There are plenty of good reasons for people to use wood burning stoves – they use a renewable resource (trees!) for fuel, they provide great radiant heat for a room and are much more efficient than a fireplace, which sends too much of its heat up the chimney. Used to augment a home’s HVAC or heat pump, it allows homeowners to turn the thermostat ‘way back, cutting a utility bill by half or more. Amazingly, a properly-designed, modern wood stove can zone-heat up to 3500 square feet in a well-insulated, energy-efficient home. Considering the low cost of firewood in most areas, it makes wood stoves an appealing choice for many (especially with the cozy charm that a living-room fire provides). For some tastes, though, a black cast-iron wood stove isn’t really what they’re looking for aesthetically; they’re more reminiscent of the 19th century and might clash with a modernist’s tastes. That no longer has to be the case, though.
Wood stoves are now available in ceramic, as plain square or round stackable units that can be piled on top of each other. It’s a great-looking, minimalist design that serves as a functional heater and a piece of sculpture at the same time, and engineers have found that ceramic is a great choice; it retains and radiates heat longer and more efficiently than cast iron.
Wood stoves, by virtue of their simplicity, require very little maintenance in day-to-day operation. One thing that continues to be a problem for all wood stoves, though, is creosote buildup in the chimney or stovepipe. Softwoods like pine or cedar tend to produce more creosote than hardwoods do, although this isn’t a hard and fast rule; they all leave a residue in the stovepipe. The key to heading off a creosote problem with a wood burning stove is in the fire itself; creosote builds up much more quickly in a stove that has a smoldering, smoky fire rather than a hot, flaming fire. In fact, studies show as much as 48 times as much creosote associated with a smoky fire!
Those in the know suggest opening up the stove’s air settings to encourage a hot, flaming fire (which also works better with a smaller fuel load). That will mean more frequent refueling of the stove, but the fuel consumption will end up about the same, for an equivalent return of heat from the stove.