Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Installing a wood stove: location in the home

If you've ever subscribed to a handyman magazine only to realize after the third month of your five year subscription that every single article is going to sadistically skip over every single detail that matters to you and your situation, then this series of write ups (I'm guessing there will be four or five parts) on one specific installation of a hearth and wood stove is for you. It's already a given that you want to install hearth and wood stove, because wood stoves are awesome. Wait, did I already skip over something? Ha ha ha.

Before we go any further, I'll point out again that I'm going to be detailed about one specific installation--not all installations. Gotta manage expectations. But the details (found more in the following posts than in this one) can be applied to other installations, and it is my hope that yours is one of them.

First things first. There's one thing I really can't help you do, and that's picking your stove. What I can tell you is that my wood stove--a U.S. Stove Co. "King" 1851--cost $200 at the local Bomgaars, has served our house well for the past two years, appears to have many years left in it, and is a very easy-to-use stove. Whether you buy it online, in a store, or you're just going to follow along in your mind, your job is to pick your stove. Ready? Good.

Now that you've got your stove, the next step is to find a good place to install it. Since this installation is going to involve concrete (or your material of choice--use the comments section for questions), screws through the walls and floor, and cutting a massive hole in either the wall or ceiling and roof, it would be good to get the location right the first time. Moving an ill-placed stove is a possibility, sure--but let's walk through a few placement issues in an effort to avoid having to do so.

Most wood stoves are installed either along a wall or in a corner, and both have their ups and downs. And If you're bold enough to want a parlor stove style (middle of the room) installation, then I commend the boldness of your boldness. We'll work that into the discussion as well.

When my wife and I were deciding between the south wall in our living/dining room and the southeast corner of the living room, most of our concerns were aesthetic--that's where we'll start. Among the upsides to placing the stove along the south wall: it would be more centered in the room (and therefore the house), which (1) would help to distribute heat...wait, that's not aesthetic. Anyway, the stove would (2) provide a visual break/barrier between the dining and living portions of the room, as there isn't a wall to separate the two. And having the stove centered in the room would also (3) make the stove a more visual player in our home's personality, which we kind of liked.

But the downside to giving more weight to the stove's visual impact concerned us for resale reasons--most people, for various reasons, (1) aren't as excited about wood stoves as my wife and I are. And placing the stove in the middle of the wall meant we would be (2) restricted in terms of placement of both the living room furniture and the dining room furniture. In our case, the location of the chandelier over our dining room table was already a restriction, as we'd chosen to place it directly over the exact spot where we wanted to place our dining room table--a spot which would put the table far too close to the stove. So...resale and furniture placement nixed the wall location in our case. Pub? Corner?

Corner, indeed. Upsides: (1) the stove would be more out of the way, as tucking the stove into the corner of the room meant leaving the rest of the room completely open. Since the "open concept" was what we were going for when we removed the partition which separated the living room from the dining room, it made sense to leave the room as open as possible. Also, since the southeast corner of the living room happens to be the southeast corner of our house, that means that (2) the wood stove would be facing just about anything that happens in the house--and that the fire, visible through the glass window in the stove's door, would be visible from most of the house. It doesn't even have to be warm for the sight of a flame to make you feel warmer. It was for these reasons that we went with the corner location, which wasn't without downsides--but we'll get to those in a bit.

As for a truly middle-of-the-room location? Gutsy. The upside would be...appearance? The downside is that, in our house, a parlor stove style installation would have meant giving up the living room or the dining room, or it would have meant making both the living and dining rooms smaller (by placing it in the floor between the two--literally in the center of the room). Neither of these downsides seemed to be worth what I would consider to be a questionable benefit anyway, but if that's your thing, then chop away.

The downside of a corner location in our house was mainly a structural issue: our house has a hip roof. What does a hip roof have at each corner? A hip. Needless to say, I didn't want to be putting to stove pipe through the hip--too much work, too many water intrusion risks with a pipe exiting through the hip, and (what I thought would be) a funny appearance from the outside. I mean, it's a big silver rocket ship exiting the roof through one of the hips. Stupid.

The solution to this issue was a wall exit. Not good for draft reasons, but it seemed like the lesser evil at the time and has proven to work pretty well since. Conveniently, I was able to position the stove so that the pipe exited exactly between two studs. What, that doesn't work for everyone? It really doesn't have to, but it sure helps if it does. It's beneficial to the point that--if at all possible--the stove should be moved so that the pipe can go out between the studs. Otherwise, you're left installing something like the mini-headers seen in the next picture, but you'll be doing so within the confines of an enclosed wall:

Without the junction box, yes. How to? Next blog. In the meantime, pick your place, put your stove there, and enjoy some warm thoughts!