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Wood Stove Basics

By: Johnny Shaw
With the rising cost of fuel, we are searching for a less expensive way to heat our homes. Using wood for fuel could be your best answer. It is relatively inexpensive, can replace a major portion of your heating bill and is a renewable resource.
We purchased a house in the spring of 2005 that had a wood burning stove. I was not sure what brand it was, but with a little research in the internet, I discovered it was an 'Earth Stove'. The only other wood burning stove we had owned was called a Ben Franklin stove. It was not very efficient allowing most of the heat to go up the chimney plus it did not seal completely allowing sparks to escape, an extreme fire hazard. We could not leave it unattended for fear of fire.
After our experience with the Ben Franklin, I had some reservations about using the Earth Stove. When the first cold weather arrived, my reservations were resolved. It heated the house beautifully. The previous owners had left a small supply of wood which I quickly realized would not be enough. I began my research about woods and watching the news papers for firewood. There are many types of wood available with each one having a different characteristic in the way they burn, heat, produce smoke or sparks and the most dangerous thing to watch for: the amount of creosote they produce.
Creosote is the one danger the homeowner should be constantly aware of and do everything to reduce the amount deposited in your chimney, stovepipe or flu. When creosote accumulates to a dangerous level it can catch fire. When it does catch fire, it burns around 2000 degrees. I have been told it roars like a jet engine in your chimney. This can crack your chimney tiles; cause your metal chimney to warp and collapse or even ruin the mortar between your bricks causing the chimney to become unstable. This high temperature can radiate into the structure of your home and ignite it resulting in either extreme damage or loss of your home. The company who cleaned my chimney advised me that if such a fire happened you can extinguish it by opening up the door to your stove and pouring a glass of water onto the fire and then closing the door. A Quart of water will produce about 1600 quarts of steam and should extinguish the blaze. If you have any glass windows in your stove, you must do this with extreme caution. The water hitting hot glass will most likely shatter the glass so if you have to do this please do so with extreme caution. Once this is done, let the fire in your stove die and have a professional inspect, clean and repair (if necessary), before you build another fire. The safest way is to have your chimney cleaned by a professional at least once a year and be careful which wood you use. If your wood produces a lot of smoke, you should clean or have it cleaned more often.
There are numerous web sites with a lot of information concerning burning wood as fuel. The main things to consider when preparing to burn wood fuel are the are amount of heat you can expect, amount of smoke which can relate to creosote, how easy is this wood to burn, how easy does it split if you are doing it yourself, does it throw sparks which can be a dangerous situation if a spark lands on a flammable substance undetected.
Hardwoods are always the best choice and include: ash, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, hickory, hard maple, pecan and dogwood. Softwoods will work but normally produce less heat and a lot of smoke. Excessive smoke is the number one cause of creosote building up in a chimney because smoke is actually unburned hydrocarbons. These build up inside your chimney causing chimney fires. A nice hot fire will normally burn these particles to the point they are negligible and will not accumulate to a dangerous level in your chimney.
Using wood for heating requires a lot of research and consideration before you start. There are a lot of local regulations and national regulations that need to be addressed before any installation is started. The best answer is to talk to the professionals. They should know all the laws and be able to interpret them for you.
Burning wood can be a rewarding experience plus is you cut, split and stack your own wood you will benefit physically as well. The information I have given you is by no means all inclusive or or the gospel truth. It is information I have gleaned from talking to people and from the internet. What I have learned may not be the correct way but from October until March, my heater came on about 7 times. As stated earlier, the internet has tons of information. All you have to do is look and ask. Have fun and enjoy your experience with your wood stove.
Johnny Shaw (Mountainman) Born and raised in a small town in Oklahoma. He married in 1971 and then joined the Air Force in 1977. After traveling the world, he retired in 1997 after 20 years of service and has recently moved back to Oklahoma. His rule to live by "Never give up, Never surrender." His web sites are: www.rfunstuff.com, www.propertyforsaleinhotspringsvillage.johnsspot.com and www.woodstove.johnsspot.com

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