Episode-808- Jeff Wheatley on Wood Stoves and Inserts

Jeff Wheatley has over 15 years experience selling, installing, and servicing Hearth appliances (Stoves, Inserts, & Fireplaces) in 3 major fuel types: Woodburning, LP & NG Burning, and Pellet Burning. Today he joins us to discuss the safe install & use of wood stoves.  He also provides us with tips on how to get the best efficiency, the most heat, the least creosote, the easiest maintenance, and the safest operation from your wood stove.

Join Us Today as we Discuss…

  • Why a stove chimney is a major expense
  • What is the biggest difference in modern vs. older stoves
  • Thoughts on single wall pipe penetrations
  • Which end of the pipe is up
  • Best practices for woodstove inserts
  • Why is it so important to fully season fuel wood

Resources for Today’s Show…

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40 Responses to Episode-808- Jeff Wheatley on Wood Stoves and Inserts

  1. We just put in a soapstone wood stove by Hearthstone “Heritage” I was surprised by how much I really like having the side door a lot less mess. http://www.hearthstonestoves.com. It was about $400 more than a steel stove. I love it. The heat that comes off of it feels like the sun coming in through the window. Before bed put wood in it and in the AM when I get up the wood is gone but the heat is still coming off the stove. I start another fire and feed it for about 4 hours as needed 1-2 more pieces of wood. Then just let it go and the house stays warm all day. We don’t start another fire until about 6:00 pm. That is what we did when it was 22F low – 35F high for about 10 days (weird cold for us southwest WA).

    You can’t boil water on it or fry an egg but you can slow cook soups or stews. I think I could use a cast iron dutch oven on the inside of the stove (when it’s just a few coals) . Our house is a manufactured home about 1800 sq ft well insulated but we have 21 feet of windows on the north side of the house. That’s the room the stove is in. Finally after 18 yrs that room is warm but not blasting hot. I was surprised at how fast this stove heated up to a point you could feel it. With all the mass I was expecting it to take hours like they say but it didn’t. Just thought I’d share what we did.

    Good to know on the fire wood we do have a lot to learn in that area as well as coppicing.

  2. Glad to hear you enjoy your stove! I also sell Hearthstone in my day job. The mass of a soapstone stove acts similar in principle to the rocket mass heaters in that they are a heat sink that holds lots of warmth that is released into the home over time.
    Like we talked about in the interview, be sure to use good seasoned wood… hardwood if at all possible… and clean it annually (or more often if you are having to resort to poorer quality wood).

  3. Great timing on the show Jack! I have the stove and all the chimney parts laid out on the floor ready to install this week.

    @Jeff Is it best for the chimney to go straight up without any 45′ bends? The best place in the house is right in the center but that puts it under the ridge joist so I would have to bend off to the side or move the stove. Is it better to do the bends inside the house or in the attic?

    Great show, thanks!

  4. Was wondering Jeff the best way to stack fire wood? Do you know anything about Holz Hausen or bee hive stacking?

  5. I’ve got a question for Jeff. I lost the battle with my hubs for a woodstove insert-we wound up with a pellet stove instead. (hey-maritial harmony is always a consideration!) If we were to decide at some point to change over to a woodstove instead, would we need a different chimney liner, or is the liner for the pellet stove also good for a wood stove?

    • Quality-wise, pellet and wood reline kits are basically the same… both are good stainless steel. The problem is size. Your pellet stove most likely is 3″ or 4″. A Wood stove would use 6″ or 8″.
      So, unless you installed a 6″ wood reline kit and then reduced down to the 3″ or 4″ that connected to the Pellet stove, you will have no choice but to replace the liner if you switch to Wood.
      All is not lost, though. If you pull out the pellet stove, you can also pull out the liner. A simple cleaning and it should be able to be installed in a new fireplace if it is long enough.
      Also, do not dispair. Even though you did not get the more electricity-independence of a wood stove, this may be the opportunity to convince the hubby to buy a generator if you don’t already have one. If your pellet stove has an ignitor, then be sure you get a generator that is big enough to START the pellet stove, and not just RUN it.

      • Thanks Jeff! We do have a generator, 9K I think, I’ll need to check and make sure it is enough to ignite the stove and not just keep the auger running :)

        • A pellet stove plugs into a 110v wall socket. The most you can EVER draw from that socket is 1650 watts (assuming a 15 amp circuit). So you could run your pellet stove (with igniter) from an 1800 watt gen set. I think your 9K is more than enough… ;)

  6. @Jack and Jeff,

    Really good and informative show. Great job guys.

  7. Great show i would like to add something covering your firewood in the rainy season is good but also good in the winter time if it rains and then you have a hard freeze the last thing you want to be doing is trying to break loose your firewood with a sledge hammer its not fun.

    • That’s what wood sheds are for. ;)

      I leave my stacks uncovered. I have 10 cords in single row stacks drying and another 5 cords in the wood shed. Every fall, I refill the wood shed from the drying stacks as I need drying room for more freshly split wood. With this rotation, I am always burning 2yr seasoned wood.

      Since I heat 100% with wood, it’s part of my preps. Having 2yrs of heat “in the bank” is a comforting feeling.

  8. Jeff do you have any experience with Napoleon woodburning fireplace inserts? Over the summer my 2 year old daughter thought the opening at the top where the hot air blows out would be a nifty garage for her Matchbox cars, and you can probably guess the rest. By my estimates there’s 1-2 cars and possibly a small plastic dinosaur living in the bottom recesses of the unit. Any ideas on how to get them out?

    • I actually sell Napoleon stoves at my day job.
      Have you tried pulling the stove out, turning it upside down and shaking out the offending toys? That might be your only option… maybe without the shaking part, just rolling it over.

      Have you checked your manual to see what panels and such are made to be removed? Which model do you have?

    • We have the 1402. It’s so heavy I don’t know how we could take it out and turn it upside down. I called the store where we purchased it and they are going to try to contact Napoleon for advice. In the meantime I think we’re going to get a plumbers snake with a wad of duct tape on the end and go fishing. :-)

      • OK. I’ve got a 1402 on my floor right now. I took the surround panels off, and there is good news. The top of the stove can be unscrewed and removed so you can access the air chambers on the back and sides. Unless your fireplace opening is several inches taller than your stove, you probably still have to uninstall the stove: disconnect the reline pipe and then slide the stove out onto the hearth so the top can come off and you can see down in those chambers.

        You’ll still be fishing around with a yard stick and duct tape, but at least you don’t have to leave the toys there.

      • If the toy is metal (maybe the car, not the dinosaur), then you may be able to use a flexible mechanics magnet to fish it out if the duct tape doesn’t work. But who am I to question duct tape?!

  9. For a HUGE amount of wood stove information, check out the forums at http://www.hearth.com. It’s the Mecca of all wood burning information. No affiliation other than being just a member. EVERYTHING I’ve learned about heating my home 100% with wood I learned from this site.

  10. http://biolitestove.com/BioLite.html

    Speaking of stoves I just had to post this. Its called the bio lite and its a small camp stove that runs on wood and generates electricity. They are also making a home version, but it looks to be mainly for 3rd world countries.

  11. I heard Jeff mention catalytic stoves and the need to replace the catalyst. While the catalyst affects efficiency, it is also an integral part of the stove? What I mean is if the catalyst went out, would I be able to replace it with a straight pipe (or box, or whatever shape it is)? I know it wouldn’t run as efficiently, but would it still function at least as well as an old style stove?

    • If the catalyst fails by being poisoned (polluted by chemicals in your fuel such as colored paper or painted/stained wood) then it can just stay in place and it doesn’t do anything except drop your stove’s efficiency. If you clog the catalyst, then you will need to remove it at least to clean it… otherwise it actually blocks the smoke from getting to the chimney.

      It is not essential for the catalyst to be in place for the stove to operate (just with lower efficiency). Nothing is required to take its place. You simply remove it if needed and let the smoke go through that part of the stove without the benefit that the catalyst would have been giving.

      The catalyst causes the smoke (unburned fuel) to burn at a much lower temperature than it would otherwise burn at. Not having the catalyst will result in more creosote formation in the chimney and less heat coming into the living area for each load of fuel you burn.

      If you remove the catalyst or it burns out, and you continue to operate the stove without replacing the catalyst, you now have a stove that is LESS efficient that the modern non-catalytic stoves… probably something a little more efficient than an old-fashioned box-stove.

      To help put things in perspective, if I had a catalytic stove with a bad catalyst, and for whatever reason (no money, TSHTF, TEOTWAWKI, etc) I could not get a replacement… I would have no problem running the stove without it until a replacement could be obtained. It will not hurt the stove, and is still better than no heat.

      • Thanks, Jeff.

        That’s kind of what I figured the answer would be, but never can tell.

        My thinking is that we all have good intentions of stocking parts that fail. But say we are in the middle of a blizzard and it fails. Parts are available, we just can’t get to them.

        Thanks again for the great info.

  12. Great show Jack and very useful information Jeff. Looking forward to checking out your blog.
    Have burned scores of cords through the “Old Hippie” Country Flame stove we inherited from the previous owners 25 years ago. Other than a rattly circulation far, replacing the stove pipe and annual cleanings, it has saved us tens of thousands of dollars and gained us priceless independance.
    The first comments by Roundabouts has me rethinking the notion of Soapstone Stoves. It really seams like a good way to go, especially if burning small hot fires outa scrap wood and branch trimmings.

    • @Kenny
      Yes, even older stoves are better than an open fireplace.
      Like many things in the prepper lifestyle, we all do what we can when we can, and any step in the right direction is a good one.

      As for Soapstone… the biggest issue I have with them from a preparedness angle is that you can’t cook on them as easily as on steel or cast iron. The stone surface won’t get quite as hot as metal will, so just like Roundabouts said, you can’t do hi-temp cooking like frying or boiling, though you can do slow cooking like stews, soups, beans, etc. So if having a stove that can also be a backup cooking method is high priority, then soapstone has a strike against it.

      It is all about what you really want the stove to do for you.

  13. Wonderful show and very timely. We are just starting to look for an insert. The one sticking point for my wife is that she like the aesthetics of the open fireplace. Are there inserts that you are aware of that you can use ‘open” if you want to see the fire for Christmas and the like and then close up to use for utility heating the rest of the year?

    • Yes, there are.
      Look for a stove that has an optional accessory called something like a “removable spark screen. If the manufacturer is comfortable recommending the appliance be run with the door open, they will (for legal reasons) always offer a spark screen that can be clipped onto the front of the stove so sparks don’t pop out while the door is left open.

      If you have adequate draft, you should be able to leave the door open on almost any wood stove or insert and it should work just fine… just be sure you have adequate floor protection (at least the recommended 18″ out from the stove) and get yourself a free standing fireplace screen to place in front to stop sparks.

      Having the door open basically turns the stove into an open fireplace, and you lose much of your efficiency, but for times you only want aesthetics, the flexibility is nice.

  14. Great pod cast, enjoyed it much. I updated a blog post I have to include telling folks about time, temperature and turbulence.

    http://larrydgray.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/wood-burning-stoves-and-fire-places/

    Anyway I will listen to it again but did you mention “Insulation and Thermal Mass”? I think so but not as elements to add to the list of time, temperature and turbulence. So my list is “time, temperature, turbulence, insulation, thermal mass”

    • Though just thinking, insulation and thermal mass are elements that affect time and temperature.

    • @Larry,
      I don’t remember how I phrased it in the podcast, but if I mis-spoke, let me correct it here: The three T’s (Temperature, Turbulence, and Time) are the primary parameters affecting combustion efficiency.

      Just like you mention in your reply, Insulation and Thermal Mass are both design factors that can support the 3 T’s, but mainly Temperature: The better insulated the stove is and the more thermal mass it has, the higher the temperature will be kept in the firebox. This higher combustion temperature will increase how efficiently the fire is turning the fuel into heat.

  15. I’ve heard they’ve been doing some research at Cornell Univeristy with pelletizing grass/stalks/biomass and utilitizing theses in small homeowner sized stoves. Any exprieriances or information with a set up like this?
    A neighborhood/community investing in a pelletizing mill and dumping in grass clippings/autumn leaves, ditch mowing and distrubuting a couple of tons to each in the cooperative to fuel home heating would be an low input cost boon.
    Wondering what the emmisions on a biomass pellet stove would be and how quickly the EPA would want to quash a trend?

    • Do you have $100,000 or so to invest in pellet producing equipment? That is a pretty high startup cost for a neighborhood/community to jump into.

      Pellet stoves are EPA exempt due to their air to fuel ratio (being greater than 35 to 1)… though the new EPA regs coming down the pike may change that. They also generally have low emissions because they are acting like a small blast furnace, with fans constantly blowing on the fire to make it burn as hot (efficient) as possible.

      The pellet fuel industry is constantly looking for alternative sources of bio mass.

  16. Question for Jeff@PrepChurch:

    What is the issue with using accelerants to start a fire? Using paper generates a lot of extra ash and is a slow way to start a fire. Squirting a shot of lighter fluid or kerosene on to the cold left over coals seems like a really easy way to start up a fire.

    My Internet research into the subject has many people saying ‘Don’t do it’, but I cannot find anyone who explains why it shouldn’t be done. Is it hard on the stove? Does it create excess creosote? What is the technical reason why it shouldn’t be done?

    I understand the safety aspect. An unfamiliar woodstove user may attempt to use the accelerant on an already burning fire and that could turn out bad.

    • “Squirting a shot of kerosene on to the cold leftover coals” seems like a really easy way to have an unexpected flash fire to me. The safety aspect is the main concern here. There can be hot coals in the ashes of a stove or fireplace for much longer than you realize… sometimes several days.

      Secondarily, there could be certain chemical by-products from burning an accelerant that may contribute to increased creosote or condensation of these other flammable by-products that are not good for the chimney. Paper or other natural tinder & kindling (like leaves & sticks) is always a safer choice in my book.

      There is no reason not to use standard paper to start a fire (black and white newspaper print, but not glossy, magazine type paper common in advertisements… especially if you have a catalytic stove as these can poison a catalyst). Paper burns very short and produce a quick burst of heat to quickly warm both the chimney and the other fuel in the stove. If you burned 4 or 5 full-size sheets of paper to get your fire going, you will not have a significant amount of ash from that.

  17. I recently bought a Jotul F500 Oslo and plan on hearthmounting it in front of my existing cheapy prefab fireplace. I’m told I need to line my existing double wall 8 inch chimney with a 6 inch liner.

    We have stained concrete floors. A neighbor suggested that I put some kind of firebrick or other 1-1.5 inch stone barrier below the stone to prevent the concrete from drying out. Can you comment on that?

    Thanks!

    • I’ve not heard of that kind of a problem with a stained floor, but it definitely couldn’t hurt to have something to cover the floor if for no other reason than to protect it cosmetically. I would be more concerned with the stain than the concrete itself (maybe that is really what you meant anyway).

      Can you talk to the supplier or manufacturer of the stain to find out if it has any problem with heat resistance? I would not be surprised if the heat from the stove did affect the coloring of the stain. You can also have scratches, scuffs, and other wear and tear on a stained floor from the wood & tools that are used around a stove… so putting down something else for protection might not be a bad idea.

  18. I live in Prince Edward Island, Canada and I heat exclusively with wood. I own four acres of land, which is about 75% Black Spruce. Most about 45′ tall and a foot plus in diameter. I only process deadfall and heat mostly with softwood. I have had my stove now since 1999, I have cleaned my chimney cleaned three times in that period and each time, about 1 cup of soot comes out. I also take my digital camera out in the summer, take the cap off and take a picture down the pipe for inspection. So in a nutshell, wood species does not cause creosote, improperly seasoned wood causes creosote. Wet maple will cause more problems than dry spruce. I only burn hardwood on cold nights in Jan/Feb. Softwood is underrated, especially if it’s free ;)

    I agree with a previous poster, hearth.com is fantastic. It is wood porn

  19. Great show and I love the feedback from the guest on this forum. A friend bought a glass front stove and wondered what he’d do in a SHTF scenario if that glass broke. He has a welder friend looking at how to cut a piece of metal to fit in the place of the glass. It sounded like a valid concern. I had to replace one once.

    • Your idea is just fine, and would be a great backp to have around. Just have the steel plate cut from the same thickness as the glass, and of course the same dimensions and it should fit.

      There are some benefits from having glass, though (actually a hi-temp ceramic rather than glass). 1) you can enjoy the fire more when you see it. 2) You can monitor the fire easier with the glass because you won’t have to open the door to see what is going on inside… Making it easier to fine-tune the fire using your air adjustments. 3) Using a steel plate will reduce the heat you get off the front of the stove, because the ceramic glass is actually extremely transparent to radiant heat, and projects a good amount of heat out into the room.