Some of the smaller versions of the EPA-certified Vermont Castings wood stoves discussed earlier are as inexpensive as stoves sold at big-box stores, so it's worth considering them if you don't have a large space to heat. The Vermont Castings Aspen (*Est. $800) is recommended, for example, for rooms of about 600 square feet. The 35,000-BTU Vermont Castings DutchWest 2477 (*Est. $1,350) is sized for 700 to 1,400 square feet and holds a fire up to eight hours. These stoves are made of cast iron, so their extra mass helps them radiate heat longer than budget wood stoves made with sheet steel. Be sure to buy them from a dealer who offers ongoing service (or make sure a local dealer will provide it if you buy online), since Vermont Castings no longer provides direct support.
Both England's Stove Works and Vogelzang stand out as manufacturers of noncatalytic budget wood stoves. England's Stove Works makes noncatalytic wood stoves sold as the Englander brand at Home Depot, as the similar Summers Heat brand at Lowe's, plus the TimberRidge brand. They're made with sheet steel for fast heat -- but heat that doesn't last as long as that from soapstone or cast-iron stoves. The smallest models, such as the Englander 12-FP (*Est. $1,100) that's rated for about 1,000 square feet, are so inefficient that they're classified as EPA-exempt. This should be a warning that you'll use a lot of wood for relatively little heat.
The middle and large Englander and Summers Heat models are EPA-certified but get somewhat mixed reviews from owners. The bodies are sheet steel for fast radiant heat, but as the fire dies down the heat will diminish. The big 75,000-BTU Englander 30-NCH (*Est. $1,300) has only been reviewed by two owners at the time of this report, but gets high marks from both. It's rated at less than 1.7 grams/hr emissions, so it's quite clean-burning for such a large wood stove. You can choose between legs and a pedestal base; the latter is approved for use in mobile homes.
More owners review the middle-sized Englander 13-NCH (*Est. $1,150), saying it warms an area up to 1,500 square feet, but needs a lot of tending. One owner reports having to add wood every two hours, while another says it holds a fire six to eight hours. However, many reviewers are happy with the Englander wood stoves (especially if they bought them at spring sale prices) and the stoves carry a five-year warranty. The less expensive Summers Heat 50-SNC13LC (*Est. $800) sold at Lowe's is made by the same company. Ten owners reviewing it at Lowe's say it's a good basic stove for heating about 1,000 square feet in an open plan.
Vogelzang sells an even wider range of wood stoves with varying efficiency and emissions, but they carry warranties for only one year. The small Vogelzang Defender TR001 (*Est. $600), rated for up to 1,200 square feet, is EPA-certified and meets even the strict emissions standards the state of Washington imposes. It's not for mobile homes, however, and the 4.21 grams/hr emissions rating is nothing to brag about compared with ratings for more expensive stoves. Only three of the five owners reviewing it at Northern Tool would recommend it to a friend; two of the owners complain of quality-control problems and lack of heat. It loads from the front, a design owners say is less convenient than loading through a side door.
The Vogelzang Heartwood VG820E (*Est. $700) gets nearly perfect ratings from four owners at Northern Tool. This is an older design that encloses the firebox in a metal cabinet, for safety. It's safer for use in a woodworking shop (where there's always a lot of fuel to catch fire) and around pets and children. Though the stove itself is larger than the Defender, it puts out less heat and holds a fire only about five hours at most. Since it's rated EPA-exempt, the initial savings may be lost over the years as you burn more firewood than you'd need for a more efficient wood stove. Also, it's not legal to install such a stove in quite a few areas -- including California and Washington. Since more and more communities are apt to tighten regulations, this is something to keep in mind unless you must have a quick heating solution in the short run even if you have to upgrade later.
You can pay even less for EPA-exempt wood stoves in the old-fashioned box stove or box wood design, such as the little Vogelzang BX26E (*Est. $140). You can make a larger EPA-exempt wood stove with a 55-gallon drum and a Vogelzang Barrel Stove Kit (*est. $45); you just need a jigsaw to cut the openings for the door and stovepipe. The barrel stoves do radiate heat well because of their rounded sides. However, these box and barrel designs burn a lot of wood, need constant tending, and are best suited for brief fires when you're working right next to the fire and have lots of free wood to burn. You also must live in an area where emissions aren't a big problem (yet) and such stoves are legal.