Pros: Looks great
Cons: Burns relatively hot even with air intake fully closed
Wood-burning stoves have come a long way since the days of those smoky, inefficient cast-iron and barrel stoves.
The Drolet Savannah has an efficiency rating of 85% and is EPA certified for having very low emissions of 6.3g per hour.
Let me put this in very simple terms: A bunch of firewood that you can carry at once, is enough to make a 1500 square feet living area cozy warm for an entire evening, and you’re not stinking up the neighborhood either– if used properly.
How is this possible? The trick is slow but complete combustion while extracting as much heat as possible. While your grandmother’s wood stove would send the exhaust gases straight up the chimney, and with them most of the heat, the Drolet Savannah works differently. When you look inside the fire chamber, you can see there is no direct way out to the stove pipe opening on top. Exhaust gases have to go around a thick double-walled steel plate on top of the fire chamber. In addition, this double-walled steel plate has many small holes through which fresh air is supplied- on top of the fire. This additional oxygen supply is key to complete combustion, and it also makes for spectacular visual effects- the fire is not only burning from bottom up, but the entire fire box is filled with flames. It really looks like on the picture. No doubt, the 22” wide window makes an awesome view and I yet have to meet anyone who would not be mesmerized by the view of burning flames.
This fresh air supply on top of the fire has another effect: It keeps the window clean by avoiding soot to build up on the glass. Drolet calls this ‘Glass air wash system’. In my experience it does work, and the glass will stay clean for about two weeks of continued use, but eventually it will get black, starting on the bottom corners, and you will have to clean it at some point if you want to maintain a clear view to the flames.
In the 1500 sqft heating area range, you can find stoves starting from around 700 up to over a 1000 dollars. The main differences will be EPA certification, efficiency, burn time, BTU heat output and looks. At a price point of around $700, EPA certified, 55,000 BTU’s and an appealing design, I consider this wood stove a bargain.
Installation and Setup
I won’t go into all the details at this point, but let me just say that installing a wood burning stove in your living room is no small project. Even though the stove comes complete with a pedestal, it needs to be installed on a non-combustible surface, such as rock or tile. Of course, a stove also needs a flue and chimney. Overall, I spent about as much in materials for these as for the stove itself. Once the hearth pad (the non-combustible surface) is complete and the chimney installed, the rest is straightforward. The Drolet Savannah comes fully assembled, and the only challenge is its weight: at 270 pounds, it takes two strong guys to move it in place.
Replacing an existing (old) wood burning stove would be much more simple.
The Savannah’s ‘user interface’ really consists of four things: The door, the adjustable air inlet, the blower and the ash drawer. Let’s take them one at a time.
Needless to say, the door, like the entire stove, get very hot. That’s the point of a stove. In fact the stove can get so hot on the outside that a pot with water stood on top will boil within few minutes. The golden door handle is one of the two small parts that don’t get hot. It gets warm but you can always touch it. When opening the door to replenish the wood supply, it is almost impossible to do so without letting some smoke out. The manual advises to first fully open the air intake for a couple of minutes to accelerate the draught before opening the door- but I have not been successful in doing so. Instead, our practice is to wait until a charge is completely burned up and there are only embers left, before opening the door to put in new wood. Still, a bit of smoke always comes out.
Speaking of replenishing wood, and opening the door- this is where the ‘ash lip’ comes in very handy. You can see this on the picture, there is a ~2 inch wide metal ‘lip’ under the door. This makes a lot of sense, as some ashes tend to fall out when opening the door- especially when you let ashes accumulate a bit before cleaning out the stove.
The adjustable air inlet, operated via a metal rod sticking out directly under the fire chamber is the second thing that doesn’t get hot and can actually be touched. It is also the only means of actually controlling the fire and temperature once the wood is in and the door is closed. Pulling the rod out means more fresh air in, more fire, more heat. Pushing it in means slower combustion and lower temperature (but still very hot!). The proper way of operating the stove is to open the air inlet fully when igniting the fire, leaving it open for a couple of minutes until the fire is completely established, and then gradually closing it. Once the fire is really going, the air inlet can be pushed in completely to slow down combustion. In my experience, I wish it could be closed down even more. When the fire is in full swing, the stove gets very hot, which is nice, but when operating it overnight I’d love to slow it down even more. Like it is, I can load it up before going to bed, and the next morning there will be just enough embers left to directly put the new wood on top without the need of making a new fire. And the stove is still warm to hot the next morning.
The Drolet Savannah also comes with an electric blower on the back side. This blower does not actually supply fresh air into the combustion chamber, but it runs air over the (very hot) back side of the stove, through a ~2 inch gap between the back side and a steel plate on the back, with hot air exiting over the top of the stove. Turning on the blower significantly increases the room temperature. The blower can be adjusted via a knob on the back. On lowest setting, it is not entirely quiet but not noisy either; somewhat noticeable in the room but not as loud as a regular forced-air furnace, for example.
It is entirely possible to use the stove without blower. In fact, we use it without blower for most of the time. Except sometimes in the morning, when making a new fire and we want the house to heat up quickly.
The pedestal on which the stove stands has an integrated ash drawer. This is very handy. Inside the fire chamber there is a small steel plate on the bottom. This steel plate can be removed (but only when the stove is cool!) and ashes can be swiped into the hole, falling directly into the ash drawer. This is very handy and eliminates the need of shoveling ashes into a bucket. However, it can only be done when the fire is completely out and the stove is cool. It is remarkable how low the overall ash production is. In continued use, and I mean 24/7, I find it necessary to clean out the stove about once a week.
Wood is a renewable energy source, and burning wood is carbon-neutral. During its life, a tree will absorb as much carbon as it will produce when burning the wood. Heating with wood, in a highly efficient and low-emission wood stove like the Drolet Savannah can be a very efficient and economical way to heat your home, and it will work with or without electricity- you won’t find yourself freezing during a power outage with a wood stove. Most importantly, the Drolet Savannah looks awesome. Nothing comes close to the real thing, and the Savannah gives you a full view of spectacular flames, and it has more than adequate heating capacity for a 1500 sqft living area.
At around $700, this is a very good wood stove. I recommend it.