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.
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.
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.
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.
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.