What Is a Catalytic Wood Stove?
Catalytic wood stoves were manufactured to comply with 1988 EPA regulations to reduce smoke emissions. They provide longer even heating than non-catalytic wood stoves and are more energy efficient. Some stoves have certified emissions in the 1 to 4 grams per hour range, while non-catalytic stoves emit as much as 7.5 grams per hour. Catalytic stoves in stores have a white EPA label that identifies the stove’s grams per hour rating. The lower the g/h, the cleaner and more efficient the wood stove.
In essence, a catalytic combustor refines and purifies smoke. Stoves with a catalytic combustor actually burn the smoke inside of the firebox chamber before releasing it through the stovepipe and up the chimney. The combustor refinement process reduces the level of potential pollutants and wood byproducts that the stove exhausts into the atmosphere.
Catalytic Combustor Process
Inside the stove lies a ceramic honeycombed shape device, called a catalyst. It is coated with a non-reactive metal, such as palladium. Most combustors are about 5 3/4 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. When the temperature inside the firebox reaches 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, the burning wood inside the firebox emits gases. At that temperature, the bypass damper is opened so the catalyst can burn, reprocess and refine the smoke to lower the emissions exhausted by the stove through the chimney.
Catalytic stoves have an increased burn efficiency of about 10 percent. They also reduce creosote production by 20 to 90 percent. Creosote is a black or brown residue that builds up on chimney walls. It is highly combustible and can lead to a chimney fire. Overall, a stove with a catalytic combustor reduces the amount of air pollution that it could produce by up to 75 percent.
Disadvantages and Considerations
Catalytic stoves require attention and proper operation. You must follow manufacturer recommendations to prevent over-firing and letting the stove get too hot, and you must keep up with maintenance instructions as outlined in your owner’s manual. It might be a good thing to limit operation of the stove to one adult, or make sure that every adult in the home understands how to operate the stove and uses it properly. If you put the wrong materials in the firebox to burn, including paper, trash, and coal or just about anything other than seasoned firewood, you can contaminate the combustor and cause it to break down prematurely. A combustor will have to be replaced periodically. The typical lifespan for a catalytic combustor is about 10,000 to 12,000 operating hours.