Every year, thousands of us across America cozy up to a wood burning stove to warm our living rooms, garages and other rooms in our house. They’re a cost-effective and dependable means to be self-reliant with fuel while offering a certain rustic charm to your home.
Pellet stoves are similar, and we use our stoves differently than we do our boilers, heat pumps and central heating system which only require you to set the thermostat and then put it to the back of your mind. Stoves are more interactive, and the way that we use them can influence just how well they can perform for us.
This article aims to be a handy little guide for stove users or those considering buying. We’ll be providing some wood burning stove tips and tricks and ways to run your stove more efficiently so that you can get your money’s worth, produce more heat and use a little less firewood at the same time.
Wood Stove Efficient Burning
The first thing you’ll want to think about is efficiency – just how well does your stove convert the fuel into clean heat energy. Why clean heat? Well because, the more efficient a stove is, the less air pollution it emits.
And we’re not talking about global warming, we mean emissions such as:
- Carbon monoxide
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
- Other carbon-based particulates
Which are all unhealthy for you or your neighbours to breathe in.
When the complete combustion of the wood is achieved, only carbon dioxide, water vapour and ash are produced alongside the heat. What most people don’t realise is as much as half the heat produced from burning wood, is down to the combustion of the exhaust gasses that escape during wood burning.
The emissions that are mentioned above are produced as a result of the inefficient combustion of carbon and hydrogen molecules.
Can you avoid these harmful pollutants, increase heat output and save on fuel at the same time? Of course, you can! And you can do it with the following methods:
Use Seasoned Firewood
Wood that is properly dried and prepared will not only produce cleaner heat but will produce MORE heat. This is because freshly cut wood contains a high volume of water in comparison to seasoned. In fact, half of the weight of fresh wood can be attributed to its water content and this makes it harder to ignite and burn and it produces more smoke.
The smoke produced from the burning of fresh wood as opposed to seasoned wood also contains a higher concentration of the carcinogenic substance called creosote. This stuff clogs chimneys, flue and piping which is going to lead to more maintenance down the road and reduce the lifespan of your stove.
If you source and cut your own wood, make sure to season for a minimum of 6 months in a dry, sunny location covered over with a hard roof or at least some tarp. For those of you who buy seasoned wood from a supplier, it may be worth seasoning it for a while just to be sure as many have noticed that it makes a difference.
Maintain Ample Heat
When the wood is not burned in a hot enough combustion zone it tends to smoulder rather than combust. This allows hydrogen and carbon to escape from the wood but it’s not hot enough for them to burn up, meaning a less than optimum heat output and more air pollution.
Make sure the combustion zone of the stove is at least 600 degrees Celsius (1,100 degrees Fahrenheit) to maintain a healthy and efficient combustion rate. Do this by keeping the stove fed with dry wood before it has a chance to cool down.
Manage Primary and Secondary Airflow
To optimize the combustion of those exhaust gasses we mentioned, you need to optimize the airflow a little more.
On your stove, you have the primary air supply which is a large inlet located at the bottom of your stove and the secondary comes from the top through smaller inlets. Use the primary to get the fire started and then close it off, and adjust the secondary airflow accordingly.
When you get it right, you will actually see the jets of gas burning as they exit the wood. Your logs will also stay in the same shape as they burn and only turn to ash when they are completely used up as opposed to breaking up into large lumps.
Allow Oxygen Flow
Fire needs oxygen to grow and to burn hotter. Many stoves come with dampeners that allow you to control the flow of oxygen which in theory controls the heat output of the stove. While this is true, it can also inhibit efficient combustion.
When you close the dampeners to reduce the oxygen flow to the fire, you reducing the amount of combustion taking place. Again, this is going to result in the wood not being totally combusted and for hydrogen and carbon to escape without being burned.
In this case, it pays to resist closing the dampeners if you want your fire to burn efficiently but instead only use the dampeners when you plan to let the fire burn out and you’re not going to feed it any more wood.
Use High-Efficiency Stoves
In terms of the environment, the manufacture of stoves used to go unregulated and as a result was highly polluting. Now, stoves which are certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) follow the requirements set in the 2015 New Source Performance standard. You can find a list of EPA certified stoves here.
Modern stoves use innovative designs which dramatically increase the rate of combustion. Some models force the exhaust gasses that are released from the wood as it burns into secondary and tertiary combustion chambers which give them more time to burn.
They can also feature a pre-warming chamber which warms the air entering the combustion chamber, making combustion take place rapidly. There are also stoves which increase the combustion of the volatile gasses and carbon particulates with an integrated catalytic converter.
The catalyst material catches the un-combusted and chemically breaks them down increasing the heat output and the lifespan of the stove. These stoves are typically more expensive and need the catalytic material replaced every so often but some find is worth it because they are highly efficient and last for years.
For a high heat output and highly efficient catalytic wood stove, we would recommend the ones by Vermont Casting which you can check out on Amazon. These are beautiful, luxurious and high-quality wood stoves which have the option of thermostatically controlled combustion.
How to Get the Most Heat from a Wood Stove
Now that you know how to burn wood more efficiently, you’re already most of the way there, but there are some tips we have that can help you to maximise the use of your stove.
Use Stove Fans
Stove fans are a fantastic way to blow the hot air produced by your stove in the direction which you point the fan. The easiest for most users is the TEG operated fans which power themselves just by using the heat of the stove and they work really well.
A fan might seem like an added extra that you could do without but they do make a dramatic difference as it stops the warm air from just rising and sitting in the upper corners of the room.
Voda stove fans are affordable, high quality and very popular among stove users. You can see our recommendation on Amazon here or check out our wood stove fan article for a more in-depth look and comparison between different stove fan models.
Keep the Stove, Pipes and Chimney Clean
Creosote, ash and other deposits inside the firebox or clogging up the piping reduces the efficiency of your wood burning. They reduce air flow which results in your fire not getting the oxygen to it to burn hot enough to combust the exhaust gasses efficiently.
Ensure that before heating season your stove piping, firebox and chimney are all cleaned out. Most modern stoves have ash catchers which make it easier to clean but for removing creosote, the brands Rutland Products and Meeco’s Red Devil have great products for it.
Firebrick Thermal Mass Wall
If you are more concerned about waring that you are worried about the area around your stove looking a little untidy you could try surrounding the stove with firebrick. Firebrick is used inside the combustion chamber of some stove models and it’s great because it absorbs heat really well and slowly releases it.
Get yourself some firebricks and stack them around the sides of your stove. Even when your fire is turned off when you turn in for bed, for example, the firebricks will slowly release the heat they absorbed and will help in a small way to keep your home warm.
Best Wood for Burning: Choose the Right Wood
The best wood for wood burning is the hardwoods. Heat output is measured in British thermal units (BTU) and hardwoods have a higher BTU output than their softwood counterparts.
The most commonly used hardwood for burning is ash, but woods have different burning properties and so you may like options such as:
Hardwoods burn slower because they have a higher density than softwood, so they’ll last you for longer.
In an ideal world, a straight pipe coming from your stove is the best option as it promotes optimal airflow. Most of the time though, this can’t be done and when installing the piping, it needs to be angled to either vent through a wall or through the chimney.
Even in the scenario that the pipe does need a bend though, it’s more effective to avoid sharp angles and try your best to keep the angle of the pipe at 45 degrees or below. Even if you need a 90-degree angle, it’s best to use two 45 degree elbows instead.
How to Keep a Wood Stove Burning All Night
The last of our wood burning stove tips and tricks is keeping a wood stove burning all the way through the night. And it is no easy task, even the most devout stove users can have trouble. With that being said, make sure that it’s safe for your stove to be left burning overnight as it’s not recommended and can pose a fire hazard if left unattended!
First things first, select a good, slow-burning hardwood like oak. You don’t want any wood that’s going to burn away too fast, so you may want to keep the harder to obtain or more expensive slow burning wood aside just for night time burning.
It will work better if your stove has an underlying layer of ash from previous burns too, so have a few hours’ worths of fire burning in the stove before loading in the night-time wood. Bring the ash and coals to the front of the stove near the air inlet.
Arrange the wood that you’ve set aside behind the ash and coals so that you can fit as much wood in as your stove can safely handle. Light the fire using a top-down ignition technique and get it up to a high temperature then close off dampeners and head off to bed.
This may or may not work depending on your technique, the size of your stove and other elements such as outdoor weather and air pressure. Your fire may still be burning when you awaken in the morning, and if this is the case, load up more wood, open the vents to get it going again.