Updated: December 2017

Wood Stoves

The modern wood stove emerged in the early 1990s after the EPA required that almost all new stoves meet minimum emission requirements. These new stoves can use up to 30 to 40 percent less wood than older models, saving homeowners a lot of work and money, and they can emit far less smoke when they are used properly.

Traditionally people think of two types of wood stoves: catalytic and non-catalytic. But today, there are also hybrid stoves and automated stoves. These two new categories offer great economic and environmental benefits to consumers – and their neighbors. All four types are discussed below in detail.

The EPA issued new wood heater (including wood stoves) regulations in the spring of 2015. Stoves now have to meet stricter emissions standards than previous requirements that hadn’t been updated since 1988. Previous exemptions were removed that allowed some pellet and wood stoves to be manufactured and sold without EPA certification. Key provisions that will impact consumers can be found here.

Be aware of efficiency claims made by stove manufacturers. The EPA requires stoves tested after May 15, 2015 to report verified efficiency numbers that can be found on the list of EPA certified stoves. Some manufacturers voluntarily reported their actual efficiency to for the EPA list. For more information, visit the EPA’s public resources program, Burn Wise, here.

Non-catalytic stoves
Non-catalytic stoves make up 80% of stoves on the market and typically cost between $1,000 and $3,000. They tend to burn through fuel more quickly than catalytic or hybrid stoves. Only the larger fireboxes, usually 2.5 cubic feet and larger, can consistently hold a fire overnight or through the day without reloading. However, they are more idiot-proof than catalytic stoves. Efficiencies tend to range between 65% and 75% using the higher heating values (HHV).
Catalytic stoves
Catalytic stoves tend to be more expensive ($2,000 to $3,500), but can hold a fire longer and use less wood than non-catalytic stoves. They tend to be 75%- 83% efficient (HHV) and are often favored by people who live in colder climates or want to use their stove as their primary or sole heat source. Catalysts last much longer than the ones in stoves in the 1980s. If seasoned wood is consistently used, they can last 7 to 10 years. They also produce less smoke.
Hybrid stoves use both non-catalytic and catalytic technology to achieve maximum efficiency and cleanliness. At least three manufacturers make them now and they can offer the best of both technologies. They typically run in the $2,500-$4,000 range and achieve 80-82% efficiency.
Some automated (or ‘smart’) stoves use sensors and computer chips to adjust airflow, others are single burn rate stoves that use bi-metallic dampers. In both cases, these stoves allow the consumer to “load and leave”, allowing the stove to maximize efficiency and emissions reductions on its own. Automated stoves are an emerging class that is more well-known in Europe and just starting to enter the US market. The first widely distributed automated stove on the US market was the Adventure series. Hwam now has many models with Autopilot IHS, and MF Fire is launching an automated stove model as well. In the single burn rate category, the RSF Delta Fusion is an excellent example that meets the 2020 EPA emission standards at 1.3 gram an hour.
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