What is a Freestanding Woodstove?
A pretty basic definition of woodstoves is that they are metal boxes made in such a way that you can have a wood fire inside so that the metal gets hot and heats the room.
As basic as that definition is, there’s actually a great deal of engineering, new technology and testing involved in making today’s woodstoves. They are very efficient heaters (in the 90% efficiency range, like gas or oil furnaces.) Because they use renewable fuel (wood) which is found everywhere, this “old technology heater” is an excellent choice for home heating in the 21st Century.
A “free-standing” woodstove means that the stove is not installed into a fireplace. (That type of woodstove is called a fireplace insert. Some freestanding stoves
are on legs, others on pedestals, but all sit at least a few inches above the floor.
Venting Free Standing Wood Stoves
The wood smoke either comes out of the top or rear of the stove and you use stovepipe to carry the smoke through the room from the stove to the chimney. If it comes out of the back there is often a tee section to get the smoke moving UP. For top-vented stoves the stovepipe goes right into the top of the stove.
Wood is usually loaded through the front door of the stove. The doors often have high-temperature glass so you can also look at the fire as it heats the room.
When installing a freestanding stove, you will generally have three ways to vent the smoke from the house:
- The first is “through the wall.” A through-the-wall installation is where you route the stovepipe coming from the stove to the wall, where there may be an existing chimney. Many houses have a masonry (brick or block) chimney in place that you can “tap into” to vent a woodstove. So said, all chimneys aren’t masonry, but many are factory-built sections. If you have no chimney in place, don’t worry about it – you just have a factory built chimney installed. The stovepipe joins the chimney at the wall.
- The second method is for when you have a chimney directly above the stove. This is not a naturally occurring event unless by huge coincidence. In most cases This method is for people who decide “I want the stove right here” and the stove probably (though not necessarily) is vented out of the top. In this case you have a factory built chimney installed directly over the stove. This is very common and a good way to do the job.
- The final method is what’s called a hearth stove installation. Recall that fireplace inserts are installed into fireplaces, not freestanding stoves. However, you can vent a freestanding stove through a fireplace. This usually means that a rear-vented stove sits in front of the fireplace (on the hearth.) The smoke pipe comes off the back of the stove and the turns up through the throat of the fireplace to vent the smoke through the fireplace chimney. This is a perfectly good way to install a stove. Take note, the hearth stove installation requires a properly sized liner to be put into the chimney. Fireplace chimneys will most assuredly be too large for a woodstove.
A note on properly sized chimney liners: In the 1970s many a woodstove was vented into a fireplace with a flue many times too big for the stove. The result was an extraordinary amount of creosote and tar build-up- of a type that chimney brushes can’t remove and many a house burned down in those days. A word to the wise: follow the rules.
What’s the best kind to buy?
There are good stoves and not as good stoves available to you. There is the low end stuff you can get at a great big mass merchandiser of course. These probably do meet minimum EPA standards, but those minimums are getting higher all the time…but they do work.
Modern cast iron woodstoves can be very efficient and castings do look good, normally appealing to the eye. Cast iron has a reputation for radiating heat most evenly. So said, cast iron can be problematic in that large-surface castings sometime crack. They are also generally more expensive than the options.
Steel stoves are very efficient as well, and are generally the most economical option. Steel heats up and starts putting out heat the quickest. The styling on a steel stove nowadays can be very good, depending on the manufacturer’s designer. They may have brass doors for example, or other features to make them visually attractive. Steel has a good track record for longevity; you don’t hear of cracked steel panels very often.
Steel and Cast Iron
Another good option is the combination of steel and cast iron. This probably means that the stove is steel, but the door is cast iron (usually with glass.) It’s a very attractive appearance.