Wood stoves can be a great way to heat a home during winter months but problems can develop if they are not properly maintained on a regular basis. Unlike gas, electric, or oil heating appliances, wood stoves need attention more often than once per year in order to function properly.
Wood burning stoves and fireplace inserts are designed to keep most of the heat inside the home, rather than allowing heat to escape up the flue as a regular open fireplace does. However, not all wood-burning appliances are the same. Older models are much less efficient and produce more emissions that pollute the environment. The basic difference between newer and older models is the baffle system and secondary burn chamber, which in new models burns more of the flammable gasses. According to the Hearth, Patio, and Barbeque Association, pre-EPA approved stoves should be changed out to newer EPA approved and U.L. listed stoves for better efficiency and cleaner burning, which is better for the environment.
Wood stove owners should first learn how to properly operate the appliance by reading the manual or asking their chimney sweep questions about operation. By loading the proper amount of cord wood and adjusting the combustion air inlet to achieve a hot-burning fire, the stove will operate according to expectations. Hot fires are more efficient, so the stove should be operated at 400 -700 degrees. Next, the chimney flue and pipe connector need to be clear of debris which may include bird nests, leaves, twigs, or creosote, in order for the stove to draft properly. The stove connector and flue should be cleaned out at least twice during the burning season because accumulated creosote on the flue walls and in the connector reduces draft.
Expanded or burnt creosote which occurs during a chimney fire can completely block off a flue and cause smoke backup into the home. If this occurs suddenly the stove operator should shut down the air intake and get out of the house, then call the fire department even if flames are not visible on the exterior chimney. Regular maintenance by a professional chimney sweep will reduce the risk of chimney fire. According to the Midwest Chimney Safety Council all types of wood create creosote, so there is no way to avoid it, however, creosote reduction is possible by the use of a chemical such as Ant-Creo-Soot before each burn cycle, and proper operation of the stove.
The MCSC Recommends that sweeping of wood stoves should be completed in the Spring, just after the burning season is over.