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The Heat Is On | Fall 2005 Out Here Magazine

You know you need a wood stove; what else do you need to know?

By Amy Green

Photography by Donnie Beauchamp

Rising heating costs have practically made the decision for you: You need a wood stove.

Benefits abound: fuel is inexpensive, or free, depending on where you live; wood is renewable; and a wood stove will see a family through a winter power outage.

But what, exactly, does installing a wood stove involve?

Consider your needs first, advises Tom Karsky, an extension safety specialist at the University of Idaho in Moscow.

If it's to be a primary heat source, it should be centrally located; if you're looking to use it as an additional heating source, then plan to place it in a den or someplace where the family spends most of its time, he says.

"You want to try to match the wood stove to your situation," Karsky advises.

The stove should be the correct size for the area it's heating — not too big, not too small — because it must run at its optimum temperature to burn away creosote, a black tar-like substance often left behind by a wood fire. Creosote is flammable and can build up in stoves and chimneys.

If you already have a chimney, have a chimney sweep evaluate it to make sure it is free of cracks and leaks.

If you don't have a chimney, a stovepipe will work inside the house, but a chimney is necessary outside to provide insulation, Karsky says. You may have to cut holes in your home's ceiling and walls, so check with local building codes and your insurance company beforehand.

Protect walls and flooring by installing nonflammable materials, such as stone, slate, or products made specifically to safeguard your home.

You may choose to have your wood stove professionally installed, or you may do it youself. If you do decide to install one yourself, make sure you know your abilities and get as much information as you can.

Most fires can be traced to improper installation and maintenance, Michigan Fire Marshal Andy Neumann says.

"A lot of it is just common sense around hot items,'' he says.

But used the right way, wood stoves have one big advantage, Karsky says.

"They have an ambience about them,'" he says, "with the smell of the wood."

Freelance writer Amy Green lives and works in Nashville, TN.


No Chopping Required with Pellet Stoves

If you want the warmth and atmosphere that a wood stove kindles, but you don't want to handle dirty, heavy logs, a pellet stove might be the answer.

Pellet stoves are similar to wood stoves but burn pellets that resemble rabbit feed and are made from compacted sawdust, wood chips, and other organic materials, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Pellet stoves offer advantages:

No wood chopping or handling.

Hoppers automatically feed pellets to the fire, requiring refueling just once daily.

Most exteriors (except glass doors) stay relatively cool, reducing risk of accidental burns.

Fuel burns completely, so very little creosote builds up in the flue, meaning less fire hazard and less cleaning.


Pellet stoves require electricity to run fans, controls, and pellet feeders, so, unless you have a backup generator, loss of electric power means no heat.

Pellet fuel isn't free. Most home-owners use two to three tons of pellet fuel per year (they're normally sold in 40-pound bags), and a ton generally costs about $200. By comparison, one ton of pellets is equivalent to about 11/2 cords of firewood, which can range from around $115 to $335, depending on where you live.