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Catalytic Wood Stoves vs. Non Catalytic Wood Stoves

More and More people are returning to the wood stove to heat their home.  With all the new technology available on wood stove, wood heat has become ever more affordable source of heat.  The purpose of this article is to explore the two major type of technology that is being used in the new Certified EPA standards stoves.  The two major methods used are the secondary combustion method and the catalytic converter method.  Each technology has advantages and disadvantages the basic premise are that smoke is nothing but unburned gases and particles.  These gases and particle have been proven to be detrimental to people’s health.  In areas of high wood stove smoke there is a significant increase in respiratory illnesses and other pulmonary related problems. The goal of the clean air act is to remove these gases and particles from woodstoves and other solid fuel burning appliances before they are spewed into the atmosphere in the form of smoke.  The concept of the new high tech wood stove incorporate is to burn these pollutants before they leave the stove.

The most popular method is the secondary combustion method. This method incorporates a baffle system in the top portion of the stove that will get extremely hot then inject preheated air through some Stainless Steel tubes with mall holes that are position directly under the baffle. The combination of the hot baffle and the additional source of oxygen will create a secondary burn of the smoke before the smoke get a chance to exit the stove.  For this to work correctly two things need to occur, first the fuel needs to be thoroughly seasoned and second the stove need to operated at high temperatures, thereby allowing the smoke to ignited.  The problem can be people will purchase stoves that are to big for the area that they are trying to heat, so that they try to build smaller fire so that the heat does not drive them out of the house or they have to open window to dissipate the heat from the room.  Neither situation makes for an efficient burning stove.  Remember the stove needs to get hot to be efficient.  The second problem that people, especially new stove owner, is that the wood that they purchase may have a high of moisture content.  The heat from the burning wood go to drying out the wood and the stove never gets very hot.  Waste of fuel and very inefficient.  The secondary problem is as the smoke is not being burned clean the creosote residue left in the smoke clings to the chimney inner walls.  Creosote is extremely flammable and if for example you finally puts some dry wood in the stove and got the stove very hot, there would be a good chance the creosote can catch on fire causing what you read about in your local paper called a chimney fire.  Do things right, save money and be safe.

The catalytic converter is the second method that is used to meet the EPA Standards. This method seems to be the most misunderstood method, including by the local retail stores and the consumers alike.  All of the manufactures teach the benefits of catalytic converters. The retail associate that the consumers tend to look for advice, as a whole, does not understand the benefits and problem of catalytic converters.  Any consumer who buys a wood stove would do well to research and understand the differences between the secondary combustion system and the catalytic converter system.  If you intend to use the wood stove as a primary heat source, the catalytic will deliver more heat for less money the secondary combustion system, being almost 10% more efficient.  If you need long burn time e.g. overnight, again catalytic wins hand down.  The catalytic differs from the secondary combustion system instead of baffling and air injection, there is a honey combed catalytic converter that the smoke has to pass through, for this to work the catalytic must reach a temperature of 500 to 550 degree Fahrenheit. This allows the catalytic to fire off, and approx 15 to 20 minutes later the catalytic can reach temperatures of 1500 to 1700 degrees Fahrenheit.  The way the stove is designed is to have a bypass to reroute away from the catalytic until the fire off, and then you close the bypass forcing the smoke through the catalytic.  As the smoke burns the catalytic stays hot form the combustion of the smoke.  The stove temperature actually could cool down and not effect the operation of the catalytic.  In fact the more smoke firing through the catalytic the more efficient the stove becomes.  Just the opposite of the non-catalytic.  By damping the stove down to conserve on wood is the best method to burn correctly.  Getting 10 to 12 hour burn time overnight is the norm, instead of the exception. Expect to wake up in the morning with a deep bed of coals, waiting for you to replenish with fresh wood.  Nothing worse then having to get up in the middle of the night to reload the stove, just to be able starts the stove come morning. Problems that can be incurred with a catalytic stove include a small learning curve of starting the stove and learning how to operate the bypass damper. Catalytic will wear out in approx 5 heating seasons, depending on their usage, and have to be replaced.  If you try to burn unseasoned wood the fire has a hard time getting hot enough to fire off the catalytic, and could plug the catalytic which can ruin it and need to be replaced.  Maybe that’s a good thing; at least you did not coat your chimney with creosote. Some foreign items, if you tried to burn them could give off a residue that would coat the converter, and once again, it would need to be replaced. 

If convenience is your goal, the secondary combustion system will work the best for you.  If you want very long burn times and higher efficiencies the catalytic converter is the best buy.  Both systems are very good; just you need to decide which is best for you.