Practical Tips for Efficient Wood Heating

Choosing to heat your home with wood is a great, green option. Not only is wood a renewable fuel, but in many places it’s also local; you may even be able to harvest firewood from your own property. Here are a few basic techniques that can help you get the most out of a woodstove.

| October/November 2008

Save time, energy and money with these tips for efficient wood heating to get the most out of a woodstove. If you decide to heat your home with wood there are a few tips and tricks to consider.

Practical Tips for Efficient Wood Heating

Considering the amount of work involved in full-time wood heating, it just makes sense to burn efficient fires. The payoff is lower cost if you buy your wood and less work if you process your own. When you make smoky fires a thing of the past, you’ll never again worry about flammable creosote causing chimney fires, and you’ll need to sweep the chimney less often. The door glass of your stove or fireplace will stay clear longer, and there will be less chance of smoke roll-out when you open the loading door.

Let’s see: lower cost, less worry, less maintenance and better indoor air quality. Do those advantages make it worth your time to try out some new wood heating skills? I thought so.

The secret to high efficiency wood heating is to pay attention to the smoke. When a piece of firewood is heated, it begins to smoke. The smoke is made up of sticky tar droplets and some combustible gases. If a piece of wood were heated and allowed to smoke until only charcoal remained, more than half of its energy content would be gone — up in smoke, you might say. It is important to burn the smoke because any that escapes from the firebox unburned is wasted fuel that will stick in the chimney as creosote or be released as air pollution. Wood smoke is not a normal byproduct of wood combustion, it is waste. Visible smoke at the top of a chimney is always a sign that energy is being wasted.

Tips for Lighting the Fire

Starting a wood fire can be a frustrating experience, and when a fire fails to catch it can even be embarrassing if anyone is watching. But, by using the right techniques and materials, you can have complete confidence that every fire you light will take off immediately and burn reliably.

First, consider a key rule that applies to all wood burning: The wood must be dry. No fire will light and burn reliably if the wood is damp. By dry, I mean that the wood’s moisture content must be less than 20 percent.

Sue Fine
11/5/2008 11:46:19 AM

Wow! I read this is MOTHER, and decided to give it a try in my masonry fireplace that loves to smoke. What a difference! Once it gets going, it burns hot, even, and cleaner! Thanks, John.

10/8/2008 10:49:23 PM

After reading this article, I just had to prove John Gulland wrong about the top-down way to build a fire. I've been making fires for more than 16 years (admittedly not always with good results)and I know that is NOT the proper way to build a fire. On a recent cool morning, I got my wood and paper set up. A fire wasn't really needed, so when his way didn't work, it wouldn't be disastrous. Well it did work! And again and again. Each time in a totally cold stove. How could this be? This way is easier and quicker. Thanks for teaching us know-it-all dogs a new trick!

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