February 15, 2015

How To Get Heat From a Soapstone Woodstove

Our woodstove. Installation details
and close-ups - click here.
I know that seems a very odd title for a blog post. After all, woodstove + wood + fire = heat, right? You'd think so, but interestingly enough, we get quite a few blog visits through various search engines with the search terms - "soapstone", "not putting out heat", or "no heat". If this describes you, then perhaps I can help.

We have a Woodstock Fireview Soapstone woodstove, complete with a catalytic combustor. My tips will apply specifically to it, but hopefully will be useful for similar stoves of different make and model.

This stove is rated to heat up to 1600 square feet, but because of the soapstone, it is slow to do so. The appeal of soapstone is its ability to retain heat. Even after the fire has long gone out, the stove will be pleasingly warm to touch. The problem is that soapstone, unlike cast iron, takes awhile to heat up. This is one reason why it's slow to heat the house.


What we've learned, is that the soapstone plus catalytic combustor requires a different technique than a cast iron woodstove. With our past cast iron stoves, we would get a good fire going and then damp it down to regulate the burn. Doing so with this stove means it takes a very long time to produce enough heat to warm the house.

The key is to start the fire and keep the damper all the way open until the stovetop thermometer registers in the catalytic burn range.


As soon as the temperature hits that mark, engage the combustor and damp down the stove. The result is that the gases start to burn and glorious heat quickly begins to radiate out. Depending on how cold the house is, it still takes time to make the farthest rooms more comfortable. Fans help, of course.


Once the house gets warmed up it doesn't to take a roaring fire to keep it comfortable. The energy efficiency of the house is a factor here, and we've been enjoying better heat retention as we upgrade our windows and add insulation.

I should also mention that the configuration of the house is a consideration for any woodstove. We have about 1500 square feet of living space, with the soapstone stove in the living room in the front of the house. Because of the arrangement of walls and doors, the hardest room to heat is the kitchen at the back of the house. However, for that we have our wood cookstove. Between the two, we are very comfortable indeed.


25 comments:

  1. Most cast iron stoves I have dealt with have a secondary burn chamber or at least an area below or built in with the smoke shelf where you can get a the same effect but as you say I guess it doesn't take as much time. Interesting none-the-less. I don't have any experience with soapstone stoves though. Currently I use an outside furnace which is great as long as I can cut the wood for it. I doubt I would use it often in a grid down situation though. It also has some issues in extreme cold where the high winds will keep the thermostat from kicking in but it has to be way low wind chills in the negative. I started just by passing the thermostat and keeping the blower on full at those times.

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  2. I also use(d) a Fireview in Minnesota as my sole source of heat. It took a little time to get used to not being able to fire up the stove and heat up the house quickly. The 2+ inches of soapstone takes a while to heat up and start radiating the warmth outward. I LOVE the 12 hour burn time though, no more getting up once (or twice) in the night to feed the stove.
    Mine is located between the kitchen and dining room, and I often used it for cooking as well.

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  3. that's interesting, I hadn't heard of a soap stone stove before :-)

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  4. PP, interesting. I'm guessing the furnace goes through a lot of wood. And I've always wondered what it was like to have to go out in all weather to load one, LOL. I'm guessing most stoves have their quirks.

    Night*Sky, I cook on mine as well! Minnesota would be the perfect place for a soapstone stove. We're actually too far south for it to be the best choice, but it's what we have. We're far enough south to get occasional warm spells, so that we don't need wood heat. So the stove doesn't burn all winter long but goes through times when we use it and times when we don't.

    Dawn, I'm not sure where Dan found out about it, but once he did we were both sold. Like I said above, it is probably not the best choice for our climate, but we've learned to live with it and love it nonetheless.

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  5. Good info, Leigh. Once of my long term goals to have some sort of back-up wood stove, that requires no electricity to operate. I love the look of yours. Our challenge is the lack of a chimney for anything beyond our medium efficiency natural gas furnace. We'll have to find a place to put the stove that easily will accommodate a suitable chimney. One step at time, I guess!

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  6. I too have never heard of a soapstone wood stove, you learn something new everyday..

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  7. This was interesting. I see you commented about fans helping move the heat. That's our next heating improvement. thanks!

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  8. Okay, too many typos, so I'm reposting this comment!

    Mark, yeah, chimney location can make things a challenge. That's why our stove is in that particular location, because it was where a fireplace used to be. No opening up the roof and ceiling required. For the cookstove, we had to do all that. Fortunately Dan did a good job because it's never leaked!

    Gill, actually they make soapstone mugs and bowls. It retains cold as well as heat, making it nice for keeping a drink cool in summer. I've always meant to get a couple of soapstone bricks to heat and wrap in towels for the foot of our bed on frigid winter nights!

    Mz Garden, a fan helps a lot! We use our ceiling fans, which help push the heat out of the room and into the rest of the house. On my wishlist, I have Ecofans. These are nonelectric, heat powered stovetop fans. They are a big pricey, but I think would be well worth it.

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  9. Link for the Ecofans - http://www.caframo.com/hearth/hearth_products_woodstove.php

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  10. I love that last picture. Our late cat Dixie enjoyed staying close to the fireplace like that. Your cats are proving that there is warmth coming from the stove. :)

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  11. love how in the pictures if there is a fire the cats are there, but no fire, no cats. :D

    I just watched a video on making recycled paper logs and I would like to do that to use in our fire pit. It would be a nice way to get rid of all the junk mail we get (even though we're signed up to not get junk mail!)

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    1. You're better off recycling your paper and picking up logs for said firepit. The energy you use to make those recycled logs could fuel your pit for some hours ...

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  12. our stoves are all cast iron, but even then they all have different ways... what works in the living room, doesn't work so well with the one in my room, even though the basic system is the same.... I'd love to have a soapstone, but they aren't common over here and being so heavy would be extremely expensive in importing over from the continent:( one of the downsides of living on a smallish island:)

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  13. What a nice set-up. We live in close to 1300 square feet, and our wood stove doesn't reach into all corners of the house, so we just shut the doors to some rooms. Having a cookstove in the kitchen sure would be nice.

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  14. The key to building our fires is getting to know how long to let it burn like crazy to get that radiant heat without losing the BTUs up the chimney. Understanding your species and the heat they contribute is also important. The junk mail thing needs to be mentioned, though. The printed matter should not be burned in the house due to the potential build up of dioxin in your house. My stove is from Denmark and if you burn junk mail, it voids the warranty. Just a thought. It comes from the chlorination of the wood pulp to make the paper white. http://www.dioxinfacts.org/sources_trends/trash_burning.html

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  15. Bill, you know what they say, if you want to know the most comfortable spot in the house, just look for the cat!

    Renee, I just saw something about newspaper logs as well. Actually, my stepdad had a newspaper roller to make those logs. They used them in their little stove in their weekend house.

    Bettina, shipping is always a concern, especially for heavy items. Interesting how you have to treat your stoves so differently. So many small details make a difference.

    Candace, yes, we close doors to rooms not in use too. That really helps keep the living areas warm. Nothing like wood heat!

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  16. Man, those are some happy cats. Thanks for the tips. We don't currently have a soapstone stove, but it is on the 'someday' list.

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  17. I've been trying to convince hubby for years to get a stove, maybe this year? Cats look happy!

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  18. Being summer here, my stove is currently home to my spinning wheel (keeps it out of reach of little fingers ;) ). Last Spring I found our cat on top of the fire asleep. The fire was out but still held residual warmth. It would have been like an electric blanket for a cat. :)

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  19. That cat is something else! Darling!! Nancy

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  20. I've been without wood heat as a primary source for almost 30 years and not a winter goes by that I don't miss it. I miss not being able to stand up against a really warm heat source after coming inside. I miss not pre-warming my socks and boot liners. I miss the old enamel bowel filled with water and spices that my mom had on top to keep the humidity up and the good smells up too. I miss not being able to put a pot of beans on it when the power was our or anytime we weren't in a hurry and letting it simmer. The one thing I don't miss is coming home from a vacation and after closing all the water valves and lighting a fire, it was still the next day before you felt truly warm again! Those were the days.

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  21. I don't suppose you had written a wood stove primer during your days with cast iron wood stoves, did you, Leigh? My husband and I were pretty unprepared for using a wood stove; I can make a great fire but our stove just seems to eat wood without throwing a lot of heat (I don't know if it is the make or something we're doing) and today I did a horrible job of getting the chimney to draw before setting an excellent fire, resulting in a very smokey house during a raging blizzard. Not one of my finer moments! It's getting discouraging. Additionally, our wood stove isn't in a great location, it's in the back of our basement in our furnace room beside the furnace. I'm thinking we should remove it and install a wood-fired add-on to our oil-powered furnace. The thing is, I love wood stoves!

    Also, I know you used to check back to my old neglected blog when I commented--I just wanted to let you know that I started a new one if you ever find yourself with a free moment and would like to stop by! invercauldfarm.blogspot.com

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  22. My parents have a cast iron stove, and their start-up procedure is similar: damper full open until it gets to the optimal range, then damp it down to keep it from getting too hot.

    Also, love the new background picture! Do you really have daffodils blooming already?

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  23. Cassandra, the soapstone is really best suited for a more northerly winter than we have, i.e one where the stove is burning all winter. We sometimes just need a quick fire after a mild spell, so it takes awhile to heat the house. In that case we can use the cookstove!

    Nancy, there's nothing like wood heat! When you finally get one he'll probably wondered why he waited so long, LOL

    Jessie, cats know those warm spots! We had a cat once who jumped on top of hot, burning stove and got 2nd degree burns on the pads of all his feet. Ordinarily he was a pretty smart cat, but that was a hard lesson learned for us all.

    Nancy, animals certainly do make photos more interesting. :)

    Ed, you paint a delightful word picture! I have to admit that central heating gets one spoiled, but even at that it doesn't seem to carry the comfort value of wood.

    Rosalyn, thank you for the heads up on your blog! I appreciate that.

    No, we haven't written a primer on wood stoves, hadn't even thought about it actually, I suppose because I still consider myself a learner. :) I can give you some general idea, as can other readers, I'm sure. Stove make and model are a factor, I'm sure. Newer stoves all seem to have some kind of catalytic combustor for reburning the gases. Type of wood, which you probably already know, and the chimney, especially proper length to get a good draw of air to pull the smoke up and out.

    I have the most trouble with my cookstove. If the wind is blowing strongly I have more trouble getting a good draft at first. I wonder if atmospheric pressure doesn't have something to do with it as well. The best tip I can offer for that is to start small with all vents and dampers wide open. This begins to warm the air in the firebox. Heat rises, of course, and you can begin to gradually build the flame to increase the draft.

    There's definitely a knack to it, but there are variations that you have to learn for your particular stove. We had some frustrating times ourselves, learning this seemingly simple skill.

    Jake, thank you for that about your parents' stove. That's a good bit of information to add the the discussion.

    And yes, those are our daffodils! They definitely do not mind the cold!

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  24. I love the daffodils!!!! Thanks for the cheer!

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