By properly maintaining your wood stove and following good safety practices, you can enjoy cozy wood heat all winter long. Remember these tips any time you use a wood-burning appliance in your home.
Minimize creosote. Chimney fires start when accumulated soot and creosote inside a chimney or stovepipe ignite. When creosote burns, it can reach temperatures up to 2,000 degrees, causing failure of both masonry and metal chimneys, even burning down a house.
Keeping a chimney clean is the best insurance against a fire. Although you can’t eliminate creosote completely, you can prevent its build-up by burning wood correctly and properly operating your wood stove. Burning your fires hot also makes a difference because creosote usually forms at temperatures below 250 degrees.
Clean your chimney regularly. How often you clean the chimney depends on the particular wood stove and how you use it. When you use your stove continually, clean the chimney at least once every two months. Plan to have a professional clean it at least once a year to remove creosote buildup.
Build your fire correctly. The wood you use, how you store it, and how you build and bank your fires also affect a wood stove’s operation. “Safer and Cleaner Wood Heat,” a free consumer information guide, covers this information in detail. To request a copy, call the Energy Hotline, (800) 962-9731 or 324-7980 in Spokane.
Inspect your wood stove and chimney periodically. Be sure your inspection covers the following components:
Chimney cap. The draft could be reduced if the chimney cap becomes plugged by debris.
Catalytic combustor holes. These holes can plug up. Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions.
Stovepipe. The angles and bolts are particularly subject to corrosion.
Gaskets. On airtight stove doors, gaskets need to be replaced every few years.
Seams. The seams on stoves sealed with furnace cement may leak. Eventually, the cement becomes brittle and may fall out.
Firebrick. Check for broken or missing firebricks.
Grate. Look for cracks or breaks on the grate, or stove bottom, where the fire is built.
Invest in the right equipment. Every home with a wood stove should have at least one smoke detector per floor and an emergency ladder stored near a window on each upper floor. Standard equipment should also include a pair of insulated gloves for handling an overheated stove and stovepipe, and a stack thermometer to monitor operating temperatures. Buy the best quality fire extinguisher you can afford. A carbon dioxide or dry chemical extinguisher is handy in case the heat from a chimney fire ignites combustible materials around it.
Know what to do if a chimney fire occurs. If you do have a chimney fire, close any doors and air inlets on the stove. If the fire is small, shutting off the air reaching it may extinguish the flames. Do not throw water on an overheated wood stove. The water may explode as steam, seriously burning anyone nearby.
Plan escape routes from every room in your home and make sure all family members are aware of fire survival techniques. Hold a practice drill so everyone understands exactly what to do in case a fire occurs.
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