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1.) What are the advantages of wood heat?
There are many. For quite a few people the financial consideration is all there is to it. Simply put, wood heat is the cheapest heat out there even if you have to buy your wood. On the other hand, if your home is moderate in size and well built and insulated, natural gas heat runs a very close second. If you put a value on your time, tending the fire and maintaining the stove and chimney, gas is probably cheaper.
If the value of your time is to be a primary consideration in the categories of gardening or heating with wood, you would do neither. Then why do so many people do these things? You might call it “the added value.”
What is the aesthetic of forced air or hot water heat? Answer: There is none. On the other hand, having a fire going in your primary living area from November to mid March changes everything. If you are chilled and happen to have forced air heat, what do you do to get warmed up? Turn up the heat through the entire house? Take a hot bath? How about turn on the oven and stand in front of it with the door open.
Wood heat is heat you can get close to, or away from. Most folks that heat with wood put their stove in the area they sit in to read or watch TV. It works out because, obviously, more heat is required when you are sitting still than when you are active.
There is another component that is a little harder to define. Many people have something in them that wants to participate in sustaining their own life at the most basic level. To dabble in the primitive, as it were. Some garden or raise chickens. Some hunt and fish and clean their game. Why are these things still happening when they have not been necessary for two generations?
What different kinds of wood burning stoves are there?
Many. There are stoves that sit right out in the room, called free standing stoves. There are stoves that slide into your existing fireplace, called inserts. There are wood burning furnaces that hook right into your existing duct work. There are both indoor and outdoor wood burning boilers that send very hot water to your existing furnace which then blows air through a heat-exchanger and into your home.
I have found that separating stoves into categories based on what they are made out of is helpful. Those categories are steel, cast iron and soapstone. The price and performance follow that same order; steel, cast iron and soapstone. When I say performance I’m not talking about efficiency. Generally speaking, all decent quality stoves are going to be very efficient.
The performance I’m talking about is associated with the mass and density of the material the stove is made out of. That is what dictates the amount of heat you get off the surface of the stove over a 24 hour period. Soapstone wins, hands down.
It’s like the old story of the race between the turtle and the hare. Steels may jump out to surface temperatures in excess of 700* with the first two hours. Cast might hit 650* while soapstone would be considered quite hot at 400*. But from the seventh hour to the twelfth, cast and steel are hovering around the useless 100* level while soapstone is gradually drifting from 300* to 200*.
That is what is referred to as “soft heat.” Never blazing hot, and warm much longer. Burn time runs parallel to box size as a rule. Heat life has to do with mass and density. There are stoves out there that weigh over 10,000 lbs and require special footings in your house to support them. Google tulikivi and you will see some really neat stoves.
Another distinction between stoves is how they accomplish the re-burning of the smoke. The majority of the stove manufacturers use what I call a “passive” after-burn system. It consists of a series of stainless (usually) tubes in or near the ceiling of the stove that inject hot oxygen into the smoke as it passes by. Since smoke is just un-burned fuel, adding oxygen causes it to burn, further cleaning the exhaust and improving the efficiency of the appliance.
Another re-burn method involves a catalytic converter