Soap Stone vs Cast, and right size

bbc557ciDecember 25, 2007

Hi, I'm new to the forum. 1st off Merry Christmas :o)

Now for my question/s.......... I live in hill country in central NY State and heat with LP. Prices for LP are thru the roof!! So I'm seriously considering putting a wood stove in. The stove would be in the living room so I want one that is asthetically (spelling?) pleasing. But of course I'm looking primarily for function.

I've looked at both the cast and soap stone stoves (Jotel and Hearthstone so far). I love the looks of the soap stone stoves and have read and been told, that overall they will out perform a cast stove. Are the soap stoves worth the extra cost ??

'nuther question .... I've been to two stove retailers so far. One place told me that what ever stove I buy, it needs to be correctly sized for my house, and I agree. But I also realize every situation is different.

House is a "salt box" design and has 2 bedrooms on the 2nd level. Total living area is about 1350 square feet. But considering that 1/2 the 1st level has a vaulted ceiling, I figure the overall SF would be equivelant to +,- 1575 SF. The guy selling Jotel's was suggesting model F400, which heats up to 1600 SF. The 2nd place, selling the soap stone stoves suggested the Meridian model, a much larger stove, capable of heating up to 2500 SF.

So, given the two places I've checked out so far, I've gotten two completely different opinions on proper sizing. My house is in wide open area subject to wind, with no real protection such as trees or other houses. Plus winter temps are any where from 35* down to below 0*. So considering the wind + cold, I'm thinking a stove a little on the large side, would be the better way to go.

Any suggestions and or input from wood stove guru's would be greatly appreciated !!

Thanks - Bill

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Bill I will not accept the appellation of guru but I will throw in a few suggestions.

If you are exposed to the wind but otherwise have fairly up to date insulation in your walls and attic and cathedral ceiling and decent windows, given your location and climate, going a little bigger is probably a good idea but not a lot bigger as you can't efficiently build a small fire in a big stove. That said, there are many different stoves which will fit your square footage requirements.

A living room location is pretty central, and therefore prominently visible, and a stove installation is reasonably permanent. Since there are many stoves that meet the square footage requirement, then I would recommend you first find a stove you would like to look at as it will basically be a piece of furniture to a large degree. This is especially important if there is a lady of the house,(as it was in my case.) And you note you really like the look of soapstone so make sure you weight that accordingly.

With regard to soapstone or cast-iron, there are some differences but not exceptional ones. Both are radiant heaters. Soapstone provides a really even comfortable heat and will continue to radiate heat for quite a while after the fire is out. But, the catch is that it takes a long time to heat up and is best suited for constant operation. A cast iron stove will heat up more quickly but will also cool more quickly. There is a third option which are steel stoves which heat primarily by convection. All stoves today are really some combination of the three.

I wouldn't say soapstone out-performs other stoves. That sounds like the kind of hearth shop hack salesman-y talk that tend to raise my hackles. The amount of BTU's in the wood is the same no matter what stove you burn it in. A soapstone stove will lag, then radiate a generally lower amount of heat over a longer time whereas a cast iron or steel stove will heat up faster and then fall off quickly.

As far as brands go, Hearthstone and Jotul are nice but there many others. Also, Hearthstone makes very nice cast iron stovesas well, of which the Shelburne might be a consideration for you as it is a bit oversized. The smaller Craftsbury cast iron stove would probably not be enough for whole house heat for your situation.

I have owned a Hearthstone Phoenix and it was a great stove but didn't work where I needed it to go so I sold it and bought a steel stove. Incidentally, the Phoenix is about the right size for your square footage with a bit of oversizing. I am not familiar with the 'Meridian' stove in soapstone. There is a pellet stove called that but I think you might mean the Mansfield, which sounds a bit too big for your space. Another one you might consider is the Pacific Energy Alderlea T4 which is a hybrid steel-cast iron stove.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2007 at 10:23PM
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nhyankee - You are quite right.... I messed up as I should have said/typed Mansfield. Don't know where the heck I got "meridian" from. Yes, the general consensus is that the Hearthstone Mansfield might be a bit too much.

I remeasured & I'm just about 1400 SF. Not a big difference between that and the 1350 SF I mentioned before. Just trying to be as accurate as reasonably possible.

I plan to heat with the wood stove 24/7 so I want to be sure I get enough stove. I generally call it quits and go to bed around 10:30-11:00 or so and get up about 6:30-7:00. One reason I like the soap stone stoves is their ability to radiate heat for a longer period of time. And with the bigger fire box in the Mansfield I'd think there might be enough embers left in the a.m. so I could get the fire going again without much problem. Plus, I plan to figure out a way to get some heat in the basement, so we won't freeze while doing laundry. I also have a small work/hobby room in the basement that will need a some heat. If I can suck some warmth into the basement, that will add quite a bit more SF area the stove will need to heat.

I'll continue on with the research (and questions). I also plan to check out more stoves locally.

Thank you for your input and advice.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 12:16AM
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We have had a soapstone stove for about 17 yrs. now (just bought a second for a workshop, too). I wouldn't stay it takes appreciably longer to get them "up and running" relative to a cast stove. They never have that "hot" aura around them that a cast stove does... the best way I can describe the difference is that soapstone is "uninsistant".

They do radiate heat for a longer time than do cast stoves. Another nice feature is that you can "bounce" a finger off it when it's hot and not burn yourself immediately. One of our cats landed on it the first winter she was with us. The stove was crankin' and she simply leapt off it immediately. NO burns on her paddy-paws.

Our stoves have catalytic combustors (which are no big deal to operate or maintain) and are built by the Woodstock Soapstone Stove Co.. Our stove would still have live coals in it to start the new fire in the time period you indicated in your last post. They are efficient.

They have a very good website, you should check it out.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2007 at 7:31PM
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We are very pleased with our Mansfield stove. Our first floor is 2200 square feet. This stove provides plenty of heat for this area all night. We use the stove in addition to our heat as you stated LP prices are very high. We have plenty of free wood on our land.
DH is in the process of building the mantle. The white trim around the stone was used for a straight edge by the mason. Maybe by next Christmas it will be finished.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 6:29AM
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If you intend to burn 24/7 a soapstone stove probably will be slightly better for you however, I think using the better dealer is a more important factor to consider. I use a Jotul cast iron stove mainly because the soapstone dealer I dealt with didn't really care about service which is important to consider should anything go wrong.

Regarding the stove size I think the size of the stove will depend upon how well your house is insulated. Not knowing this factor I really can't give you the best answer.

Personally, I think a Mansfield is overkill for a 1350 sq ft house unless it had very poor windows and insulation.

If your house exceeds the average requirements in energy efficiency in your area I probably would likely opt for a Woodstock Fireview (if you can find someone reputable to install it) mainly based on its lower wood consumption than even a non catalytic stove.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 7:55AM
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You may want to look at the Woodstock Soapstone site; they make a couple of other soapstone stoves designed for smaller spaces; the Palladian and the Keystone. If your home is well insulated, they may be a nice option, too.

(Love our 16-17 yr. old Fireview, and just purchased a Classic).

Here is a link that might be useful: Woodstock Soapstone Stove Co.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2007 at 9:12AM
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Dragonfly your 'Mansfield' looks a lot more like a Hearthstone Heritage which is still a great stove but spec'd for about 600 fewer square feet than a Mansfield.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 12:37AM
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Hey Dragonfly----

I suppose the cat in the picture is taking a five minute break in between splitting firewood and packing it into the house?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 1:35AM
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NHyankee..oops it is the Heritage. I forgot DH changed his mind once he saw the side door loading feature that the Heritage offered. Either way it is an attractive stove that keeps us warm while conserving propane.
seattlepioneer...I wish those cats would do some work around here.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2007 at 7:37AM
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We have the Jotul F400 and love it. I did not look at the soapstones because we wanted a traditional cast iron stove with an old-fashioned look - and picked Jotul because was the best looking one IMO. I prefer the radiant heating over the convection, mainly because I like being able to stand right next to the thing and thaw after being outside in the freezing cold. I also like that the Jotul doesn't have a catalytic converter - it burns well and is easy to use and maintain.

Our house is 3000 sq ft, and when we get it cooking, the F400 heats the entire house -- we have a very open floorplan that allows the heat to travel (we had planned to use it to heat only the family room and kitchen, which is why we went with such a small stove - we weren't aware of how dramatically the heat would travel around the house), plus our winters aren't usually super-cold (we're in PA - usually in the 20s-30s during the day and teens at night). Today is colder than normal and very windy and I'm a little chillier than I prefer, but still no need to turn the furnace on.

I will say that we tend to burn the stove pretty wide-open and maybe that's why we can heat so much more space than Jotul says the F400 is good for. Unlike the older cast iron stove I had in college, it seems impossible to overheat this stove, even when you stuff it to the gills and leave the damper wide open. And I guess because our house plan is so open, it seems that we really have to burn hot to feel warm in the room where the stove is - the heat dissipates through the house so quickly. So we burn usually at about 550 degrees (Jotul recommends 400-600) - we get great heating but we do blow through the wood - if I'm home, I'm usually reloading it every 2-3 hours to keep the house toasty. I would think that for your house, you could probably damp it back like it should be and get much longer burn times. We load it up for the last time at night around 11:30 and damp it way back and at 7am, there are still enough coals to relight quickly, although the house has gotten pretty cold by then. Depending on how whiney the kids are, I'll turn the furnace on to take the chill off in the morning but the stove has pretty much taken over by 8:30 or so and the furnace doesn't run for the rest of the day. We have it installed inside our masonry fireplace (it's freestanding but inside the firebox) and since the masonry heats up, we get a bit of the soapstone's extended heating in that the masonry continues to radiate heat after the stove has cooled down.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2008 at 12:00AM
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"Hey Dragonfly----
I suppose the cat in the picture is taking a five minute break in between splitting firewood and packing it into the house?"

- The cat belongs to a union. It gets a 15 minute break for every 2 hours of work. It's in his Union contract.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2008 at 11:11AM
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Many thanks to all of you who have responded to Bill's questions and to Bill for asking them in the first place. They address many of the same issues raised for me as I've been researching a wood stove for my 900 sq ft mobile home. I'm a teacher and am generally gone from 6:30 in the morning till nearly 7:00 in the evening. I have three Union cats and not a darn one of them will keep the stove stoked through the day (someone define "15 minute break" for me, please)so I need one that will pretty much keep the house warm till I return in the evening. Been looking at a soapstone seriously for the first time. Your responses have gone a long way to helping my research. Again, thank you all and a good new year.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2008 at 3:31PM
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