Warming Your Home With A Woodstove

Learning how to safely warm your house is one step you can take to reduce your chances of a fire in your home

Safely Heating Your Home

 On average, eight people in Canada die every week in fires - and residential fires account for 73% of these fatalities.

Learning how to safely warm your house is one step you can take to reduce your chances of a fire in your home.

No matter how you heat your home, you MUST have smoke detectors installed on every level of your home, and carbon monoxide detectors in the hallways outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of your home. Make sure to check with your local fire department for specific codes/laws in your area.

INSTALLING YOUR WOOD STOVE

When installing a wood stove, you must strictly follow all of the manufacturer's installation instructions. The place you install it should be determined by the location of the existing chimney flue, or the potential location of the chimney. You must also make sure there is access to the connector pipe and chimney flue to allow for necessary periodic cleaning. Also note, wood stoves that are not designed with positive circulation systems should be located near the center of the area to be heated.

Adequate clearances must be maintained from combustible surfaces - the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends specific clearances between wood stoves and protected and unprotected combustible walls and ceilings. This includes the stove being 18" from the edges of the floor protection and 36" away from any unprotected combustible walls, as well as the connector pipe of the wood stove being 18" away from any unprotected combustible walls or ceilings.
The NFPA does allow reducing clearances from wood burning appliances depending on the combustible surface covering. For example, if you have a 3 ½ inch thick masonry wall without ventilated air space, the appliance can be 24" away and the connector only 18" away from the wall protector. By adding in a 1 inch ventilated air space to your 3 ½ inch masonry wall decreases the clearance to 12" between the appliance and wall and 6" between the connector and wall. If you do not have a masonry wall, installing a 1 inch glass fiber or mineral wool batts sandwiched between two sheets of 24 gage sheet metal and adding a 1 inch ventilated air space OR installing a ½ inch thick non-combustible insulation board with 1 inch ventilated air space both allow the same reduction. Your local fire department can assist you, including providing you a NFPA Checklist, to ensure you have the minimum requirements for your wood stove.

Before you fire up your wood stove, cover the bottom of the stove with approximately 1 inch of sand, which will protect the floor and the bottom plate from the extremes of the heat. To start the fire, place a small pile of paper and kindling at the front of the stove and place heavier wood on the kindling. Ignite a wad of paper placed in front of the kindling and allow the draft to draw the flame from the paper through the kindling. Do not do anything that will cause sudden sharp changes in the temperature of the cast iron, such as throwing cold water on a hot stove. Do not use your stove as an incinerator for trash. It is very important not to store any wood near or under the stove. As well, never use gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter fluid or any similar accelerants to start a fire!

When using your stove for the first time, build only small fires for the first two to three uses to "season" your wood stove and prevent cracking.

PREVENTING CHIMNEY FIRES

Burning too much wood at one time can accumulate creosote - a substance present in the smoke of a slow burning fire. It often collects in a cool chimney flue. The main causes of this build up are using wet or unseasoned wood and incomplete combustion (caused by insufficient air supply or insufficient heat). The best method of controlling creosote buildup is by maintaining a brisk burning fire with dry, well-seasoned wood and by maintaining a flue temperature exceeding 250oF.

With an increased accumulation of creosote in the chimney flue comes the increased potential of a chimney fire. The combustion of these creosote deposits is most likely to occur during a very hot fire in your stove. The burning of creosote deposits will create a very intense fire, a roaring noise, and flames and sparks from the top of the chimney. A chimney flue can be weakened or deformed by a chimney fire so it is imperative that the complete chimney be inspected after a fire, and any repairs should be done prior to re-starting the stove.

Your chimney flue and stove pipes should be inspected each year before you use your stove. You should regularly inspect for cracked flue lines, broken or missing chimney bricks, heavy creosote deposits, bird nests and other foreign materials. The stove pipe and chimney should be inspected frequently during the heating season for creosote buildup. Thoroughly clean the flue and connecting pipe as necessary - flue cleaning requirements are dependent on how often the stove is used and how it is operated. If you use an air tight stove, check the connecting pipe and flue at least once a month.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Q: In what kind of space can a wood stove be installed?
A: You can install your wood stove in any level of your home as along as it is designed for that use, and is accessible. Installation in alcoves or space less than 512 square cubic feet is prohibited.

Q: Can a wood stove be installed in a garage?
A: No, you cannot install a wood stove in a garage or any location where gasoline or other flammable vapours are present.

Q: How should I store ashes?
A: Your ashes must be stored in a metal container with a lid and must be sitting on a non-combustible surface. It is best stored outside whenever possible.

Q: Do I need a fire extinguisher, and if so, what kind?
A: Yes, you need at least one 10 pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher readily available. Contact your local fire department to ensure you have the correct extinguisher.

Q: Can I use artificial logs in a wood burning stove?
A: No, the use of artificial logs in a wood burning stove can cause an explosion.

Q: Can a stove be connected to an existing flue that services another heating appliance?
A: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommended standard prohibits connecting a stove to a chimney flue serving another appliance burning dissimilar fuels, unless it is listed for such a connection.

Q: What type of wood should I use in my wood burning stove?
A: You should burn dry and well-seasoned hardwood. Seasoning wood at least six months, preferably a year to eighteen months before use if possible.

Q: What causes a smoky fire?
A: Smoky fires can be caused by several things, including chimney obstructions such as bird's nests or fallen bricks, unusual wind direction resulting in abnormal eddy currents, burning green or wet wood or lack of combustion air.

REMEMBER IF A FIRE OCCURS

  • Call your local fire department (ie. 911) IMMEDIATELY
  • Close all openings and draft controls on the stove if you are able to
  • If the fire is burning vigorously, spray a multipurpose dry chemical extinguisher onto the fire in the stove if it can be done safely
  • Avoid introducing water into the chimney if possible as the water could damage the heated flue liner

Article provided by:
Randy Kalan, DPA, DBA, CMM III
Fire Chief, Municipality of Thames Centre

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