How Wood Stoves Operate

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Risks of Utilizing Wood Stoves

There are two key risks associated with wood stoves: smoke and fire.

If you have a licensed wood stove that was professionally installed, the scent of smoke indicates a problem. Smoke in the residence can lead to respiratory difficulties for the occupants and might signify a more serious danger. A licensed wood stove should never smell like smoke [source: EPA].

A chimney or stovepipe that does not draw properly can pose a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, which cannot be detected by smell. If you lack a smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector in your home, you should install both immediately. Your local fire department can provide assistance with this [source: EPA].

Creosote, a poisonous, flammable substance, can accumulate in the chimney and cause chimney fires. This is more likely to occur with older stoves and chimneys rather than newer ones. Newer stoves are required to have low particle emissions, which dramatically reduces creosote buildup. Nevertheless, you should still perform annual maintenance and cleaning. You can find a certified chimney sweep through the Chimney Safety Institute of America [sources: ATDSR, EPA].

By adhering to clearance requirements and installing floor pads and heat shields as necessary, floor and wall fires should be easily preventable. However, you can reduce your fire risk even more by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid burning logs made of compressed sawdust and wax, which are intended for open fireplaces.
  • Never burn painted or chemically treated wood, which will release toxins.
  • Never use kerosene, lighter fluid or other fire-starting chemicals.
  • Never let a fire smolder. Build a smaller fire if you require less heat, not a slower-burning one.
  • Burn only seasoned wood – ideally, wood that has been dried outdoors for at least six months. It should sound hollow when struck against another piece of wood, and the grain should have separated somewhat at the ends.
  • Regularly clean out ash and dispose of it in a noncombustible container outside of your residence.
  • Keep combustible household materials (rugs, curtains, towels, paper, etc.) outside of the stove’s clearance area.

[source: EPA]

Don’t let these concerns discourage you from installing a wood stove. When installed professionally and utilized correctly, a wood stove can be a wonderful, cost-effective, eco-friendly, and energy-efficient addition to your home. Simply take the necessary precautions, and you can enjoy one of the oldest and most beautiful forms of heat.

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Burning a bigger, hotter fire than necessary, or overfiring a wood stove, can damage the stove’s components. Over time, this can cause the stove to weaken. It also means you’re spending more money on fuel than you need to. Signs of overfiring include red-hot stove panels, noisy drafting (a big fire requires a lot of oxygen), and a phenomenon known as whuffing, in which the stove vibrates on the hearth [source: Chimney Sweep Online].

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Sources of Information

  • The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Creosote.” 2002. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Chimney Sweep Online. “Sweep’s Library: Whuff’s the Deal?” (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Chimney Sweep Online. “Woodstove Overfiring.” 2009. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Cleaner Burning Wood Stoves and Fireplaces: Where You Live.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Fuel Comparison: Relative Emissions of Fine Particles.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Health Effects of Wood Smoke.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Healthier Home, Cleaner Environment.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “More Efficient, Cleaner Burning Fireplaces.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Environmental Protection Agency. “Wood Burning Efficiency and Safety.” Oct. 7, 2008. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • Hearth. “Installing a Woodstove: The Basics.” 2007. (Accessed Feb. 25, 2009)
  • Mother Earth News. “Wood Stove Safety.” Jan./Feb. 1980. (Accessed Feb. 26, 2009)
  • The Wood Heat Organization. “All About Wood Stoves.” (Accessed Feb. 25, 2009)
  • The Wood Heat Organization. “Safe Clearances for Wood Stoves.” (Accessed Feb. 25, 2009)


1. What is a wood stove?

A wood stove is a heating appliance that burns wood to produce heat. It is typically made of cast iron or steel and is designed to be installed in a room or living area. The stove is connected to a chimney or flue that allows the smoke and gases produced by the burning wood to escape outside.

2. How do wood stoves work?

Wood stoves work by burning wood in a firebox, which heats up the stove’s metal surface. As the metal surface heats up, it radiates heat into the room. The stove’s chimney or flue also plays an important role in the stove’s operation by drawing in fresh air to feed the fire and allowing smoke and gases to escape.

3. What are the benefits of using a wood stove?

There are several benefits to using a wood stove. Firstly, wood is a renewable and sustainable fuel source. Secondly, wood stoves are more efficient than traditional open fireplaces, meaning they require less wood to produce the same amount of heat. Finally, wood stoves can be used as a backup heat source in case of power outages or other emergencies.

4. How do you properly maintain a wood stove?

To properly maintain a wood stove, it is important to clean the stove regularly and remove any ash buildup. The stove’s chimney or flue should also be inspected and cleaned annually to prevent the buildup of creosote, which can be a fire hazard. It is also important to use dry, seasoned wood to prevent the buildup of soot and other debris in the stove.

5. What are the safety considerations when using a wood stove?

When using a wood stove, it is important to follow proper safety precautions to prevent fires and other accidents. This includes ensuring the stove is installed correctly and using only appropriate fuels. It is also important to keep flammable materials away from the stove and to use a fire screen to prevent sparks from escaping. Finally, it is important to have a working smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector installed in the room.

6. Can you use a wood stove for cooking?

Yes, many wood stoves are designed to be used for cooking. Some models have built-in ovens or cooktops, while others can be used with special attachments or accessories. Cooking on a wood stove can be a fun and efficient way to prepare meals, particularly during power outages or other emergencies.

7. How much does it cost to install a wood stove?

The cost of installing a wood stove can vary depending on several factors, including the type of stove, the materials used for installation, and local labor costs. On average, homeowners can expect to pay between $1,000 and $3,000 for a professional installation.

8. How long do wood stoves typically last?

With proper maintenance, a wood stove can last for decades. However, the lifespan of a wood stove can vary depending on factors such as the quality of the stove, how often it is used, and how well it is maintained.

9. Are wood stoves environmentally friendly?

While wood stoves produce carbon emissions, they can be considered environmentally friendly if they are used responsibly. Using sustainably harvested wood and properly maintaining the stove can help reduce the environmental impact. Additionally, wood stoves can be a more eco-friendly heating option than fossil fuel-based heating systems.

10. Can you use a wood stove in a mobile home?

Yes, it is possible to use a wood stove in a mobile home. However, it is important to choose a stove that is specifically designed and approved for use in a mobile or manufactured home. Additionally, the installation process should be carried out by a professional to ensure the stove is installed safely and properly.

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