Accompanying autumn’s crisp days and evenings is the cozy scent of wood smoke curling up from chimneys throughout Aquidneck Island. But before you start your first fire of the season or if you are installing a new wood-burning stove, please read on for very important safety considerations. This article is designed to provide you with basic information on wood-stove safety, including tips on installation, venting, chimneys, operation, and maintenance. By following these recommended procedures and methods, you can safely and efficiently heat your home or business with wood.
All operating wood stoves and furnaces require specific minimum distances or clearance between the bottom, top, sides, front and back of the stove and all combustible materials. Insufficient clearance could cause heat produced by the stove to penetrate nearby combustibles, causing a serious fire. Installing a heat shield along the combustible wall may reduce installation clearances.
The chimney for a wood burning stove must be masonry or UL-listed, and factory built. Never, under any circumstances, should an unlined, single brick chimney be used for a wood stove as they are prone to deterioration, which may allow potentially dangerous situations to develop. Many older homes have unlined chimneys constructed of double brick that may be used for a wood stove after carefully checking for cracked mortar or loose or missing brick. Specifically designed, UL-listed metal sleeves may be used as chimney lines. Factory built, metal chimneys must never be used with a coal stove, as the corrosive flue gases will cause a rapid deterioration of the chimney. A wood-burning stove should never be connected to a flue, which vents an oil burner. Toxic vapors from the oil burner could back up into the stove and the room where it is located.
Venting the stove is the most important part of the wood-burning system. 90% of all stove-related fires originate within the venting system. A venting system is not a chimney – it consists of lengths of 24-gauge or heavier, insulated stovepipe which connects the stove to an approved chimney. The vent must be as short as possible, with no more than 2 right angle elbows. The sections of stovepipe should be assembled with crimped, male ends of the sections facing down, towards the stove. Stovepipe sections should be fastened with at least 3 sheet-metal screws or other fasteners. Seams must overlap and face up on inclined runs.
Stovepipe clearance is extremely important. It must never pass through an interior wall, floor, or ceiling. Stovepipe should never be used for a chimney because the elements will rust. Where possible, the insulated stovepipe must go directly into a lined masonry or UL-listed, factory-built chimney. If stovepipe must pass through an exterior wall to reach the chimney, maintain an 18-inch minimum clearance to all combustibles. Consult fire codes and use metal thimbles designed for this purpose.
Hardwoods, such as maple, beech, ash, hickory, or oak, are the best fuel for a wood-burning stove. Wood should be cut, split and air-dried for at least a year before burning. Well-seasoned hardwood will show cracks in the ends. Wood will dry faster and remain dry and protected from the elements if stored in a shed or under a tarp.
Use a wire brush to clean your stovepipe and chimney at least once a year. Also, occasionally use controlled, high-temperature fires in the stove or furnace. Don’t bother with the salt-based chemical cleaners. And never use heavy items such as chains, bricks or a brush on the end of a rope, because they could seriously damage the interior chimney lining.
Creosote is a highly combustible fuel that burns intensely. A slow-burning fire such as those found in a modern, airtight stove damped way down, produces a flue temperature in the 100-200 degree Fahrenheit range. These comparatively low temperatures do not sufficiently carry all of the unburned, combustible gases into the atmosphere. Instead, they condense along the walls of the stovepipe and the chimney as creosote. Creosote may take 3 forms:
To obtain the best efficiency from your wood-burning stove, use the right firewood in the right amount and follow these best fire-building practices:
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