Choosing a new wood or pellet stove can be very confusing. If you feel that there is lots of info on the internet, but little that is useful, you are not alone. There are very few credible, independent stove reviews. We reviewed stove reviews here and recommend what we think are better ones. Specialty hearth retailers are an excellent source of information, even though they tend to push the brands they carry and sometimes junior employees are not as informed as they should be on many topics. There is also some information you may not learn from retailers. For instance, if you are buying a pellet stove, extensive research on the internet can help find ones that are more reliable. But also make sure to check the EPA list of certified stoves to see if the manufacturer provides consumers with a verified efficiency. Most manufacturers do not provide third party verified efficiencies for most of their stoves and pellet stoves can range from 58% to 86% efficient. This article reviews efficiencies and this one has an updated list of the efficiencies from the EPA.
For both wood and pellet stoves:
Spring and summer is a good time to buy as you are likely to get sale prices and installers have time to install without a long wait.
Listen to recommendations from friends and neighbors who have experience.
Don't believe manufacturer claims about efficiency levels, unless you are buying from one of these manufacturers.
For pellet stoves, keep these points in mind:
More expensive stoves usually are more reliable, but not necessarily more efficient.
Having a dealer nearby who can do annual cleanings and periodic repairs is a big plus.
Cheaper pellet stoves are better for people with mechanical skills who can do intensive cleanings and repair work on their own.
This independent pellet stove technician names stove models that he regards as reliable.
For wood stoves, keep these points in mind:
The weight of the stove is one good indicator of its durability. Usually more expensive stoves are heavier, which is a good thing. For a medium size stove (1.7 – 2.2 cubic foot firebox), look for ones over 325 pounds and read more about this here.
Unlike pellet stoves, the listed efficiency (if there is one) and emissions reflect what the test lab could get under ideal conditions with dry wood. You can only get a clean and efficient burn if you use dry wood and give the stove enough air.
2. Reducing costs of a new stove
To purchase and install a new stove, the total price tag is often in the $2,000 - $4,500 range. But there are ways to reduce that significantly.
Big box stores: If your jurisdiction offers a change-out or incentive program, find out if stoves from big box stores are eligible. If they are, do your research first before buying a cheap stove. Some brands, such as Englander and Summers Heat, make good quality stoves and offer great value. Others may not. Specialty hearth shops offer skill and advice that big box stores don't, and that advice can be very valuable, especially if you have not bought or used stoves before.
Professional installation: Most change-out and incentive programs require professional installation, although some may allow self-installation as long as it's inspected afterward. Professional installation is almost always well-worth the money and provides you with the documentation that you and your insurance company will need in the event of a fire. A good way to save money is to first get advice from a NFI or CSIA accredited installer, then buy the stove at a big box store, and have it professionally installed. Expect to pay $700 - $1,200 for installation or more for taller homes or more complex installs.
Affordable hearth pads sell from $40 to $200. Make sure you get the size and type required for your stove.
Extras: Two items other than the stove can be pricey. The first is the hearth pad and the second is the liner in your chimney, if you are venting through a chimney. Both can be purchased online for half the cost or less that stores often charge, but make sure to check with a professional installer first, as the type and size of hearth pads and liners are crucial for a safe installation. Here is one good source of info on hearth pads.
Calculating savings & payback times: Calculating savings is an inexact science at best. One of the biggest savings with a stove is simply heating the core of your house, not the entire house. Inefficient pumps and ducts can rob you of 10 – 30% of the energy from your furnace or boiler and add to your electric bill. We do not advise using the fuel calculators on stove retailer or manufacturer sites as they are often misleading and do not show the consumer the assumptions they make. You should be skeptical of efficiency and other performance claims made by most retailers and manufacturers. The best fuel calculator we found is here and a review of all calculators here.
3. Finding rebates and incentives
You may live in an area that offers incentives for changing out an old stove for a new one and you can find a list of those areas here. Two states offer ongoing change out programs: Idaho and New York. More likely than not, your state or county does not offer an incentive to change out an old stove, but it may offer an incentive to buy a new one.
A map of states and regions with incentive programs (red circles) or change-out programs (yellow stars).
New stoves are simply safer, more efficient and cleaner – in short, good for you, your family and your neighbors. Many of us like the smell of wood smoke. But it's bad for you, and worse for children and the elderly. If you routinely smell smoke in your home, you are putting your family at risk. Buying and installing a new stove doesn't have to be expensive. You can find good, new stoves for under $1,000 and the federal government gives a $300 tax credit for almost all stoves, at least through Dec. 31 of 2016. If you have an old woodstove, you can also consider changing it out for something cleaner and more efficient like a pellet or gas stove, or a high efficiency electric mini-split heat pump.
5. How do I know if my stove needs changing out?
Check rear of stove for EPA certification label and a safety listing, such as UL.
One of the most obvious signs of an old stove is that it does not have glass in the door to view the fire. Look at the back of the stove (if you can) and see if there is any EPA listing or UL safety listing. If the back of the stove has no metal plates with such information, it should be replaced. A third thing to check is whether you can find the owners manual in a drawer or online. If you can't find an owners manual anywhere that provides the date, the stove is likely obsolete and it will be hard to show that the stove meets required clearances to a safety or insurance inspector. Also, if you have an older stove and it regularly produces smoke, even when you are using dry wood, the stove should be replaced with something that will save you lots of money, and safeguard your and your family's health. Many older EPA stoves made before 1995 also need replacing. People who change out old stoves almost always are amazed at how little wood and how much heat new ones produce and how much prettier the fire is.
6. Dealing with your own or your neighbor's smoke
If you live in a neighborhood or home effected by heavy wood smoke, there are a few things you can do about the pollution. If the smoke is coming from your own stove, then you or an expert, such as a CSIA certified chimney sweep, should identify the source of the problem and take steps to repair or replace your appliance if that is the cause. If the smoke is coming from a neighbor's stove or outdoor boiler, you will need to take different measures. Start by talking to them, politely letting them know how it impacts you and ask them if they are willing to take steps to reduce it. An air (HEPA) filter may be one inexpensive way to reduce indoor pollution, as we discuss in this article. And, you may want to file a nuisance compliant with your local government about excessive wood smoke. Some air districts, particularly in the Northwest, regulate wood burning according to the opacity of the smoke, institute burn bans on days where air quality is at risk, and have trained officials that will write tickets to homeowners who emit too much smoke.