You'll need to install a fire extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide monitor. Experts recommend these for every home anyway, but it's best to have an extra fire extinguisher next to the heating stove as well as at your home's exits.
Is air pollution a problem in your area? If so, wood and pellet stoves might not be the best idea; even the cleanest-burning wood or pellet stove still pollutes more than gas or propane. Sometimes local regulations prohibit certain types of heating stoves.
Do you have enough room for the stove you want? Budget space not only for the stove itself, but also for the required clearance space between it and any combustible walls or other combustible materials. You'll also need a hearth on which to set the stove, which may extend a sizable distance beyond the edges of the stove.
Blowers are optional. Some stoves come with a built-in blower to help circulate the heat; others offer the blower as an optional purchase. Experts say it's best to try a wood or pellet stove without a blower first, since heat often circulates well by natural convection. Ceiling fans and pass-through blowers in the house can help circulate heat, too.
How much noise can you tolerate? While some pellet stoves are louder than others, they're all louder than wood stoves. Some owners say their pellet stoves are too loud for them to watch television in the same room.
Can your home's other occupants handle hot surfaces? Small children and pets can be trained not to touch hot wood stoves, which radiate heat through the walls of the stove itself. However, if you have kids or pets in the house, you might be more comfortable with a pellet stove that distributes heat by convection, leaving it cooler to the touch.
Consider more than the maximum BTU rating. For wood stoves, heat output depends on the type of wood and how dry it is. Look for a manufacturer's stated average heat output over the whole burning cycle. Keep in mind that you may not always have the best firewood to burn. Note that manufacturers usually provide a figure for maximum BTUs per hour but, in practice, heat output is less than that for most of the burning cycle.
What kind of heat do you need? For quick radiant heat, look for a sheet steel stove, but be aware that the heat output will diminish as the fire burns down. For longer, steadier heat -- best if you burn wood all winter long -- look for a stove made of cast iron or, even better, soapstone or masonry. A cabinet-style wood stove works more by convection, which doesn't give as much radiant warmth but is safer around kids and pets or particularly flame-friendly locations, such as a woodworking shop.
Elsewhere in this report: