Wood smoke is waste. Any smoke that escapes from your wood stove unburned is wasted fuel that will stick in your chimney as creosote or be released as air pollution. An old or poorly installed wood stove can result in higher maintenance costs, greater risk of smoke in your home, and more environmental pollution. It could cause a house fire.
Properly installed EPA certified wood stove and fireplace inserts offer many benefits. They burn wood efficiently, more safely, and heat your home effectively with much less smoke. With EPA certified wood stoves and fireplace inserts, you should see only a thin wisp of steam coming from your chimney.
Installation Affects Efficiency
EPA recommends that your certified wood stove or fireplace insert be professionally installed by a certified technician to insure its safety and proper performance. The safety of your home and family depends on fully understanding and carrying out the critical manufacturer and building code requirements that include:
Proper clearances between the stove and venting system and combustible materials.
Proper protection of combustible floors.
Proper assembly of appliance and venting components.
Errors in installation (by a non-professional) may not be visible, and problems may not be apparent for a considerable length of time—and then only by a resulting home fire.
Furthermore, experienced professionals can properly size and place equipment for best heat distribution. The venting system (or chimney), in particular, is a critical area that requires professional involvement. This is the “engine” that drives the whole burning process—or causes it to perform poorly or fail. Professional decisions about the venting system to ensure adequate draft include:
Proper sizing (particularly avoiding oversized flues).
Proper height (often taller than minimum code requirements).
Proper location (interior of the house when possible) or protection from extreme cold.
Proper configuration (avoiding excessive horizontal runs and system turns in direction).
An EPA certified wood burning stove that is sized and placed properly with a venting system that delivers adequate draft will reduce wood consumption, produce more usable heat, and reduce maintenance from inefficient fires. To learn more about chimneys and venting systems, visit The Wood Heat Organization.
One of the best ways to find competent installation professionals is to check their credentials. A source for hearth system planners and installers is the National Fireplace Institute® (NFI). NFI is a non-profit certification agency that conducts nationwide education and testing of hearth professionals. To learn more about NFI and to locate an NFI Wood Burning Specialist, visit The National Fireplace Institute.
Practical Tips for Building a Fire.
Once your certified stove is properly installed, building an effective fire requires good firewood (using the right wood in the right amount) and good fire building practices. The following practical steps will help you obtain the best efficiency from your wood stove.
Season wood outdoors through the hot, dry summer for at least 6 months before burning it. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground with the top covered.
Burn only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly.
Start fires with clean newspaper and dry kindling.
Burn hot, bright fires.
Let the fire burn down to coals, then rake the coals toward the air inlet (and wood stove door), creating a mound. Do not spread the coals flat.
Reload your wood stove by adding at least three pieces of wood each time, on and behind the mound of hot coals. Avoid adding one log at a time.
Use smaller fires in milder weather.
Regularly remove ashes from the wood stove into a metal container with a cover and store outdoors.
Money Saving TipsLook into getting your name on a list with local tree cutters who will drop wood at your home. This saves them from traveling to the landfill and paying dumping fees. It also reduces landfill dumping. Plus, you’ll end up with some free firewood.
You can reduce overall heating needs and heating bills by improving the insulation in your home; caulking around windows, doors, and pipes to seal air gaps; and adding weather-stripping to doors and windows. EPA's ENERGY STAR Home Improvement provides information on home sealing.
Using Your Wood Stove Safely
You should never smell smoke in your home; smoke is unhealthy to breathe. The odor of smoke in your home indicates that your wood stove is not operating efficiently or safely. An EPA certified wood stove burns wood efficiently, releasing 60 to 80% less smoke up the chimney.
Safety Begins at InstallationUsing a wood stove safely starts with proper installation. EPA recommends using a certified professional installer as the best way to ensure correct, safe installation. A properly installed wood stove always has a vent to the exterior.
Because an EPA certified wood stove burns more efficiently than older non-certified models, much less creosote builds up in the chimney. Creosote is a combustible residue formed by wood gases that are not completely burned. Too much creosote can lead to a chimney fire. In 1998, there were 18,300 residential fires in the United States originating in chimneys, fireplaces, and solid fuel appliances, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These fires resulted in 160 personal injuries, 40 deaths, and $158 million in property damage.
Safety Includes Yearly MaintenanceEPA and fire officials recommend having your wood stove, chimney, and vents professionally inspected and cleaned each year to keep them in safe working order. The Chimney Safety Institute of America provides a list of certified chimney sweeps, searchable by state. In addition, Chimneys.com provides useful tips for wood stove operation and maintenance
Safe Wood Burning PracticesOnce your EPA certified wood stove is properly installed, follow these guidelines for safe operation:
Keep all flammable household items—drapes, furniture, newspapers, and books—far away from your wood stove.
Start fires only with clean newspaper and dry kindling. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter, or a propane torch.
Do not burn wet or green (unseasoned) logs.
Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert – they are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
Build small, hot fires. A smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire.
Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the live fire.
Regularly remove ashes from your wood stove into a metal container with a cover. Store the container of ashes outdoors on a cement or brick slab (not on a wood deck or near wood).
Keep a fire extinguisher handy.