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Buying the Best Wood Stove or Pellet Stove

Updated on April 26, 2014
Quadra-Fire Wood Insert
Quadra-Fire Wood Insert

How to Choose a Wood Stove or Pellet Stove

So, you've read up on the cost-saving benefits of wood or pellet stoves or fireplace inserts - everything from the savings on fuel to the federal tax credits for up to 30% the cost of your stove. Now you're ready to install a wood stove or pellet stove in your home.

Except, now you're wondering, how do I choose which stove brand and model is right for my home and lifestyle? Well, don't pull out your wallet quite yet - there's still quite a bit to consider.

Because this is probably being installed in a very public place in your house, you may start thinking bout aesthetics first. First off, you aren't going to have a lot different choices - you'll find modern and traditional looking stoves that come in porcelain, black steel or cast iron. Most are pretty attractive and will fit with your home décor like jeans match every shirt you own.

Secondly, before you start thinking of your stove as a pretty home accessory, you should narrow your search down by thinking about the following:

  • How much area do I want to heat with my heating stove?
  • Do I want a wood or pellet burning stove? (more info on that here)
  • Do I want a free-standing stove or fireplace insert?
  • What brands does the stove shop/service center near me sell and service?

Let's take them on one at a time:

An Accentra Pellet Burning Fireplace Insert
An Accentra Pellet Burning Fireplace Insert
BTUs needed based on the climate where you live
BTUs needed based on the climate where you live

How Many BTUs Do I Need to Heat My Home?

First thing's first: you need to determine how many BTUs (British Thermal Units) your stove needs to spit out per hour to keep you warm.

Determining how many BTUs is actually incredibly complicated, and depends on a variety of factors:

  • What's the climate where you live?
  • Does your home have an open layout, or is closed off with multiple floors and rooms?
  • How many square feet of space are you trying to heat?
  • Does your home have poor, decent, or excellent insulation?

The layout of your home and the level of insulation you have are variable factors that will need to be addressed on an individual basis, and your local stove shop can help you determine what you need to overcome any obstacles.

But if you're looking for a rough estimate of how many BTUs you need, here's a quick guide that assumes you have at least decent insulation and a relatively open floorplan. View the map above for reference:

  • Red: 30 - 35 BTUs/sq. ft.
  • Orange: 35 - 40 BTUs/sq. ft.
  • Yellow: 40 - 45 BTUs/sq. ft.
  • Green: 45 - 50 BTUs/sq. ft.
  • Blue: 50 – 55 BTUs/sq. ft.

And to make things even easier, here's a chart that assumes you live in the green zone indicated above. And if your local shop doesn't have these particular stoves, or you would prefer a fireplace insert, just ask about an equivalent. These are the two largest brands in the business, so it shouldn't be difficult for a local retailer to help you find something similar.

BTU to Square Feet Conversion

Square Feet You'd Like to Heat
BTUs Needed
Wood Stove Options
Pellet Stove Options
Harman Oakleaf, Quadrafire Yosamite
Harman p38, Quadrafire Santa Fe
Harman Oakwood, Quardrafire 3100
Harman Advance, Quadrafire 1200
Harman TL 2.0, Quardrafire 4100
Harman XXV, Quadrafire Mt Vernon
Harman TL 300, Quadrafire 5700
Harman P68,

When you look up these stoves, you might notice that their BTU rating and square feet heating range differ slightly. Those are promotional stats, and they are a bit of a stretch - talk to your local stove shop about which stove will actually suit yo

The XXV is a solid pellet stove for heating large areas
The XXV is a solid pellet stove for heating large areas

Average Cost of Wood or Pellet Stove Installation

Wood or Pellet stoves aren't cheap, but that upfront cost is an investment in long term savings, and an investment in an eco-friendly fuel source. Keep in mind when you're researching stoves on the web, the prices you're finding are just the base price, and don't include things like pipe, accessories, or labor.

Good quality wood or pellet stoves will range from $1,400 for the smaller, less powerful models to upwards of $4,000 for the powerhouse XXVs or Mt. Vernons. The prettier and hotter you want your stove to be, the more the unit is going to cost you. Then you may need to buy the accessories:

  • Pipe: 3" stainless or flex-pipe for most pellet stoves, 6" stovepipe for wood stoves. Cost will be determined by how complicated your installation is, how much pipe/parts you need, and how far it is from the stove to the vent.
  • Stove accessories: You may legally need a heat-resistant hearth for your stove, a heat shield for the wall behind it, or, if you're purchasing a fireplace insert, panels to cover the gaps between your stove and your firebox.
  • Optional wiring - it is possible to hardwire your stove into your home instead of just plugging it in, but it's could cost a pretty penny to set up that kind of convenience..

Installations, with pipe, will generally cost you about $1,000, not including any special items like hearths or complicated vent installations. So when you're budgeting for your wood or pellet stove, you'll be looking at anywhere from $3,000 - $5,500+.

You can see how these pellet stoves vent through the wall, not a fireplace.  If you're considering a free-standing stove, keep in mind where you'll need to run your pipe.
You can see how these pellet stoves vent through the wall, not a fireplace. If you're considering a free-standing stove, keep in mind where you'll need to run your pipe.

Should I Buy a Freestanding Stove or a Fireplace Insert

The nice thing about fireplace inserts - or stoves that fit directly into the fireplace in your home - is that they're out of the way, there's generally already a heat-resistant heart around the fireplace, and you don't have to cut any holes in your house to vent the stove exhaust. Generally, fireplace inserts are a bit more expensive, and they do require that you pull the unit out of the fireplace once a year during its cleaning (you'll probably have your local stove shop doing this anyway, but its worth noting that extra effort).

But you can't just throw an insert to a fireplace without considering the a couple of things::

  • The size and state of your flue -for wood stoves, the pipe will need to run up your flue will be at least 6" in diameter If your tile inside the flue is in disrepair, or if the flue is especially small or dirty, you may not be able to use it. Also know that if you have an especially tall chimney on a multi-story house, you may have draft issues, or gravity may prevent your stove from venting correctly through the chimney.
  • The size of your actual fireplace - if your fireplace is ostentatiously large or extremely small, then the actual stove unit may not fit in there. If your firebox has an unusually shaped opening, then you might wind up paying more to have the hardware custom cut.

A stove that hasn't had an ideal burn through the season.  This stove is going to need a professional cleaning of the firebox, glass and pipe.
A stove that hasn't had an ideal burn through the season. This stove is going to need a professional cleaning of the firebox, glass and pipe.

Should I Buy a Stove From Home Depot, Lowes or Online?

If you're on a budget, you may be looking for an affordable, off-brand alternative to the big name pellet and wood stove brands, whose units can cost upwards of $4,000. And while there's nothing really wrong with buying your stove from a national retailer or from an online source, you may be putting yourself in an tough position.

  • Pellet and wood stoves need to be installed properly. Local stove shops often won't install stoves that didn't come from them, sometimes because their insurance won't allow them to, sometimes because the liability is more than they are willing to take on.
  • Your heating stove also needs to be serviced every year, even if it's working perfectly. Fans need to be taken out and cleaned, the firebox needs to be scraped and scrubbed, and don't forget - it's a machine, so parts break. And, again, local stove shops often can't or won't work on stoves that didn't come from them because they can't speak to their safety.
  • Finally, heating a home with a wood or pellet burning heating source is a science, and it's different for every floorplan layout. Troubleshooting a problem in your home can be a process that requires having one person or team tweaking the setup for a while. You aren't going to get that from a national chain hardware store.

So if you aren't necessarily handy, or you're not confident in your ability to troubleshoot air flow problems, I'd recommend finding yourself a local specialty stove shop that can guarantee you proper installation and ongoing service and support.


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