There’s nothing cozier than a crackling fire in the wood stove during the cold of winter. But wood stoves aren’t only cozy: they’re cost effective, good for the environment, and efficient at heating your home.
Whether you already have a wood stove or are looking to buy one, there’s a lot you need to know. From proper cleaning to correct firewood, the choices you make concerning your wood stove affect its safety.
It’s much easier to enjoy your stove — and make the most of its powerful heat — when you know how to care for it. Keep reading for how to prevent house fires, correctly burn firewood, prevent creosote buildup, and everything else you need to know about having a wood stove in your home.
Safety First: Wood Stove Maintenance 101
Cleaning & Inspecting Your Wood Stove
If you’re moving into a home with a wood stove it’s a good idea to have it inspected when you move in. A certified chimney sweep can inspect your stove to ensure that it’s safe to operate and meets local codes.
If needed, you should also have your chimney cleaned before using it. Who knows how the previous owners cared for their stove: it may have been too long since it has been cleaned (this was the case when we moved into our cabin!).
With a clear bill of health — a clean chimney and a passed inspection — you’ll be safe to use your stove for the winter.
After that initial cleaning, you’ll likely want to have your stove serviced yearly. How often you have it serviced depends on how often you use it and what kind of fires you burn. A good rule of thumb is to have it done yearly, after the burning season.
If you get tired of paying your local chimney sweep, you can also buy the equipment to clean the stove yourself. Clean it once a month if you like! The important thing is that your stove is getting cleaned regularly & properly.
Fire Alarms & Carbon Monoxide Detectors
It goes without saying that you should have a fire alarm in your home. But what most people don’t realize is that you should also buy a carbon monoxide detector.
Wood stoves can emit carbon monoxide if not ventilated or cleaned properly. If you’re taking proper care of your stove you probably don’t have to worry about this, but I’d still encourage you to get a detector for peace of mind. It can be a simple, inexpensive one: this detector is the one we use.
What About the Ashes?
Ashes are one of the causes of house fires. If hot ashes aren’t properly disposed of, they pose a major fire risk.
Here’s the top do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t let a pile of ashes accumulate in your stove. Do clean out the ashes when your stove gets full. How often this happens will depend on how often you burn a fire and what kind of wood you use.
- Do dispose of your ashes only in a metal ash bucket. Don’t put them in anything else, like a cardboard box (you’d be surprised how often people think this is a good idea!).
- Don’t place your ash bucket on the porch. Do place the bucket in the snow, on concrete or another bare, non-flammable surface.
All About Firewood: Firewood 101 for Your Wood Stove
Where to Get Firewood for Your Wood Stove
Unless you are heading out to the forest with a chainsaw and a truck, you’ll want to get in an order of wood somewhere locally.
You can place an order with a local supplier or negotiate with someone who has leftover wood. The first time we searched for firewood I was overwhelmed: it comes in how much? And it costs how much?!
Really, the cost of firewood isn’t too bad though — depending on where you live. And it’s cheaper than the electric alternatives.
You do want to be smart when shopping around for firewood. Here’s some questions to help you in your search:
- Is the wood a full cord? Firewood is measured in cords. A full cord is 4’ x 4’ x 8’. You can usually buy partial cords or full cords but you’ll want to make sure that the seller considers a full cord by those dimensions.
- Is the wood seasoned? Seasoned wood means that it’s been dried out. When wood is freshly cut down it is considered ‘wet’ with a high moisture content. Seasoned wood has been dried out.
- What type of wood is it? This is important because some types of wood burn faster than other. Softwoods burn fast and hot, hardwoods last longer (more on this below). Ultimately, the type of wood you get will probably come down to what is most available locally.
- How big is the firewood? This question is to make sure the wood will fit in your stove! We have a pretty big stove and burn 16” logs, for reference. You don’t want your wood to be too bulky for your stove.
- Do you deliver or stack the wood? Delivery and stacking usually cost extra. Instead you can pick up the wood yourself, and stack it yourself — just be prepared that stacking all those pieces of wood takes more time than you think!
Types of Firewood for Your Wood Stove
There’s 2 types of firewood: hardwood and softwood. Hardwood is more dense and comes from trees such as oak, maple, birch. Softwood is conifers: pine, fir, cedar.
Since hardwood is more dense, it takes longer to burn. It puts out more heat over a longer period of time. For this reason, hardwood is usually preferred for wood stoves. Softwood works fine too, it just burns faster and hotter.
The kind of wood you get will mostly depend on where you live. In some places hardwoods aren’t readily available, and your cord may be mostly softwood.
Seasoning Firewood for Your Wood Stove
The wood you get for your wood stove should already be ‘seasoned,’ meaning dried out. When freshly cut, all wood has a high moisture content. By drying out the wood you reduce this moisture content and make the wood easier to burn.
If you are buying a cord of wood somewhere, ideally it will already be seasoned (this is something you can ask about).
One way to tell if your wood is seasoned is by its sound. Hold two pieces of wood at their ends, and swing the opposite sides together. Seasoned wood will make a hollow ringing noise instead of a dull, clunking noise.
If you cut your own wood, you’ll want to season it. But you’ll have to plan ahead for this — seasoning can take up to 6 – 8 months for softer wood and 2 – 3 years for harder wood. The best way to do this is to leave the wood outside, in a place with good airflow (uncovered). Split the wood before you season it, to further speed up its seasoning.
Firewood storage can be tricky. You’ll want to keep the firewood dry to preserve it’s quality. And it’s nice to have it close to the house for convenience’s sake, but having it too close attracts critters.
Here’s a few simple guidelines for storage:
- Store your wood close to your house, but not too close. Hauling firewood into the house is a chore, so it’s nice to have your wood pile close. But too close and you’ll attract some unwanted visitors that can penetrate your home: mice, termites, and lots of other creepy crawlies. A general guideline is no closer than 5’ from your house.
- Don’t store your firewood inside. For the same reason you don’t want wood up against your house, you don’t want it inside. Wood is a natural home for bugs, and by storing it in your house you bring in the bugs. A good alternative is bringing a very small amount of wood inside right before you burn it.
- Don’t store your firewood on the bare ground. Instead, store it on planks of wood or another material that will raise it off the ground. Having wood directly on the earth will destroy its quality.
- Keep your firewood dry. This is fairly straightforward: protect your wood from the elements & keep it dry so it will burn. If you don’t have a covered place to store your wood you can invest in a tarp. The tarp should have some ventilation, like this one.
A Few Notes on Creosote
Creosote is worth mentioning in any content about wood stoves. It’s a black substance that builds up in your chimney, essentially due to incomplete combustion from your fire.
Why is this important? It’s important because too much creosote can cause chimney fires and ventilation issues. Over time, creosote hardens and then if it gets too hot it can catch on fire. Creosote is one of the reasons why it’s important to have your stove and chimney cleaned regularly by a professional.
A couple things you can do to prevent creosote:
- Burn hot fires, rather than low, smoldering fires. Creosote accumulates faster from slow-burning, smoldering fires.
- Burn the right wood. Only burn seasoned, dry wood. And only burn wood (not materials like newspaper or cardboard, which contain man-made chemicals) in your stove.
You can take measures to reduce creosote but almost all chimneys will accumulate some creosote over time. How much creosote depends on how often you use your stove, the wood you burn, and how hot your fires are.
Creosote is unavoidable for most wood stoves, so it’s important to clean it out regularly. In most cases, an annual cleaning will do.
Installing a Wood Stove
Local Building Codes
If you are buying or installing a wood stove it’s important to check your local codes. There are codes concerning what material your wood stove can be placed on, how close it can be to walls/structures, etc. Beyond general safety, keeping your wood stove up to code is important because if you fail to do so it may invalidate your insurance.
Choosing the Right Wood Stove
Most of this will come down to personal preference & what works best for your home. It’s easiest to find a manufacturer that has a style and price point that you like and then select the best model for your space.
One important thing to consider is size. Too small of an oven and you won’t get enough heat for your home; too big and you’ll have trouble regulating heat. For example, the cabin that we moved into actually has an oversized wood stove for the space, which overheats our home quickly. There’s been winter days when we are sweating in our loft!
Your manufacturer should be able to help you choose the right size wood stove for your space. If you need a small stove, I’d recommend Tiny Wood Stoves — this is what I wish we would have gotten!
Child Proofing Your Wood Stove
Lastly, child proofing your wood stove is a topic that’s easy to overlook until the last minute. Or maybe that’s just me — I’ve been frantically googling solutions as it’s about to be winter & our child is about to start crawling 🙂
Most of these child gates surround the wood stove and then have a gate in front, so you can easily enter to tend to the fire. Again, it’s a good idea to check your local codes to make sure any gate you install is up to code.
Disclosure: the product links in this article are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.