6 Awesome Tips for Optimal Wood Stove Performance

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Wood Stove FireIt’s been a few years since I posted the article titled, Our New Efficient Wood Stove Has Finally Freed Us From The Clutches Of Our Old Electric Furnace! so today seems like a good day to revisit the topic of heating your home with a wood stove.

More specifically, I’ll be focusing on what you can do to keep your wood stove functioning the way it was designed to work. The wood stoves of today are a different animal than the types your grandparents grew up with. They are designed to burn much cleaner and efficiently. With the addition of these improvements there may be some additional maintenance procedures you’ll need to perform if your want your wood stove to stay at the top of its game.

When we installed our wood stove in the house we’re currently living in, we were blown away by how clean it burned. When we were burning at the correct temperatures, there wasn’t hardly any visible smoke from the chimney!

We’ve been heating our home exclusively with that wood stove for five years now and we’ve recently learned some important lessons about getting the best heating performance from it. You might find the things we learned to be quite interesting and helpful.

What Inspired This Article?

Recently, my husband and I started feeling like our wood stove just didn’t seem to be heating our house as well as it did when it was new. We talked about why this might be and my husband started doing some research to find a solution.

We did find the solution and I’m excited to share our findings with you all!

1: Clean Your Wood Stove – We thought we were doing a good job of keeping our wood stove clean. We scooped the ashes on a regular basis and cleaned the glass to remove any soot buildup. What we didn’t realize is that there is more to cleaning a wood stove than simply removing the ashes and making the glass look nice and pretty. Upon close inspection of the way our stove is designed to operate, we discovered that we could do some things to help our stove burn more efficiently.

Our stove has metal ductwork that draws air into the firebox of the stove from outside our home. My husband wondered if it was possible that the stove wasn’t getting enough air because we had to keep the air control lever all the way open to maintain a good burn. He cleaned all of the ash out of the stove and then blew compressed air through the duct (with the stove door closed).

When he did this, quite a bit of very fine ash blew into the firebox. We don’t have any way of knowing for certain how much the ash that had accumulated in this air inlet system was restricting the airflow but it’s good to know that it’s clean now.

As we continued to closely inspect the stove, we noticed that there was a metal plate that ran across the top of the stove near the door. We also noticed that there was an air gap of about 1/4″ between this plate and the top of the stove. My husband looked it over closely and he believes that this is the air wash system that is designed to keep the glass clean. He thinks that as hot air rises in the firebox, it flows through the air gap and across the front of the glass.

We blew compressed air through the air gap and couldn’t believe how much ash came out. I think this explains why our glass was accumulating so many soot deposits.

While we were inspecting how the stove was designed to burn efficiently, we decided to remove the four stainless steel burner tubes that are positioned horizontally at the top of our stove. When we removed them, we noticed that they were each about half filled with very fine ash. A quick burst of compressed air solved that issue.

2: Inspect and Clean the Spark Arrester on Your Chimney Cap – Where we live, the building codes require that all chimney caps be covered with a wire mesh type spark screen to prevent any burning ash from exiting from the cap. It’s not a fine mesh like window screen but it can get clogged up.

When we checked ours there was a fine coating of black fluffy ash that had filled most of the squares in the wire mesh screen. This was definitely restricting the amount of air that could exit through the chimney which means that it was also restricting the amount of fresh oxygen that could be drawn into the stove that the fire really needs in order to burn efficiently. All it took was a few gentle passes with a wire brush and the screen was nice and clean again.

3: Clean Your Chimney – All wood stove users should already know about the importance of keeping a chimney free from creosote build up. Creosote accumulations in your chimney can lead to devastating house fires. If there is a lot of creosote in your chimney, it can also restrict air flow and decrease the quality of the draft.

4: Know Your Wood – I’ve written about why it’s important to burn seasoned wood in your wood stove in my article titled, Keep Things Green By Only Burning Seasoned Wood In Your Wood Stove.

If the wood that you’re burning isn’t properly “seasoned” meaning that it hasn’t had enough time to dry to the point that the moisture content in the wood is low enough for clean burning fires, you’re going to have problems.

If you read the article I just referred to, you’ll learn about how burning damp wood can increase creosote accumulations. It can also be really difficult to maintain the correct temperature in your stove to facilitate clean and effecting burning fires if you burn damp wood.

My husband broke his pelvis last winter so we had to buy some firewood from a local suppler. When he delivered the wood, it didn’t seem like it was quite as dry as the wood that we usually burn. When we started burning it, we discovered that our suspicions were correct.

It was lodgepole pine which is what we usually burn but it just didn’t burn as nicely as what we were used to even after thoroughly cleaning our wood stove and chimney. Here’s a good tip if your find yourself in a situation where you have to burn slightly damp wood. If you split it into smaller pieces, the wood will burn much better.

When we’re burning really dry wood, we can throw a nice big piece of wood into the firebox after the fire is good and hot. With this last batch of wood, that just isn’t the case but if we split it into smaller pieces, it burns really well.

5: Learn How to Properly Start a Fire in a Wood Stove – Many people think they know how to start a fire. How hard can it be, right? Well, there is actually a right and a wrong way to start a fire in a cold firebox.

  1. Start with newspaper, kindling, and small to medium size wood. With the newspaper and kindling, you’ll be sending a rush of hot air up the chimney which will begin warming it up so that your chimney will draft properly. Burning the small to medium sized wood in the early stages of your fire will allow you to more quickly get that nice hot bed of coals that you’ll need in the next step.
  2. After you have a nice hot bed of coals, add larger pieces of wood. If you’ve ever struggled to keep larger pieces of wood burning, it’s probably because you don’t have a hot coal bed.
  3. Adjust the air controls properly to maintain the correct temperature in your stove. When the fire in your wood stove is burning efficiently, you should be able to restrict the air flow a bit while still maintaining proper temperatures in your firebox. This will result in longer burn times without the temperature in your firebox dropping to the point that excess creosote begins to form in your chimney.

6: Don’t Overfeed the Dragon! – When it’s 0° outside, it’s natural to want your home to heat up as quickly as possible. I can’t say that I blame you but it’s important to understand that filling your firebox to the brim with wood won’t necessarily heat your home faster.

As a matter of fact, overfiring, which when your wood stove is burning hotter than it’s designed to burn, can permanently damage your wood stove. Doing this can also cause your home to catch on fire.

To understand how much wood you can put in your stove, keep this in mind. The more flame you have in the firebox of your wood stove, the more oxygen will need to enter the stove to maintain an efficiently burning fire. If your stove isn’t designed to allow enough oxygen to enter the firebox when the stove is fully loaded up with wood, you’ll end up with a bunch of wood that smolders at lower temperatures instead of burning cleanly.

Let’s Sum Things Up

After doing a thorough cleaning of our wood stove, chimney, and cap screen, we’re once again enjoying nice and clean burning fires. We’re also getting longer burn times which is really nice.

The lesson that you can learn from our experience is to get to know how your particular stove is designed to function. You’ll probably find that simply cleaning the ashes isn’t enough to keep your wood stove burning at its peak level of performance.

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