For more than a million years, humans have harnessed the life-sustaining power of fire by burning wood. It provides warmth for our bodies, heat for cooking, warm water for washing – the essentials of life. As we have evolved, so have wood stoves and the technology built into them.
It started thousands of years ago when cave dwellers dug fire pits right into their homes, which were really nothing more than campfires. They were eventually replaced by rudimentary fireplaces with little-to-no ventilation. Day in and day out, people lived in these smoke-filled structures; it took centuries before they started looking for better ways to contain and fuel fires.
In the late 1700s, famous American patriot Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin Stove – a major innovation in wood stove technology at the time. It offered some ventilation, had a convection chamber, and radiated heat long after the fire was extinguished because it was made of cast iron. His design was further improved by another American, David Ritterhouse, who added a stovepipe shaped like an L to vent air to the chimney.
Stoves of the 1800s and 1900s
During the 1800s, wood stove technology offered better airflow and most stoves had some kind of baffle system. By today’s standards, they would be illegal in most areas due to high particulate emissions (pollution), but they were a big improvement for the time, as they were about 30% efficient (vs. 80% efficiency of today’s stoves).
The 1970s energy crisis caused a huge surge in popularity for wood stoves. The designs were still inefficient, emitting high levels of particulates, and the stoves were fire hazards due to significant creosote build-up — but people were snatching them up to save money by burning wood for heat. Wood stove technology remained mostly unchanged until the late 1980s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in. The EPA set emission limits for wood stoves at 7.5 grams per hour, challenging stove manufacturers to either improve stove technology or go out of business.
Wood Stove Technology Today
Today’s EPA-certified wood stoves, like the Quadra-Fire 3100 Step Top, have extremely low emissions – dipping as low as 1-2 grams per hour. The technology behind the stoves enables “complete combustion,” meaning the wood receives ample oxygen, burning at high temperatures for an amount of time that ensures the combustion gases are also burned before being expelled through the stove pipe.
Quadra-Fire 4300 Step top Wood Stove
[quadrafire.com. (2015, October 6). Evolution of Fire: A Brief History of Wood-Burning Stove Technology [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.quadrafire.com/Shopping-Tools/Blog/Evolution-of-Fire-A-Brief-History-of-Wood-Burning-Stove-Technology.aspx]