Catalytic vs. Non-Catalytic Wood Burning Stoves
Why a Wood Stove?
Wood burning stoves include log and wood-pellet burning devices. Here we are considering wood burning (log) stoves, both catalytic stoves and non-catalytic stoves rather than pellet stoves.
Wood stoves that burn logs are the easiest to operate and the most popular but you need to have a stock of firewood and be willing to attend to the fire throughout the day. They do not have the automated fuel delivery of pellet stoves. But if you live in a stormy area where the power frequently goes out during the cold winter, this could be the way to go. Depending on the model, they are capable of heating rooms of various sizes and don't require external power sources like the pellet stoves.
There is nothing quite as cozy and comforting as a crackling fire on a cold day. Fireplaces provide the sights and sounds of a real log fire but are not very efficient as heat producers. A new wood burning stove, on the other hand, IS efficient at producing heat without a lot of leftover waste and it also provides the beauty of a fireplace. Definitely the best of both worlds.
This type needs an actual chimney to the outside and not just a vent. This will require professional installation to meet local codes and safety requirements and to avoid the risk of fire if you don't already have a chimney.
If you already have a fireplace with a chimney, you may want to investigate a fireplace insert or hearthstove.
What Are Catalytic and Non-Catalytic Stoves?
When you start to investigate wood stove design, you hear the words catalytic and non-catalytic in reference to the high efficiency devices of today.
A catalytic stove is designed to burn off even more of the smoke and ash before venting to the outside. Use the button at the left for more information on catalytic stoves.
A non-catalytic stove does not use a catalytic combuster to ignite the smoke and produce more heat. It does have a few design elements that ensure it will, however, burn as efficiently as possible. Contrary to what was once popular belief, non-catalytic stoves ARE capable of meeting EPA efficiency requirements and many of them do.
Catalytic Wood Stove
A catalytic wood stove is amongst the most efficient stoves available. It uses a catalytic combustion device to heat, ignite and burn off the smoke generated by the fire. This results in maximum 'use' of the fuel (wood), even steady heat, and very minimal smoke and pollutant output.
The catalyst itself is a ceramic honeycomb or waffle shaped plate coated with a metal (platinum a/o palladium usually). It is heated to very high temperatures so that when the smoke and ash pass over it, they are also heated and ignited, causing more of this by-product to be burned off, generating more heat and less creosote and venting less smoke to the outside. Again, minimizing waste and maximizing heat (energy) output equals high efficiency.
There has been an ongoing debate about whether a catalytic or non-catalytic is better. The truth is they are both good with their own set of pros and cons. If you are considering a catalytic wood stove, it will be worth it to do some research. There are many people who are quite satisfied and happy but also a seemingly high number of complaints, mostly related to maintaining or replacing the catalytic combustor plate. They are generally thought to be a bit harder to maintain as the catalytic plate requires a bit of care with cleaning and replacing. It seems most people get about 5 seasons on average before replacing the plate. Improper use or burning can reduce this to two years. Some people get as much as 7 years. If you know what to expect, it shouldn't be a huge amount of work to maintain.
Most of the maintenance just involves periodic vacuuming or removing dust/creosote from the combustor plate-maybe weekly or every two weeks depending on usage. Occasionally, you may have to 'unclog' the pores on the catalytic plate with a pipe-cleaner or such. A clean burning catalytic stove produces clear or white smoke as it passes out the vent. If it starts to appear, well, smoky- it is time to clean the stove and maybe time to change the combustor. It seems from a quick search that most of these plates cost $150 to $300 depending on the type and size of combustor needed for your stove.
There is a learning curve to operating a catalytic stove. The catalyst must be preheated to a certain temperature before closing the damper. Learning just the right timing and 'tweaking' may take a season or two, but the payoff is a very hot, very efficient stove that then does not require as much attention. The fire can smolder without much flame at all and still produce the desired heat.
Non-Catalytic Wood Stove
Catalytic and noncatalytic wood stoves are the two main categories of modern, efficient wood burning stoves on the market.
Non-catalytic wood stoves are currently the most popular type. It seems that there has been a debate raging for about 20 years! over whether the cats or noncats are 'better'.
As with most things in life, it depends. Depends on what your priorities are for your fire. When we were buying ours, we wanted some heat output, were using it as a secondary source of heat only, knew we wouldn't use it everyday and REALLY wanted one that produced a nice-looking fire. So in our great search, we chose....a non-catalytic wood stove.
While the catalytic stoves have a special combustor to increase their efficiency by burning off the smoke and ash and 'cooking' wood to produce heat, non-catalytics do not have this modification.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.