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Speaking of cold weather, here is a wood stove review

Eleven years ago we purchased a new wood burning insert for the big fireplace in the living room. It replaced a small wood burning stove with a blower I had temporarily put there to finally project some real heat into the big space around it. Here is the review of the replacement wood burning insert.

This is an old stone house with beautiful fireplaces upstairs and down, begging to be put to use. Because the 16-inch-thick stone walls have zero insulation, wintertime becomes a simple question of how much energy can you dump into the first floor. The more you dump in, the only marginally more comfortable a person feels. The attic is fully insulated, and there are 1960s storm windows, but these are only part of the efficiency challenge. Basically the place is a big sieve, leaking energy out of every seam, nook, crevice, and old window, so it’s a battle we just won’t win. But with certain types of energy, like wood and coal, we can really keep shoveling it in and enjoy the relatively cheap rewards of abundant heat in one location.

Think of it as a family campfire in the living room.

As I grew up in a rough-sided home that heated only with wood (and where I would see my own breath vapor on winter mornings in my bedroom, because it was the farthest from a heat source), and I grew up splitting tons of wood all summer and fall as one of my chores, running a wood burning stove today is first nature to me. And I like it. Pictures over the years of the entire family snuggled together, asleep on top of and under wild game skins, in front of the fire, makes a dad’s heart grow fond for those early years, before the kids grew up and had their hands out all the time.

Somewhere in the 1970s a gas-burning log insert had been put in this living room fireplace, and we removed it in 2007. It was gaudy, silly looking, and highly vented, which meant it was a show horse and not a work horse. Its heat all went right up the chimney! Ambience? Barely. Heat? Zero.

Though I had my eye set on a QuadraFire 5100 insert, I was sweet talked out of that choice by a stove salesman in Mechanicsburg. He had worked with and for my dad for many years, many years ago, and because of that long relationship I figured he would not lead me astray. Well, that transaction ended up another lesson in “assume nothing,” because the Pacific Energy Summit insert we bought from him just absolutely sucks crap all damned day long. It is nearly trash, and at $5,000 installed, you don’t want or expect trash. It is nowhere near the performance of the QuadraFire, hell it is probably not even the performance of an open campfire.

The primary deficiency with the Pacific Energy Summit is it has a single rudimentary air intake, up front and center. Theoretically this location draws in fresh air across the fire and out the back as the gases are vented around the baffle and up the chimney, theoretically resulting in an even burn that consumes all the wood and produces a lot of heat.

Well, the Summit is a lesson in failed theory, because this one single source of air results in an oxygen-starved fire where 3/4 to 2/3 of the fire box is a mass of half-live half-dead coals and baked wood mixed with heavy ash, and the actual fire and source of heat is just up front by the door. It produces very little heat for all the massive amount of wood that is put in it. And do we ever shovel in the wood here, because the Summit just chews through it. Apparently the baffle is poorly designed, too, because you’d think the steel jacket surrounding the fire box would get hot, but it doesn’t. Most of whatever heat is produced just goes up the chimney, which is a waste of energy.

Our hunting cabin has a small QuadraFire wood stove, and it requires very little wood to turn the house into a hot sauna, even in the dead of  frigid winter. Like our wood stove at the cabin, the QuadraFire 5100 insert I was talked out of also has four points of air entry into the fire box. Air entering from all these angles, front and back, results in an even burn that pulls maximum heat from the wood consumed in the fire box, and it also allows for a fine tuning of each fire. The ash from the QuadraFire is very light, very thin, which means all of the wood is being burned up and converted into fire.

Conversely, the wood ash from the Summit is heavy, meaning a lot of biotic material remains in it, which means it has not completely burned. It is no surprise, because the insert’s design is so bad. Had I not been sold a bill of goods by the Pacific Energy salesman, and had my natural skepticism that guides me so well in all other matters overcome my sense of loyalty to an old acquaintance, I would have purchased the QuadraFire 5100 and I would have been a much happier person for it.

A once-young logger I have worked with for the past twenty years has a QuadraFire 5100 insert at his cabin, and he really likes it. He told me it is “one of my few possessions that actually works correctly and which I would not sell, ever.”

On the other hand, I am about to give away this junky Pacific Energy Summit insert, which has eaten up so much of my hard-won firewood over the years. I would never buy another one.

Lame morning wood in the Pacific Energy Summit. A big bank of hot and cold coals raked forward to the front, the single source of air. This is its usual incomplete burn.

Pacific Energy Summit after a full burn and coals raked forward. An efficient wood stove will burn wood down into ash quickly. The Summit is so grossly inefficient that wood turns to a thick bed of coals that smothers the one single air intake and produces very little heat.

A poker end buried in a heap of coals. Even with the air flue all the way open, the Summit still doesn’t burn efficiently. It wastes firewood.