Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Air Time: "But I already know how to operate a wood stove!"

By Rod Tinnemore, Wood Stove Coordinator, Air Quality Program

Did you know that all wood stoves run best with dry, seasoned wood? Do you know the water content of the wood you burn? Did you know that burning garbage is unhealthy and illegal? Do you regularly check to be sure that only heat waves, not smoke, are all that can be seen coming from your chimney?

If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may not be quite as informed as you think. Your car or truck is designed to operate with little pollution under a variety of conditions. Not so your wood stove. Your actions as an operator greatly affect what exits your home and fills your neighborhood.

“But my stove is EPA certified!” Even when that’s true, it doesn’t mean it automatically burns cleanly. Your owner’s manual will tell you what is required to make sure the smoke from you stove matches the tested rating of your stove. Vary even a bit from what the manual says and you’ll likely make a pollution problem for yourself and your neighbors.

If you must burn wood, here are some simple guidelines to help you be a better wood stove owner.
  • First, burn only dry, well-seasoned wood. Your wood must be split and kept from the rain for at least six month, preferably a year or more.

  • Second, make small hot fires that quickly bring your stove to a high temperature before you attempt to reduce the air to you stove. This temperature requirement is less vital with catalytic stoves but be sure your catalytic combustor is cleaned and/or replaced according to the schedule in your owner’s manual.

  • Third, always check to see what’s coming out of your chimney. If you see smoke, add more air until you see only heat waves. Smoldering stoves give too little heat and are polluters. Learn to adjust your stove for cleaner burning. Again, never operate a smoky stove.

If all this seems like too much work but you want a wood heater, consider a pellet stove. Their fuel is uniform and low in water content. They are designed to maintain a clean burning flame. Remember, when it comes to wood stoves, don’t smoke! Next time we’ll talk about why a smoking stove doesn’t make cents.

For more information, see Wood Stoves, Fireplaces, Pellet Stoves and Masonry Heaters

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