Buying a new woodstove

It sounds complicated, and with all the features and options available on new stoves, it is! But with a little preparation, your stove shopping will be painless and successful. 

By considering some of the basics before you even arrive at the stove shop, you will be ready to ask the right questions and to look for the features that will really make a difference. 

All too often people buy a stove based solely on appearance or brand name, without taking into account whether or not it is an appropriate choice for their wants and needs. Here's what to do: 

Checklist: Before you shop for a wood stove

  • Decide what you want the stove to do
  • Determine how much heat you need
  • Know the facts about your chimney and hearth
  • Consider the "look" you want
  • Consider your budget
  • Have the chimney checked by a chimney professional

What do you want the  wood stove to do?

Sounds like a stupid question. You want it to heat, right? But step back a minute. Will this be your primary heat source, or a backup? Do you want to heat one room, the downstairs, or the whole house? Is it more for entertainment, or do you really need the heat? How often do you plan to use it? 

Make sure your expectations are clear. Otherwise, you will pick something too big, or too small, or the wrong shape, or the wrong color, or with the wrong features... 

How much heat do you need?

To help the folks at your local stove shop figure out the right size stove for you, take some notes on the area you want the stove to heat. If the stove will be just for entertainment, measure anyway, to avoid choosing a stove that will overpower the room. 

Measure the room(s) you want to heat. You don't have to be exact. Just make a quick line drawing, and write down the rough length and width of each room. 

You will find that most stove manufacturers indicate a range of area the stove is designed to heat, in square feet. Yes, I know... it really should be a measure of volume, and not floor area. But most specs list area, assuming you have roughly eight foot ceilings (and normal insulation). But it won't hurt to write down the ceiling heights, anyway! 

Also, note how much glass there is. If you have lots of windows, you will need more stove to heat less space. 

How "open" is the area?

It is generally easy to heat an unconfined space with a stove. But if you are trying to heat rooms separated by lots of narrow doors and hallways, it is a whole different matter. 

And consider how tight or how drafty the house is. Clearly, the draftier the house, the more heat you will need. 

Don't be fooled by the smaller stoves you will see in the stove shop. Trust me, they heat! If you need a big stove, get one. But if what you really need is a small stove, get a small stove (even if you have two cords of wood out back that will have to be cut smaller). You will be much happier in the long run with a stove that's the right size for the space you want to heat. 

How about the chimney and hearth for the woodstove?

Take some notes, and bring them to your local stove shop. 

Note: If you don't have any chimney or hearth, make a floor plan and an elevation drawing of the space where you want the stove and chimney to be installed. Ask at your local stove shop about your options for chimneys, hearths, and stoves. 

If you are planning to connect a stove to your fireplace, see article “Fireplace Accessories” for a checklist of measurements you will need. Otherwise, assuming you have a hearth and a chimney intended for a stove hookup takes notes on the following items. 

A photo of the chimney and hearth will help. 

Checklist: Things you need to know about the chimney and hearth

  • Length and width of the hearth
  • Diameter of the thimble (the hole in the chimney where the stovepipe connects)
  • Height of the thimble from the floor or hearth If the thimble's off-center, how far?
  • If the hearth is in a corner, distance from the corner to the center of the thimble (make a drawing)
  • Cross-sectional area of the flue (measure width and depth of the flue as accurately as possible, or ask your chimney professional)
  • Type of flue liner (terra cotta, stainless, etc.)
  • Location of the chimney (is it on the outside of the house, or up the middle?)
  • Anything else connected to that flue? (and if so, what?)
  • Distance to combustible materials near the chimney/hearth (such as mantels, Sheetrock walls, wood trim, furniture)

 What look do you want?

Sure, this thing is for heat. But you also want a stove that you will like. So think about the look you want. 

There is a bit of everything available: traditional or contemporary, simple or fancy, cast-iron or steel... If you don't already have a picture in your mind of the stove you want, consider the room's decor. And with enamel colors or plain black to pick from, you will want to consider what color will look best, too. 

Consider your budget.

Don't expect to find the stove of your dreams for a few hundred dollars! The new EPA-certified stoves are high-tech heating appliances, and as such, they are an investment. 

But if price is an issue, and you are thinking about buying a used stove instead of a new one, take a careful look, first. 

A new, EPA-certified stove will use much less wood than an older stove. You will also load it less frequently, remove much less ash from it, and generally keep the chimney (and our environment) much cleaner. 

If price really is critical, you still don't need to give up on the idea of a new, EPA- stove. Take a look at the lower-cost steel stoves available at your local stove shop. You might find a good deal. 

Have the woodstove chimney checked.

A must. Find a good chimney professional, and have the chimney checked, to determine if it is suitable and in satisfactory condition for a wood stove installation.

Smoke Signals: Have a question about your chimney?