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Afraid of TOO MUCH heat...please advise

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by Nudge, Dec 29, 2012.

  1. Nudge

    Nudge New Member

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    Hi All,

    Great forum...my first post. My wife and I bought our house 5 months ago and 2 months into Hudson Valley cold we are (1) taken aback by our crazy heating oil bill, and (2) the fact that out fireplace does essentially little more than look pretty when lit.

    As such, a wood burning insert is what we've decided on. I know people might have other suggestions, but for the sake of this question, please consider it relates to a wood burning fireplace insert only.

    But here's where it gets tricky...

    Our home is 2100 sq ft (large unfinished basement, ground floor, upstairs)..l with 8 ft ceiling height. This is also a good time to mention that we have multiple thermostat zones on the ground floor, a key point I'll return to.

    But in deciding on what BTU burner makes the most sense, I'm running into some tricky questions.

    The fireplace is in the center of an outside wall in the living room, which is about 375 sq ft. Opposite the fireplace (about 9 feet away) is the couch, and on either side of the couch there are open doorways leading to other parts of the house. The room is long, and the fireplace is centered on the long side. So while the sq footage is 375, consider that the couch is directly across on the short side.

    We WANT to drop our heating bill by using the insert, but in trying to get heat to far flung places of the house (the living room is at one end) we DON'T also want to make THAT room unbearable to sit in.

    I've read multiple comments here and elsewhere, where people have advised getting JUST ENOUGH stove or risk needing to crack windows. Well, that's ridiculous, and we will NOT be cracking windows in the dead of winter to blow excess heat out.

    OK...so given all that, we went to go look at inserts today. We saw units with BTUs anywhere from 40k to 75k. We would LIKE to heat as much of the house as we can with it, as again, the GOAL is being able to drop our heating bill. HOWEVER, the living room is where we spend the body of our leisure time, so we do NOT for the love of trying to drop our bill, want to make it so darn hot in there that we don't want to be there.

    Out fireplace is LARGE...about 41 W(front) x 25 D x 30 W(rear). But bearing in mind comments I've seen others make, warning about trying to run a burner too low when it's meant to run hot...I am really gun shy about what to buy here, because I want to get the max of whole house heat from it, while still having it be pleasant, and running at optimal range.

    So...if I'm looking at a Quadra-Fire Voyageur (46,300 BTUs)...does this fall into that category of TOO MUCH heat I was worried about above? Or is this right in that OK range where it will provide enough heat and disperse it, but wont make sitting 8-9 feet directly in front of it like cooking in an oven? Should I be looking smaller? I WANT to run whatever model I end up choosing at it's optimal burn rate.

    And in truth, if it wold make the living room MAXIMUM enjoyable, I would rather err on the side of a smaller unit which would NOT push enough heat across the whole house, and then crank up the baseboard heat in THOSE ZONES only, allowing us to have the other half of the house nice and firebox toasty. Because that alone would make a large dent in the heating bill, and we'd likely be pretty happy. But my FIRST preference, of course, would be to heat the whole house with it...so long as it is still comfortable in the living room in doing so.

    See our conundrum? What do you think of Quadra-Fire Voyageur (46k BTU) or Jotel C 350 Wintersport (40k BTU) as two options? Others?

    Many, MANY thx for any suggestions or comments.

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  2. Sodbuster

    Sodbuster Member

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    Wow, I'm hoping others with more expertise on this type of problem will weigh in here, but here are my thoughts. BTU's with regard to wood burning stoves is not an exact science. The type and quality of wood you burn makes a huge difference. Personally, I would rather have a stove that is too large, and be able to burn it lightly, than to have a stove that is too small, and have to flog the crap out of it to make it heat enough. Remember burning lightly doesn't mean burning inefficiently. Just smaller load brought up to normal temps. A larger stove will be very much appreciated on those long cold snaps when you need to run it hard. SB
    firefighterjake and ScotO like this.
  3. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    This is incorrect. With good insulation you oversize just a bit to maximize burn times, provide enough heat during the dead of winter, and provide the most flexibility throughout the burning season. The saying is; you can build a small fire in a large stove, but you can't build a large fire in a small stove. Going too large is rarely a complaint. Going too small has a long list of threads filled with frustration and anger.

    Is this a ranch style home? Those are more difficult to heat, but with well placed fans, it is completely doable to heat your whole house with the layout you described.

    Does the 2100 sq ft include the unfinished basement?


    Both stoves are far too small for your needs.

    Ignore BTU ratings and focus on firebox size:
    If the 2100 sq ft includes the basement, then I would go with a 2-2.5 cu ft stove/insert if your insulation is good.

    If the 2100 sq ft does not include the basement, then I would go with a 3 cu ft stove/insert.

    The other thing you need to think of is catalytic or non-catalytic. Cat stoves can be run at lower temps, cleanly, while providing longer burns. For these, check out Woodstock and Blaze King stoves.

    Positives on cat stoves:
    Long burn times
    more controllable heat output

    Potential negatives for cat stoves, depending upon the user:
    More complicated to use.
    Additional maintenance in cost and time.

    Non-cat stoves postives:
    Simple to use
    Simple and cheap to maintain.

    Potential negatives for non-cat stoves, depending upon the user:
    Offer less control of heat output.
    Shorter burn times when compared to a cat stove of the same size.
  4. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Its hard to say until you try it.Some people put their stoves in the basement only to have it struggle to warm the upper floors. I did this but it worked out well cuz my finished basement gets way too hot with the stove on the lowest setting. My basement (1000 SQ Ft) stays at about 80-84 but it keeps the main living floor above at 77-79 and the bedrooms 2 floors up, at about 70. If my stove were in my living room(625 SQ FT) i would be too hot in there. I would need a smaller stove or a cat stove that i could dial back a bit more.
  5. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Even though it puts out a bit more heat than i can use at times at the lowest setting,I still like the fact that it has a 3.0 CU ft firebox to load it up good for overnight. Too small a stove seems to need constant reloading. ( i have a small stove(2.0 Cu Ft.) at another location)
  6. Nudge

    Nudge New Member

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    Wow, thx for the responses thus far guys. Your counterpoint to "less is more" is well said. As for the sq footage, in New York State, technically basements need at least 1/2 bath to be considered "finished," and this is the understood terminology used by real estate agents. So your question is well stated, because it's easily 1,000 sq ft of basement in addition to the 2,100 ft of the two other floors. And it's COLD down there, as it's a poured concrete foundation and the basement ceilings are even higher than in the rest of the house...probably 9 ft. It's 2x6 cross beams between -- I kid you not -- multiple 12 in x 10 in steel I-beams seated at both ends of the 1 ft thick concrete. It's almost goofy by today's "builder" standards...built like a darn bunker. Definitely makes you appreciate the way things USED to be built in this country. But I guess given we live up a mountain looking down in all directions whoever built it wanted to be certain it didn't...uh...blow away.

    BUT, as hot air rises, and given we only have a workshop, storage and food stores down there (it's practically 'root cellar' cool in summer!), it's not an area we really care to heat. Although clearly in the future we could finish the basement and put an 8 billion BTU burner down there and just let it float up. Not in the cards at this point, however...

    As for the "cat" thing, weighing the pro/con I decided I value the simplicity of non-cat style. So really it's just a matter of how much of the heat produced get's disbursed beyond the living room.

    BrowningBAR: While I'll jokingly frown at your choice of firearm (in NY State we root for the Yankees, and we hunt with Remingtons...period)...your comment about fire box size being more relevant than BTU's is VERY interesting. I wonder if you could elaborate? Is it your assertion that I should be thinking of BTU's like the 'run time,' and the fire box size as the actual 'heat value?'

    I'd be very interested to hear more, as that might be the most important factor.

    Many thx to both!
  7. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    BTU ratings are a hard indicator to judge heat output for a variety of reasons.
    1. The numbers can be fudged by the manufacturer
    2. Numbers can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. One stove may show 47k BTUs and another stove of the same size from another manufacturer may list it at 65k BTUs or more. This confuses new buyers. Fact is, two stoves of the same size will heat approximately the same amount of space.
    3. Wood heat is not a constant. Let's say 47k is a factual number. You will not get 47k BTU per hour throughout the burn cycle. So, if you need peak output from the stove, your burn times will be short, and you will find the experience frustrating.
    Firebox size is a far better indicator of what the stove is able to provide. Stoves aren't magic. Don't let marketing and numbers get in the way.
    mcameron likes this.
  8. Nudge

    Nudge New Member

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    OK, thank you. But my question then is, is there a firebox size - to - sq ft factor? Like a rule of thumb pertaining to sq footage, in the same way that I've read people say 40x your footage is a good measure of BTU's needed?

    Because it all goes back to my original needs which seem somewhat at odds: I would LIKE to heat as much of the house as possible, saving fuel oil. But I also do NOT want to make the living room an oven apart from the rest of the house, because that's where we spend our time.

    - Nudge
  9. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    And since you are heating 2,100 sq ft, I would look towards stoves/inserts with a firebox around 3 cu ft.

    Something between 2.75-3.2 should work for your needs. I definitely would not go smaller than a 2.5 cu ft firebox.
  10. BrowningBAR

    BrowningBAR Minister of Fire

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    Lots of variables are involved. Your climate, Insulation, comfort level, home layout. These all need to be taken into consideration.

    As an example, I am heating 2,150 sq ft. I have three stoves totalling 9 cu ft. Why? Poor insulation, lots of draft, a layout that isn't open, and we like it warm. I am, obviously, an extreme case.


    This goes back to what I said earlier; It is easier to live with a stove that is a little too large, that too small. It is very rare that we see posts of people commenting that their purchase was too much for their needs. Does it happen? Yes. Is it often? No. It is quite rare.

    A 375 sq ft. living room is not small. That's pretty much a 20x20 room.
  11. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Take a look at the Enviro Boston or Venice 1700 for a comparison to the Voyager, and maybe a Hampton HI300.
  12. Wooderson

    Wooderson Member

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    Second for what BrowningBAR has to say. Our house is 2400 sq feet, two story. Living room is 13x30= 390 sq ft. Fireplace is in middle of interior living room wall. Doors at each end to bedroom wings and one on each end of the same wall as fireplace to other lower floor common areas. 16 foot vaulted ceiling in living area. Couch is 9 feet from insert...Insert is a Napoleon 1402 with 2.25 cu ft firebox. Peak btu output of 70,000 per Napoleon.

    I have occasionally had the open window situation (maybe 4 times), but this is during milder temperatures and due to overzealous loading on my part...or using black jack oak too early in season. When weather is ator below freezing, I cannot overheat the room. At worse, I can dial the blower down, or if it was ever needed, I could turn the blower off for a short time.

    Remember, I am in a much milder climate, so I would also recommend as big an insert as you can fit. Also, you might consider a free stander such as the Englander 30 if your lintel permits. Crank it up and figure it out. Temperature is much more dependent on wood type and load size. I often burn smaller fires, 1-3 splits when anytime temps are at or below 50 degrees just to prevent the forced air furnace from running. I still burn clean, but build a smaller fire in a bigger box. Also, lower btu woods do not produce as much time at or near peak btu output.
  13. ailanthus

    ailanthus Feeling the Heat

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    I am heating a fairly drafty,1800 sq ft, 2 story, old farmhouse in the mid-atlantic with a Jotul F400 (non-catalytic, ~1.7 cuft firebox, freestanding). It is in the living room which is ~225 sq ft. I have been heating with it 100% since it was installed last winter. In order to keep the rest of the house manageable it will be as warm as 80 in the living room, which is as much as 15 degrees warmer than the rest of the house. That probably doesn't sound ideal, but after living with forced air here (paying through the nose & STILL being cold) for 8 years, we love it. There's always a warm room to be in, and sleeping in a cooler upstairs room is perfect.

    I'm among the many here that would like to have a larger stove - I was limited in how much space I had with regard to clearances, etc, so my choices were limited. I also took the dealers' advice, which in fairness, I think I may have used the word 'supplement' when describing what I wanted. So even though now you may be just thinking that you'd like to 'drop the heating bill' you will have the opportunity to drop it to zero if you're willing to devote the time & energy to getting a good wood supply and tending the stove. I'd echo the advice to make sure to get something large enough.
  14. ailanthus

    ailanthus Feeling the Heat

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    Except of course for saws, a truck, sharpeners, wedges, mauls, woodsheds, tarps, chimney brushes, super cedars....... :)
    Hearth Mistress, Seanm and gyrfalcon like this.
  15. WES999

    WES999 Minister of Fire

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    Some thoughts on temperature. Just because the room the stove is in, is hot doesn't necessarily mean it will be uncomfortable. For example, last night I had my stove burning pretty good ( close to 700::F) the living room (160ft^2) was about 83::F, it was certainly warm but not uncomfortably hot, the kitchen (adjacent to the living room was about 73::F, and the bedrooms at the far end of the house, were about 60::F. For me the heat from a wood stove has a different feel than oil heat.

    I have a 1100ft^2 ranch that I have been heating almost exclusively with my little (1.4 ft^3 fire box) stove.
    I really would like to have a larger fire box to extend burn times.

    I would not be overly concerned with having too big a stove.
  16. rijim

    rijim Member

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    I don't know how much more difficult a CAT is but I will find out within the next few years; the variable heat output while maintaining a clean burn is too hard to pass up. All stoves or inserts will take some time and experimenting to get comfortable with and optimize the installation. A fan blowing into the room and using softer woods in the shoulder seasons will help reduce the heat output. While working through the insert dilemma you may want to get working on a dry wood supply. Any EPA or CAT will need need wood seasoned such that moisture content is 20% or less (2-3yrs); purchased seasoned wood is most times not in this range yet.
    Good luck
  17. bluedogz

    bluedogz Minister of Fire

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    I can appreciate where Nudge is coming from... took me a little bit to discover that choosing a stove isn't like choosing a house or a car, where you can "buy too much."

    FWIW, my home is about 2300 sf, 2 floors, center-hall colonial, reasonably well insulated and few drafts. The stove room is actually a side room off the main footprint.

    Unless I get quite overzealous loading the stove (like a full load of BL when it's 48 out) the stove room has NEVER gotten "too hot." Additionally, the ginormous firebox of the 30 lets me easily have a smaller fire when necessary, but to stuff it to the gills for overnights.

    Nudge, I'd suggest that you remember that wood stove isn't merely "on" or "off"... with practice, it can be controlled almost as effectively as the thermostat on the wall. Just takes practice.
  18. Chettt

    Chettt Feeling the Heat

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    Get a big free standing stove, add extra attic insulation and be done with it. That's the best you can do with an older home.
  19. mywaynow

    mywaynow Minister of Fire

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    My take would be to go in the middle of the road with the insert size and add a big workhorse to the basement later. Once you start accumulating wood there is little downside to adding another stove. My stove heats a medium size cape from the basement. Haven't purchased heating oil since Nov 2010.

    While moving hot air around a ranch is doable, it won't be easy or effecient. You may just need to let the oil burner be the crutch to your insert.
  20. metalsped

    metalsped Burning Hunk

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    Are you totally, and 100% committed to an insert? If your fireplace is larger as indicated, you could probably be much better off running a big freestanding stove. They look quite good in the right fireplace setting, and are more efficient at heating an area than an insert. For what its worth.
  21. Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle

    Doing The Dixie Eyed Hustle Minister of Fire

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    Nudge welcome to the forums :)

    Do you have a floor plan? Might be easier to advise on airflow if we can see the layout.

    Get started on your wood supply !!
  22. dorkweed

    dorkweed Guest


    This could be the "understatement of the year" on this forum!!!!!;)

    Could "basket" be substituted for extreme?????? Hahahaha!!!
    Hearth Mistress and BrowningBAR like this.
  23. ohlongarm

    ohlongarm Minister of Fire

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    I would stay away from quadrafire way too many negatives about them ,Jotuls are graet stoves from what I've heard.
  24. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    You got a lot of good info, I also second bbar's reccomendations. I am heating 1400ft2 with a catalytic stove. I've done lots of insulation upgrading, but my place is 200 years old so figure the heating load is more like 2000ft2 of modern construction.

    I find That this 2.3 ft3 cat stove is just right for our needs. In mild 30/40s weather I can run half loads a couple times a day and in cold weather run full loads more frequent and be quite comfortable. The catalytic is more flexible that way and really is not that difficult, just one extra control that only gets involved in the startup routine. Note that I consider just over 70 comfortable... Some of our cold blooded members who like tropical weather indoors might want a 3 ft3 beast in this house.


    Oh, and I don't think anyone ever went hunting with a BAR... Unless you count hunting Nazi's..... ;)
  25. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Firebox size means a lot when it comes to burn times,but as far as heat output it still can vary. My harman seems to put out twice a much heat on the highest setting as my englander,both with a 3 CF firebox. It may come at the expense of burn time but it still is good for a quick warm up.
    On the lowest setting the harman burntime is considerably longer than the englander. In my experience with both stoves anyway.

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