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ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Any recommendations for wood stoves?

Asked by ARE_you_kidding_me (15872points) December 27th, 2016

I’m considering an insert for a standard (not prefab) fireplace. Any specific recommendations, warnings or things to look for. Safety first, efficiency second, asthetics third.

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14 Answers

Aster's avatar

We had a fireplace insert decades ago. It put out heat, of course, but in no way compared to our free standing, cast iron fireplace which could heat up a small city . It looked cool to me; that’s a matter of taste of whether you like a rustic look.
For safety, we never gave it a second thought.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Helped a friend many years ago put in an insert made by Vermont Castings. He loved it. His ex has it now so I don’t know about longevity.

Stinley's avatar

We’ve had quite a few wood burning stoves. We move house a lot and put them in the houses we’ve lived in. Two brands which are high quality are Jotul (very pricey) and Firefox. You need to make sure it is designed to be used every day if you are going to use it every day. Cheap stoves might be cheap because they will warp or crack if used too often. Buy the best you can afford.

The safety of the stove is pretty much guaranteed but the installation is where problems can occur. You need a heat proofed surround and floor. Your chimney should be lined. You should put a cage thing on the chimney to stop birds entering. We had a crow inside our stove once tap tap tapping on the glass door! Get a stove with a door of glass so that you can see the flames.

I’ve got to go now but please ask me any questions and I’ll be back

LuckyGuy's avatar

I like Lopi stoves. They are efficient and clean burning. The combustion air comes in the at the center bottom of the unit but unlike most other stove the air does not go directly into the combustion chamber. It flows through a passage on the floor of the firebox. Then it goes up a passage on the back wall where it splits into two and then runs along the top of the firebox, until it reaches the front corners where it flows down through two channels in the corners which then join in the center at the front of the firebox near the door, and finally enters the combustion chamber. At that point the combustion air is very hot and when it hits the fuel it makes an efficient flame.

But that is not all. Here is where the reburner comes into play. The smoke does not go straight up the flue. At the top of the firebox there are 2 stainless steel air distribution tubes that are constantly being heated by the fire below. Clean, heated combustion air is introduced into those tubes where it is mixed with the smoke from the firebox. Any unburned particles or combustion products are burned there and then move out the stack after moving across a tortuous path to extract heat.

On startup the bypass is opened and the unit starts (and smokes) like a normal stove. Once it reaches operating temperature, 5–10 minutes, you close the bypass and the unit starts the reburner. With a thermal imager you can see the temperature rise when the reburner kicks in. There is no smoke coming out of the stake. None, zip, zilch! All you see are heat waves.

All this complexity produces a unit with an efficiency in the 70% – 75% range! .A good single stage stove with a nice firebox and a baffle runs in the 40% range.

I like to keep my Lopi running at ~700F. At that temperature it produces (measured by me) about 40,000 BTU/hr. They say it will put out 70,000 BTU/hr, probably at 1000F, but I don’t run mine that hot.

I selected a stove with a reburner for 2 main reasons. The catalytic converter stoves need to have their converters serviced or replaced occasionally depending upon the quality of the wood use. You are not supposed to burn junk. I stayed away from those.

The reburner at 700F will eat anything without leaving a lot of ash or creosote! (Don’t do this. Ignore advice from people on the internet, Your mileage may vary. Keep away from children. Did I make enough disclaimers yet?) The high temperature of the air and firebox effectively pyrolyzes the wood and the gases burn in the reburner tubes on top. They sit there and glow! I toss in all kinds of stuff, pizza and wings night – the boxes and bones go in the4 stove. newspapers, mail, old cooking oil, animal fat, – it all goes in and disappears. You can toss in a dead cat and it will burn. I even start the stove with a small shot of motor oil left over from oil changes. I figure as long as the stove it burning it is effectively making oil.

I check my flue regularly and it has been clean ever was installed ~8 – 10 years ago. I use single wall, corrugated stainless that runs up the center of my chimney . The unit and installation was a bit expensive at a price of $4400 at that time. But it has paid for itself many times over. in heating oil saved. Plus, it pays me to exercise when I work outdoors and clean up any downed trees. Pine, apple, basswood, hickory… It all goes in the firebox.

Here’s what I don’t like.

1) My stove is an insert and sits floor level in the fireplace. Loading wood is difficult, I need to sit on the floor to position wood. No big deal. It is exercise.

2) The firebox is 24” wide and 16” deep. But the corners are cut off so it is almost impossible to put in a large piece of wood that is actually 24” long. You really need to stay below 22” when you are cutting. Also the firebox has so many passages and reburning tubes in it, it is not possible to stuff it with enough wood to last for more than 8 hours. Figure 6 hours is the max. If you get up the pee at night this timing is perfect.

At the other extreme I have a monster Glacier Bay from the early 1980s in my basement. It will take a log 36” long and 12” in diameter! Any pieces that won’t fit in the Lopi are burned in that one . I can stuff it and it will run 12 hours. But it is inefficient and dirty – and needs clean wood.

3) The intake air adjustment is too sensitive. (Remember, mine is 8 years old so they probably fixed this by now.) It has a slide that covers and uncovers the air intake port. Pull it a little bit and the stove idles, pull it more and it seems like wide open. I marked mine with high temp paint so I can set it repeatably.

4) The unit is an insert, so it needs a fan to circulate the air efficiently. Air is drawn in at the bottom front and is expelled across the top and sides. It is a beautiful concept, but if you lose power you need to have a battery backup to keep the fan going. Also the fan makes noise. The sound is irritating when watching TV. By the way I put heat sinks on the top of my stove to suck more heat out.

5) The glass door is gorgeous and the fire looks great when it is clean. But the door glass gets dirty and looks messy after a few hours of burning. You have to clean it if you want it looking nice for company.

Also the glass is, well…, glass and is fragile. A friend of mine loaded his stove and slammed the door to keep a piece of wood from falling out. Unfortunately the wood hit the glass and broke it. Air rushed into the firebox and he had a very hot fire until he managed to put it out with a large fire extinguisher.

My information is a little old but wood stoves don’t change as quickly as iPhones and Andriod devices. You should check out their site to get the latest and greatest info.

One more thing Lopis are made in USA and their customer service is excellent. I called up with a question and spoke to someone right here in the US who quickly sent me the part I needed. (What was my problem? I was using my thermal imager and noticed a small “cool” spot in the glass near the seal around the glass edge. They sent me a new gasket which was quick and easy to replace. Fixed.)

Product detail page for the Freedom Wood Insert

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

” You can toss in a dead cat and it will burn.”
Lol, I’m not going to ask if that was from experience. I think you may have sold me on the reburner. How hard is it to clean?

LuckyGuy's avatar

Ready for this? I’ve only cleaned it once! And it was not difficult to take apart. Of course, i have to clean out the ashes about once per week, but you need to do that with any stove.

I semi-regularly “clean” my stove by running it very hot, 1000F a couple of times during the dead of winter – when I can use the heat. That is also when i use the self cleaning feature in my electric stove in the kitchen. Save those BTUs!
I try not to let my stove idle with the air choked back a lot. I use it or I don’t If it is 55F or above I won’t use the stove – except for burning paper trash. I want it cooking at a temperature that will keep the reburner going and that puts out a lot of heat.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Here’s another thing I don’t like about the stove.
6) There is no ash pit below the firebox. When it is time to clean out the ashes you must wait for the stove to cool down. Some stoves are built on a pedestal and have a clean-out ash pit in the bottom. This is not a big deal but it is a bit inconvenient.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

My fireplace is in my basement and it has no ash dump either. Won’t be missing much there. I’m assuming the blower is still electric? Any idea what the power rating is? I still want to be able to run this thing when the power is out so I need to get that part squared away.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Blower is electric It is a relatively low power, quiet, squirrel cage unit that fits under the door. I’m guessing it is about 50–100 Watts. I’ll see if I can find out.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I’m also thinking it’ll run ok for short periods without the blower?

LuckyGuy's avatar

Absolutely. Blower has a built in thermostat. It will not run until the stove gets hot. It turns off by itself when the stove burns out and cools down. Nice.

I put a window box fan in the living room and use it to circulate air into other rooms of the house. That draws about 60 Watts. I don’t know the inrush current.
During a power failure, and if I am too lazy to start the generator, I use that to blow on the stove. I power it with a battery and an inverter.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The free standing stoves don’t have that issue. They distribure heat by convection. But they sure take up a lot of space.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Sounds like I’m good then. I have a small solar array and battery bank that would easily power that. There is a Lopi dealer here and it looks like it’s not going to be cheap but should add enough value to the house to make it worthwhile. I greatly appreciate the info. Thanks!

LuckyGuy's avatar

I went to the Lopi site and see they have a new model insert called The Answer, Mine is Freedom.
I can’t tell the difference.

i see there is a new law that says glass must have a screen in front for safety. Probably not a bad idea – but definitely not as pretty.
It’s a bit like mandating high heels all need to have at least 2 square inches in the heel. Sensible but not sexy.

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