Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Review of Mini CT Wood Stove



So I've had my wood stove installed for over two months now. And I promised a full review. Here are my thoughts. 

The short version? I love my mini Grey wood stove! Had I known then what I know now, I would have put a wood stove in here from day one. But for some more details...

I am liking heating with wood for several reasons. Roughly in order of importance to me, those would include that burning wood produces a very dry heat. This is a very big deal in a small well insulated space and cold climate which tend to combine to create a lot of condensation leading to mold. Secondly, that I have access to nearly unlimited firewood for free as long as I am willing to put in some work. I like the work and I like not buying as much propane. And lastly, that a wood stove produces radiant heat, warming the floor, walls, couch, table, my perennially cold feet, etc. Unlike my propane heater which produces warm air and always tends to leave objects cool to the touch when it's cold outside. 

These are the main reasons I chose to add a wood stove to my house. I'd thought about doing so when I first moved in, but decided it wasn't worth the space I would have to devote to a wood stove. I was wrong, it is totally worth it! For me. 


Now, I have a few specific things going on that you should be aware of before you conclude that I think every tiny house needs a wood stove even if you happen to live in the tropics or something. My house is built very tightly and is well insulated with spray foam. No heat recovery air exchange was installed when it was built. Something I only learned about more recently and that I would install were I building today. You may have a very well built house without it being sealed as tightly as mine. I live in the northern mountains. It's cold here a lot of the year. Like around freezing at night for most of the summer and -30 F. or more in the winter. You may, and most people do, live somewhere much warmer. I cook a lot and like to have people over for dinner or even to spend the night. In a tightly sealed space, both of these things produce a lot of moisture. If there are fewer people breathing and thus exhaling moisture inside your house, or if you don't cook by simmering things for hours, you will have much less of this. I live off grid, so I happen to be closer to many cords of good firewood than I am to a good electrical connection. You may be far from dead trees and within an extension cord length of plugging into the grid. If your situation differs from mine in any of these areas, just be aware that installing a wood stove may not be as amazing for you as it is for me.


Having my wood stove had totally solved my condensation issues. Completely. All my window frames had been damp to the touch since at least November sometime. Sometimes damp out 3-4 inches from the glass in all directions. And sometimes with huge ice deposits building up on the glass it's self. This despite my concerted effort to ventilate the house with windows and fans any time I knew I was producing more moisture than normal, wipe up moisture several times a day, and leaving one loft window open a crack round the clock to facilitate air movement. At times it felt like all I did when I was home was try to manage moisture. I did successfully keep mold in check this winter by keeping a Borax paste permanently soaked into the wood all around the windows, but that was still something I had to regularly check up on and touch up.

You can see in the above photo, the only little tiny corner of moisture left. That was about 12 hours after the first time I lit my stove up. The only time since that I have seen any at all? While actually cooking and thus creating a lot of steam. But now, even when I do that and run no fan or make any effort at all to get the moisture out, it's gone within minutes of when I stop making more. Like once I put a lid on a kettle. Or turn the burner off. Everything around the window frames is amazingly dry. This alone would make the wood stove worth every inch of space it requires!


And my place is warm. Any time the wood stove is burning. There are still times when I'm gone, usually at work or sleeping, and it goes out. But because the wood stove got everything warm, the walls, floor, furniture, etc, it takes quite a while to cool down even after it's totally out, compared to how long it took when it was just heated by warm air. That air would cool off super quick and none of the objects were ever really warm. But now my house is often 80 or more degrees inside and everything is warm to the touch. I love this and my perennially cold feet really love it. All this is with outside temps in the teens.

This means I can open a window or six just to keep the temps inside from being too hot for comfort. This also happens to give me some great ventilation and air exchange.  Picture watching a movie while curled up on the couch with your feet toasty by the fire and a nice fresh breeze coming in an open window by your head. Very nice.


Also, I do still need my propane heater. Because it's so cold here for much of the year, I have to have something that is going to keep the house from freezing when I am gone or asleep long enough for the stove to burn out. So having a thermostat controlled heater is still essential for me. I don't use it much since having the wood stove, and as you can see above, I leave it set in the 50's, but I wouldn't want to be without it. 


I also bought a new CO/propane detector a little bit ago. The one that came with my house has been glitchy from day one. As in going off for no reason when it's the middle of summer and the whole house it open and similar stuff. And with two propane heaters, a propane stove and oven, and now a wood stove, I think having a good one is essential. This particular model was recommended to me by another tiny house friend (thanks Alex!) and I like it a lot. Instead of just sounding an alarm or saying nothing, it gives you a reading from 0-100. Above 50, you are supposed to take action. I can see it rise and fall in the low range (10's and 20's) when I light up my wood stove or am cooking. It has never reached a dangerous level once. 


As far as this particular stove, I am pleased with my decision to go with Grey Stove Works. I think Lloyd built a quality product. It is very solid and seems from my limited knowledge, well constructed. It is heavy, about 120 pounds, but I can lift it if I need to. I like the size. It's small enough to fit in without taking up too much space. And big enough to burn and radiate heat for quite a while. Installation was very easy. 3 inch pellet pipe was not stocked by any of my local stores, but simple to order online.

The stove is easy to light if you know how to stack a fire. You can see the criss cross stack I built above to allow plenty of air circulation. I use what would be kindling sized chunks of wood in most stoves. And if I cut them to about 7-8 inches in length, they are pretty easy to stack in the stove. Due to it's small size, if you stuff it full soon after lighting, leaving little air circulation, it will not burn well. Once you have a good hot bed of coals however, it doesn't seem to matter how much you stack in there.

I do live in the mountain west. I have soft woods to burn, with beetle kill pine and aspen being to two most prevalent on the property where I live. So these burn times I am describing are all with soft woods. If you have access to good hardwoods, I'd expect burn times to be longer than what I get.


I get anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 4 hours of active burn time. The variation is mostly based on the difference between lighting it up as a cold stove, filling it once, and leaving. Versus having had it burning for a while, with the whole thing hot, a solid bed of coals in the bottom, and then stacking it full and leaving. Now that is active burning I am talking about. Like seeing flames dance kind of burning. The longest it's gone between putting wood in and still finding some hot coals is about 12 hours. It's pretty easy for me to stack it full when I head to bed around midnight or later (I've always been a night owl naturally) and wake up with enough coals for it to restart when I add new wood.

Due to just how warm this little stove keeps the house, I am glad for my partial loft wall. If I was to build over with a wood stove from the start (and were I building again, I certainly would have a wood stove), I'd choose to wall off my sleeping loft entirely and have some kind of pocket door leading into it. I sleep best in cool temps and since heat rises, I like being able to block it out of my sleeping area. I don't mind it being close to 90 F. downstairs when I am just curled up and reading late at night, but I do not want to try to sleep in those temps. For now, I've hung a curtain across the open top of my steps, and it does a good job of blocking the majority of the heat that would otherwise flow around my partial wall. Maybe I'll actually add a door or something more permanent at some point, we'll see.


Depending on outside temps overnight and how long I sleep, when I go to bed with the downstairs in the 80's, I wake up to a house that is between 55 and 70. This is fine with me. You restart or reload the fire, and it warms back up fast if it need to.

Speaking of fast, my whole house can go from 55 to mid 70's in about 45 minutes when I come home from work and fire up the wood stove. I don't know of many other heaters in other homes that can warm the whole house up 20 degrees in less than an hour! My propane heater certainly can not do this.


Immediately after lighting a new fire, you can see smoke from the chimney like these two photos. Shortly after lighting though, it burns clean with no, or almost no smoke at all. As long as you keep it burning hot, it does not smoke. If you try to damp it down, it will go back to smoking.



This is pretty normal for most of the time. No visible smoke rising at all.


Thanks to the flat top, you can cook on the Mini CT. I fried up bacon and eggs for breakfast one morning. And even simmered a pot of soup for dinner. I still plan to use my propane stove most of the time just for convenience, but since I live off grid, it is certainly nice to have this as an option.



 I have not found the stove to be in the way at all nor is bumping into it an issue. There is plenty of space to move around and the stove is set far enough back to make hitting it accidentally unlikely.



I really like the way the stove looks and how cozy it make my house seem. Before going to bed, I enjoy laying on a cushion on the floor and just zoning out while staring at the flames dancing in my stove. A very peaceful way to unwind.


And that glow! It's just so inviting.

I hope this info is helpful for those of you looking at putting a wood stove in your tiny house in general and those looking at a Mini CT Grey stove in particular. Please let me know if there is anything I missed describing or if you have any other questions.




21 comments:

  1. There's nothing like a good fire going when it's cold outside! And, the aroma is sooo calming! I dislike it when they change regular fireplaces to gas on the TV shows.
    I just started following you when I noticed your blog looking for states that allow THOW off-grid as it is a dream of mine. Although it's quite a bit colder than I'd like, it sure is beautiful! I've never been to WY but it's now on my bucket list of places to see. I'm more of a mountain person than beachy. Keep living the good life and I'll live through you. Say high to your furbabies for me!

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  2. I remember telling you the wood stove was going to eliminate your moisture problem. Really glad it's working and you got a quality stove. Learning to control the heat level is always tricky. Burning hot to freezing cold is never fun.

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    1. It's not that hard. Opening a window for some fresh air is pretty nice in the winter!

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  3. Thank you! Can you tell us a little about cleaning out the stove? Is it easy to do, what tools do you use? I understand this kind of stove does not have a removable ash pan, is that accurate? Thanks again for all the great, real life information.

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    1. I know you already saw this, but for anyone else wondering, here you go.

      http://fynyth.blogspot.com/2016/04/cleaning-lighting-fy-nyths-wood-stove.html

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  4. I've often wondered about that particular stove. I heat 400 sq ft with an old potbellied stove, using pallet wood that is abundant here. But - I'm in Florida and the cold fronts are just that, a slow moving front that lasts only a few days or a week at most. I love the dryness and radiance of using wood heat also. Frequently, I burn with the door open to watch the flames. Thanks for the review .. ..

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  5. Great informative post. Looks so cozy and inviting and I love to fall asleep by a fire. I'm not good company around a campfire because the sounds, the warmth and the dancing flames have a hypnotic affect on me and I fall asleep.

    We have been looking at this particular stove for our THOW and your review really helped, thank you.

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    1. Wonderful! That's always my hope when I write, that it is helpful to someone.

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  6. Great post, thank for all the detailed insight. Its great to get a such a long-term practicallity check on such an important feature.

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  7. can you tell me the installation clearances for stove. I have looked over their web site and can not find any information.

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  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. I received the answer to the clearance question from the maker of the stove it is 8" without shielding, and 1" with shielding. I have stolen you cupboard idea for my cabin. Very nice blog, thanks for all the good information.

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    1. I'm sorry. I do try to reply to all comments, but it is not always in a timely manner. I'm glad you got your answer. Enjoy your new stove if you are installing one!

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  10. Hi Fy if you never want to open a window check out the Lunos ego vent with heat recovery. It takes up very little room and very low power. The unit goes right thru the wall.
    Hope this can help someone. Jim Nestor

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    1. If I were building right now, I would install a heat recovery vent. I think they are a great option.

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  11. Wonderful feedback and photos. What are the dimensions of your home? I'd like to position a wood burning stove where I can see it from my sofa/couch bed.

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    1. My house, on the outside is 8'6'' wide and 24 feet long.

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  12. Does anyone know how to get ahold of Gray Stove Works (makers of the Mini Ct Wood Stove)? I tried facebook, email and calling them. I am having a very difficult time getting a response and I paid and ordered one of these stoves in March 2016. The turn around was supposed to be around 6 weeks. It's been over 4 months.

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    1. I'm sorry I don't know why I'm only seeing this comment now. And I don't know how to contact them. They seem to have gone completely offline. I don't know what has happened with the company. I hope in the last year you were able to get your stove!

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  13. Curious about the chimney outside. (From another post) it looks like it sticks out quite a bit. As someone who will be on the road a lot, width of the house is a concern. Any suggestions? I'd love to have a wood stove, just not sure about the logistics.

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    1. It does stick out too far for road travel. But if I need to move, I can just pull the chimney sections on the outside apart and off, and then just reassemble once I am parked again.

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