Wood Stove FAQs
Jun 17th 2020
This Article has been approved by our on staff NFI Certified Specialists & Master Hearth Professionals
Heating with wood is a centuries-old tradition that has changed and evolved immensely with time. Today's wood burning stoves still hold true to the authenticity of wood stoves from the past, but have been modified to operate much more safely and efficiently. Nowadays, wood stoves not only fill your home with warmth and ambiance, they also lower your annual home heating bills and protect the air that we breathe.
If you are new to the concept of heating with wood, you may have some questions about choosing the right wood stove, which types of firewood to burn in your stove, or how to maintain your wood stove. We've compiled this list of wood stove FAQ's to answer some popular questions about wood burning stoves.
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Wood Stove Frequently Asked Questions
Why should I heat my home with a wood burning stove?
What are the different builds of wood stoves?
How old does a wood stove have to be before it's considered too old and it needs to be replaced?
How do I know which size wood stove is right for me?
What is EPA certification and why is that important when heating with a wood burning stove?
What is zone heating and why would zone heating with my wood burning stove be beneficial?
Why is good draft important when heating my home with a wood burning stove?
How should I dispose of the ash from my wood stove?
What is a catalytic combustor and what does that mean on a wood stove?
What is a non-catalytic wood stove?
What is a break in fire and why should I light one in my new wood burning stove?
Why should I install a blower on my wood stove?
Is it possible to reduce the wood stove minimum clearances to combustible materials?
Do I need floor protection underneath my wood stove?
Can I use stove pipe for my entire wood stove installation?
Heating with wood has really dried out the air in my home. Is there anything I can do to get some moisture back in the air?
Is there any kind of glass cleaner that I should not use to clean the glass door on my wood stove?
What can I use for kindling to start a fire in my wood burning stove?
What is a smoldering fire and why is it bad for my wood stove and home?
How should I stack my firewood to properly season it?
What is the difference between a face cord and a full cord of firewood?When should I begin harvesting firewood to burn in my wood stove?
How can I tell if my firewood is properly seasoned and ready to be used in my wood stove?
What type of wood should I burn in my wood burning stove?
Is there anything that I should never burn in my wood stove?
If I am having a chimney fire, can I extinguish it with a fire extinguisher?
What could happen if too much creosote builds up in my chimney vent pipe?
Why shouldn't I burn soft woods in my wood stove?
Answers to Frequently Asked Wood Stove Questions
Question: Why should I heat my home with a wood burning stove?
Answer: Wood burning stoves are becoming increasingly popular due to rising fuel costs. Heating with wood will drastically lower your home heating costs while providing a warm ambiance that is unmatched by any other heat source. Also, it's no secret that those cold winter months bring plenty of powerful snow storms that knock out the power for days or even weeks at a time. Wood burning stoves will be your saving grace in the event of a power outage. Wood is also a renewable fuel source and with the newer EPA approved wood stoves, wood burning is not only efficient but safe.
Question: What are the different builds of wood stoves?
Steel - Steel wood stoves heat up the quickest but also cool down the fastest. Once the fire starts to die down in a steel wood burning stove, it will not retain any heat which will result in quicker reloads.
Cast Iron - Cast iron wood burning stoves take a little longer to heat up but retain heat very well. A cast iron wood stove will radiate heat back into the room even after the fire dies down so you not only get the wood heat from the wood burning fire but radiant heat from the stove.
Soap Stone - Soap stone wood stoves are designed to hold heat for a very long time. They retain the heat at the beginning of the burn and release it at a later time when the fire starts to die down.
Question: How old does a wood stove have to be before it's considered too old and it needs to be replaced?
Answer: If your wood burning stove is 20+ years old it is time to replace it. Older wood stoves have been estimated to release 40-60 grams of smoke per hour while newer EPA approved wood stoves have been estimated to release as little as 2-5 grams of smoke per hour. An old wood burning stove is not only inefficient but unsafe to operate.
Question: How do I know which size wood stove is right for me?
When choosing a wood burning stove size is of the utmost importance. To help you choose the right size wood stove you will need to consider the size of the area that you are going to be heating. Determine whether you want the wood stove to provide heat for your entire home or just a select few rooms in your home. Also consider the location of where you wish to place your wood burning stove in your home. You will want to place your wood stove in an area where the heat can be easily dispersed throughout your home. Think about chimney location and keep in mind that if at all possible you should keep the chimney inside of your home as cold chimneys that exist on the exterior of your home will produce draft problems and increase creosote formation inside of the flue.
Whether your home has good, fair, or poor insulation will play a big role in determining the size of the wood stove needed to heat your home. For obvious reasons, a home that has exceptional insulation will not need as much heat and BTU power as a home that has poor insulation will.
How many windows you have in your home and the condition of those windows will also be a deciding factor of which size wood stove you will need for your application. If your home has a mass amount of window, large windows, single-pane windows, or even just old windows you will need a more powerful wood stove to compensate for the cool air that may leak in through the windows.
Ceiling height is also something you should pay close attention to when deciding which size wood burning stove to heat your home with. Most Btu calculators assume that you are planning an installation with an 8' ceiling but an increase to a 10' or 12' ceiling will make a substantial difference in the amount of BTUs it will take to heat your home adequately.
Geographical location and climate are also relevant issues to think about when choosing a small, medium, or large wood stove to heat your home. Obviously if you live in an area that reaches temperatures below zero during the cold winter months, you will need a larger, more powerful wood stove than someone who lives in an area that reaches temperatures of high 20's or low 30's during the winter season.
Question: What is EPA certification and why is that important when heating with a wood burning stove?
In order for a wood burning stove to be EPA Certified, it must comply with strict emissions and efficiency regulations designed to reduce pollution and control energy costs. EPA certified wood stoves burn more completely, offer greater heat output, and produce less creosote deposits which will result in cleaner and more efficient burning sessions, reduced home heating costs, and less pollution released into the air we breathe.
EPA certified wood stoves undergo extensive tests to make sure that they comply with strict emissions and efficiency regulations designed to reduce pollution and control energy costs. EPA Certified wood stoves are guaranteed to burn cleanly and efficiently, and reduce your heating costs while protecting the air we breathe.
Question: What is zone heating and why would zone heating with my wood burning stove be beneficial?
Zone heating occurs when you use your wood burning stove as an alternate heating source, along with your central heating furnace to heat the rooms in your home that you and your family spend the most time in. Zone heating entertains the idea that if you spend the majority of your time in one or two rooms throughout your home, there's really no need to heat the entire house when most of the rooms aren't even being occupied.
By heating those empty rooms, you are wasting fuel and money to keep them at the same temperature as the rooms that you occupy the most. Using your wood stove to zone heat creates heat when and where you need which will allow you to turn down your central heating furnace thermostat to keep the rest of your home at a cooler, yet still comfortable temperature. Zone heating with your wood burning stove could potentially save you up to a minimum of 30 percent on your annual home heating costs.
Question: Why is good draft important when heating my home with a wood burning stove?
Answer: A good draft is essential when heating with wood. Creating a good draft will allow the wood stove to heat up quicker, draw oxygen in to fuel the wood burning fire, and prevent smoke from entering your home while operating your wood burning stove.
Question: How should I dispose of the ash from my wood stove?
Answer: Hot coals can linger for up to 3 days or more so be sure to dispose of them in a metal container outside and make sure that it isn't on or near any combustible surfaces.
Question: What is a catalytic combustor and what does that mean on a wood stove?
Answer: Installing a catalytic combustor in your wood stove will force all smoke to be re-burnt on the catalytic combustor in the flue pipe before it enters the chimney. This will result in cleaner emissions into the air while using less firewood. Catalytic combustors have also been proven to increase the heat output of wood stoves.
Question: What is a non catalytic wood stove?
Answer: What makes a non catalytic wood stove burn efficiently and cleanly is "secondary combustion"-a feature that differentiates the new stoves from the older models. In new non catalytic wood stoves, the usual combustion process in augmented by a second area of combustion at the top of the wood stove where fresh air is drawn into the top of the stove and gases are burnt off the smoke before they exit through the flue. In some stoves, the fire of secondary combustion is visible near the air inlets in the secondary combustion zone.
Question: What is a break-in fire and why should I light one in my new wood burning stove?
Answer: Break-in fires are steady, low heat, low fuel fires that slowly drive out moisture, break-in parts like firebrick, soap stone and cast iron to prevent cracked and heat damaged appliances. If your wood stove is brand new, it is a good idea to light 2-3 break-in fires in the wood stove before lighting a big fire in the stove. Break-in fires should also be lit before starting a large heating fire at the beginning of the wood burning season or any other time that your wood stove has not been used in a while. To light a break-in fire in your wood stove, follow the steps below.
- Make a bed of crumpled up paper in the bottom of the wood stove (never use high gloss paper).
- Add kindling on top of the paper in a crisscross pattern. Be careful not to block the primary air feed at the front of the firebox. Stack kindling loosely so there is room for air to circulate.
- Make a newspaper torch. Light the paper torch and place the flame by the flue outlet to heat up the chimney for a good draft.
- If a draft is not present open a door or window to establish a draft.
- Open the air control.
- Light the newspaper bed under the kindling.
- Close the wood stove door to a crack. This provides air feed to fuel the fire.
- Once the kindling has caught fire, close the wood stove door completely and lock it.
- Repeat a few times if the stove is new or hasn't been used in a while.
**Break-in fires are the only time that your wood stove thermometer should be in the low heat creosote zone.
**The top of your wood stove should be cool enough to touch during a break-in fire.
Question: Why should I install a blower on my wood stove?
Answer: A blower is helpful if you wish to distribute the heat produced by your stove evenly throughout your home. By forcing the hot air forward the blower enables you to extend the heating power of your stove.
Question: Is it possible to reduce the wood stove minimum clearances to combustible materials?
- Answer: Yes. You can use a pipe heat shield to reduce clearance to combustible materials while operating your wood burning stove.
Question: Do I need floor protection underneath my wood stove?
Answer: Yes. Floor protection is required under your wood burning stove unless you already have a hearth or a non combustible surface. You may have choices such as stone, brick or tile. You will need to consult your owner's manual to determine the dimensions of the floor protection that will be needed for your wood stove model.
Question: Can I use stove pipe for my entire wood stove installation?
Answer: No. Stove pipe is to be used only on the inside of your home. Once you reach the wall or ceiling in your wood stove installation, you will need class-A chimney pipe to proceed thorough the wall or ceiling and complete your application.
Question: Heating with wood has really dried out the air in my home. Is there anything I can do to get some moisture back in the air?
Answer: Yes. Using a steamer on the top of your wood stove will add humidity to the air and make for a much more comfortable environment when heating with wood. Be sure to put a trivet under your steamer to prevent the cracks or dings on the top of your wood stove. You can also add scented oils like a few drops of stove scents to fill your home with delightful aroma.
Question: Is there any kind of glass cleaner that I should not use to clean the glass door on my wood stove?
Answer: Yes. Avoid using cleaners that have ammonia in them as it will break down the structure of the ceramic glass. Be sure to only clean your glass when it is at room temperature. There are glass cleaners available that are specifically designed to clean fireplace and wood stove glass doors.
Question: What are BTUs?
Answer: BTU's (British Thermal Units) are a standard of measurement which represents the heat value of any type of energy used to create heat. The amount of fuel that a fireplace will consume per hour is calculated with the BTU value of the fuel it uses to determine the input of that fireplace. The higher the BTU output, the more powerful the heating unit will be.
Answer: You can use kiln dried lumber, plain cardboard (not coated or varnished), or wood bark. We also carry a variety of fire starters like fatwood, super cedar fire starters, safe lite fire starter squares and more that work just as well if not better than kindling and fill the house with an inviting cedar aroma.
Question: What can I use for kindling to start a fire in my wood burning stove?
Question: What is a smoldering fire and why is it bad for my wood stove and home?
Answer: A smoldering fire is created when the combustion air is adjusted too abruptly causing the flames to struggle for air and be smothered out. Extended period of a smoldering fire will create a smoking chimney and produce toxic gases and creosote formation. To fix a smoldering fire, simply open the air control and the wood stove door. The fresh air reentering the wood stove will reignite the fire almost immediately.
Question: How should I stack my firewood to properly season it?
Answer: Stack firewood in a crisscross pattern. Be sure not to stack it too tightly so that air can circulate thought the wood stack and properly dry the firewood. What is meant by drying? Drying is the result of moisture gradually being release from the core of a piece of wood to its surface. Surround air absorbs this moisture. The conditions necessary for drying include air temperature, relative humidity and the moisture content of the wood. You can speed up the drying process by covering up the stacks and placing them in a sunny and breezy location. The drying stops when the air cannot absorb any more moisture from the wood and equilibrium has been reached. Firewood is properly dried and seasoned when it has reached a moisture content of 20 percent or less.
Question: What is the difference between a face cord and a full cord of firewood?
Answer: The two most common ways to measure firewood is by the "Full Cord" or "Face Cord". You will see that our racks refer to a "Face Cord". A face cord measures 8' wide x 4' high, the depth of a face cord may vary depending on the person who is cutting the wood (average firewood length is 16"-18"). A "Full Cord" of firewood measures 8' wide x 4' high x 4' deep making it difficult to determine what size firewood rack to purchase since firewood is cut to different depths. Due to the confusion of calculating full cords we have decided to calculate our firewood racks by the face cord. Please check to ensure that you are purchasing the proper size firewood rack.
Question: When should I begin harvesting firewood to burn in my wood stove?
Answer: Early spring. Harvesting quick drying species like ash in late winter to early spring is ideal for burning wood in the fall; it gives the wood a good 8-9 months to dry. If you are buying your firewood, this should also be done in the spring leaving you plenty of time to stack it and dry it throughout the summer.
Question: How can I tell if my firewood is properly seasoned and ready to be used in my wood stove?
Answer: Use a moisture meter to make sure that your firewood is properly seasoned and ready to burn in your wood stove. Firewood with a 20 percent moisture level or less burns the best, produces the most heat, and reduces creosote deposits.
Question: What type of wood should I burn in my wood burning stove?
Answer: Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods in your wood stove. The best hardwoods to burn are in your wood burning stove include but are not limited to black or white ash, beech, red or white oak, hickory and hard maple, cherry or black cherry, walnut, aspen, and chestnut. Even though you are using hardwoods in your wood stove you still have to make sure that the firewood is well-seasoned and properly cured and at a moisture level of 20 percent or less before you use it in your wood stove.
Question: Is there anything that I should never burn in my wood stove?
Answer: You should never burn pressure treated wood, driftwood, painted wood, glossy paper, plastic, or garbage in your wood stove. Also, you should never burn coal in a wood burning stove that is designed specifically to burn wood. Burning treated lumber, painted wood, trash, and such, releases toxic chemicals into the atmosphere as well as your home, and could cause other damage as well. A catalytic combustor in a wood stove can be destroyed by certain chemical agents found in these items.
Question: How is a chimney fire caused?
Answer: A chimney fire is caused by a creosote build-up from combustion that burned in your wood stove and it builds up on the inside of your chimney. When you have a chimney fire, that ignites and it burns the materials burning inside of your chimney flue. You know you are having a chimney fire when you hear a loud air rushing sound like a tornado or train coming. Smoke will also back up into the house.
Question: If I am having a chimney fire, can I extinguish it with a fire extinguisher?
Answer: No. Spraying a fire extinguisher into the firebox of your wood stove will cause the flames and embers to come back out into your home and could spread the fire.
Question: What could happen if too much creosote builds up in my chimney vent pipe?
Answer: Aside from the obvious of causing a chimney fire and potentially a house fire, creosote build-up clogging your chimney vent pipe could cause carbon monoxide poisoning. No matter which type of heating source you use to heat your home, it's never a bad idea to install a carbon monoxide detector as a safety precaution.
Question: What is creosote?
Answer: Creosote is a combination of particles that result from incomplete combustion, vapors, steam, and soot. The mix is carried up the flue in the smoke and adheres to chimney walls. Smoke which is moist, humid and warm, full of combustion by-products is deposited onto the walls of a cold chimney just like warm breath on cold glass. Simply put condensation. These deposits continue to grow in the presence of smoke forming creosote.
Question: Why shouldn't I burn soft woods in my wood stove?
Answer: Some people choose to use soft woods in their wood stove mainly as kindling but it is not recommended or worth the hassle really. Soft woods take twice the amount of effort to season and equal the heat output of hardwoods. Burning soft woods in your wood stove will produce more creosote so you will have to clean your chimney a lot more often and some soft woods are messy to handle because they are rich in sap.