A wood burning stove can bring warmth and ambience to a home, while providing an effective source of heat. Today’s models are made from steel, cast iron and soapstone, and provide up to 80,000 BTUs of heat, which can warm a 2,000-square-foot home. Plus, they produce less smoke, minimal ash and require less firewood to keep you cozy than earlier models.
Wood-burning stoves are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as they create carbon monoxide, a deadly toxin. The EPA regularly tests wood stoves to ensure they are producing no more than 2 grams to 2.5 grams per hour, depending on the type of wood. Catalytic wood stoves produce fewer exhaust fumes and burn more efficiently than noncatalytic; noncatalytic stoves are less expensive but not as efficient.
The resurgence of the wood-burning stove as a supplementary heat source has led to an increase in fires, according to the Insurance Information Institute, most due to improper installation or incorrect use. It’s important to understand how to properly select a stove, install it, use it and maintain it to ensure maximum efficiency and safety.
Selecting a Stove
Always look for stoves listed by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or other recognized testing labs. The size of the stove is critical — one too small will not adequately heat the space and a stove too large for the space is a potential fire hazard. Manufacturers offer similar advice on determining the correct size for the space:
- Small will heat from 600 to 1,000 square feet.
- Medium will heat from 800 to 2,000 square feet.
- Large will heat from 800 to 3,000 square feet.
However, square footage is not the only consideration. The quality of your home’s insulation, number and quality of windows, walls vs. open space, plus the ceiling height play a role in determining the size of stove and BTU’s required to adequately heat the space.
Placement and Installation
Make sure there is sufficient clearance between the stove and combustible materials including floors, walls and ceilings. National Fire Protection Association standards require a 36-inch clearance between a room heater stove and any combustible wall or ceiling surface. The stove should sit on a noncombustible, fire-resistant base and be properly vented, in other words the vent should not pass through walls, floors or other obstructions but rather exit into a chimney flue. Do not share a flue or chimney with another appliance burning other fuels.
Regular cleaning should include disposing of ashes when cooled and using a wire brush to clean the wood stove of creosote and soot to prevent build up that could cause a fire. Also be sure to schedule annual inspections for the stove and chimney. It’s best to leave flue cleanings to a professional. Damaging the chimney lining can be costly and hazardous.
Use the Right Fuel
Never burn treated construction wood as it may contain toxins. Pressure treated wood sold before January 2004 was treated with chromated copper arsenate (CCA), which contains arsenic. Old fence posts, sill plates, landscape timbers, pilings and decking are examples of chemically treated wood. Also never burn plastic and garbage as they too can release toxic fumes, plus flames from trash can cause a chimney fire.
Dry and seasoned wood — wood that is thoroughly dried six months to a year — provides better heat value and produces less creosote. Think apple, red oak, sugar maple and beech. KCL