Today’s wood stoves can complement almost any décor -- even that of a modern condo.

­iStockphoto/Dave Raboin

­What says, "This feels like home" to you? For many people, it's the image of a roaring fire. The glow of the dancing flames represents the perfect combination of tradition, beauty and coziness. It doesn't matter how many strides the home heating industry has made; few families want to gather around the furnace to open their Christmas stockings.

However, fireplaces are notoriously inefficient -- many of them actually make the rest of the house colder [source: EPA]. If you're concerned about heating bills or energy efficiency, you may have resigned yourself to the idea that the fireplace is only for special occasions.

A wood stove may be a fantastic solution. Wood stoves have evolved quite a bit from their potbellied ancestors. Today's wood stoves are clean and efficient, and ha­ve several environmental arguments on their side:

  • They use cheap, renewable local fuel.
  • They do not rely on petroleum.
  • They produce far less pollution than a fireplace (although even a certified wood stove produces higher emissions than a natural gas stove). [source: EPA]

­However, a wood stove is only as efficient as its installation. A proper installation considers the house's heating requirements and uses the natural movement of heat and air to get the most from the stove. A careless installation, on the other hand, might mean that your wood stove is no better than a fireplace.

This article answers all your burning questions about wood stoves: how to install them, how to put in a stovepipe and how to protect against house fires and other dangers.