Wood stoves in the 21st century

WoodstoveSome may find it incongruous that I sit here blogging on my laptop in front of a wood stove, but I consider it to be the best of all possible worlds.

I am enjoying the incredible convenience of being connected to friends all over the world while a cheery fire burns in front of me. Lazy tongues of fire consume the logs I split this afternoon while I read articles written today by bloggers in Japan, the UK, Tennessee, Virginia, and Malaysia.

Unlike open fireplaces and traditional wood stoves, the modern wood stove is highly efficient because it uses outside air for combustion and, in most cases, employs an integral blower to distribute heated air through the room.

As a result, this stove keeps the house comfortable in zero degree weather, where a fireplace or conventional wood stove would actually lower the temperature in the house by pulling in more cold air than it can heat.

Any stove, no matter how efficient, sends a lot of hot air up the chimney. If that hot air is replaced by air inside the dwelling, it creates a vacuum in the house and cold air streams in through the openings around every door and window. If the house is actually air tight, the fire will smoke or even go out because there isn’t enough draft to sustain it.

When the combustion air is supplied from outside, it doesn’t matter how much heat goes up the chimney. The air in the house stays warm and the only problem is to distribute the heat from the stove over the widest possible area.

Our Dutchwest Non-catalytic stove has a variable speed blower that can be adjusted to produce a torrent of warm air or a gentle breeze. A system of ceiling fans then distributes the warm air through the widest area possible and ensures that the warm air does not collect near the ceiling.

New homes, such as the one we just built, have much higher insulation values than the homes we owned in the past. In fact, the insulation is so good that we were able to heat the house comfortably with simple electric heaters before we installed the wood stove.

All is not perfect in this brave new world of 21st century wood stoves because we are dealing with two-hundred-year-old technology that is just beginning to see major innovations. Some of the innovations work well and some don’t.

Cast iron and soapstone is beginning to be challenged by automatically welded steel plate stoves with sleek lines and glossy enamel finishes. Catalytic converters increase burning efficiency to new levels. New stove designs feature large glass doors so the fire adds light as well as warmth to the room.

On the downside, some of the innovations still need design work. The catalytic converters have to be used carefully, the large glass doors will crack if the fire is not carefully managed, the new fall-away stove handles featured by Dutchwest are dangerous to use and have a short lifespan.

These are all problems that are manageable with some additional design effort and the good news is that there is enough consumer interest to warrant investing in better designs.

Wood stoves are definitely not for everyone, because they require far more work and attention than a standard heat pump or gas furnace. But when you have an unlimited supply of firewood at little or no cost and you work out of your home as I do, the economics  benefits of a wood stove more than compensate for the additional effort required.

In a snug, modern, well-insulated home the comfort level is equal to any other heating system.

And finally, the emotional benefits of having a cheery fire burning on the hearth has to be experienced to be believed.

It’s raining outside now, the fire is a glowing mass of coals that should last until morning, and the cats have arrayed themselves where the warmth of the stove meets their liking.

Tomorrow is another exciting day of country life. I’ll throw another log on the fire and retire… 🙂


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