Nothing pairs better with a rustic woodland cabin or a modern prefab tiny house than a proper wood stove. These time tested heating devices not only add warmth and a cozy ambiance to a room but offer a renewable alternative to heating your home with oil or gas. And compared to your standard drafty fireplace, a modern woodstove is up to three times more efficient, converting about 70% of burning organic matter directly to heat.
The modern wood burning stove is also more efficient than their traditional counterparts. Thanks to EPA intervention in the 1990s, a standard woodstove today uses less wood but produces more heat—while emitting less pollution—than wood stoves of yesteryear. This is in part due to the introduction of catalytic and non-catalytic combustion processes, which burn gases for heat that would otherwise escape up the chimney of an older wood stove. Plus with many sleek modern wood stove designs, they look better than ever, too.
Below we’ll dive into the nitty gritty of how modern wood stoves work, compared to their aging counterparts, and what to look for when considering a modern wood stove for your home, cabin, studio, tiny house, etc. Plus, we’ve scoured the internet to find the best modern wood stoves available now, leaning heavily on the most design-driven, aesthetically pleasing models. Read on and enjoy!
How does a wood stove work?
Once a fire is started and a wood stove is sufficiently heated, it warms the room’s surrounding air by emitting heat through its sides and top. Most contemporary models also contain a convection chamber, a secondary skin that creates pockets of air directly around the main compartment, or “firebox.” Surrounding cool air is drawn into the pocket, then released out of the top of the wood stove once warm, heating your space quicker and more efficiently.
In traditional wood stoves, as a fire is started in the firebox, air from an intake valve helps start and fuel the fire. Moisture from the wood starts to burn and vaporize, floating out of the chimney. When the wood itself begins to burn, it releases gases containing harmful organic matter like tar, carbon, and charcoal, which also float out of the chimney. Once the stove reaches 600 degrees Fahrenheit, these gases begin to burn, producing more heat. At 1,000 degrees F, charcoal wood begins to burn, producing even more.
A contemporary stove expedites this process by using one of two methods, called catalytic and non-catalytic combustion.
[Wood stoves are also great for heating hot tubs and saunas—check out our guide to backyard saunas and wood fired hot tubs for more design inspiration.]
Catalytic vs Non-catalytic Wood Stoves
In a catalytic wood stove, a honeycomb device coated in a reactive metal is built into the stove. Once vapors and gasses pass through the honeycomb, they burn at a temperature lower than normal—thus creating a reaction that forces gases to generate heat output quicker. This process makes catalytic wood stoves about 78% efficient—similar to a catalytic converter in a car.
Catalytic stoves are best suited for very cold climates, where your stove is used as a home’s primary heat source, or for those seeking a continuous, overnight burn. They are more efficient than a non-catalytic stove, but they're slightly more technical and require more maintenance, too, so most consumers turn to non-catalytic woodstoves.
According to the EPA, non-catalytic stoves make up 80% of the market. They convert gasses into heat by introducing a secondary air intake into the hottest part of the firebox. Non-catalytic stoves are more popular for traditional home buyers because they're less expensive, reasonably efficient, easier to operate, and offer a better view of the flames than their catalytic counterparts. A non-catalytic stove is a good option for intermittent heating, seasonal climates, and vacation or rental homes.
Some manufacturers offer hybrid models or allow you to choose which method is best for your needs-it all depends on the size of your home (or cabin), budget, climate, and personal preferences. The choice is yours. And remember—there’s no such thing as doing too much research, especially in this era of clogged supply chains and months-long waitlists for home appliances and building materials.
Output vs Room Size
Once you find the right wood stove for your project, it's recommended to have it professionally installed. The size and heat capacity of your wood stove should be proportional to the room where it is placed. Safety precautions like a minimum clearing area around the stove also need to be considered, to avoid airborne sparks or soot.
Purchasing a wood stove that's appropriate for your space depends on various factors, including floor plan, ceiling height, surrounding insulation, and more. But you can generally base the size of your required wood stove on the square feet of the space you'd like to heat with it. Modern wood stoves are generally categorized into small, medium, or large sizes. A small wood stove heats 600 to 1,000 square feet. A medium sized wood stove heats 800 to 2,000 square feet. And a large sized wood stove heats 800 to 3,000 square feet.
Keep in mind a wood burner doesn’t need to heat every room in your home—you may rarely venture into certain areas, like a guest room, and so it doesn't need to be as warm as the rest of the house. Every home, cabin, or studio has its own unique set of needs, so do your due diligence before buying a wood stove online.
Alternative Fuels for Wood Burning Stoves
If you've figured out the right size wood stove but can't picture continually chopping or hauling wood to heat your home (trust us, it may seem romantic, but chopping wood on the regular can get old fast), there are plenty of alternative fuel sources, some of which you may have already used to get a fire started.
Most of these alternatives are made of compressed organic matter like wood chips, sawdust, hemp, soy, and switchgrass, or even coffee grounds. They're often shaped to resemble a log but burn cleaner, longer, and often produce more heat than natural wood.
Pellets are another great alternative fuel source, but they require a different stove altogether. A pellet stove burns small, compressed pebbles of wood or other biomass waste (corn, for example). The pellets are fed into the stove through an electric device. Overall, pellet stoves are highly efficient and one of the cleanest wood-burning appliances. They tend to be more affordable compared to a wood stove and require a smaller chimney, making them easier to place in a room. However, the use of electricity can be a major deterrent to some off-grid consumers. And of course, they lack the cozy aesthetic of a traditional wood fire stove or fireplace.
7 Best Modern Wood Stoves for Design-Minded Homeowners
There are endless options when it comes to modern wood stoves. Finding the best one for you might take some time, but it will surely be worth it. From design, size, technology, and fuel source, you may have your work cut out for you, but to help you on your way, we gathered the following seven design-driven modern wood stoves to get your browsing, or at the very least, daydreaming, started.
Arada Farringdon Catalyst Eco Stove
A beautifully modern, fuel-efficient, freestanding wood stove with built-in catalyst for very low emissions. A large fire viewing glass adds to the allure, with 11.4kW output making it great for all home types.
Morsø 3112 B Wood Burning Stove
An efficient, Danish modern update to the classic cast iron design, this modest freestanding wood stove has a timeless look capable of adapting to any style. Both wood and alternative fuel sources can be burned. Capable of heating areas up to 1,000 square feet.
WITTUS Stack Stove
The WITTUS Stack Stove is a playful, colorful take on the modern wood stove. Handcrafted in Italy, the size of those stoves may qualify them more as (very) expensive space heaters, but they're exciting to look at, and daydream about.
A standard non-catalytic wood stove capable of heating up to 1,200 square feet, this wood stove is a no-nonsense classic option, and is also approved for mobile homes.
Ashley Hearth Fireplace Insert
Tired of your smoky, inefficient traditional fire place? This wood stove fireplace insert converts your old hearth into an efficient wood stove for an "affordable" price.
MF FIRE - Catalyst
If you're looking for a showstopper, look no further. Customizable with a variety of colorul finishes and materials, the Catalyst is capable of heating up areas up to 2,000 square feet and comes with its own app.
Guide Gear Outdoor Wood Stove
A wood stove to-go, this highly rated mini wood stove is perfect for a studio, camper, or even canvas tent. With removable parts and a small cooking area on top, pack this puppy up for your next extended camping trip and impress your friends.