Technically, no wood-burning stoves are “airtight.” All wood burners need air for the fire to burn. But most modern damper-controlled wood stoves, designed both for fuel efficiency and minimal pollution, control air effectively. The smallest efficient wood stoves are actually marine stoves, designed for use in boats – very, very small spaces. Really good ones, such as Marine Stoves’ 12-inch-square Sardine, are EPA certified. Since 1988 only EPA-certified stoves can be sold in the United States.
Wood Stove Types
Old-style box stoves are essentially poorly sealed metal boxes that feed their fires with air drawn through the door. So-called "airtight" stoves, by contrast, feature a well-sealed firebox, tight door seals, dampers – controlled manually or by thermostat – and often more than one air source. Only stoves with an outside air source are certified for use in mobile homes. Air circulates through the firebox at rates controlled by the damper, producing slower burning, more efficient fires. Pellet stoves are wood stoves designed to burn processed wood pellets; they feature electronic ignition systems.
Size & Efficiency
Small wood stoves that meet EPA standards are typically 75 to 80 percent efficient, designed to heat an area of no more than 800 to 1,000 square feet. Heating effectiveness, however, depends as much on building insulation as on the stove. Stove size doesn’t necessarily predict how much heat a small stove will produce. Very small stoves can produce plenty of heat, including the very attractive Morso 1410, a cast-iron Danish stove made from 98 percent recycled cast iron. It’s about 28 inches tall, 15 inches wide and 17 inches deep. Most small airtight stoves produce a maximum of 30,000 to 40,000 BTUs per hour.
Materials & Styling
Cast iron is the traditional “quality” material for wood stoves because it conducts or radiates heat well. Steel is equally conductive, however, and double- or triple-walled steel stoves are appropriately efficient. In general, stoves with more metal last much longer. Most damper-controlled stoves are cube shaped or oblong, and traditionally styled; but contemporary models may be sleek and cylindrical. Stove exteriors are typically black matte-finish metal; lighter colors and shinier finishes are less efficient at radiating heat. High-end stoves are sometimes clad in natural soapstone, which absorbs intense heat and radiates it gradually – much like masonry.
Price & Tax Credits
Unless it’s in a fire sale or you find a used or slightly damaged one, you probably won’t be able to buy a truly small airtight wood stove for less than $500, the basic price of Drolet’s Rocket model, which measures about 26 inches tall, 20 inches wide and 21 inches deep. Most small stoves are in the $1,000-to-$2,000 price range. Contemporary styling and specialty materials – such as soapstone exteriors – can raise the price of a small stove to $4,000 to $5,000 or more. At the time of publication, however, the U.S government allowed a federal tax credit for 10 percent of the purchase price (up to $300) for stoves certified as at least 75 percent efficient. Some states offer other tax credit or rebate programs.
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