2010 Jan. 18: MI Washtenaw County: Heating with Wood Stoves

2010 Jan. 18: MI Washtenaw County: Heating with Wood Stoves

There are many different types of wood stoves for home use. Some are more efficient and can reduce energy costs, while some are used for aesthetic purposes. There are also many different source of fuel — there are furnaces that burn corn, fuel pellets and wood.  Go to EPA: Cleaner Burning Fireplaces to find out which stove is right for you!

Installation and Maintenance

Your wood stove should be installed and maintained by a licensed professional.  You should have your stove, chimney, and vents cleaned and inspected every year. Visit the National Fireplace Institute for more information. 

Potential Dangers

Chimney Fires
Because an EPA certified wood stove burns more efficiently than older non-certified models, much less creosote builds up in the chimney. Creosote is a combustible residue formed by wood gases that are not completely burned. Too much creosote can lead to a chimney fire. In 1998, there were 18,300 residential fires in the United States originating in chimneys, fireplaces, and solid fuel appliances, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. These fires resulted in 160 personal injuries, 40 deaths, and $158 million in property damage. 
Wood Smoke
You should never smell smoke in your home. If you do, this is an indication that your wood stove is not operating efficiently or safely. The EPA has certified wood burning stoves to assure that the particulate matter released is low. According to the EPA, some people are more susceptible to wood smoke than others.

  • If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people. 
  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases than younger people. 
  • Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they’re more likely to be active outdoors.

Safe Wood Burning Practices

Remember the following to ensure your safety when using a wood stove:

  • Install and maintain a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector. 
  • Keep all flammable household items — drapes, furniture, newspapers, and books — far away from your wood stove. 
  • Start fires only with clean newspaper and dry kindling. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter, or a propane torch.
  • Do not burn wet or green (unseasoned) logs. 
  • Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust in your wood stove or fireplace insert they are made for open hearth fireplaces. If you use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust. 
  • Build small, hot fires. A smoldering fire is not a safe or efficient fire. 
  • Keep the doors of your wood stove closed unless loading or stoking the live fire. 
  • Regularly remove ashes from your wood stove into a metal container with a cover. Store the container of ashes outdoors on a cement or brick slab (not on a wood deck or near wood). 
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

Ash Disposal

Piles of ashes can hold heat for days. Before disposing of ashes, follow these steps:

  • Place them in a metal container or on bare earth — never in paper or plastic bags or cardboard boxes. (We know this sounds obvious, but it happens all the time.) 
  • Wet the ashes and stir as you add more water to make sure they are dead cold!

For More Information

American Lung Association on Wood Burning
EPA: Cleaner Burning Fireplaces
EPA: Wood Burning Efficiency and Safety 
EPA: Health Effects of Wood Smoke 
National Fireplace Institute
State of Washingtons Department of Ecology, Health Effects of Wood Smoke (PDF)  

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