves that are in compliance with recent regulations, while in the UK DEFRA approves stoves that are in compliance with their respective regulations.
Our own stoves (which are both DEFRA Approved) have official efficiency ratings of over 70% meaning that they have been independently rated as being very efficient appliances for burning firewood.
Compared to traditional open wood burning fireplaces, wood stoves are much more efficient.
The EPA explains that wood burning fireplaces can be as little as 10% efficient (more about open fireplace efficiency here) meaning that much of the heat generated by an open fire can be lost up the chimney rather than being used to heat your home.
One of the main benefits to wood burning stoves is therefore that (compared to wood burning fireplaces) wood stoves are much more efficient, meaning:
- More heat can be produced.
- Fewer emissions can be released.
- Longer fires and less maintenance of fires.
We’ve explained the efficiency of wood burning stoves in more detail in another article here.
The high efficiency of wood burning stoves helps them to be able to put out a lot more heat for a room or home compared to traditional open fireplaces.
Wood burning stoves with higher efficiencies will typically be able to generate more heat for your home from every piece of wood.
However, not only does a wood stove need to extract the most amount of heat from the combustion of the firewood and waste gases (through the secondary combustion process), it also needs to be able to radiate that heat out into the room.
The metal body of a wood stove allows it to do just that. A stove will absorb the heat from the fire inside and radiate that heat out into your home, even for a while after the fire inside has subsided.
There is a huge difference between the heat we can feel being let off from our stoves compared to our open fireplace. We can feel the warmth being radiated from our wood stoves even when sat across the room, while we need to sit near to our open fires to even feel the heat.
The higher efficiencies of modern wood burning stoves helps to reduce the amount of smoke and other harmful particulates that can be released from the burning of firewood.
Wood stoves work by burning the firewood more slowly and efficiently, and by burning off the waste gases released by the combustion of the wood to generate even more heat. For more information we have a guide on how wood burning stoves work with diagrams and pictures.
By combusting both the firewood itself and the waste gases more effectively, fewer emissions are released as a result.
This helps to make wood stoves much more environmentally friendly compared to traditional open wood burning fireplaces.
Many cities have banned the use of open fireplaces to help improve local air quality. These locations in the UK are known as Smoke Control Areas. Wood burning stoves approved by DEFRA can be used within these Smoke Control Areas because they have met stringent emissions regulations and have lower emissions.
Although we don’t live in Smoke Control Areas, both of our wood stoves are approved appliances meaning that they could be used to burn firewood in one of these areas if we moved home.
If you live in the UK we have more information about DEFRA Approved stoves here.
Wood stoves provide you with the ability to have more control over how quickly and efficiency a fire inside a stove is burning, and therefore how much heat is being generated.
A major downside of traditional open fireplaces is that the airflow through the fireplace and up the chimney can’t be easily controlled, which is one of the main reasons why they can be so inefficient.
Wood stoves create an enclosed environment where the air supply to the fire can be fully controlled by using the air vents.
By controlling both the amount of fuel inside the stove and the amount of air getting to the fire, the fire can be slowed down so that it’s producing more heat from every piece of wood.
As well as allowing you to control the airflow to the fire. wood stoves also help to slow down how quickly the air leaves the firebox.
By keeping the waste gases released by the combustion of the wood inside the firebox for longer and at higher pressures, these gases can be burnt off to produce even more heat through a process known as secondary combustion.
A component known as the baffle (more about baffle plates here) located at the top of the stove provides a smaller gap for air to escape through, helping this process to occur and allowing wood stoves to generate more heat compared to what is possible through using traditional open fireplaces.
Longer Burning Fires
With wood burning stoves and their ability to allow you to control the airflow more easily, this helps to create longer burning fires in which fires don’t require as much maintenance compared to open fireplaces.
To help wood stoves maximize efficiency, the air vents on a stove should be:
- Closed down enough so that a fire isn’t burning too fast for it to be an efficient source of heat.
- Not too far closed down that it starves the fire of oxygen and leads to a smoldering and smoking fire.
We have a complete guide on how to use the air vents on a wood stove to control a fire here, but understating how to use the vents on your particular model of stove will help you to keep your fires burning for longer.
Longer burning fires means less time spent looking after and maintaining a fire, and less time required adding more firewood to a stove.
Wood burning stoves provide you with a better ability to create more efficient and longer burning fires compared to using traditional open fireplaces, but it also helps to reduce the amount of firewood used.
A reduction in the amount of firewood helps to:
- Lower the amount of firewood used for every fire.
- Lengthen the time for each fire using the same amount of firewood.
- Reduce fuel costs over the lifetime of the stove.
- Reduce the rate at which you use up your own supply of firewood, allowing you to have more fires and save on central heating costs.
We have a whole stack of seasoned firewood located behind our garage, and since installing our wood burning stove there has been a noticeable difference in the rate at which we burn through this firewood.
No Electricity Required
Unlike other types of fireplaces such as electric fireplaces and pellet stoves, wood burning stoves don’t require a source of electricity in order to work.
This means that you’re able to help heat your home even through power cuts.
Wood stoves don’t need a source of electricity because the whole stove will work automatically after lighting a fire. Hot air rising up through the flue out of the stove will create a draft that will suck smoke and other harmful particulates out of your home, and also pull more air into the stove to feed the fire as a result.
As wood stoves radiate heat out into the room, a blower isn’t typically required. If you do need a fan to help circulate warm air around your home then you can use a stove fan. See our recommended stove fans here.
For more information we have a dedicated article on why electric fireplaces don’t need electricity.
Wood Stove Cons
Cost Of Stove
The biggest downside using a wood burning stove will in most cases be the initial cost of buying the stove.
Wood burning stoves aren’t the cheapest of appliances. For example, our own wood stoves and multi fuel stove cost just over $1000 and $1500 respectively.
However, we went for stoves that were from reputable brands and relatively high in terms in cost. Wood stoves don’t have to cost this much but if you’re looking to buy a bigger sized stove to heat a larger space or want a very efficient stove from a reputable brand then you may need to pay a premium.
Although the initial cost of a wood burning stove can seem quite high, this cost can be recuperated back by using the stove over many years.
Wood stoves are designed to last a long time. We’ve discussed how long wood stoves typically last in another article here, but they can last anywhere from 5 to 20 years plus. The actual length of time a wood stove will last for will depend on the quality of the stove and how well it’s used but expect a stove to last a very long time if looked after.
A wood stove can burn firewood much more efficiently compared to traditional open fireplaces, and this saving in both firewood and heating bills can help make a wood stove a very worthwhile investment.
Cost Of Installation
Not only do you have to purchase a wood burning stove you also need to be able to install it within your home.
The cost of installing a wood stove will vary between each installation but can cost anywhere from free (if you install it yourself) up to several thousand for a bespoke installation with twin wall flue system through your roof.
Installation within an existing open fireplace can typically be less expensive than homes that don’t already have a chimney. A chimney provides an existing route out of your home for a flue to be installed.
As an example, the installation of our multi fuel stove in our existing living room fireplace came to around $500.
When ordering our stove we chose delivery straight to our open fireplace. Once placed we had another professional install the stainless steel flue we bought and connect it up to the stove from the top of the chimney.
When considering whether to get a wood burning stove you’ll also need to factor in the cost of installation.
Speak to a local installer for advice on how much a wood stove would cost to install in your home.
We’ve explained what we had to factor into the cost of installing our multi fuel stove here.
If you’re going to be using a wood stove for the first time, then you’ll need to understand some of the basics about how to use a wood stove in order ensure you’re actually burning firewood efficiently.
If you’re not using a wood stove in the right way, it can lead to a poor burning experience and low heat output.
Things to consider and understand about wood stoves includes:
- How to use the vents to control the fire in a stove.
- How much fuel to add to a stove so that you’re not burning fires too hot and ‘over firing’ your stove.
- Using the right type of fuel so that you’re not burning firewood that is too wet.
We have a complete guide on how to use the vents to control a fire in a wood stove here.
We’ve explained what over firing a stove is in another article here.
We’ve also explained what moisture content firewood should be and how to check.
For everything else, we have a complete list of tips and tricks for maximum efficiency and heat output from wood burning stoves here.
Hot Stove Body
Another downside to wood burning is that they can get extremely hot.
A wood stove gets hot because by design the body of the stove is required to absorb the heat from the fire inside and radiate that heat out into the room.
If you have young children or pets then you may need to consider the fact that a wood stove can get very hot to the touch during operation. However, a fireplace screen can be used to help keep a hot stove out of reach.
An upside to this is that a fire inside a wood stove is kept behind a locked door and so stoves can be considered to be safer compared open fires (that aren’t located behind a door).