For all its quaintness, Santa Fe has some chinks in its charming armor.

Oh sure, that 550-square-foot, 200-year-old adobe casita you live in is chock full of character. The floors feature the familiar glow of ancient-looking orange tile. Vigas wheel across the ceiling like wooden baking pins. The walls are full of nichos; you like to fantasize that some mystical old abuela stored her votive candles in them. It's cute.

Too bad it's so damn cold.

Sure, adobe does its part to insulate and keep the hot side hot, but when the winter temps plummet south of double digits, there's no blocking the icy drafts that sweep under doors and through ill-fitting window frames.

You'd crank the heat, but the electricity needed to juice your baseboard heaters costs more than a Sarah Palin shopping spree. Your gas furnace is so expensive, it might as well be running on liquid gold. What do you do?

Burn, baby, burn.

Burn wood, that is. That's right—you buy your self a good old-fashioned, wood-burning stove. Well, kind of old-fashioned. The truth is, the wood-burning stoves available today aren't much different in theory from those of yore. They are one of the most efficient, aesthetic and—yep—cheap ways to heat a room.

If you're thinking of doing so, you're not alone. According to General Manager Rick Bastine of Premier Home Products (formerly Primetime Spas, Pools, Patios & Stoves), sales have "increased tremendously." Last year, Bastine says, folks began ordering wood-burning stoves in October. This year, due to the struggling economy and high cost of fuels, orders began in July.

Bastine knows his stuff and, if you speak with him for more than a minute, you'll quickly realize there's more to these things than metal, logs and a chimney. Wood-burning stoves are an investment—of both research and money—on the front end. First, you need to decide if you want a stove that burns wood pellets or cord wood. Wood pellets are small nubs of compacted sawdust and other wood-waste material, approximately the size and shape of a couple of PEZ candies stuck together. While maybe less traditionally quaint than a roaring wood fire, wood-pellet fires have a lot of pluses: Pellets are considered biomass—by-products that can be reused without having to waste nonrenewable fuels like natural gas or coal. Compared to cord wood, wood pellets also release the least amount of pollutants. Smoke from solid wood carries ash and larger particulates that tend to get caught up in heavy wintertime atmosphere, sometimes leading to increased instances of asthma and other ailments.

Wood-pellet by-products, however, are so minimal that the US Environmental Protection Agency doesn't even monitor them. Wood pellets come in two types, by the way: standard, which is cheaper but burns quicker and premium, which is pricier but burns slower and cleaner, thus giving off the least amount of by-products of all.

Bastine notes, however, that many new solid wood stoves feature a second air chamber, or even catalytic converters, "so unburned particles reignite." Both the chamber and the converter "allow for a much more complete burning of fuel," Bastine says, thereby greatly reducing pollutants.

Both solid wood and pellets will save you money on your heating bills. According to Consumer Reports, the US Department of Energy estimates it costs $14.39 to produce a million BTUs of heat with pellets and around $16 with wood. Both are much cheaper than natural gas, oil, propane and electric heating methods, which can range from $19 to around $40 per million BTUs.

Speaking of BTUs, you'll need approximately 25-30 BTUs per hour to heat a square foot of space. So bust out the tape measure and a calculator.

There are other factors too: Will your stove be the primary source of heat? How well insulated is your house? How high are the ceilings? What type of wood are you planning on using? Do you want the heat from your stove to circulate throughout the house or in just one room? Make as specific a list as you can of what you want so you can start looking at what's in your price range.

Ah, yes, price range. That's where it gets tough. Stove prices vary according to make, model, size and bling factor (did you know you can get gold handles?), of course, but you're looking at an expenditure of $1,000 to $3,000. From there, the chimney might rock you for another several hundred, and then installation averages between $600 and $800.

You might be tempted to cheap out and hire a non-certified installer. Don't. "Someone might say, 'Oh, I'll get you your chimney and install it for $250,'" Bastine says. "Well, I'd question that. You get what you pay for."
But all that is down the road. If you take one tack in your quest for heat, it should be: Educate yourself. Check out, US Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration site and the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. And remember, if you print the FAQ page, you can use it later to light the first fire in your new stove.

Santa Fe has several places where you can buy a wood-burning stove. No matter where you buy one, make sure to ask for a list of certified installers (most dealers will have them).

Big Jo True Value Hardware
1311 Siler Road

The Firebird
1808 Espinacitas St.

Pool and Spa Mart
3985 Cerrillos Road

Premier Home Products
513 Camino de los Marquez