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Wood Burning Efficiency & Installation

Wood Burning Efficiency and Installation

FACTS: The right wood stove, used correctly, keeps wood flaming until it is reduced to coals. A smoldering fire is not an efficient fire.

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.

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 Installation
Using 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 $158million in property damage.

Safety Includes Yearly Maintenance
EPA 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

Install and Maintain a Smoke Alarm

Each year in the United States, about 3,000 people lose their lives in residential fires – and mostly from inhalation of smoke and toxic gases, not as a result of burns. Properly installed and maintained smoke alarms in the home are considered one of the best and least expensive means of providing an early warning of a potentially deadly fire.

If you burn wood in your home, even occasionally, EPA recommends you install a smoke alarm to alert you and your family in the event of a fire. To be effective, smoke alarms must be in the proper location and tested regularly. Batteries should be replaced regularly, too. More information is available from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Install and Maintain a Carbon Monoxide Detector

When wood is not burned completely, the resulting smoke contains a number of chemicals, one of which is carbon monoxide (CO).

Each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 200 people die from CO poisoning, related to the use of combustion appliances, including wood stoves, in the home.

CO is odorless and colorless. Exposure to CO reduces your blood's ability to carry oxygen. EPA recommends installing a digital CO detector if you use a wood stove or fireplace in your home. A digital CO detector displays the concentration of CO parts per million (ppm) and makes a warning sound that gets louder as the concentration increases.


U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
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