The Woodburners provides fireplace and stove installation services. Contact us or visit our showroom in Hatfield PA and meet with one of our friendly and knowledgeable sales reps to learn more about our installation services.

Getting Started

Fireplaces are often the focal point of a house. Just ask any real-estate agent. It sets off a room, and establishes a first impression of the home. But from a logical and efficiency point of view, they are one of the dumbest additions to any house. First, you have a very short burn time, usually about an hour before you must recharge the fire. Second, contrary to popular myth, fireplaces do not heat a house or a room. They actually send 600-800 cfm of heated room air up the chimney and out of the house. That’s a lot of makeup air for the house to replace. Even fireplaces with “outside air” kits cannot make up that much loss. And with our tighter and better insulated homes, de-pressurization of the house often becomes a real problem with smoke and creosote odors into the room, and/or other appliances not drafting properly.

What to do? If you have an existing fireplace, consider a fireplace insert, a self contained, air controlled stove, which slides into an existing masonry or prefab fireplace, and includes a set of panels that surround the unit and finnish off the opening of the fireplace. These inserts will produce heat, and depending on the quality of the unit, location of the fireplace, and the openness of the home, a good unit may be able to heat your entire home. If you do not already have a fireplace, you still have a wide variety of efficient built-in fireplaces and freestanding stoves.

So how do I choose what’s right for me? Begin by establishing your goals. “What do I want to accomplish with this investment?” This decision is probably the most important part of choosing your stove. The second aspect, is “How do I want to accomplish this goal?”. Do I convert the fireplace that I have now, or think new construction? And finally, “What fuel type is right for me?” Sizing is also important, but that decision will be dictated by what you want to accomplish, and what you can accomplish.

Today’s wood burning units are better than ever, with efficiencies reaching 74%, and burn times 6-10 hours depending on the size and demand of the unit. They have clean glass, clean firebricks, produce no smoke, and very, very little creosote (the unburned condensate of smoke). There are two ways accomplish this feat, catalytic combusters and non-catalytic technology.

Catalytics, by design, allow something to happen under conditions that normally would not occur without the catalyst. In this case, the unburned smoke is funneled through a ceramic combuster which have been impregnated with rare elements, platinum and rubidium, that enable the smoke to re-ignite at only 550°F. The advantage of a catalytic stove is generally for the manufacturer of the stove. Because secondary combustion occurs at a lower temperature, stoves do not have to be redesigned to meet EPA guide lines. The drawback is that catalytic stoves do not have extremely clean glass, and the placement of the catalytic combuster is located at the end of the exhaust of the stove and any heat produced by re-burning of the gases is lost up the chimney. Remember, efficiency is measured at the end of a 30′ flue. To operate properly the combuster has to be “lit off” with each new charge of wood, and since it has life expectancy of 6 years, it must be replaced periodically.

Non-catalytic stoves re-burn the gases via a secondary air tube assembly located inside the firebox above the flame, resulting in very clean glass, clean firebricks, and no smoke. They accomplish this feat by maintaining a firebox temperature above 1200°F.

Gas units offer another solution and have also come a long way in heat production capabilities and appearances. With efficiencies reaching 86%, they easily compete with your present heating system. There are units today that are so realistic that it is difficult to distinguish a gas fire from a wood fire. In the past, most units were b-vented, as are most gas furnaces, requiring a full updraft chimney liner. Today’s trend, however, is the Direct Vented appliances, which simply needs to be vented to the outside, adhering to tested requirements and restrictions. The main advantage to gas units, though, is convience. Hook a stove up to a thermostat or remote, and presto, heat and flame.

A third choice is pellet stoves, which essentially burn compressed sawdust, a renewable resource. Pellet stoves, like gas, can be vented directly to the outside and can also be run by a thermostat or remote. Their main advantage is convience in operation, ease of storage (40# bags) and economics. Two tons of pellets can often heat a home or large area for $300 to $400.

One other choice of course is coal, known for its long burn time and evenness of heat, but the disadvantages have been out weighing the advantages. There is lots of ash, up to 15%, the graphite like coal dust, not easily cleaned up, and storage.

So, by determining what your goals are, assuming they are realistic, and what type of fuel you prefer, size becomes critical. Getting a stove that is too large is not a good decision, but a good qualified stove shop can help you with sizing.

What you need to consider

Cast Iron vs Steel
The difference is primarily appearance. Whereas cast iron stoves used to be up to 1/2” thick, todays technology allows cast to be only 1/4” thick, the same as most steel stoves. It is the thickness of the iron that holds heat, not that it is cast or steel. If you want heat retention, then look at the Hearthstone stoves. They are 1 1/4” thick.

Catalytic Combustor
Your last resort for clean burning if you have a choice, go with a non-cat unit, a no brainer unless your stove is very large.

Ceramic Glass
Radiates more heat (infrared) than cast iron or steel (radiant).

Borofloat Glass
The most radiant of all glass.

“Infrared Reflective Ceramic glass”
Impedes the transfer of infrared heat that would normally be transferred out of the stove. The heat is reflected back into the fire box to obtain higher temperatures enabling more complete combustion, cleaner glass, and lower emission numbers, but all at the expense of heat transfer. But, IR Glass also reduces the amount of radiant heat on the floor in front of the stove. Hearthstone is one company that had to use Reflective glass to reduce hearth extension requirements.

Pumice Brick
Used in many stoves to obtain higher internal temperatures to reduce emission numbers. The brick is lighter than regular fire brick, is an insulator, and has a relatively short lifespan needing to be replaced often. Regular fire bricks should not be used as replacements as they will change the parameters that the stove was tested to, especially clearances to combustables.

Quality
You still get what you pay for, wouldn’t you agree?

Tempered Glass
Does not transfer infrared heat.

The next decision is “What will it cost me?” The truth is that price is still and always has been relative to quality, size, amenities available, and how you want to present and finish the unit visually. Those decisions will be made as you explore the different stove shops in your area. Just don’t assume that all stoves and fireplaces are created equally, as they are not. Also, keep in mind where and who you are buying your stove from. Is the shop knowledgeable, convient, and service oriented? Are they factory trained? Is the owner hands on and certified. Is anyone certified to NFI, National Fireplace Institute? The fireplace industry does not consider stoves and fireplaces to be a cash and carry business. Neither should you.

A word of caution here, do not let your builder or contractor select your unit for you because it is convient and “He should know”. Builders do not know or even want to know about stoves and fireplaces. They just want to complete the project, and if given the chance, will usually select the cheapest unit available to them with the greatest margin of profit. To a builder, customers are content just to have a fireplace. Besides, unless you do some homework, what do you know about stoves and fireplaces? Yet, would you ever accept a builders grade carpet?