Even 'backwoodsmen' need a refresher on wood-stove safety
Even in timber country, it seems, people feel the need to know more - often a lot more - about heating with wood. So when George Jones threw open his stove shop for a wood-burning workshop here recently, the folks trooped in despite lingering summer temperatures.Skip to next paragraph
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They learned a lot. But more than anything else they learned this: ''Stoves seldom make (wood-burning) problems; people do.'' It was a message every speaker , from chimney sweep to fire marshal and insurance assessor, emphasized. Stoves don't make creosote, and they almost never cause house fires. Human mismanagement is the overwhelming culprit.
Until the turn of the century people grew up with the woodman's ax and garden-length stacks of cordwood. They learned from observation what to do and what not to do with a wood fire.
In an age of oil, gas, and electric heating units, more recent generations only learned how to adjust a thermostat. So when the decade-long rush back to wood heat began, many people lacked even the basic understanding required for this new-old technology. Many discovered that grandpa had to know a whole lot more than they believed, despite the ''simpler age'' in which he grew up.
Even so, the technology is uncomplicated and the rules governing its safety and efficiency relatively straightforward. They can be readily mastered and ''economic, worry-free comfort can be yours,'' as the meeting brought out. It is a theme echoed by others who have successfully returned to heating - and sometimes even cooking - with wood.
Four basic rules govern safe heating with wood. They are: Get the right-size stove for your needs (better too small than too large), install it correctly, operate it properly, and maintain it conscientiously. How do we do this and why is stove size so important?
The stove. Don't buy too big for your needs. Oversize stoves quickly overheat the house and people naturally respond by closing the damper, often to a mere crack. This brings down the heat but creates a smoldering, inefficient, creosote-producing fire. With a slow fire, more gases escape unburned to condense on the chimney walls as creosote.
In contrast, the right-size stove needs to be dampened only moderately. With adequate oxygen, the fire burns efficiently, and fewer unburned gases leave the stove. Those that do are often expelled from the chimney because of the greater draft from a more vigorous fire. In addition, the faster, more efficient burn rate means more value for your fuel dollars.
It goes without saying that the stove should not have any large cracks that might make it dangerous to operate. You would be wise, too, to buy a ''listed'' stove, that is, one that has met the approval of a recognized testing laboratory. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) is one of the more recognized of these companies.
Correct placement. Stand the stove on a noncombustible floor (stone or brick) or place it on an approved floor protector. Believe it or not, people have been known to install stoves directly over deep-pile carpeting. Have the floor protector extend 6 inches out from the back and sides of the stove and 18 or more inches beyond the side where the stove door opens.