Different Types of Wood Burning Stoves

November 26, 2014


Does your home feel warm and cozy this Holiday Season? It’s difficult to maintain the coziness, knowing how much it costs you with forced air or baseboard heating. Have you considered a wood burning stove? Modern wood burning stoves are efficient, safe and relatively inexpensive. And if you can get firewood from your back yard, they are virtually free to operate!

At Fireside Stone and Patio, we specialize in wood stove sales and installation in Maryland. We find that many first-time shoppers don’t realize how many options they have when it comes to purchasing a wood burning stove. There are different types of stoves based on the combustion method they use or the materials they are made of. Here is a brief overview to help you understand the differences when you shop for a new wood burning stove for your Maryland home.

Type of Combustion

Currently, there are two main types of wood burning stoves on the market that meet the EPA standards for clean combustion: 7.5 grams of smoke per hour for non-catalytic stoves and 4.1 grams for catalytic ones. The two types differ in the methods they use to ensure near-complete burning of smoke and reduction of emissions.

Catalytic Stoves

Catalytic stoves have a honeycomb-like catalyst that, when smoke passes through it, allows it to catch on fire at a lower temperature than usual. This process has two main benefits. First of all, the smoke in the catalytic converter or combustor burns while still inside the stove, which makes for less emissions. Second of all, as the smoke is burning inside the catalyst, the element gets so hot and radiates so much heat, there is no need to keep a big flame going. In fact, even after you put the fire out, your stove will keep producing heat for a while as the smoke keeps getting burned in the catalyst.

Non-catalytic Stoves

Stoves that don’t have a catalyst use pre-heated air injection to ignite the smoke and creosote for near-complete combustion. This method still reduces emissions to meet the EPA standards, but it’s not as effective as catalytic combustion. Another drawback is that the wood tends to burn out faster when there is a constant flow of air, so a non-catalytic stove is not as efficient as its catalytic counterpart.

Catalytic stoves might be initially more expensive to purchase and more complicated to operate, but they are more efficient in producing and maintaining heat and would use less firewood in the long run. Both types of stoves have internal elements (the catalyst and the baffle) that might need replacement due to their consistent exposure to high heat.

Firebox Materials

The firebox in modern wood burning stoves is typically made of one of these three materials: soapstone, cast iron or plate steel. In some models, firebrick or ceramic tile can also be used, while other stoves are hybrids combining several different materials in their construction.


Soapstone is a natural material that is able to withstand direct heat for a very long time. A firebox made of soapstone will not only tolerate high heat with no issues, but will also absorb and radiate heat back into your home. A soapstone stove is great for burning wood consistently throughout the day. It tends to deliver uniform levels of “soft” heat due to the soapstone’s ability to store the excess heat and release it as the temperature drops. However, keep in mind that this type of stove might take some time to produce heat, so it’s not for immediate gratification.

Cast Iron

Cast iron has been used for stove manufacturing long before steel. It is capable of enduring higher temperatures than steel and is also a better conductor of heat. As one part of the stove heats up, the heat is transferred to the rest of the stove, allowing for a relatively uniform heating. The ability of cast iron to take enamel coating makes for a variety of styles and color options you can choose from.

Plate Steel

Plate steel is also made of iron, but due to a different manufacturing process it has different properties. While it might heat up faster than cast iron, plate steel also cools down faster and doesn’t hold heat as well. The heat it radiates is also not as uniform and may come in hot waves. On the up side, plate steel stoves are not as expensive as cast iron and can warm up the space fairly quick.

The modern wood burning stoves got shaped in the late 1980s when the EPA finally set the regulations for emissions from burning wood. Nowadays, EPA-certified stoves produce only 2-7 grams of smoke per hour compared to 15-30 grams in uncertified stoves. Unlike the older Franklin stoves and potbelly stoves, the modern airtight wood burning stoves allow for control over the burning speed, ensure near-complete combustion and are a lot safer to use.

Need help choosing the right wood burning stove for your home? Don’t hesitate to give us a call at 410-203-2876 or visit our Ellicott City showroom.