Give me your elevator pitch. What does this system do?
SmartStove makes wood heat easier, safer, and more efficient. It is an integrated control system that enables an existing wood stove to control itself without requiring user intervention once the firebox has been loaded and lit. This frees you to go about your life without being tied to monitoring and adjusting the stove.
How does SmartStove control the stove?
SmartStove balances the heat generated (via the draft control) with the heat extracted (via the heat exchange blower control) to produce a heat output that the user has selected using the wireless control panel. The user selects the setting and the stove is continuously optimized to achieve that goal. SmartStove operates the draft control using a small gear-driven servo motor.
So, this is something I can install in my old stove at home?
SmartStove is only available so far to individuals who have robust skills to retrofit their own existing stoves. You can go to to look at some SmartStove installations online.
However, it was really developed as a system to be installed in production stoves at the factory. SmartStove is designed to give wood stove manufacturers additional flexibility while working toward EPA certification. Currently, EPA regulations prohibit adjustments during a burn while the stove is being tested for EPA certification, but during the R&D process, SmartStove can make any needed adjustments intelligently, leading to new opportunities to tune the stove for cleaner combustion without physical modification of the stove itself.
So, how does SmartStove analyze the fire in order to make adjustments? Does it use thermocouples, oxygen sensors, or CO2 sensors?
SmartStove, from its inception, has been developed to be a low-cost control solution, so a thermocouple is the primary control input. However, the system is also configurable to operate based on context as well. That is, whether it is operating at the beginning of the fire, near the end of the fire, or whether the user has just added wood in the middle of a fire, and the level of heat output that the user has selected.
We're starting to see automation all over the housethermostats, security, lighting, HVAC, you name it. Do you see wood stove automation eventually integrating into these larger systems?
Yes. It is possible in the future that SmartStove capabilities could be extended and integrated into a larger home-automation environmentand even to be accessible from the cloud via Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth to a smartphone. It could even be used to compile an industry-wide database to assess field performance and usage, and to assist manufacturers as they work with the EPA to establish the best overall emissions standards that reflect real-world performance.
How did you become involved in the wood stove business?
I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and I love the energy independence of heating with wood. I became directly involved when I bought my first wood stove insert about 16 years ago. After a few years of heating with wood, I got frustrated because keeping a stove running 24/7 requires a great deal of commitment, which is hard for a busy family. It's like constant babysitting. I found that in order to keep the stove running right, I had to constantly make adjustments to the draft control and fan speed, then leave it at a compromised setting when going to bed. As the stove heats up, it is essential to get the draft control closed down gradually, and at just the right time: not too late so as to overheat the stove, yet not too soon so as to stifle the fire.
I am an electrical engineer, so I insist on having things running right. When I searched for an existing system in 2004 to manage my stove, I found that no such system existed. My only choice was to develop this myself, for my own needs. The resulting system exceeded my expectations and grew into the SmartStove system that is currently operating stoves in six U.S. states and in Canada.
What are you, personally, hoping to get out of this competition?
While wood stove manufacturers have expressed a great deal of curiosity in SmartStove technology, they have been reluctant to commit resources to introduce it in a commercial product. It is my hope that this event will lead to recognition of the value of automation technology, and an industry partnership that will lead to volume production.