Wood burning stoves are environmentally friendly. They use a renewable resource to heat your home. But until 1990, that wasn't enough to tempt most people into using them. Wood stoves were inefficient. They produced as much smoke as heat which made them more costly to operate and made the environmental friendliness more of a trade off.
In 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in. the EPA set particle emissions standards for wood stoves that forced the manufacturers to clean up their act. Today's EPA-certified stoves not only burn the wood with a minimum of smoke; they recycle the smoke to burn it some more! The result is a clean and efficient burn.
When shopping for a wood stove, don't "super-size" just because you can. The right sized stove should provide all the heat you need efficiently, even on the coldest days. But it shouldn't go beyond that. A too-large stove will provide excess heat. It will need to be dampened, causing it to run less efficiently. Your local home store can help you determine the proper size based on the size of the room you wish to heat and the amount of insulation the room has.
You'll also want to decide what kind of stove you're looking for. Wood stoves are available in freestanding varieties, as fireplace "inserts", or as complete fireplaces. Remember, especially in the case of the freestanding kind, that you'll need to provide ample space on all sides of the stove. Curtain material, for instance, can be weakened over time simply by being too nearby. It never has to touch the stove to one day go up in flames.
There are two basic methods employed to keep the stoves efficient. One uses a catalytic combustor. The other recirculates the smoke to re-burn it.
Smoke isn't completely consumed in the burning process because some of the fumes require ultra-high temperatures to be consumed. A catalytic combustor reduces the required temperature. This results in combustion that is long, slow, and controlled. The resulting burn gets rid of smoke that would otherwise be wasted fuel and add dirt to the chimney. The "honeycomb" portion of the combustor cannot be cleaned and should be replaced every two to three years. The rest of the apparatus requires minimal cleaning.
Look for a catalytic combustor stove with a body of cast iron or plate steel. The main body should be at least 1/4 inch thick and the bypass place at least 5/16 inch thick.
Recirculating stoves obtain their effect by heavily insulating the firebox. This creates an ultra-hot interior that allows the fuel to burn far more efficiently. A secondary combustion chamber gives the stove another shot and consuming fumes and smoke that were only partially consumed in the previous attempt. Since they don't have a combustor, recirculating stoves require a little less maintenance.
Look for a recirculating stove with a body of at least 1/4 inch thick cast iron or plate steel and a baffle that has v-shaped support beams and is at least 5/16 inch thick plate steel