Using a wood stove for different applications and reasons
Wood stoves are an efficient and aesthetically pleasing way to bring a real wood fire into your living space. Different people have different reasons for a wood stove in their home. Your reasons for a wood stove will influence other design decisions like size, features and accessories, and location.
Wood Stoves as Primary Heat Source
If your reason for a wood stove is using the stove for primary heat, you'll want to make sure your stove is able to heat your space by itself.
A larger wood stove can provide longer burn times. Less frequent stoking means less work to have a warm home. The ability to achieve an overnight burn can mean the difference between a solid night's sleep, and regular sleep interruptions. But too large of a stove will be difficult to burn efficiently without overheating your space, especially on the shoulder seasons. Burning your stove too cool can also create creosote buildup in the chimney, and a risk of chimney fires.
Wood stoves with airtight fireboxes and separate air controls for primary and secondary air can help burn a lower fire efficiently without smoldering.
It's best to choose the smallest stove that can adequately heat your space through the coldest typical day of Winter. Sizing for average Winter low temps can lead to a stove that's too small, and sizing for record low temps can lead to a stove that's too large. If you have record lows and your stove can't keep up, you can put on a sweater.
Wood Stoves as Supplemental or Zone Heating
Wood stoves make fantastic supplemental heaters to augment your primary heat source. A smaller, more efficient central heating or solar heating system can be used to supplement a wood stove on the coldest Winter days. And a wood stove in your living space can provide a cozy touch that makes your house feel more like home.
If your wood stove is a secondary heater, and you have another heat source for primary heat, it's a good idea to size it a bit smaller than for primary heating. A smaller stove can be used earlier in the Spring and later in the Fall. That way you'll have more time to enjoy the fire throughout the year.
A wood stove for supplemental heating shouldn't be too small though. You need to consider heat output, burn times, and to some degree the looks of a too small stove for your space.
Wood Stoves for Cooking
If your reason for a wood stove is cooking you're in good company. You only have to go back a couple of generations to find a time when the wood cookstove was a fixture of nearly every kitchen. Burning wood for cooking and baking as well as heating was standard practice relatively recently.
Not every wood stove works well as a cooking appliance. Stoves with a large, flat top cooking surface work well for use with a kettle or a dutch oven. Cookstoves with an oven are useful for baking or roasting. But you can also do some baking in a cast iron dutch oven on a stove's top cooking surface.
A stove will significantly heat up your home whenever you're using it. It's a cookstove that is simultaneously a heater and a cooking appliance. Smaller cookstoves will not overheat your space earlier in the Spring and later in the Fall. But if a cookstove is also your primary heat source, it should be sized accordingly. If you plan to use your cookstove as your primary cooking appliance, make sure you have enough ventilation and be prepared to have a very hot kitchen in the Summer.
Wood Stoves for Emergency Heat
When the electrical grid fails or the propane supply runs out, a wood stove can keep your family comfortable and safe until services are restored. Wood is easy to stockpile for emergencies. But even without advanced preparation, firewood or other solid fuels can often be foraged locally. Read more about preparing for emergencies with a wood stove.
A wood stove sized for emergency heating needs to be big enough to keep at least a portion of your home safe on the coldest day of the year. It's not usually necessary for an emergency heater to maintain normal room temperature. It should keep your space at least above freezing though, and preferably at least 55 degrees F.
Choosing a wood stove that can be used as a cooking appliance is another benefit for an emergency heater. A relatively large top cooking surface can be used to boil surface water to render it safe to drink. You can even cook entire meals on it.
If you are planning a wood stove installation primarily for emergencies you want to size it as a secondary heat source and locate it somewhere in your home that you'll use it even in non-emergency situations. That way you can ensure you get the best value for your money, and you're best prepared for when an emergency happens.
Learn more about choosing the right size wood stove for your small space.