It’s 100ºF outside so naturally it’s time to think about a wood stove

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fireplace-195296_960_720I know, I know. You’re thinking swimming pools and ice machines right now. But seriously, it’s a great time to be planning that wood stove you’ve been dreaming about. There’s even a tax credit if you do it before December 31st.

CHOOSING A GOOD WOOD STOVE

The wood stove is enjoying a renaissance in modern homes. People like fires. It’s a throwback to our past. And despite what the “experts” say, burning wood can be as environmentally sound as burning gas although that’s not a universally held position and you may have local problems when you try it. Check your local ordinance.

Modern wood stoves and fireplace inserts are certified to meet strict U.S. EPA standards that cut emissions by more than 70% compared to older uncertified stoves. An initial study found that indoor air quality inside homes with new, EPA-certified wood stoves was 72% cleaner than those wood stoves manufactured prior to 1992.

Wood is also the cheapest heating fuel you can use if you don’t live in a large city as it’s usually pretty easy to come by, especially if you cut and split your own. If you’re not up to that, have it delivered. Most suppliers will either drop it off for you to stack, or charge labor to stack it for you.

But there are other options. Biomass fuels are derived from renewable and sustainable sources such as wood, pellets, corn and other alternatives. Some biomass fuels are even considered carbon neutral, or better, utilizing waste products from other industries such as cherry pits and sawdust.

And aside from being a great ambiance enhancer, fires lead to independence! If there is a power outage, a financial misunderstanding with the power company, or just a desire to bask in the glow of a real fire, wood stoves offer a realistic alternative. Wood stoves need no electricity or gas at all. Depending upon where you install yours you will have to consider where the fumes and smoke will go.

The wood stove will produce carbon monoxide as a part of the combustion process so the wood stove needs to be located in a well-ventilated area such as a patio, or beneath a real chimney indoors to avoid suffocation. As with any heating device it is a sensible precaution to have a carbon monoxide detector installed in your house — make sure it has a battery fail-safe option to protect you when you need it most – in a power outage.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has developed standards for clearances from walls and ceilings that are the basis for many local building codes. Make sure you’re in compliance.

Fireplace and stove manufacturers are making cleaner-burning, more efficient products for environmentally conscious consumers who want to upgrade or add a new product to their home. Most products are efficiency rated and assigned a score between zero and 100. A higher score means the product does a better job converting fuel into heat rather than sending it up the chimney. Look for the highest efficiency rating in your product category.

In addition, we’re in a period lasting up until the end of this year where the Federal government is offering a $300 biomass stove federal tax credit for certain models of wood stove.
According to woodheat.com Tax Credit Eligible Models include:

Wood Stoves
Pellet Stoves
Wood Inserts
Pellet Inserts
Wood Fireplaces

This federal tax credit encourages people to make energy-conscious purchases that improve the energy efficiency of their home. It is a 10% credit up to $300 for buying a qualifying biomass-burning stove between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016. (Biomass simply means the stove uses wood or pellet fuel.)

Consumers claim the credit on their federal income tax form at the end of the year. This credit reduces the amount of tax you owe. The credit is a reduction of total income tax at the bottom of your return, up to $300. This tax credit is a non-refundable tax credit available for individuals who pay taxes and who make energy-conscious purchases to improve the energy efficiency of their home.

Note: With regard to tax credits vs. tax deductions, in general, a tax credit is more valuable than a similar tax deduction. A tax credit reduces the tax you pay, dollar-for-dollar. Tax deductions – such as those for home mortgages and charitable giving – lower your taxable income.

There are several kinds of wood stoves.

Some, called “Cats” use catalytic combusts. Smoke can linger after wood has burned, as some wood gases need temperatures of 1,200 fahrenheit to burn well. The Cat, lowers this temperature to 600F., resulting in a moderate combustion that burns off exiting smoke, which wastes fuel.

Make sure, when purchasing a catalytic wood stove, that  it is not too large or powerful, as this can lead to creosote build up. Creosote is a clear or oily, yellowish liquid mixture of phenolic (phenol is a poisonous acid) compounds`

In purchasing a catalytic stove look for:

  1. A stove body that is ¼ inch plate steel or cast iron. If the stove is catalytic, find the 5/16 inch bypass plate.
  2. Ask if the stove has a “flame impingement” mechanism, which shields the combustor from direct flame. Other stoves have a series of chambers instead, or place the combustor in a safer place in the rear of the stove.
  3. Buy a temperature monitor. The monitor will tell how well the combustor is operating, and also when it’s time to add more wood.
  4. To start a fire in a catalytic stove, open the air inlets and flue dampers wide for good ventilation. Open the bypass damper, and start the fire with paper or dry kindling. After the kindling is burning add wood, keeping the inlets open, as fires feed on air.
  5. After about half an hour, shut the bypass damper, so the gas is sent through the combustor, which burns the gases before they turn into smoke and go through the chimney. Then close the flues. Do not let the combustor temperatures exceed 1,000F.


Non-catalytic or re-circulating stoves, (non-cats like the ultra-modern one shown above) do not have combustors. Instead of burning the smoke, the non-cats re-circulate the smoke, which burns it. These stoves have a firebox that keeps the heat within the stove, creating better combustion with a secondary combustion chamber to move off more gases and excess soot.

In purchasing a non-catalytic wood stove you must:

  1. Find stove with a body that is at least ¼ inch plate steel or cast iron.
  1. Have your stove professionally installed. A certified installer knows what the proper draft for your stove is, and ensures that the stove seals are tight and the stove is safe. Ask the installer whether you will need a flue liner in your masonry chimney, as lining the chimney prevents icing which can block your chimney, and ensures that the chimney maintains proper draft.
  2. Inside the non-catalytic stove is the baffle, in the roof of the main fire chamber. The baffle should be at least 5/16-inch plate steel, with v-shaped support beams.
  3. The emissions of carbon dioxide can be three times as high when wet wood is used in a non-cat, so depend on dry wood instead, and because the non-cats have smaller fireboxes than catalytic stoves, they must be loaded more often.
  4. What makes a non-catalytic wood stove burn well is “secondary combustion”. It looks like a little flame coming out of the inlets, and it burns off the smoke before it goes through the flue.
  5. To start a non-cat, build a hot fire quickly after stacking the wood in the stove. Build a new load at a higher air setting for about ten minutes and then turn down the air supply to the desired setting.  As you put in fresh wood, the dampers should be opened to supply air directly to the wood and flames.
  6. Do not burn trash or plastic. This includes artificial logs!
  7. To clean your wood stove, remove ashes and creosote before they block air inlets in the firebox, by using a wire or paintbrush. Clean the chimney when creosote is more than ¼ inch thick.  Seal all gaskets and cracks around the stove.

Although today’s fireplaces and stoves are cleaner than their older counterparts, using a newer product is only half the battle.

Tiny SquirrelThe Squirrel says, burn wood responsibly: Burning household garbage, plastics or any material that has been chemically treated can release toxins into the air, no matter how new or fuel-efficient a product is. Use only the fuel recommended for your product for the cleanest heat.

  1. Never burn:
  • plastics
  •  painted or treated wood
  •  particleboard
  •  plywood
  • glossy magazines or newsprint
  •  foil or metallic-coated gift wrapping
  •  household garbage (diapers, plastic bags, etc.)
  •  rags or fabric made of synthetic materials

These items release toxic chemicals into the air that can be harmful to your health and damage your stove or fireplace.

  1. Burn seasoned firewood only – cut, split and stack it in a place sheltered from the weather. Cracks in the ends of the wood show it’s been properly seasoned and ready for burning. You can also test whether the wood is fully seasoned by striking two pieces together. Dry wood gives a sharp ‘crack’ while unseasoned wood sounds more like a dull ‘thud’.
  2. Store wood outside, covered on top with sides open to air.
  3. Store only a small amount of wood inside your home.
  4. Split wood into pieces 4-6 inches in diameter. It will burn cleaner with more surface area exposed to the flame. Only use larger pieces of wood when the fire is well established.
  5. Make sure your fire is getting enough air. This will ensure it burns hot and clean. A properly burning fireplace is hotter, produces less smoke and is more efficient. This means more warmth for less money and less impact to your health.
  6. Don’t stuff too much wood inside the firebox. Refuel more often with small loads with the air inlet open wide to keep it burning briskly.
  7. Let your fire go out at night. To reduce the level of woodsmoke pollution in towns and cities it is recommended that you do not burn your wood-heater overnight on reduced air flow.

Wood is Good Again.

A growing awareness of the environmental impact of fossil fuels (such as natural gas, oil and coal) along with the desire to be more energy independent have encouraged a renewed interest in heating with wood. Not too long ago, even the best wood stoves weren’t terribly efficient. In fact, the haze they produced was a sign that homeowners’ hard earned heating money was literally going up in smoke. A lot has changed since 1990. That was when the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandated strict particle emissions standards for stove manufacturers. Today, all new wood stoves are EPA-certified. And that means they are much more efficient, and friendlier to the environment as well. But doesn’t burning wood produce pollutants just like coal or oil? Well, the answer is yes…and no. When fossil fuels are taken out of the earth and burned, they produce an overload of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And since these fuels are produced far from where they will ultimately be consumed, mishaps such as oil spills cause other problems. Once burned, fossil fuels are gone forever. Wood is different. As all plants grow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the air and convert it to fiber. The carbon dioxide is released after they die, whether they are burned, or simply left to rot in the forest. This process is part of nature’s cycle. Heating with wood can be both satisfying and economical. But it requires special care right from the beginning.

Shop around for the best stove.

Your stove will be part of your life for a long time, so it’s smart to get the best stove you can afford. Ask dealers about the points mentioned above, in relation to both their own products and the competition. Most important: talk to one or more chimney sweeps about the brands you’re interested in, and get recommendations from them. There’s no substitute for a third- party opinion based on practical experience. We like this website to get an idea of what you might get but as it’s located in the North-East you’ll have to look locally for your solution.

Call the Chimney Sweep!

There are two main reasons for keeping your chimney and stovepipe clean: to reduce the possibility of fire and to maintain the efficiency of your wood stove. You can do your part by operating your stove correctly, and by brushing or vacuuming the catalytic combustor gently. But for serious cleaning and preventive maintenance, you should develop a relationship with a good chimney sweep. This professional will make sure your chimney is in good repair, check the stove for leaks or cracks in the housing, and look over the catalytic combustor for signs of damage or deterioration.

The last word on wood

Different types of wood have different heating values. You should expect to pay more for a cord of mixed wood containing a lot of seasoned hickory, for example, than an equivalent measure with mostly aspen or hemlock. Generally speaking, you’ll get much more heat from hardwood than from softer, lighter wood. Most firewood you purchase will be green and have a fair amount of water in it. It takes at least six months of air drying for wood to be considered seasoned and ready for burning. When selecting wood, also take into consideration ease of splitting, ease of ignition and burning, how much smoke it produces and its “coaling” qualities. “Coaling” refers to the ability of a species of wood to form a long- lasting bed of hot coals when burned. Coaling qualities improve with higher density.

If you’re serious about getting one, you’re going to have to know a lot about installing a stove. There are many rules and regulations e.g. it must sit on concrete, the walls must comply with fire standards, the stove pipe or chimney connector must be a certain width and gauge of metal. But the rewards are many and most wood stove companies can help you.

Wood stove safety rules

 1. Chimney and chimney connectors require regular inspection and cleaning to remain reasonably safe. Chimney fires are a common problem. There are several factors that can cause a chimney fire.

2. Furniture, wood, newspapers, matches, etc., can ignite if placed or left too close to a stove. These materials must be kept at least 36 inches away from the stove.

3. Stove surfaces can become as hot as 800 degrees F. At this temperature, combustible material can ignite and plastic material will melt. Be careful when drying clothing, making sure that nothing is dangling too near. Also, remove any slipping or tripping hazards near the
stove to reduce the risk of falling against it and perhaps suffering a severe burn. Small children must be taught to stay away from the stove. You should erect some kind of barricade around the stove if you have crawling tots who are too young to be verbally warned.

4. Never use kerosene or charcoal lighter fluids to start a fire. Also, do not burn trash in your stove. These materials lead to hot uncontrollable fires and may cause a chimney fire.

5. Keep the fire controlled with the dampers. Do not let it get roaring hot. A fire properly controlled is safer and more efficient.

6. If you want to keep your fire alive all night or when you are away from the house, bank the fire with ashes or damper it way down. Do not retire or leave home with a roaring fire going in the stove.

7. Place ashes in a lidded metal container. Because they might be hot, clean up any ashes or cinders that spill out on the floor.

8. Wear gloves when handling rough or splintery chunks of wood. If they are heavy, take care not to strain yourself or drop them on your foot.

9. You can burn wood in a coal stove, but you shouldn’t burn coal in a wood stove unless it is lined and designed for it. When you add coal to an approved stove, keep the stove pipe damper open until the fuel is burning well to avoid a potentially explosive buildup of gases from the coal. Heavily laden coal buckets can also cause strains and other mishaps if they are not handled properly.

10. Take down the stove pipe at least once or twice during the heating season and clean out the soot. Removing the accumulated soot saves fuel, increases heat and minimizes the danger of fire.

11. If you have yet to equip your house with fire warning devices, be sure to do so when you install a stove. Install a smoke detector in an adjacent room to avoid false alarms when you recharge the stove or from backpuffing due to wind.

12. Before opening the fire box to add fuel or just to look at the fire, always open the stove pipe damper first. This allows gases to escape up the chimney and eliminates the possibility of “flare up” when air suddenly comes in through the door.

13. With today’s tightly-constructed houses, there may not be sufficient air leakage for efficient stove operation. By providing an outside air inlet, you prevent the possibility of a reverse draft which may suck carbon monoxide fumes from combustion-type (natural gas, etc.) appliances and discharge them into the living area.