Wood Stove Safety
Adequate knowledge of operating your wood stove safely is critical for the safety of your home and family. Every heating season, it is unfortunately too common to read about chimney fires in different homes in your town. Every one of these fires could have been prevented, if the stove had been used and maintained correctly. Other common casualties you don’t usually read about are the burns that children and pet may have suffered by coming in contact with the hot wood stove.
Wood stove safety start before you ever purchase the stove. It becomes critical to select a stove that has the ability to heat your living space adequately, but not overheat the area. One misconception a lot of people have is that the wood stove will heat their entire home. Wood stoves are considered zone heaters, what this means is that the stove will heat the area that the stove is located in the best, with some heat drifting into the rest of the home. This means your back bedrooms probably will not be heated adequately without overheating the room the stove is in. How does this relate to my selection of a stove? Say for example you were to purchase a stove that has the capacity to produce enough heat for a 3000 square foot home, which is the approximate size of your home. You placed the stove in the family room, which adjoins the kitchen that has an area of about 1000 square feet. Should you try to burn the stove at capacity, the area in which the stove is in would probably be too warm. Therefore what most homeowners do is to try to open the damper so that the stove burns at a lower capacity. Now putting aside the fact that you have just spent extra money to buy a large stove, which you are not able to use at its full capacity, another problem that is brewing is the fact that you may have created a safety issue as well. By dampening out the stove, the stove is not burning efficiently. When this happens creosote is created. Creosote is a by-product of inefficient burns. It is a tar- like substance that adheres to the side of the chimney pipes. Unfortunately it is also combustible and thus is a big safety hazard.
After understanding the importance of choosing the correct size stove, the next important step to ensuring the safe operations of a wood stove is the installation of the stove. Never ever take short cuts when installing a wood stove. Chimney fire can reach a temperature of 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. At that extreme temperature, if the chimney you have installed cannot contain the fire, the fire would then spread to the rest of you home. I personally have seen the aftermath of a chimney fire where the chimney was installed correctly. In this unfortunate incident, the chimney itself was destroyed, but the home was spared. The installation must be done as per the installation manual of the stove that you purchased, and meet all local building codes. It is always a good idea to have your local building inspector view the installation after it has been completed. Just because you have professional installer install the stove and chimney for you does not mean that may have done something incorrectly. Get that installation inspected.Congratulation, you have done a lot of things correctly now comes the next ingredient for safe use of the wood stove by using correctly seasoned firewood. Fresh cut wood has moisture content of approx 65%. If you were to try and burn this wood, almost no heat is available for the home. Since most of the heat generated would be used up by the wood itself to burn off the excess moisture. So after you finally get a fire started, you will find that the wood actually will be sizzling trying to dry out the moisture in the wood. You will find that the stove will never get very hot. If you find yourself in this situation with wet, unseasoned wood you are creating yourself a fire hazard. Because the stove is not burning efficiently, all of that unburned creosote is again coating the inside of your chimney, unfortunately the excess creosote is a waiting time bomb, if the right conditions occur then the creosote can be ignited to create a chimney fire. Ideally, to avoid this situation, you should cut or buy your winter supply of wood the year before you want to burn the wood. This will give the wood enough time to get rid of the excess moisture and turn the wood into proper fuel for your wood stove. Visit our site to view an article on preparing your wood stove fuel.
For added comfort of the home, consider adding moisture back into the home. Wood heat is a very dry heat; all of the moisture in the room will be heated out. Get a teakettle on the stove or a vaporizer to keep replacing the moisture of the room. Moisture in the air will make the room more comfortable even at lower temperatures. As the air molecules absorb the moisture, the molecules will swell up and the room feels warmer. A side benefit is you will use less wood to heat your home.
If you have small children or pets it can be a great investment to purchase a child guard screen. The screen can put a small barrier between a 500-degree stove and a small hand. Children will quickly learn not to touch the stove, but children move a lot and even fall sometimes. Why not add a safety barrier that could prevent a serious burn from occurring.
Last, but definitely not the least. Annual maintenance is required for all wood stoves. The old adage of out of sight out of mind, far to often occurs when it comes to cleaning the chimney. It is critical to sweep the chimney at least once per heating season, assuming you have done everything else correctly. No those creosote removers that you buy at your local hardware store is no substitute for an actual chimney brush being pushed or pulled through your chimney. This will remove any ash and creosote that may have built up over the course of the heating season. Oh and by the way, don’t forget to clean above the baffle on a wood stove or the smoke shelf in a fireplace.
If you follow these rules not only will you have a nice warm home, but you and your family will have many years of safe heating experience in your home.
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