Our Vermont Castings Vigilant was installed October 2012 and we put in a solid winter of heating with it.
It occurred to me that the installation was rather difficult, not because of any construction or fabrication complexity, but rather because information on the topic was hard to find. For that reason, I wanted to share with you how I went about our installation.
One of the better resources I used was the Hearth Forum. On the message boards at that site, I was able to locate and download the original user manual and installation manual for the Vigilant. The manual did not immediately address my unique situation, however. My uncle probably had the best advice at this juncture, paraphrased “You’re an intelligent person. Research it to the best of your ability and then just do it. Try it out. Don’t worry about explaining to a home owners insurance inspector.”
That was all I needed to hear, because I was suffering from analysis paralysis. I’ve drawn a picture to show what my unique situation looked like:
As you can see, we were starting with a chimney that contained a fireplace insert and had a 10″ stainless steel flue liner. I removed the insert and wanted to install the wood stove.
Option A was what I considered the traditional setup, with the stovepipe exiting the stove vertically. That is how my dad had ours set up. This installation would have required drilling out some of the brick, installing a clay thimble (absolutely no one I talked to confirmed that these things even exist anymore) and then putting a damper below the spot in the existing chimney where the thimble connected. I had no idea how I was going to connect the clay thimble (or even a stovepipe instead) to the liner in the chimney because it would have been near impossible to reach inside there.
Option B seemed easier and would also leave the attractive brick chimney intact. A reducer was needed to connect the 8″ stovepipe from the stove to the 10″ chimney liner. This also required that we shift the stove’s pipe exit to the horizontal position. The main problem was this: the stove was too tall. The exit pipe was taller than the fireplace opening. I fixed this by purchasing some shorter legs for the stove and also by redesigning the hearth pad to minimum thickness.
The original plan for the hearth pad was to use the 3’x5′ Durock cement board set on some furring strips and then make a brick base to match the color of the existing chimney and also match the height of the lip in front of the chimney. Instead, I started with the same cement board and furring strips, but laid some nice looking slate tiles down that were only 1/2″ thick. Because I was using shorter legs on the stove I also constructed my own heat shield to sit under the stove using some 24 gauge sheet steel found at Lowes. Now you can put your hand on the slate directly underneath the stove when you’ve got a rip roaring fire going.
Even with this shorter hearth pad and shorter legs on the stove, the exit pipe still had a slight downward slope. I was worried about that, because I’ve never seen smoke flow downhill. Another chat with my uncle about this brought my confidence back. Get those pipes hot, creating plenty of draft, and that exit pipe will never be a problem. He was right.
That doesn’t mean we never experienced problems. Ha! Boy did we have problems! Thanksgiving 2012 was very windy and we had a house full of family. The wind came from a direction where it seemed to blow directly down our chimney, filling the house with smoke. That made for a rather stressful day and would have been fine if it was a one time occurrence. My quick remedy was to fill the stove with paper and small sticks to make an intense fire and get things really hot. That definitely worked, but didn’t solve the problems at night when you shut the dampers. Unfortunately this happened many times before I was able to fix the problem by treating the source rather than the symptoms. Dismayed at the prices of these fancy stainless steel wind proof chimney caps, I decided to make my own by tying some scrap sheet metal to my existing chimney cap with tie wire. That, combined with filling any and all seams on the stovepipes with furnace cement meant that we didn’t have any more trouble with smoke in the house.
In conclusion, I must say I’m very happy with this stove. We only spent a couple hundred dollars on propane heating our home last winter, where our neighbors spent thousands. Gathering firewood is a lot of work, but to me is enjoyable and part of what I call my country boy’s gym membership. Most of the wood I have is found free by cleaning up neighboring properties.