GIMME SHELTER- Wood you? How to install a wood stove

Bryan Parlee
VP Acme Stove Company


Q: I don't have a fireplace, but I'd like to save on my heating bill this winter by installing a wood stove. How difficult would it be to install one? Any tips on what kind I should get?

A: Believe it or not, installing a wood stove system in your house is fairly simple. In fact, you don't even have to have a brick masonry chimney to have a wood stove– it can be placed almost anywhere. 

If you do have an existing fireplace, there are free standing stoves that can be easily connected to your flu, as well as fireplace/stove hybrids that fit right into the fireplace opening. Depending on the size you choose, wood stoves can heat anywhere between 600 square feet and 3,000 square feet of space. While some people might want a larger stove to heat the entire house, others might want a smaller stove to keep a few rooms warm and keep their heat pump from kicking on. 

In choosing a stove, there are several things to consider. Heat quality depends on the quality of the stove. Cast iron and soapstone stoves are the best, but you can also choose a cast iron/soap stone combination. Cast iron stove/fireplace hybrids, which fit right into your existing fireplace, are also an option. Cast iron holds heat better than steel, and can withstand higher temperatures. Soapstone takes longer to heat up than cast iron, but will stay hot longer. Soapstone also produces a "soft heat," which means you can get a a bigger stove without worrying about over-heating the room. With a cast iron stove, if you get one that's too big, it can make the room too hot.

There are also a number of  "designer" stoves now available, in combinations of cast-iron, soapstone, and steel, that not only heat your home or offset your heating bills, but add to the aesthetic beauty of your rooms.

All new stoves have what are called "re-burning systems" that are now required by the EPA.  These are a set of tubes inside the stove that "reburn" the gases and creosote produced by burning. These stoves are noticeably more efficient, reducing the wood to a fine ash, producing more heat for longer periods, and minimizing the smoke that comes out the chimney. In addition, the glass on the stove won't get black with creosote.

After you choose a stove and decide where you want to put it, you can choose the best chimney system. The simplest way is to set the stove against an outside wall, run a stainless steel, double-insulated pipe outside and up the side of the house, and build a wooden chase around it. However, you can also place the stove in the center of the room and run a pipe straight through the ceiling to the roof, or put the stove in the basement, or even in an upstairs room with a steep roof pitch. 

Ideally, you want the chimney pipe to be as straight as possible to get a good draw. To avoid back-draw, the pipe should also extend at least two feet past the highest point where it passes through the roof, and at least two feet higher than any part of the house within 10 feet.  

If you have an existing fireplace, you can simply install a direct-connect kit, which comes with an oval pipe that fits through the flu, and metal paneling that seals off the area around the pipe. If you go this route, make sure you measure the fireplace opening before you choose a stove so you have the correct clearance, as stoves vent at different heights.

Editor's note: this is a "Best of Gimme Shelter" re-print.