Wood Stove and Wood Burning Fireplace Maintenance Tips

Frequently Asked Questions

How much of my home can my wood burning appliance heat?

This actually depends on a number of factors. Most importantly, is the size of your firebox. Your firebox is measured in cubic feet. The larger it is the more fuel you can burn and the more space you will be able to effectively heat. Also, the type of wood you burn, the amount of heat loss your home experiences, the quality of your windows & doors, the amount of sidewall & ceiling insulation, and even how big your rooms are all affect how well your wood burning appliance heats up the air around your house.

What type of wood should I burn?

The wood you burn can affect the performance and longevity of your wood burning appliance. Choosing the right type of wood can make all the difference in the amount of maintenance or service your fireplace, stove, or insert requires. It can even affect the heat efficiency and output. For top performance and minimal maintenance requirements, it’s best to use properly seasoned wood. The wood should be cut & split, then left to dry for a minimum of 6 months, with one year being optimal. Wood should be protected from rain & the elements while it is left to season, so make sure you have a good location to store firewood while it dries.

An extremely important fact to remember is to never burn wood that contains chemical that could harm your wood burning appliance, the environment, or you when it is burned. This includes painted wood, pressure treated wood, drift wood, particleboard, or wood containing nails or screws.

While you may burn either hard wood or soft wood, we recommend burning hard wood for higher heat output and longer lasting fires. Maple & oak are both great choices.

The type of wood you use will ultimately determine the heating value and how well your wood burning appliance heats surrounding air. Each type of wood has its own characteristics from aroma to amount of crackle, but all wood contains essentially the same amount of energy. The main difference between types of wood is density. You will get more heat from hard wood versus a lighter, soft wood. This also means that a cord of firewood that consists of mostly hard wood like hickory or oak will cost more than a cord of pine which is a soft wood.

Most firewood that you cut or purchase will not be adequately dried and may contain a lot of moisture. If you are unsure if the firewood you’ve purchased is suitable to burn, use a moisture reader, which is a hand-held device that can read the moisture content of wood. If it reads below 25%, the firewood is ready to be used in a fire.

Check out the following charts to find out which types of wood are good to use in your wood burning appliance. You should also consider how easily the wood will split, ignite & burn, and how much smoke it might produce.  It is helpful to know that “coaling” is the ability of the wood to turn into a bed of hot coal that will last throughout the fire. Hard wood generally has greater coaling qualities which will lead to hotter fires.

How much should I pay for a wood burning appliance?

Homeowners often hunt for the lowest price when it comes to making a large purchase. While finding a good deal on major appliances is always a plus, it’s important to remember that the performance and longevity of the product you purchase is just as important as the price you paid it for. The saying goes “It is unwise to pay too much, but it is worse to pay too little”- John Rusking.  Instead, you should look for a quality product that will deliver the expected performance at a price that is fair and affordable. Nothing is worse than purchasing a product that you thought was a great deal only for it to break down shortly after you bring it home. It’s better to look for quality construction that will last many years than it is to simply buy the cheapest product on the shelf.

Do wood stoves burn clean?

Recent Environmental Protection Agency regulations have put strict standards on how much pollution a wood burning appliance can produce. Smoke from a wood fire is often filled with particles & gases left over from the combustion process. Before these strict laws were mandated, an average wood burning stove created 70-80 grams of particle pollution per hour. Now, non-catalytic stoves must produce less than 7.4 grams of particle pollution per hour and catalytic stoves must produce less than 4 grams per hour.

Which is better: catalytic wood burning stove or non-catalytic wood burning stove?

In order to comply with EPA clean air standards, a special component called a re-burn system is required to be built into wood burning stoves in order to reduce particle pollution. There are two different types of re-burn systems, catalytic & non-catalytic.

In a catalytic wood stove, there is a combustor that is similar in appearance to a honeycomb. Smoke is routed through the combustor when the homeowner closes the damper. The extremely high temperatures in the combustor burn the by-products left in the smoke, leading to cleaner output. In general, a combustor will need to be cleaned annually and typically has a life of around 10,000 hours.

In a non-catalytic wood stove, a system of secondary air tubes located at the top of the firebox mix the smoke with hot air that burns away the left over by-products. There are a number of benefits with secondary air tubes. Firstly, they do not require any regular maintenance, and secondly, the re-burn system is automatic unlike a catalytic version where the damper must be engaged or disengaged at precisely the right time to function properly. The secondary burn tubes generally last 5+ years.

While both types burn cleanly and efficiently, non-catalytic stoves are typically known for their ease of operation. There is only one control necessary for this type of system. For more heat, simply increase the flow of air with the air controller. For less heat & longer burn times, reduce the air flow again with the air controller. In a catalytic stove, the damper must be engaged and disengaged manually. Homeowners must monitor the flue gas temperatures to determine the correct time to close/open the damper.

Are they any regulations regarding installation for my wood burning appliance?

Every wood burning fireplace, insert, or stove will come with an owner’s manual. The manual contains detailed instructions and even drawings or photos for proper clearance requirements and installation regulations. If the stove you purchase is an older model that is untested & unlisted, there is a list of default codes (NFPA 211) that must be followed for correct installation.

What is the difference between radiant heat & convection heat?

Convection heat involves a process where air is blown across a heating element. The air absorbs the heat and is then blown out to heat the air in a room. Convection heat will raise the ambient temperature in a room and everyone will enjoy the benefits of the warmth. On the other hand, radiant heat only heats nearby objects such as people or furniture in a room. It will not raise the ambient temperature in a room, so is better for smaller spaces.

How do I child-proof my wood burning stove or fireplace?

The best way to keep children and pets away from a burning fire is to install glass doors or to put up a fireplace screen. There are a number of beautiful mesh screens that will allow everyone to enjoy the view & beauty of a burning fire while keeping wandering hands out of harm’s way.

How do I keep the glass doors of my wood burning stove or fireplace clean?

The glass doors on your wood burning fireplace or stove may accumulate creosote deposits from the by-products of the combustion process. Creosote also forms in the flue of your chimney and is highly flammable, so proper maintenance is required. To prevent or reduce the amount of buildup, always burn dry/seasoned wood and build small but hot fires. Leaving the air control open will also help reduce deposits.

Also, always burn wood that has been properly seasoned & dried. Wet logs will actually cause more creosote buildup. Small but hot fires reduce the amount of creosote accumulation because they burn the contents of the fire more completely. Not only will this greatly reduce the amount of smoke and subsequent creosote buildup from forming, it also will provide more heat for your home.

Finally, to help prevent creosote from building up on your glass doors, burn your fires with the air control open.  The air will keep the smoke away from the glass, therefore preventing deposits from forming.

Creosote deposits have already formed on my glass doors, now what do I do?

Once the glass doors are completely cooled down, wipe the inside of the glass with paper towels or newspaper to remove any powdery material. If the buildup is sticky like tar, burn a hot fire for several hours with completely dry, seasoned wood. The hot fire should be enough to burn off the deposits. Many of our member stores carry a specialty glass cleaner which is perfect for removing those stubborn deposits. Another tried-and-true method for cleaning wood burning appliance glass doors is to dip a damp wad of newspaper into wood ashes and then scrubbing the glass with it to remove any tough deposits. Next, wipe the glass clean with a clean, damp newspaper.

Can my wood burning fireplace be converted into a gas fireplace?

Yes. Gas logs, fireplace inserts, and even gas stoves can be used to convert a wood burning fireplace into a gas unit. You simply need a source of gas or propane & proper venting in order to complete the conversion. Typically, we will need to evaluate the fireplace to determine the best options. A visit to our show room will show you the various options for converting a wood fireplace to a gas appliance. Also, this requires expert knowledge and qualified installers to ensure that the new system is safe and working properly.

Can my wood burning stove be converted into a gas stove?

No, wood stoves can never be converted into a gas system. This is extremely dangerous. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to convert a wood burning stove over to a gas unit.

Why am I experiencing chimney drafting problems?

If you notice that smoke is entering your house instead of escaping up and out of the chimney, your chimney is not drafting properly. This is actually a very complicated topic since there are a number of potential causes.

First, wood burning stoves & fireplaces must be installed properly to ensure they are safe and up to code. Unfortunately this doesn’t always mean that they will perform as they should. The correct size chimney is crucial to the performance of your wood burning appliance. More importantly, the firebox & the flue must be the correct ratio for proper chimney drafting to occur. For wood burning stoves, a six inch diameter chimney flue is typically necessary. Most manufactured zero clearance wood burning fireplaces will require an eight inch chimney.

Also, the design of your chimney can play a role in poor chimney drafting. Smoke needs to travel straight up. Every elbow or offset creates a point of resistance that can cause drafting problems. The chimney should be constructed as straight as possible.

Chimneys that are constructed the outside of a home tend to be very cold. This means it will take considerably more heat to warm up the flue enough to create a good draft.  If you plan on installing a prefabricated metal chimney on the outside of your home, make sure to enclose it in an insulated chase to help prevent chimney drafting issues.

Another common problem that causes drafting issues is negative air pressure. This is especially true for newer homes. As homes have been built tighter in recent years, there is less air to replace the air that is used in the combustion process. Basements are known to have considerable negative air pressure problems. Kitchen fans, clothing dryers, and even exhaust fans remove air from your home and can cause your fireplace or stove not to draft properly.

Some other external factors include roof design, trees in close proximity to your chimney, excessive wind patterns, and even the location of your home. Since there are so many factors involved in chimney drafting, the best way to diagnose the problem is to hire a professional chimney sweep. They can quickly identify potential problems and offer the best possible options for correction or repair.

How can I prevent smoke from entering the room when I open my wood burning stove door?

You can reduce the chance of smoke entering your room by slowly opening the door. It’s best to crack the door at first, then wait a few seconds before opening the door the rest of the way.

How often does my chimney and wood burning appliance need to be cleaned?

The National Fire Protection Agency recommends having a cleaning performed annual. It’s also a good idea to have an inspection to help identify potential problems.


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