Wood Burning Stove Guide

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What does the kW rating mean?

The kW rating is the unit of measurement that is used to measure the heat output of your stove.

One kilowatt or kW is equal to approximately 3400 BTU’s.

All stoves will be kilowatt rated, but this number actually does not represent the warmth produced but instead tells you how much the stove casting can handle as far as maximum temperature.

How are the Output of Stoves Measured?

The kilowatt is used to measure the heat output.

However, how warm the heat is coming from your stove has more to do with the size of your fire and the type of fuel you use than with the kilowatt rating of your stove.

It’s much better for the life of your stove to buy a larger stove and light a smaller fire when less warmth is needed than it is to buy a small stove and fire it at maximum capacity all the time.

How are the Efficiency of Stoves Measured?

The energy efficiency of a stove is determined by calculating the percentage of the amount of energy in your fuel that will transfer to the room during the use of the stove.

Efficiency percentages for all wood burning stoves available today should meet with British and European standards.

A registry of over three thousand solid fuel appliances and their energy efficiency ratings is published by The Solid Fuel Technology Institute.

How to Convert BTU's to kW

Central heating requirements and loads are measured in British Thermal Units or BTU’s by engineers.

To convert BTU’s to kW simply multiply the number of BTU’s by 0.000293. In the event you need to convert kW to BTU’s multiply by 3414.

Factors that come into play in heat loss and thus amount of heat output needed include things such as outdoor air temperature, thoroughness of interior and exterior insulation, size and number of windows in the space and whether space above and below the room is heated.

It’s recommended that for a 200 square foot space, you purchase a stove with output of at a minimum of 5,000 Btu/h.

What Colours Are Available?

Today’s wood and multi fuel stoves come in a variety of colour choices.

In most cases your choice of colour will depend in part on the stove material (cast iron, steel, etc) and in most cases on the colour choice offered by the manufacturer of the stove that you choose.

Traditional colours are black, ebony, slate (grey) coffee (brown) and biscuit (tan) however there are manufacturers who will custom match the colour of your stove to complement your interior decor.

What is the difference between a steel bodied stove and a cast iron stove?

A cast iron stove is typically made of heavy cast iron panels which heat up slowly but hold and radiate heat for long periods of time.

Steel bodied stoves on the other hand heat up quickly bringing warmth to a cold room much quicker than a cast iron stove.

Cast iron stoves typically have both upper and lower air controls whereas steel bodied stoves feature only lower air controls.

Cast iron stoves also make ash removal easier by featuring ash boxes or shaker grates, steel bodied stoves typically require the removal of ash using a small shovel.

Both types of stoves will require maintenance after normal use and wear in that the firebrick of a steel bodied stove can break over time and require replacement and the furnace cement that fuses the panels of a cast iron stove together will crack and need re-cemented.

What Guarantee Comes with Buying a Stove?

Most, if not all woodstoves come with a manufacturer’s warranty, which can extend anywhere from a five year warranty to a lifetime warranty.

Regardless of the model stove that you purchase, make sure you full read the warranty and understand what costs and fees, especially any shipping costs, you may be responsible for in the event that something goes wrong with your stove.

In most cases, the manufacturer will offer a limited warranty that will cover the cost to fix defects in the stove materials such as the door glass, door mechanisms, and cracking or burn through of the cast iron panels.

Things such as the enamel paint, cement bonds, and any accessories or electrical components such as switches and blowers that wear with normal use may be covered for a shorter period of just the first year.

What Maintenance Does the Stove Need?

In most cases your wood or multi fuel stove will only need minor daily or weekly maintenance and for the most part that will involve ash removal. Below are some additional items to be checked on a regular basis.

  • Grates on multi fuel stoves must be inspected for crack or warping as this can jam the riddling mechanism.
  • Any gaps in the seams of the panels of cast iron stoves should be resealed with fire cement.
  • Frayed or missing fire rope around the glass and doors must be replaced.
  • The ash pan should be inspected regularly for holes that could allow hot ash to fall through onto floors or carpets.
  • Use a wire brush or steel wool to clean the finish on your stove and then reapply heat resistant paint to help prevent rusting.
  • Check frequently for cracks or defects in the door glass and remove any black tar residue often with glass cleaner.
  • Always leave a vent or the door of the stove open in summer months to prevent the accumulation of condensation in the stove or chimney.

Does my Chimney need to be Swept?

Every chimney should be swept regularly for several reasons.

The build up of tar and soot in a chimney reduces the draw by blocking the area in the chimney and preventing the stove from running efficiently.

In addition, if the flu leading from the stove becomes blocked by soot falling from the chimney, the stove will smoke a lot.

Chimney fires can also be caused by the build up of soot and other deposits in the chimney.

The frequency of chimney sweeping is dependent on the type of chimney you have, how often you use your stove and the type of fuel you use.

Experts recommend that a chimney be thoroughly swept at least once annually but for those who have significant deposit build up, sweeping may need to be done several times during the season.

What Fuel Can I Use in My Stove?

The type of fuel that you use in your stove will depend primarily on the type of stove that you have.

The best fuel for wood burning stoves is well seasoned firewood.

Multi fuel stoves have the capacity to burn multiple types of fuel so depending on the model you buy you can burn wood, coal, or even corn.

Pellet stoves are specifically made to burn wood pellets and biomass waste, which are a cleaner burning fuel than wood. Some pellet stoves can also burn things such as nutshells, barley, sunflowers, soybeans and even cherry pits.

Gas stoves obviously are designed to run on propane or natural gas.

Regardless of the type of stove you have, make sure that you fully understand its capabilities for burning different types of fuel and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Never burn things such as plastic, cardboard or paper with inks or dyes.

What Types of Wood Can you Burn?

The quality of firewood is based upon several factors including how quickly it burns, the heat it produces, how easy it is to split and season, and the tendency to pop or spark.

  • Low Grade woods include woods such as Alder, Pine, Poplar, Larch and Sweet Chestnut. Pine, Larch and Sweet Chestnut spit or pop extensively which can be a fire hazard.
  • Medium grade woods are woods such as Cherry, Horse Chestnut, Spruce, Eucalyptus, and Walnut.
  • High grade woods which burn well are Holly, Apple, Birch, Beech and Maples and those that are excellent to burn are Hawthorne, Hazel, Ash and Oak. Ash wood burns fast and hot whereas oak logs burn slower

As a general rule softwood makes better kindling because it often burns faster than hardwood.

It is possible to combine two different types of wood, one that burns a little quicker and hotter and another that burns slower. The combination will provide the best of both worlds by getting your fire going quickly and keeping it burning longer.

Do you have to Season Wood?

Birch, Ash, Holly and small pieces of Cedar can be burned unseasoned, however all wood burns better when well seasoned.

The higher the water content in a type of wood, the more it will have to be seasoned in order to burn well.

How do you Season Wood?

To properly season most types of wood, it should be cut and stored for 18 months or more in a dry, well ventilated outdoor area.

The goal in seasoning firewood is to lower the moisture content to 20% or less.

When inspecting wood to determine if it is well seasoned, look for a multitude of little radial cracks in the end grain.

Another way to tell if wood is properly seasoned is that it will sound somewhat hollow when smacked against another log.

Wood that has not been seasoned well enough will not burn as efficiently and will hiss when it burns due to the higher water content.

How to Burn Wood in a Stove

The first step to burning wood in a stove is start off with wood that has been well seasoned.

The use of kindling and crumpled paper will assist you in getting your fire started.

Wood needs an adequate supply of air to burn efficiently and when a stove is running well you will be able to see visible active flames inside the stove.

If your fire smokes excessively or smoulders or if the glass door of your stove becomes murky or tar covered, these are signs that your fire is burning too slowly.

A slow burning stove is less efficient and can create build up in your chimney which can be dangerous.

How to Burn Coal in a Stove

It is highly recommended that those who choose to burn coal do so in a multi fuel stove.

If you are burning coal, it’s important to have a metal grate at the bottom of the stove which keeps the coals up off the bottom of the stove allowing for better flow of air and protecting the bottom of your stove from becoming too hot.

It’s crucial to keep the grate free of ash as much as possible.

In most stoves, a feature called a riddling mechanism will enable you to shake the grate free of ash from the outside of the stove.

Utilize the bottom vent to regulate your coal fire rather than the top vent and if the fire doesn’t burn well contact a chimney expert to have your chimney draw evaluated.

It is not recommended that you burn wood and coal together.

Can I Burn Other Things in My Stove?

There are other types of fuel, other than wood, that can be burned in your stove, especially if you have a multi fuel stove.

Other fuels such as peat, wood pellets, biomass or bio bricks, corn and coal can be used as fuel.

Burning Wood Responsibly

Always follow manufacturer’s instructions closely and do not burn more than one type of fuel simultaneously.

Do not burn painted or treated wood, plastic, household garbage or cardboard. Ocean driftwood, particle board, and any wood with glue on it will release toxic chemicals when burned and should be avoided as should wet, diseased or mouldy wood.

How to Light a Fire in a Stove?

Anyone who has experience with trying to get a fire started knows that it is not as easy as it sounds but there are some things that you can do to help get the fire roaring.

One of the most important elements for a fire to burn in a fireplace or a stove, is the chimney must be drafting upwards.

When a stove is cold and not in use, it will sometimes reverse itself and the draft coming down will quickly blow out your fire.

If you open the damper on your stove or the stove door and you feel a draft of cold air from the chimney then your chimney has reversed and you will need to correct this once you’ve created your fire pile in the stove.

Open the draft control or damper fully.

Lay pieces of balled up newspaper, fire starters or fatwood on the grate or the bottom of the stove and then alternately stack small, dry kindling wood on top leaving plenty of air space between pieces.

Layer your larger wood on top of the kindling until it’s approximately two-thirds full.

If you think the chimney may have reversed, crumple a piece of paper and place it as high up in the stove near the chimney as you can get it.

When you light it, the chimney should warm up and suck the paper up inside.

Once the paper is sucked into the chimney, light your fire right away.

Keep the draft control and damper fully open at first until the fire has caught and spread through your pile of wood.

Do not close the damper or air control until the stove and chimney have warmed up and you have a bed of coals or red embers glowing at the bottom.

Are Wood Burning Stoves Environmentally Friendly?

Regardless of how you feel about the subject of global warming, it is a well known fact governments worldwide are creating a flurry of legislation aimed at reduction of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Unlike many fossil fuels, wood when burnt as fuel, gives off an amount of CO2 equal to what it would have given off if the wood had been allowed to naturally break down.

For this reason, the environmental impact of using wood as a fuel is said to be carbon neutral, meaning burning it has no increased negative effect on the environment.

Will my Stove Work with the Door Open?

If you own a wood burning or multi fuel stove, chances are that it will function with the doors open or closed.

While it’s understandable that there may be times when running the stove with the doors open is desirable on occasion, it’s important to note that operating the stove with the doors closed results in 60-80% more efficient burning of your fuel.

It’s important to remember that harmful chemicals like carbon dioxide can be released into your home with the stove doors open so having a carbon dioxide detector is good practice.

Are Wood Burning Stoves Clean?

It is true that one of the major drawbacks to the use of a woodburning stove is the mess that it can create in the area immediately around the stove.

There are really no good methods to completely eliminate the mess that is created by carrying wood in from outside.

In addition, many stoves require the removal of ash using a small shovel which can create a mess around the stove.

Woodburning stove owners will want to invest in some type of rack to hold a quantity of wood in proximity of the stove ready to be used which will keep the room cleaner than having the wood piled on the floor.

An ash can to store ash that has been removed until it can be disposed of will also be handy.

Wood pellet stoves and gas stoves should create less of a mess. For those who are truly concerned about the mess associated with woodstoves, there are outdoor woodburning furnaces which keep 100% of the mess outdoors.

Are Wood Burning Stoves Safe?

Throughout the years we have discovered a lot about the impact of wood smoke on health.

Since wood smoke is a complex mixture of gases and particles there is a potential for these tiny particles to cause problems.

The most common irritation from wood smoke is nose and eye irritation and bronchitis that can occur when microscopic chemicals invade the respiratory system.

On the more serious side, this type of particle pollution has been shown to aggravate chronic conditions and has even been connected to early death in people with lung and heart diseases.

When it comes to safety, the real threats are the potential for an unexpected fire and carbon dioxide emissions from a stove that is improperly installed or has been incorrectly used and not maintained properly.

Although less than 20% of house fires in the UK have been chimney fires, it is a real threat.

In order to ensure that your safety, make sure that your home has a fire extinguisher on hand, properly installed smoke detectors, and a carbon dioxide monitor to warn you when something isn’t right.

To reduce the risk of fire, your stove should be properly installed, flammable items like newspapers, drapes and books should be kept a safe distance away from the stove, and manufacturer’s instructions for use and proper maintenance of your stove are very important.

Burn only the fuel or fuels approved for your particular stove and do not use gasoline or other unsafe methods for starting your fire.

Educate yourself about chimney fires and how they happen so that you can reduce the potential for one in your home.