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By the author of the online course Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture
With winter well underway here in Canada, I had a cozy fire going in my little wood stove last night. It warmed the eco-cabin nicely, and I enjoyed sitting by it and relaxing in the late evening before going to bed. As I enjoyed its warmth, I thanked my lucky stars that I actually bought it (i.e., the correct wood stove for my cabin). Almost buying the wrong wood stove for this little eco-cabin was an error that could have cost this Frugalite thousands of dollars. I am writing this article today to hopefully help other Frugalites who are thinking of buying a wood stove, especially those who are first-timers like I was.
Buying a wood stove – thrifty-shopper traps
There are some common practices that I generally undertake before I buy things. In the usual situations, these work well for me (buying a car, or a new tool). However, there are big reasons why these practices could get you in trouble when looking for a wood stove, especially if you are a first-timer.
The first practice is relying ONLY on the recommendations of friends and family. When I bought my impact driver to build the cabin, I relied on my cousin’s opinion of “the best” impact driver out there. She had done a lot of renos on her house over the years. She also had an opinion on which wood stove I should buy. She had been talking about this brand for years. I was heavily influenced in my shopping by this brand she was recommending (one she had never actually owned, by the way).
The second practice is trusting recommendations from other places, like FB groups and the like. This is how I found the wood stove that I “almost” bought. It was cute! People who owned tiny homes used it. What could possibly go wrong with that? As it turned out lots and lots and LOTS!
A third practice that will not work out too well is to get overly influenced by reading promo materials from the wood stove manufacturers. This also happened to me with the second (mistaken) wood stove that I planned to buy. As a result, I got all focused on some kind of catalytic damper feature. I did not know what I did not know. I did not know what features were ACTUALLY important. I was not qualified to make the purchase.
Buying a wood stove – what IS the first step, then?
As I learned (almost) the hard way, the first step in buying a wood stove is to talk to an experienced wood stove installer. In our region, these professionals are certified. As luck would have it, I ran into a practical question while ordering the wrong wood stove: how much pipe would I need?
So, I called up the contractor I had planned to have install it. He is a great guy and highly qualified, with over 30 years in the industry, working the business with his father. I had seen one of his installations in my cousin’s house. It was excellent, and they were delighted with it. What impressed me when I talked about him with my cousin was that this contractor is actually the guy the insurance investigators call when they want an expert opinion on a house fire. Those are some of the factors that led to my choosing this contractor.
Well! I thought I was just going to phone him and get a number on how much pipe to order for my incorrect wood stove. This gentleman saved me in the nick of time. He questioned me thoroughly about the certifications (uncertain) and origins of the incorrect wood stove (Europe) and the size of the pipe required (non-standard and unavailable in North America that he knew of). I love a direct person. He bluntly told me not to buy the stove! It turns out that this stove had no proper certifications for Canada. If I had bought it, he would have had to refuse to install it. It was uninsurable. It would have been a disaster!
My second incorrect wood stove
Saved in the nick of time by my new-best-friend contractor, I thanked him and went off and did some research on what kind of stove to buy. Talking with salespeople at the local wood stove store, I got focused on a stove that they said was perfect for me. It had some fancy catalytic damper feature that was almost magical. Having learned my lesson, I checked in with the contractor about my choice. “No way!” he said. And then he told me what no one else would know: he was spending a ton of time doing warranty repairs on these models. Another reason to talk to your certified wood stove installer, I found out.
In the end, I went with the modest, small wood stove recommended by this contractor. It did not have any catalytic brouhaha. It was a lower-tier model made by the best manufacturer in Canada. I did end up saving a lot on this excellent stove, too: I negotiated for a great price by buying the store’s floor model. A funny ending to the story? My cousin, who was so smitten with the other type of stove, ended up buying the same brand as mine, saying, “It’s the best!” I already knew it was, because my knowledgeable contractor told me so!
How to save on your wood stove’s wood
Still, I’m a Frugalite, so why not save while you burn? I saved a ton on my kindling wood by getting it all for free! Attending a meditation retreat at a local college, I saw two contractors working on a wood ceiling outside. It looked like they were throwing end cuts and bad boards in a dumpster. I asked them about it, and they said I took take anything I wanted. I got a compact car FULL of tongue and groove boards. When they weren’t enough to do the ceiling of my entranceway, as I had hoped, I split them into fabulous kindling.
Even though I don’t have enough land to cut my own firewood, I have saved a lot by being willing to split my own wood (six face cords) the first year. I don’t own a wood splitter, so I paid a neighbor a few bucks to bring his over and help me for a few hours. This year, I’ll be blocking my own logs with my new chainsaw that I got on sale.
Why I spent $$$ this fall INSTEAD of DIY
Money was tight this fall, and I didn’t want to spend any unnecessary money. Why on earth did I call my contractor back to sweep my chimney when I had my own brush? I wanted his expert eyes on my chimney dust. It was my first winter burning wood and using a wood stove. How did the chimney look to an expert? I knew he would be able to tell.
I was delighted when he declared my chimney build up “average”! This year, I plan to buy the wands to go with my chimney brush (which he checked and declared “the right one”). When he comes this fall, I’ll get more pointers on doing this job myself. Hey, that might be handy skill in an apocalypse, right?
How much wood could a wood stove chuck?
I hope my woodstove-buying challenges and successes have been helpful to you. Could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here? Have you ever bought your own wood stove? Did you install it or have it installed? Do you have any thoughts you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments.
Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient. Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, “Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture.” Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!
10 thoughts on “Buying a Wood Stove: Cautionary Tales for Thrifty Shoppers”
Kudos for doing your homework. A wood stove was the 2nd major purchase we made after we bought out house (lawn mower with blade was the first and it was more expensive but well worth it). We had a professional install it. We moved it to our new house and it is still going strong almost 40 years later. While we had the cash all those years ago to pay for purchase and install, it was big expense. But it quickly paid for itself and continues to do so today.
I liken a purchase like this to a car – talk to your trusted mechanic. S/he will tell you flat out about reliability/repairs.
Hi Selena, How fantastic that your woodstove is still going strong almost 40 years later. I found that quite exciting! Yes, thinking about this as a big purchase like a car is a great analogy. At the time, it was a huge expense for me. However, like you, I am benefitting from this great little stove every year. It is already well on the way to paying for itself, especially compared to an oil or propane furnace. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience with your wonderful woodstove. I’m sure many Frugalites, like me, will be inspired by the long-lived success of your clearly excellent purchase!!!! Wishing you a warm and cozy remainder of your winter!
Here’s a tip from someone who has heated with wood/coal for over 45 years. Use stainless heavy duty stovepipe. Line your chimney with it if you have a masonry one to prevent any damage from a chimney fire. You are bound to have one at some point. Use it from stove to chimney also. While it is expensive, you won’t have to replace it every few years when the black pipe rusts out.
Hi jrs, Wow! We absolutely LOVE to get comments like yours from folks like yourself with such a wealth of knowledge. This article is a great example of the Frugalite community sharing their knowledge in the comments. Thank you! I hope the Frugalites hoping to get a woodstove at some point are taking notes. This sounds like a perfect example of how investing thoughtfully upfront will save you in the long run. Thank you again! Wishing you a warm and cozy end to your winter.
im a qualified multi fuel heating engineer.
just some advice. make sure you get the correct flue pipe and parts, make sure they connect to
each other safely. make sure you connect them the right way up.
you may be able to use flexi pipe if you have a stone or brick chimney.
and most importantly, look after them properly. sweep twice a year and dont let your fire idle too low, dont use fire wood thats over 20% water content. Or you will block the flue with tar. That cant be sweapt out, its way too sticky. it may also cause a chimney fire.
dont let the fire roar out of controll. if your liner reaches 1000 degrees c for more than 30 minutes itll be cooked and buckle.
alternatively, your insurance company may insist on you getting it installed by a qualified engineer or your house insurance will be void.
Hi Mark, How wonderful! We are so fortunate to have someone of your expertise share your knowledge with a comment. I hope everyone reads what you have read a couple times! I know I did! As my eco-cabin has a passive solar design, there are many days where I must allow the fire to die down if the sun is out, rather than try and keep a small, smouldering fire going through the day. These days, I get a good fire going at night and then just let it die down overnight. That is enough to heat this little cabin.
Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with all of us Frugalites! Much appreciated, Mark! Wishing you the best!
I’m in south central Texas near Houston and went through the big freeze 2 years ago. We were very fortunate at the time because we only had rolling black-outs and not a total one. However, it’s the wood stove that saved us. We’ve had a wood stove for the last forty years. It warms the whole house, but I could cook on it if I had to. We were fine through the week of cold weather.
We also have oak trees in our yard and that’s where we get a lot of our wood from. Every time they are trimmed, we save and cut up the large limbs for our wood pile.
My husband cleans the stove pipes every 3 or 4 years depending on how much we use it. Realize that there are some winters we don’t use it at all or maybe one time. I wouldn’t trade my wood stove for a fireplace at all. It’s the best.
Hi Connie, I am so grateful for your comment, as it is a real life story of how having a woodstove improved your success through such an extreme weather event. I am delighted to hear that you can even source most of your own wood. Fantastic! And your husband can even clean it himself. A Frugalite’s dream!
Thanks to the OP readers’ comments, we just had our stove put in a few weeks ago and LOVE it. It was the price of a used car including installation (husband wanted the largest size to eliminate us splitting/cutting wood to fit the stove). It will take a few years to recoup the cost vs. propane but we are ok with that.
Because we each have slight asthma induced reactions to firepit fires, we had to be selective on getting a stove & we knew we didn’t want a fireplace. My husband likes to ‘research’ everything & not ask questions (what is it with men?!) but I insisted we go to the store & ask an actual installer some questions. I specifically did not want a salesman (I sniff those out right away). The guy we got came out & looked at our situation, gave some honest suggestions & we bought a more modern looking Discovery III series quadrifier stove. We couldn’t be happier.
Hi Jennifo, Thanks for your comment, which is absolutely CHOCK full of real-life details and wisdom. While he may not admit it every day, I’m sure that deep down, your husband is happy that the installer contributed to your woodstove planning process. What I like about your comment is that it shows that there is a woodstove for every situation. The key is to get expert input and weigh all of the options. Wishing you many many years of good use of your wonderful new woodstove!