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Choosing a Wood-Burning Stove: criteria and characteristics

Last modified: 2021-12-09 | Approximate reading time 6 mins

Christine Simard

As a design and user-friendly element, the wood stove is a real source of well-being designed to comfort us during the harsh winter months. Made of steel, brick, cast iron or glass, the stove stands for durability and has many other advantages.

For several years now, wood stoves available on the Quebec market have complied with ecodesign. However, if your stove is older, it should be checked for compliance before continuing to use it. Here are some details on the new regulation on the use of wood stoves and an overview of the different models offered.

New regulation on the use of wood-burning stoves

Since October 1, 2018, non-compliant wood stoves are definitively prohibited on the territory of Montreal. In fact, the by-law concerning appliances and fireplaces allowing the use of solid fuel applies to 19 Montreal boroughs and should make it possible to reduce fine particle emissions by 80%. Note that this type of pollution is responsible for 900 premature deaths each year in the metropolis.

Last April, the City of Quebec also announced plans to ban non-certified wood stoves within the next 5 years, joining Montreal in its decision. The expected date is September 1, 2026.

As mentioned above, the main source of fine particles in the air is said to be emitted by wood-burning appliances, according to data released by Public Health in 2019. During cold winter nights, the concentration of these particles goes so far as to double.

This is why the City of Quebec has also announced a ban on the use of wood stoves or wood-burning fireplaces during periods of smog, since last September. The only exception will be at times of power failures of a duration of more than 3 hours.

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Wood stoves: which devices are affected?

This new municipal by-law directly targets solid fuel appliances that emit more than 2.5 grams of fine particles into the atmosphere per hour (g/h). The City of Montreal defines solid fuel appliances as “stoves, built-in or prefabricated fireplaces that are designed to burn wood logs or any other solid material such as ecological logs or pellets."

For owners of gas and electric fireplaces, no need to worry since they do not fall into this category. Those who have recently purchased a wood-burning fireplace should not worry either, as they are EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) certified. This approval considerably reduces polluting emissions into the air, reducing them by almost 90% compared to a conventional device. The new wood stoves also have the advantage of being economical, as they can save up to 30% on fuel. In Quebec, in certain provinces of Canada and everywhere in the USA, all devices sold must be EPA certified.

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Your old wood stove could however still be used "occasionally" since the City allows the use of non-compliant appliances ONLY if a power failure of more than 3 hours occurs, similar to the regulations of the City of Quebec.

The fines incurred

As this prohibition measure was discussed 3 years ago, the majority of the 50,000 households concerned have already aligned themselves. If this is not your case, you should comply and quickly, because the fines are quite steep and range from $100 to $2,000 for citizens and from $ 200 to $4,000 for a juridical person. 

Different models of wood stoves

Convection wood stoves

In summary, we can say that a convection stove diffuses the heat it produces through ducts. The air begins to circulate in the room and indirectly heats up the warmth of the body.

A convection stove has two main components, which are an interior chamber and an exterior surface. The cold air enters through the bottom of the appliance to gradually heat up in the combustion chamber (interior chamber) and then diffuse into the room.

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The steel and cast iron wood stove

From the outset, let's say that these stoves owe their popularity to their ability to heat up quickly. However, their propensity to store heat is lower, which is one of their main weaknesses. Their efficiency is generally between 60% and 85%, the less efficient ones mainly used for additional heating. But how does this stove work? As previously mentioned, the steel and cast iron stove work by the action of air which heats up between the steel casing and the cast iron hearth before being redistributed into the room.

For a more efficient model, it is better to opt for a reverse draft version. This has a second combustion chamber to burn off gases that previously could only escape through the duct. This feature greatly improves the speed at which the wood burns, thereby limiting the pollution produced by the stove.

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The steel wood stove

What about the steel stove? Due to its excellent conductivity, steel tends to heat up quickly, which greatly accelerates the rate at which the room will be heated. Given this distinct feature, the steel stove is ideal for heating a second home like the chalet, or a home that you want to heat up quickly for short periods of time. However, this presents a significant setback: the temperature is dropping just as quickly as it is rising. Its capacity to restore heat is, therefore, lower than that of the cast-iron stove.

On the positive side, its great flexibility towards moulding allows to create much more varied shapes and obtain a more aesthetic finish than with a cast-iron model.

Regarding heat resistance, you should know that steel offers better performance than a cast-iron stove. What to say about its installation? Since steel is much lighter than cast iron, a stove made from this material will be much easier to transport and install, especially inside rooms upstairs.

Radiant wood stoves

Like its name describes, the radiant stove works in the same way as the sun: it diffuses its heat by transmitting it to masses located in its perimeter. Once the heat is transmitted to these elements, they distribute it again throughout the room to warm it evenly.

The cast iron wood stove

The first point that should be emphasized about the cast iron stove is its great thermal inertia, that is to say, its remarkable ability to store and release heat for several hours. Therefore, we can say that the diffusion of its heat will be of better quality than that carried out by the steel stove, although the level of heat reached by the latter is higher. Needless to say that the more than considerable weight of cast-iron makes it very difficult to move, as well as its installation in a room other than those located on the ground floor. The strength of this material, however, represents an advantage in terms of its ability to hold its shape under heat, which is greater than that of steel.

Unlike the steel stove, the cast iron stove does not have a smooth finish. Its more raw look may, in this regard, not suit all settings. On a related note, let's say that clean, sleek designs aren't really accessible if you go for cast iron. Another difference is that the cast iron stove continues to radiate heat even after the fire has stopped burning, which is not the case with the steel stove.

Due to its propensity to diffuse heat slowly and evenly, the cast iron stove is particularly suitable for heating your main residence. If you need additional heat that needs to be used over a long period of time, the cast iron stove is also a better choice than the steel stove.

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The long inertia mass wood stove

Long inertia mass wood stoves are made from cast iron and materials selected for their ability to retain heat such as volcanic rock, brick and refractory concrete. They also have a smoke evacuation system. Note that these stoves have the ability to gradually restore heat inside the house, but they do not have great heating power.

Very large and heavy, this type of stove is often able to heat the entire home. Probably the most important thing to say about it is that its performance greatly exceeds that of the steel or cast iron stove. This performance does come at a price, though, as the long inertia mass model is much more expensive than any steel or cast iron model. It should be noted that its installation requires special know-how given the need to avoid any carbon monoxide emanation.

A small or a large wood stove?

It is said of the wood stove that its performance is excellent, the loss between the energy it uses and the heat it produces is rather minimal. While one may tend to believe that a larger stove is necessarily a smarter purchase, it is not. Indeed, it is better to choose a small stove that will run at full capacity rather than a larger one that will not run at full capacity. By not operating at full capacity, a stove will consume more wood and therefore its efficiency will be lower.

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