What Is the Difference Between Non-Catalytic & Catalytic Wood Stoves?

The environmental protection agency (EPA) regulates the amount of particulate matter that wood stoves can release.

Background

Particulate matter, such as ash particles, are the carbon remains of wood fuel, which flow out of stone chimneys along with smoke. To comply with EPA regulations, wood stove manufacturers install devices in their stoves that reduce particulate matter emissions. Wood stoves can use catalytic or non-catalytic devices for this purpose.

Catalytic wood stoves are the more traditional varieties of particulate matter-reducing wood stoves. Manufacturers originally created them by installing catalytic converters into existing wood stoves, which was a simple way to meet EPA standards without having to alter design or manufacturing drastically. Catalytic converters consist of specialized materials that absorb heat from wood stove fires until they glow red hot. The converters help particulate matter catch fire while still within the wood stoves. Non-catalytic wood stoves, in comparison, use air jets to direct particulate matter into flames for combustion, while simultaneously feeding the flames with oxygen.

Efficiency

A catalytic wood stove typically will be 10 percent more energy efficient than a non-catalytic stove of the same size. This is because catalytic converters can sustain and radiate their own heat, separate from the heat of the flames, which reduces the amount of fuel wood stoves require. In contrast, non-catalytic wood stoves require more fuel to produce the same amounts of heat, as their air-injected systems cause flames to burn stronger and logs to burn faster.

Activation

Unlike non-catalytic stoves, catalytic wood stoves do not begin burning particulate matter until they reach a particular temperature threshold. The catalytic converters of most stoves require temperatures of 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit before they activate. When they do activate, however, some converters can sustain temperatures of up to 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. In contrast, non-catalytic wood stoves require no activation period. Their particulate matter-reducing technology begins to function as soon as their fires begin burning.

Maintenance

While catalytic wood stoves generally are more efficient than their non-catalytic counterparts, they also require more maintenance. According to the Chimney Sweep, for a catalytic wood stove, you typically must replace the catalytic converter every three to six years. The precise length of time that a converter can last, however, will depend on how frequently you use your wood stove.

Tips

If you are planning to use a wood stove as an aesthetic feature, which you operate only for short periods, a non-catalytic stove likely will be a better option as it is low-hassle and activates right away. In contrast, if you plan on using a wood stove as a heat source, either primary or supplemental, a more efficient catalytic stove is the better option.

About the Author

Erik Devaney is a writing professional specializing in health and science topics. His work has been featured on various websites. Devaney attended McGill University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in humanistic studies.