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Catalytic vs. Non-Catalytic Wood-Burning Stoves

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When we were buying a new stove, we had to do a lot of research to choose wisely. We chose a non-catalytic wood stove: Here's why.

Picking which stove is right for you is an important decision that can be made with adequate time and research.

Picking which stove is right for you is an important decision that can be made with adequate time and research.

What Are Catalytic and Non-Catalytic Stoves?

Catalytic and non-catalytic wood stoves are the two main categories of modern, efficient, wood-burning stoves on the market. 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.
  • A non-catalytic stove does not use a catalytic combustor 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.

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.

Pros and Cons of Catalytic Wood-Burning Stoves

  • 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. This generates more heat and less creosote and vents less smoke to the outside. Again, minimizing waste and maximizing heat (energy) output equals high efficiency.
  • 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 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.

Why We Bought a Non-Catalytic Wood-Burning Stove

When we were buying a new stove, we wanted some heat output, but we wanted to use the stove as a secondary source of heat only. We knew we wouldn't use it every day and really wanted one that produced a nice-looking fire. So we chose a non-catalytic wood stove, which is currently the most popular type.

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.

Why Use 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 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 hearth stove.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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PoLo on January 09, 2015:

Have you considered aiddng two baffle plates at the top. The lower baffle would have an opening in the back and the top baffle would have an opening in the front. This would direct the fire's exhaust from the back of the stove to the front of the stove and across the top before going up the chimney. Should increase the heating efficiency as well as increase the top of the stove's temperature for cooking purposes. Since the door is in the front, you can easily clean any soot. Great Video !!!

Jordan on January 09, 2015:

Hey,My woodstove/cookstove ( an Enterprise King ) sells an ahcattment that can go into the cookstove as it can be used to heat hot water as well as heat and cook off of. I know that having it installed voids the insurance coverage though. In the back of the stove are 2 plugs where the in/out of the water heater source and heated water go. I did not get it for 2 reasons..the insurance as mentioned as well as the fact that I don't have a hot water heater that stores water..all of my hot water is stored in the well sure its cold but the instantaneous water heater takes care of the hot water as we need it. From last dec-july it used $20 worth of propane to heat water for showers and dishes. Mind you I do shower at the gym 3 times a week already so it might be $35-40 if I were showering everyday at home.If I were thinking of wood heat for water I would consider solar hot water systems always availible secondhand online for really cheap and if you have done plumbing before it is fairly if you rig it with a solar pump you don't need any electricity on many days of the year..perfect for off-grid plus, if you have something like a hot water radiator it can heat your house too. I have limited space so there is more to consider with purchases. hehe

Johnb699 on August 27, 2014:

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TahoeDoc (author) from Lake Tahoe, California on December 12, 2010:

Thank you :) I didn't know anything about the stoves before we decided to get one. When people started asking cat or non-cat, I knew I needed to do more research.

That's great that you can save $$ even with a regular fireplace. The blowers really help too. These new stoves are so amazing in their ability to burn efficiently and save bunches of money.

Thanks for your input and stay warm!

tmbridgeland from Small Town, Illinois on December 12, 2010:

Great info. I didn't know about catalytic stoves. We use a simple fireplace with a blower. It isn't very efficient, most of the heat goes up the chimney, but with regular use it still cuts about a quarter to a third off of our heating bill.

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