Wood-burning stoves give off a tremendous amount of sustainable heat on the cheap, making them perfect off-grid heating appliances.
With the right location, heat output, and adequate circulation, a wood stove can also raise temperatures inside a home across the board.
However, one stove won't usually heat your home, especially if your total square footage significantly outstrips the stove's heating power.
The most significant challenges in heating a whole home include the lack of heat distribution/circulation, which confines heat to single spaces, and total heating power, which is inadequate to cover most homes.
This guide explores whether a wood stove can heat a whole home, with some advice and top tips to make the most of your stove.
How Large a Space Can a Wood Stove Heat?
A wood-burning stove's heat output determines the space it can heat, with the heat output measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units) or kW (kilowatts).
Stoves start at 4-5kW, suitable for small spaces. 10-15kW is suitable for medium spaces, while 20kW and above is suitable for large spaces.
To calculate the heat power you require, calculate the cubic space of the room by multiplying the width, height, and length and dividing the cubic space by 14.
This will give you the kW output, which you can convert to BTU.
As a rule, you need 5,000 BTUs (1.46kW) to heat 100 square feet; however, you must also consider the insulation of the space and heat leakage in open spaces.
No home has perfect insulation, and most have open doorways or an open-plan layout, substantially increasing the heat requirements you need to account for.
However, increasing the heat output does not solve the heat distribution problem.
It can also reduce efficiency when you run the stove at too low a temperature to counteract heat output (to keep your space comfortable).
Upsizing is detrimental to efficiency in too small a space; having two smaller stoves in different areas of your home is more efficient.
Because of this, wood-burning stoves are not suitable for heating a whole home unless the heat is distributed to offset higher heat output.
So, Can a Wood Stove Heat a Whole House?
If you get a big enough wood stove and circulate all that heat around your home, you can depend entirely on your wood burner for heating.
However, circulating all that heat is a significant challenge, and the further heat travels, the less effective it becomes.
This means wood burners are not ideal for heating a whole home, especially in larger homes that are poorly insulated.
So, in theory, you can heat a whole house with a stove, provided the heat can travel through the house and is sufficient for the space.
People's biggest mistake is thinking they can upsize a wood-burning stove to heat more space and expecting it to work. Without circulation, all that heat will stay trapped in the installation room, making it unbearably hot.
Invariably, to make the room comfortable, you will lower the stove's temperature, thus defeating the point of the larger appliance and reducing its efficiency.
If you run your large stove too cold, you won't achieve a stable fire – the fire will smolder and fizzle out or not get going.
The best way around the single large stove problem is to install multiple wood burners, usually at both ends of the house or in the largest open spaces.
A configuration like this will reduce strain on each stove and help maintain a steady temperature.
Is Whole Home Heating with a Wood Stove a Good Idea?
If you live in a small house with an open plan space, a wood-burning stove with adequate heat output is a good idea for heating your whole home.
If you have a large house, one stove won't cut it – you need multiple stoves and a way to distribute heat to all the areas of your house.
Circulation and heat output limitations make wood burners an ideal secondary heat source. While whole home heating sounds amazing, it is better to think of wood-burning stoves as a zonal heating solution.
Another consideration is how you intend to use your stove. If you want to heat for a few hours per day, a non-catalytic stove offers a short burn time and high temperatures, while a catalytic stove offers a long burn time.
Consider a catalytic stove if you want to heat your entire home 24-7 – in this scenario, it will slash your running costs by around two-thirds.
Catalytic stoves have a catalytic device that burns smoke and ash as a secondary heat source, reducing the need to fuel the stove with firewood. This extends the burn time and is a better option for continuous heating.
How to Transfer Heat from a Wood Stove More Widely Around the Home
If you've made it this far, you know that a wood-burning stove has limited heating power, and simply increasing the stove output does not mean whole home heating (because all that heat won't circulate and will build up in one room).
The solution is transferring heat more widely around your home, and there are a few ways to do this, which we'll cover below:
Stove fans (push warm air around)
A stove fan is a bolt-on device that conducts heat from the stove and circulates it into the room. Power is provided by a built-in thermoelectric module, which acts as a mini generator to power the fan's motor and creates spin.
With a maximum flow rate of 180 CFM (cubic feet per minute), you can expect a stove fan to increase heating performance by around a quarter. A 25% increase in performance is not to be sniffed at for less than $50.
A stove fan can help stretch heat between rooms and spaces, improving your stove's heating performance. However, it isn't going to increase the BTU output and heat your whole home – you need more than one stove for this.
Blowers (recirculate warm air)
Blowers (centrifugal fans) push heated air into your room. They perform the same primary role as fans, only they heat cold air and recirculate it.
The critical difference is that a blower sucks in air from the room and pushes it through a channel to heat it. The blower then distributes heated air into your room, helping increase the stove's heating performance.
Blowers offer similar performance to fans but are usually quieter and less intrusive, albeit for a higher price – expect to pay around $80.
Forced airflow (ducts)
It is sometimes possible to duct stove heat directly between spaces, although the process is different than what you probably think.
Logic dictates you should pump hot air from your stove through ducts, but the efficient (and safe way) is drawing cold air from distant rooms to the stove.
This configuration (cold ducting air) reduces duct temperature and eliminates the risk of smoke and soot build-up. Cool air passes past the stove, heats up, and gets released into rooms through a separate duct.
Boiler stoves (heat water for central heating)
Some wood-burning stoves are compatible with boilers and can heat water for central heating, significantly reducing gas/electricity consumption.
Boiler stoves transfer heat from the firebox to a water tank, which transfers the water through your central heating system.
However, there are a few disadvantages to boiler stoves:
*This is the most significant drawback. You can expect a 20% drop in room heating, which could translate to a 40°F (4°C) drop in temperature. A boiler stove isn't for you if you want to maximize heating in one room.
Can you heat a whole house with a stove? You can, providing the stove's heat output is sufficient for the square footage.
There is no way around this fact – a stove's heating power is limited relative to the size of the space.
You can circulate heat with a stove fan or blower, but this will only improve heating performance in one or two rooms at most.
Ducting heat (via cold ducting) is an effective way to transfer heat from one stove to separate areas of a house.
Still, it is only scalable to a point – ducting becomes more complex, costly, and inefficient the further it travels.
If you want to heat your whole house with stoves, you need multiple stoves. Otherwise, one stove is perfect for heating one or two connected rooms.
Additionally, you must consider how you will use your stove.
Catalytic stoves are better than non-catalytic stoves for heating a whole house because they have a much longer burn time thanks to secondary combustion.
Whichever route you choose, ensure to size your stove correctly (based on BTU/kW) and don't fall into the trap of oversizing to heat more space – this will only make the room your stove lives in uncomfortably warm and ruin your enjoyment of it.