More and more consumers than ever are burning wood to heat their homes this winter. While the costs of heating oil and gas have gone down, the popularity of stoking a wood fire seems to be at an all-time high.
Leslie Wheeler, a spokeswoman for the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, said shipments of wood stoves and fireplace inserts were up 54% in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.
Fireplaces: Safety Counts!
Like a lot of things in life, the idea of a fireplace can be warmer than the reality, but hey, we’re all suckers for crackling logs when the whole family is huddled under blankets during the holidays watching the umpteenth airing of It’s a Wonderful Life.
However, just know that we’re not talking about a particularly efficient heat source. Usually, a traditional fireplace lets as much warm air escape from a home as it delivers it. Using firewood to heat your home is only slightly more efficient than the average campfire.
We’re also not talking about a low-maintenance relationship. With any fireplace or wood-burning stove, you will get a buildup of creosote that results from combustion deposits combining with steam. This will gunk up the inside of your chimney at a pretty rapid rate, necessitating a good chimney sweeping for every cord of burning wood (that would be a stack of wood that’s 4 feet tall, 4 feet deep, and 8 feet wide). Regular sweeping is important too, as that same gunk can lead to a chimney fire with devastating results.
Getting the Most out of Wood Stoves
Wood stoves are another popular option. Determining its true efficiency depends a lot on what you’ll pay for the stove along with what you pay for wood, or how much you value the back-breaking labor it takes to play lumberjack on your own.
Regardless, if you love the wood stove experience, there are a few things you can do to make sure it is as efficient as possible:
- Burn Dry – Burning green (wet) wood wastes energy and contributes to the creosote build up quickly. Purchase dry wood and store it that way until use.
- Pay for Efficiency – Always invest in the most efficient wood stove you can find. Look for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Certification as well as a UL Certification as your best indication that the stove operates safely and efficiently.
- Size Matters – Wood stoves can be sized for space they need to heat. Buying one that is too small or too big is a waste of money and energy.
- Burn the Best – If you are bent on using firewood for heat, remember that generally the harder, heavier and denser the wood, the more heat you’ll get out of it. Be selective when purchasing firewood and is the best for burning wood.
Remember, if you have a wood burning stove, don’t be tempted to fuel the fire with the wrong fuel. Burning the wrong firewood in your wood stove could damage the stove and it decreases its efficiency — costing you money. Never burn trash, driftwood, or treated woods. Always use seasoned wood for the best heat release and minimal creosote buildup.
Finally, pellet stoves are another option to consider if you love having your heating appliance side by side with your home’s furniture. Pellet stoves burn a mixture of ground waste wood or other renewable fuel. They are very efficient but need electricity to be able to continuously feed the pellets through.
Most importantly, if you want to have a wood stove or pellet stove installed, be sure it is done safely and in accordance with the stove manufacturers’ recommendation. Installing stoves is a precise business. Put one too close to a combustible wall or run a vent pipe too near a wood ceiling beam and disaster can strike quickly. For the best results, always hire an experienced Pro to do this job.
I would have to agree with Rodney that if you are burning dry wood and at a temperature that is hot enough to limit creosote build-up, that cleaning after every cord is overkill. I typically burn about 3 cords a year in our primary woodstove (one of three woodstoves) and clean once a year. At that point it is ready for a good cleaning. I think well seasoned dry wood is very important. I prefer wood seasoned 2+ years. I also don’t believe it makes a difference whether its hardwood or softwood, as I have burned any and all of our local species with good results. I’ve heard some people say they won’t burn pine because of creosote. I personally have seen little difference between species. Dry wood and keeping the fire hot enough seems to be key.
I have heated exclusively with wood for over 10 years. There are a couple of tips for greatly reducing the amount of creosote buildup in the chimney. The dry wood that you mentioned is one. The other is the proper control of the air to your fire. The secret is to get the fire to the point that you’re keeping a good hot fire with a good bed of coals under the wood. This keeps the smoke hotter going up the chimney, and can nearly eliminate the creosote buildup. I clean my chimney once a year, but I am mostly removing ash and soot. I have almost no creosote buildup in it.
A good way to tell if you’re burning properly is to look at the glass on your stove door. If you’re building up creosote on the door you’re building it up inside the chimney. If your door is staying mostly clear with just some ash on it your chimney is staying clean too.
If you learn to properly burn your wood cleaning the chimney after every cord of wood is not necessary.