Heating stoves are a great example of how a back to basics approach can save money and energy while decorating your home with a charmingly traditional - or surprisingly modern - accessory. But not just any old stove will do. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, older, uncertified wood-burning stoves (those manufactured before 1990) aren't up to today's efficiency and pollution standards: they release 15 to 30 grams of smoke per hour, versus two to seven grams in newer, EPA-certified models. Newer models also use 1/3 less wood and decrease harmful air particles by 70%.
Electricity, gas, and pellet-fueled designs offer even greater efficiencies and conveniences, including:
- Efficient zone (i.e. specific room) heating that can cut fuel bills by as much as 40%
- Renewable, cleaner-burning biofuels that are better for the environment
- The anytime option of decorative, heat-free flames
- Simple, ventless setup
In just a second, we'll cover some of the most important benefits and unique features of the four primary heating stove fuel sources. But first, a quick word on types.
Do you have an existing fireplace? Do you prefer the sensory experience of a real wood-burning fire? If so, a fireplace insert may be a better option than a freestanding stove. An insert can improve the efficiency of older fireplaces and, if it's well fitted, can be almost as efficient as a new freestanding heater. Professional installation (and pre-installation chimney sweeping) is strongly recommended. An existing fireplace could also house an electric, gas, or pellet-fueled insert should you prefer switching to a cleaner-burning fuel.
The stoves at Hayneedle are fueled by electricity, gas, wood, and pellets. Here's a quick guide to what each type has to offer.
What's not to like about electric? Not much. This is a great choice if you're looking for low-cost zone heating, no-hassle setup (including totally safe ventless operation), easy portability from one room or floor to another, and even remote-controlled operation, all in one very affordable heater.
Aesthetically, electric is also a great choice. These stoves are designed in rustic, traditional, and strikingly modern styles, and feature realistic 3D flames that create a much cozier ambiance than ordinary space heaters. What's more, because the "flame" is created by LED bulbs, you can choose to operate an electric stove as flame only, heat only, or flame with heat.
Electric stove heaters cost pennies an hour to operate, and require only a standard outlet. However, if you're a traditionalist, advantages such as no venting, no fuel storage, and no ash disposal may not outweigh the absence of a real fire. The comparatively low BTU output is best for heating single rooms and small spaces.
For better or worse, the future of U.S. energy is natural gas, which is one reason why a gas heating stove is a smart long-term buy. The initial costs of purchase and installation will be higher than what you'd pay for an electric model, but in the long run, you'll save a lot of money on home heating bills.
Professional installation is recommended for gas stoves, which must be connected to a gas line and top-vented through a chimney or type B vent pipe or direct-vented through a wall (vent-free models are available, but they're somewhat controversial, and not legal in all states). Most run on natural gas, though conversion to propane is sometimes possible.
Other than energy savings, the benefits of gas include:
- Highly efficient, clean-burning fuel
- A higher BTU output and circulation blower for heating larger spaces
- Very easy operation and maintenance
- Large, dancing flames that are more like wood fires than LED "fires"
The traditional appeal of a wood flame isn't the only advantage that a wood-burning stove has to offer. Wood can be a comparatively low-cost fuel option, and the BTU output range is often higher than that of gas stoves.
The biggest disadvantages of wood are cleanup and installation. Simply put, consult a pro. You'll need a chimney exhaust, and there will be building regulations and insurance requirements to follow. An existing chimney may need to be relined to take full advantage of a new high-efficiency stove.
This is definitely the fastest-growing heating stove category. Stove pellets, which look kind of like rabbit food, are usually made from compressed sawdust or wood chips. Multi-fuel pellet stoves can safely burn many other types of biomass, including corn, cherry pits, and pellets made from waste paper or grass.
As of September 2013, the U.S. federal government offers a $300 tax credit for the purchase of pellet stoves that are 75% efficient, to promote the use of environmentally friendly energy sources. Pellets burn more efficiently than wood, producing more heat and less smoke. Ash is collected in a pan, which should be emptied every two weeks or so (the two pellet types, premium and standard, differ solely in their inorganic ash content). Ventilation is required, but a chimney is not necessary.
Based on the hopper size, a pellet stove could burn for a couple of days or so without refueling. A very small amount of electricity is needed for the feed mechanism that moves pellets from the manually filled hopper into the combustion chamber. Depending on the model, the temperature may be controlled via built-in thermostat, and most models offer automatic ignition. If you plan to use your stove as a primary or backup heating source, look for one with a battery system in case of power outage.