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newbie wondering about btu's soapstone and cats

Post in 'The Hearth Room - Wood Stoves and Fireplaces' started by annieheat, Jan 6, 2006.

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  1. annieheat

    annieheat New Member

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    First let me say hello and what a great resource this forum is.

    I have a couple of questions so please weigh in on any you have an opinion on.

    Let me explain my questions. My husband and I just bought a 2 story farmhouse built in 1860 that is 2400 square feet. We got our first oil bill from the michigan winter and decided it was time for a woodstove. We plan to run new pipe strait up from the (soon to be) hearth through the 11 foot ceilings on the first and second floors and out through the attic (whew the pipe alone will be a fortune ;).

    My first question is how many btu's we should think about buying. Being built in 1860 with mostly original windows we can assume the house is pretty leaky. It also has a fair number of rooms --they do flow into one another pretty well -- but certainly not an open floor plan. There is a used VC Defiant in the area locally that is listed as 55,000 btu's would this be too much if we do not have an open floor plan?

    Next question is about soapstone. Are there folks out there who have switched from cast to soapstone or vice versa and can report on both. We are tempted by the appeal of soapstone but not sure whether it is worth the significant extra price.

    Last question is about cat's vs. non-cats I thought I was convinced against cat's but we would love to find a good deal and this VC Definant cat may be that. I read I think it was Elk's experience with his free VC cat and am thinking we might be up for it even if it meant replacing every 3-4 years or so. Not sure though how tough is the replacement and is the burn time really a longer slower burn?

    Any thoughts on these questions?

    thanks much

    Thanks

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  2. Rhone

    Rhone Minister of Fire

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2005
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    You need to go big. 1860 with original windows, 2400 square feet with 11 foot ceilings on 2 floors yikes! 55,000 btu's is way too small.

    You need the biggest stove with the biggest firebox size you can afford. Try looking at a Pacific Energy Summit, you'll still be heating with oil a bit. A soapstone stove with a firebox the size you need will be expensive. The Hearthstone Mansfield is a soapstone stove that will make a dent on your heating but will cost around $2300 for the stove in matte black, or $2600 for it in an enamel finish and that's only for the stove. The Pacific Energy Summit Classic is pretty with an enamel finish, probably go well with your old farm house look and cost you $1900 for the stove itself. I like the look of soapstone a little better and it's less likely to roast you out but you need to go big, and make sure you stock up on that wood. Also, the Pacific Energy Summit is easy to use, soapstone stoves operate differently than traditional steel stoves. Each has pluses and minuses. If comparing soapstone to regular stoves, you need to base your decision on firebox size. For example, the Pacific Energy Summit is 97,000 btu's with a 3 cu ft firebox. The Hearthstone Mansfield has a 3.2 cu ft firebox and a little more efficient than the Summit but rated at 80,000 btu's. How can a stove that takes less wood and is less efficient heat a house better than one slightly larger and more efficient? It doesn't. Soapstone stoves have a lower "MAX Btu's" but a higher "average btu's". That's why I like to judge a stove by it's firebox size. The pacific energy summit may have and these numbers just thrown out for a point it's heat output look something like 50k, 80k, 97k, 70k, 50k, 40k, 30k = 417k btu's. The Mansfield being soapstone should look something like 30k, 50k, 70k, 80k, 65k, 50k, 40k, 30k, 20k = 435k btu's. Over the burn, the soapstone didn't have as high a max btu but put more total btu's into the living area. It should as it has more fuel and a little higher efficiency. One of the reasons one should look at firebox size if trying to compare the two.
  3. the_guad

    the_guad New Member

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    No Va
    I guess it's all down to how much money you're willing to spend. I've seen a couple of posts on Gardenweb from people that went with smaller stoves (Jotul rated at 55K BTU's) and wished that they had paid a little extra for the big one when it got cold again. If your house isn't well insulated, which is certainly the case), and you have a central location to put the stove in, I would go big and hot. Pacific Energy has the hottest stove that I've seen thusfar rated at 97K BTU's (Summit).

    If you keep reading you'll see posts about soapstone vs. cast iron and even steel. It seems like the consensus is that soapstone takes longer to heat up but stays hot longer, cast iron heats up faster and loses it faster and steel heats up fast but doesn't retain it well at all. I'm no scientist but I think it has something to do with the density of the material and the amount of air pockets (SOMEONE PLEASE CORRECT ME!!!). Beyond the material it is made of you also have to take into consideration the total mass of the stove since that is what will retain the heat. That said, and after having read for hours and hours and hours on the subject, get a big fat stove made of either soapstone (if you want to burn it over a period of days or weeks and want the heat evenly spread out over several days) or cast iron (if you only burn periodically and don't want to wait over an hour to get it hot) and I don't think you'll go wrong. Of course THIS IS ALL PURELY BASED ON MY HOURS OF RESEARCH.

    As for the floorplan being closed, I'd hope that the heat should be able to rise up through your floors to heat the rooms above. I lived in an upstairs apartment that was really drafty but right above my downstairs neighbors living room my floor was always nice and warm. :) There's nothing like your neighbor paying your heating bill.

    PS. If you get a stove that's too big and you don't fire it hot enough the glass will get dirty and it may pollute a little more (relatively) but the bottom line is that you don't HAVE to burn the thing super hot if you don't want to. However, if you get a stove that's too small you won't be able to burn it as hot as the larger ones, unless you're willing to destroy it.

    PPS. My insert plus install will run $4500. If you're spending more than that I would consider a masonry heater but you have to have a lot of room.
  4. davemich

    davemich New Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
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    Where in Michigan are you folks? One other alternative is a coal stoker stove. Very little maintenance and they kick out the heat. Keystoker, Harmon, Alaska, Hitzer (no stoker models, I have a Hitzer insert) and Leisure Line are a few brands. Not sure what you guys are looking for but for lb for lb, coal gets you more btu's. Coal is available in Michigan so that would not be an issue. Anyway, whatever you decide, go with a stove that will kick out a minimum of 90,000 btu's tro heat your 2400 SF home. Good luck and keep us posted...Dave
  5. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    First of all understand stoves are space heaters. They claim certainty amount of BTUs and sq footage of coverage. That is under ideal conditions with open floor spaces 8’ ceilings. Conditions your home does not have 11-foot cathedral ceiling are difficult to evenly heat. Probably no stove will satisfy all your heating requirements. Especially in the old home you de reside in.
    Compromising your expectations:

    The used Defiant stove 55 k BTUs. Adjusting goals, lets say it can heat up to 64 degrees when it is zero outside, A little too cool for comfort. The energy needed from your existing heating system is limited at only supplementing your stove. What if your stove can only supply 75 to 80% of your requirement when zero. At 15 degrees it might do 90% and 20 100%. I think you will agree, the wood stove will reduce your dependency upon the central heating system, to realize a substantial savings, even if it cannot do it all.
    The used Defiant, potential cost savings if in good condition Knowing the age also will factor in. One thing you probably have not considered is the defiant has an 8” flue collar Meaning an 8’ inside diameter connector and chimney requirement. 8’ will cost a bit more than 6”. Many larger BTU producers opt for 8” chimneys.
    Since the chimney is within the heated space it will draft better making it ideal for running a cat stove. The cat affords longer burning times and cleaner operation in (general terms) Since your conditions favor cat draft requirements why shy away from them?
    Replacement cost, Woodstove combustor.com, your cat is $119. A plate on the back or the stove is held on by 2 or 4 Phillips head screws. Remove the screws slide the fire pack panel out remove the old combustor and replace it. Clean it one or twice a year. Combustors can last 5 to 6 years. $20 per year is not a huge expense. VC has Manuals that can be downloaded and tells you what is involved as to care and replacement. IF this stove is in good condition it makes economic sense. Even if it does not live up to all your expectations, next fall you could sell it and recoup most, if not all your money back. You then will know if you require a stove producing more BTUs. Your chimney will be able to be used with your next stove even if the stove has a 6” flue collar.

    Unfortunately I cannot inspect the stove before you buy it so please supply as much info as you can. So I and others can make a value judgment
    Questions you should ask age. Typical usage. Reason for selling, when or if any gasket or other maintaince was preformed? When was the last time the cat was replaced? Some private sales include sections of chimney pipe? What is the asking price? If you wish, I will re post my primer for buying used wood stoves, which was on the old forum. It will advise you what to look for.

    Usually I do not recommend one stove being better than others Soap stone vs cast. But I am familiar with the VC products. I am using 2 now. Like you I would like to own the best, But we all have so many things tugging at your wallet at all times . and We make compromises.

    Beyond the stove, you should be planning ways to lessen your heat looses in your current home as well.
  6. Sandor

    Sandor Minister of Fire

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Deltaville,VA
    I owned a 2500 sq ft farm house built in 1863 - by the bay in Virginia. Heating the entire home to comfortable levels is nearly impossible, when it is cold. Since the other posters have supplied excellent stove advice, I won't rehash.

    But what I would like to stress is Elks last line ..... "you should be planning ways to lessen your heat looses in your current home as well."

    From my experience, the windows should be the first thing addressed. You may find that to be a religous issue from the old house crowd... putting insulated vynl windows into a "classic" home.

    Second is attic insulation. Mine had very little, with a nice layer of bat droppings.

    Third is air infiltration. From any source.... or maybe this should be first.

    Living in these older homes is a lifestyle, and an adventure.
  7. rudysmallfry

    rudysmallfry Feeling the Heat

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    If nothing else, with a chimney that tall, you'll get great draft. It might even be too much for some stoves. I'm sure some of the guys on this forum can give more insight on that issue than I can, but I think too much draft can be just as annoying as too little.

    I once lived in a drafty 1907 house. The first floor heat always ended up on the second floor despite the house having lots of walls and smaller rooms versus an open floor plan. There's no way of knowing until you have the stove there, but the heat might find all of the right places on its own.
  8. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    Hey Rudy how are things over at the gardenweb?
  9. zogboy

    zogboy New Member

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    Loc:
    CNY
    Maybe you guys should try a couple of direct vent stoves.
    You could save money on the chimney and buy battery back ups for the times you might lose power.
    Consider finding something that burns both corn and pellets.
    good luck
  10. joshuaviktor

    joshuaviktor New Member

    Joined:
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    234
    Loc:
    Northwest New Jersey
    I live in a similar situation. Approx 3000 sq ft home, built WAY before insulation existed.

    1st priority - tighten up the house.
    A. Recommendations: Google John Leeke http://historichomeworks.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=193
    Interior storm windows - one of my projects this summer

    B. I am stapling newspaper to my basement ceiling. Hey, it may be ugly, but it works to stop the drafts. Fiberglass is better (make sure to put kraft paper next to ceiling, not away from ceiling. (Traps moisture, BAD)

    C. The Joy of discovering what, if anything you have insulating your attic. Lowe's/Home Despots sells cellulose insulation in bales (approx 8.70/bale), at 6 inches thick it is roughly r-19. 1 bale at 6 inches thick should cover I think 40 sq ft. This can be blown into/between attic floor, and 2nd floor ceiling. IF no attic boards, but bare joists, lay more bats, then dump cellulose over top of joists. The more the better. But do not, repeat DO NOT deny the attic ventilation. Moisture, and subsequent home destruction will result. Think soffit vents, ridge vent, attic fan(solar powered is nice), styrofoam channel things to protect soffit vents from cellulose "drifts", ok?

    Outlets, light switches, any point that air can infiltrate. check door sills, around wall trim, etc. Seal with foam, flexible backer rod, sometimes just a little touch of paint to close a hairthin crack. Remember, a 1/4 inch gap around a 36 inch wide door = a 6 inch hole in the wall directly through to the outside.

    It's a lifestyle that will teach you how to use a hammer, and a can of foam, let me tell you. But the houses are beautiful, made with wood this country will never see again, and are houses we pass on to our children.

    Good luck, and keep posting.

    Joshua
  11. annieheat

    annieheat New Member

    Joined:
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    Hi Thanks for the thoughtful replys.

    We are doing what we can to button down the house -- I agree this is a VERY important part of the whole equation. we added attic insulation to r-38 a couple of weeks ago (there was nothing in the attic!) we have a couple of thermopane bay windows, about half the double hung windows have storms on them and the other half have the hair dryer plastic --now. {[Joshua I would be interested in hearing more about your interior storms}] We will insulate the exterior wall cavities in another year or so when we are done working on the electrical.

    We are hoping to have the woodstove provide a significant amount of our heat but don't expect for it to do everything or to completely eliminate the need for our furnace.

    I think Elk had some really sound advice about perhaps trying out the Defiant and seeing what we think about it. If we can get a good deal on it we could always resell as we learn more about our needs. BTW it is a 2000. I have seen a variety of posts about Vermont Castings quality going up and down any thoughts about where they were at in 2000? They have replaced the gaskets but not the cat and are selling because they are remodeling.

    Is anyone else concerned about too much draft with that much chimney. Or what we will need to do to deal with good strong draft?

    Thanks,

    I'll keep you posted
  12. the_guad

    the_guad New Member

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    A friend once told me that his draft was so strong that he had to be careful not to overfire his stove. Other than that, I think you'll just have to tend it more often since it will go through a load faster.
  13. zogboy

    zogboy New Member

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    Loc:
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    Why worry about a few leaky windows when you can heat your house cheap with pellets, corn, and coal.
  14. rudysmallfry

    rudysmallfry Feeling the Heat

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    Elkkemmeg, why do you ask about GardenWeb? Do you frequent there as well? I like this forum better since the folks here really know their stuff. Gardenweb's more of a consumer level forum lMO. I've learned much more over here.
  15. joshuaviktor

    joshuaviktor New Member

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    Loc:
    Northwest New Jersey
    I have not made the interior storm windows yet, but I intend to do so this summer. My father in law and I will start up a production shop for the house. We intend to measure each window, buy the wood and plastic, and then just crank the suckers out. By next winter, want to have every window in the house with storm window, single pane, and interior storm window. I want to do even the few windows that have been modernized. We also intend to aluminize the sills, after epoxying the half rotten ones.

    We've got to check the chimney flashing, drop chimney liners, etc. Fun fun fun.

    Seriously, for the interior storm windows, go to John leeke's site. I put the link above. Just click on it, it has instructions, pictures, the works.

    Good luck.

    Joshua

    Feel free to PM if you have any questions.
  16. elkimmeg

    elkimmeg Guest

    Ann I think I gave you wrong information about the vent size for the Defiant. I just read the manual your can also down load one Two important issues you can purchase a 6" adapter outlet for the stove and run 6" vent and chimney. It has ben tested and approved
    That would cut down any over draft issues that some mentioned. One note of caution with the 6" vent it is suggested for it not to be used with the optional fireplace screen and open doors. I did not read it all but I also believe that is is ok to reduce the 8" oval adapter to 6" in your connector run. This will allow you to run the rest of your connector pipe and metal chimney 6" and there is a cost difference less.

    Ok the good news it's about 5 years old and gaskets have been changed or some. Quality issues: VC manufactures 50,000 units a year, not all are bad, for the most part they are decent. 2000 was not their best quality year. I think you have to weigh out finances and compromise. If you checkout Ebay the modern VC stoves command a decent price. That said, even if you find out it does not live up to your expections or you are not impressed with the quality, you have an out. Probably re couping at least 80% of your cost
    you could even make money. The VC reconition on Ebay does comand decent money. I think if you approach it with realistic goals and get it for a decent or fair price, It will be a keeper. Like I said before money tuggs at the wallet from all directions. If I could afford soapstone I would not be rebuilding 15year old stoves. But that stove is heating this room now. Not once has the central heat run in this zone. Would I like a cermic new red one you bet. would it burn any better I doubt it. How much for the stove? The cat is at the replacement stage $ 119 woodstove combustors.com. Actually an easy replacement and I have a few suggestions if you remove the screws replace them with stainless steel ones It will make them easier to remove again the threads will not rust. A harder steel and less chance to strip out the head. If you are planning to inspect this stove let me know and I will post a helpfull primer as what to look for. VC American made In Bethel VT, saving Americam manufacturing jobs.
  17. G-rott

    G-rott Member

    Joined:
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    Loc:
    Petoskey Michigan
    Well we have one thing in common we are both in Michigan.


    I say weatherize and insulate. Keep your heating dollars from ending up in the great outdoors. I can't even imagine the heating bills on a big old farmhouse, my last home was 1500sf and reasonably well built and it cost quite a bit to heat. To keep my money in my pocket I am building a SIP home with hot water heat and a wood stove for backup.

    Do you have any large heat losses in your home, open hearth fireplace or fireplace to gas conversion, heating ducts in unheated space, leaky attic access, inefficient boiler or furnace? If you do work on those areas first. For the boiler or furnace check out heatinghelp.com, go to "the wall" for help from pros.

    An insulating pro or heating co. with blower door and an infrared camera can show you where your heat is going and provide you with solutions.

    As a DIY project focus on:

    Air infiltration is your biggest enemy, heated air is moving out only to be replaced by cold outside air. Caulking, foam backer rod, weather striping and spray-foam insulation are my preferred tools for limiting infiltration.

    Next is insulation, R-value is the basic measure but be warned R-value varies with temperature in some types of insulation. FG for example looses over 30 percent of it's tested insulating value at 32 degrees. Wind and humidity also play a role. Stated R-values are based on a specific lab test and controlled conditions and "optimal" instillation.


    Be warm,

    Garett
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