Hot New Wood Stoves: High-Tech and Eco-Friendly

"It's a complicated stove that we needed to simplify down to its main components," Woodstock Soapstone president Tom Morrissey told Popular Mechanics. "We asked ourselves: 'Are we trying to wow the judges, or are we making something that's really simple?' We went with simple, and it worked very well."

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While Woodstock Soapstone's winning design, dubbed the Ideal Steel, isn't yet available to the general public, when it does go to market (sometime later this year), it should retail for less than $2,000. That amount could represent a considerable energy savings for people who live in cold climates and/or drafty houses. And a federal tax credit, as well as some state and local government incentives, make wood stoves an even more attractive alternative.

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Which Wood Stove? Pros and Cons

Newer wood stoves generally fall into one of two categories, either catalytic or non-catalytic. Catalytic stoves send smoky exhaust through a ceramic honeycomb catalyst (not unlike the catalytic converter on a car) that burns off the gases and particulate matter in the exhaust, and as a result emits fewer pollutants.

Non-catalytic stoves have interior baffles to produce a longer flow path for hot gases, which causes more of the exhaust's gases and particulates to burn. Air flowing into the stove is also pre-heated, increasing the efficiency of the stove.

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Both types of wood stoves have advantages and disadvantages: While catalytic models generally have longer burn times and higher efficiency than non-catalytic wood stoves, catalytic models can be higher maintenance, since the catalysts need to be replaced every few years (depending on how often the stove is used, type of wood burned, etc.). And models that rely on electricity to operate will, of course, be non-functional in the event of a power outage.

The EPA and wood stove manufacturers recommend that consumers burn only the right wood for their stove (generally dry, seasoned hardwood), use a certified technician to install the wood stove, and have the stove and chimney inspected regularly to prevent chimney fires and ensure proper operation.

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