woodstove questions/problems

TJG911June 10, 2005

wrong time of year to seek info? here's the problems -

i have a free standing vermont castings defiant encore wood stove since 1993. i heat the house with it all fall, winter and late spring. it is THE heat souce for the house 98% of the time so it is used all the time. i use 4 cord per winter.

how long should this stove last before there are problems that are so expensive that it is basically the same cost to buy a new stove?

for the past 2 winters, i have had a problem with the linkage that operates the catalytic combustor door. the linkage is worn out or something is warped. so i decided to fix it cuz it's a major pain.

i am taking internal parts out in preparation for my chimney cleaning guy to fix the linkage. i removed the hood it looks slightly curved (warped?). i can't get the fireback out. i think it is warped but not sure, i have had it out 3 or 4 times in the past but it's been 2 or 3 years since the last time. the catalytic combustor is totally shot and has been for 5+ years.

so, the cost for a fireback i'd guess could be $400-600? the hood perhaps $150-200 i know the combustor is $150. if the woodstove store has to do all this work vs the chimney guy then with labor and pickup cost to get the stove i'm thinking this could be $800-1000!!!! for a couple hundred more i can buy a new stove of some model. i'm not a happy guy.

do wood stoves last only 10 or 15 years before they need major repairs or replacement? i thought this stove would last 40-50 years!

any opinions on good quality free standing wood stove to heat 1500 sq foot house?



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You burn 4 cords of wood per year. Purchased in 1993-stove is 12 years old, old technology with the cat. 4x12=48 cords. Stoves do NOT last forever. It all depends on how the stove is used that determines it's life expectancy. If the stove is over-fired, it will cut that life down considerably. The initial quality of the stove has much to do with it also. Answer: It just depends. But, I am not surprised that this stove needs replacing. You use it an awful lot. Much more than most people who burn. These days, at least in the cities, people typically go through 1-2 cords a year, if that. I would say that 10 years of heavy use is about all you will get from a woodstove.

You need to junk it (do NOT sell it or give it away) and get a new Harman. The TLC-2000 or their new cast iron stove. No cats to mess with and a real top-loader with no smoke spillage when loading.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 10:32AM
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Sorry, I didn't mean to say the TLC-2000.

I meant the Exception.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 1:33PM
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thanks for the reply.

i am surprised by your comments but not saying you're wrong. i mentioned this to a friend who doesn't heat with wood and he said the same thing about the vc stove's longevity and the replacement name! the thing that i am having trouble with is that a modern oil furnace costs say $2000 or 2500 and this wood stove costs $1300 or 1400. the furnace is good for far more time. twice? but it is almost twice as expensive. so on a yearly basis, the loss thru use is perhaps about the same.

my friend also mentioned harman. never heard of them. oh i just looked at your home page! you have more experience than the average person in these matters. what's your opinion of woodstock soapstone stoves? i love the look of soapstone and lean towards them. i had a hearthstone soapstone stove but it was not an epa rated stove. it was hard to regulate and after 1 season we got rid of it. 6-7 hours was a good burn and in winter that's not all night nor is it all day when at work. vermont castings had a good name tho i think they are not all that good today or i should say that's what i remember hearing years ago.... perhaps at this forum.

i would like to avoid a cat but i need a stove that'll burn longer than 6 or 7 hours. 10-12 is good but perhaps not possible. if there's no harman dealer in ct area what other names are good? jotul? quadrafire? woodstock? i really don't know too many stove company names. if i go to the local woodstove shop they'll show me the 5 or 6 manufacturers stoves (like vc and jotul and quadrafire) they sell and i just am sure one of those makes will be just right for me! lol!

since this is a big purchase i really want to spend the money wisely. i thought in 1992 the vc stove was good for life, my life, not 12 or 13 years. i'd spend $1600 vs $1350 to get a better quality product, i am frugal not cheap!

if this helps here's some info on the house. it is a contemporary raised ranch, 1500 sq ft, all 1 level, 3 bedrooms, 2 baths that are down a straight hallway. the kitchen/living room are just 1 room, an open floor plan about 650-700 sq feet with 10' high ceiling with 2 ceiling fans and LOTS of glass on the south and west side. the chimney is central like in colonial times not exterior that loses heat to the outside. the hearth is at the corner of the hallway against the north side wall of the kit/lr and being next to the hallway it's in the center of the wall/room.

i'm going to look up harman on the internet.



    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 2:02PM
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I have always felt that Vermont Castings is an overrated, overpriced product. I have never sold them nor ever cared to sell them. I just feel that there are so many other more innovative, better and even yes, less expensive quality alternatives.

On the soapstone stoves, I have never used them so I have no experience with them. To me, the obvious drawbacks are that they are very expensive, they use cats, and they are VERY heavy. The weight can be a real issue when trying to install and move it.

I think you should check out as many models/manufacturers of stoves as possible. Always take the heating specs on the brochures with a grain of salt. If it says "heats up to 1,500 sq.ft." it is probably too small for your needs. Probably something that says at least 2,000 sq.ft. would suit you better. A better judge to compare them with is cubic feet of firebox space. Your taste and budget will determine if you like steel, cast iron or the soapstone stoves, but I would stay away from any that have cats. Those cat stoves aren't made much anymore, but you still need to be on the watch for them.

I have used the Harman Exception and that will be my next stove should I purchase one. Since you had a cast iron stove, they have one called the Oakwood I believe, that you may like that is similar to the VC, but is more advanced and no cat.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 2:52PM
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yes i just looked at their website and the oakwood is very similiar in specs and appearance to my current stove. it takes 21" wood max so i assume 19-20 is normal perhaps 18" current is 16". i don't want a cat period. i found a dealer in the town next to me assuming he is still in business! what doe the oakwood sell for w/o heat shields but with warming trays on the sides, any idea?

no opinion on jotul or quadrafire? did you sell just harman?


    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 3:09PM
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I don't know about the prices on the Harman Oakwood because it is a new model and I have not sold woodstoves for a few years now.

I used to sell Harman, Napoleon, Arrow, Dover and Century woodstoves along with used woodstoves. I have used a Napoleon in my home also and loved it.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 4:12PM
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can you indulge more questions?

what's the pros and cons of cast iron vs steel? again i prefer quality. never used a steel just cast iron.

the stove you mention 'Exception' i did not see it at the website. i looked only at the free standing stoves that burn wood. there were just 3 and 1 was a coal/wood stove. i always felt that anything not purpose built is a compromise and not as good as say a wood burner or a coal burner as in this case.

really appreciate the help.


    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 5:44PM
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Cast iron v steel is more of a personal preference. There are pros and cons of each.

Cast iron: It can and does crack over time and if overfired. Some people prefer it and will swear that it is better and holds the heat longer. (I do not agree.) Cast iron stoves have a "parlor" look to them that many people prefer. They also tend to be more expensive and are heavier. They also tend to have smaller fireboxes and I have never seen a model that does not have legs. Almost all the cast iron stoves made today are cast in China. That was not the case a few years ago.

Steel: They tend to have a more "modern" look, are lined with firebrick (easily replaceable) for durability and are less expensive. They also come in more varieties and models. Steel can and does warp over time or if overfired. Steel stoves can come with pedestals or legs. Sometimes a steel stove is the only choice for mobile homes and other applications especially where a fresh air duct is required for combustion. Steel stoves do not require an expensive foundry and can be and are easily made domestically.

Here is a link that might be useful: Harman Exception

    Bookmark   June 10, 2005 at 8:39PM
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Hey there TJG911: intersting problem and question you have. Have you checked out Lopi brand stoves? I posted on another area of the forum and really encouraged another member to check out the line. My family and I have one in our home and it is just great.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 10:23PM
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The old saying applies...

The more complex the item, the more ways it can fail. Expensively.

Friends of mine had a house with a Jotul woodstove that they installed in 1973. Very simple stove. No cat converter, just a fiberglass rope door seal and a dial vent.

They moved in 2002, and the stove was still going strong, after having burned from 5 to 7 cords of wood a year for 29 years.

The new owners?

Still using the stove, and burning 5 to 7 cords of wood a year.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2005 at 12:49AM
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We've had VC stoves for 30 years. Wood heat, was until this year, our only source of heat and we burn 6 cords/year. Right now, we have VC Defiant Encores and fairly regularly (every couple of years) have them serviced by the dealer. The cost of the service varies but is usually $400-600. This includes regular cat replacemnt, usually some gasket re-do, and from time to time part replacement. We keep two on hand, so we can switch them out in the winter for service if necessary and not loose heat.

Keep in mind that we are using these stoves continuously from Oct-May, not occasionally during cold spells or for atmosphere. One stove is 19 or 20 years old, the other about 16. I would say that one of them has done 85% of the burning. It is the older one and it has a sweeter temper. The "newer" one is a bit harder to keep adjusted, for some reason, so we tend to use it when an unplanned maintenance takes the other out of service during the season.

We also have a new Harman pellet burner. I had resisted pellet stoves for style reasons, but the Accentra, seems OK (but not great as the window is out-of scale). It was nice having the automatic-ness and long burn of the pellet stove. Can't say I like living with a forced-air pellet stove as well as a wood stove, though. Don't like the air flow, nor the noise, which is annoying if you're used to the quiet of a woodstove. It would be nice if Harman improved the looks of their stoves which seem stuck in a 70's time-warp. All those sprayed gold accents are too tacky!

I'm not sure how newer VC stoves hold up, but ours have done well by us. If they became permanently disabled, I think I would look at Jotul, for replacements.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2005 at 3:56PM
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