Common Questions about Wood Burning Stoves

MOTHER answers some frequent reader inquiries about wood heat.

| October/November 1995

Over the past year, many readers have written in with thoughtful questions about wood heat. We thought that all of Mother's readers would be interested in the answers to several of the most interesting.

The Smoky Flue

Jean-Anne Sylvester from outside of Cloverdale, Indiana asks how to deal with wood stove with "...a stove pipe that is stuffed up into the chimney over a fireplace. When its windy outside, it won't catch fire without filling the house with smoke, and it continues to puff out smaller but eye-watering amounts throughout the fire's life."

This is a problem that has been around since Ben Franklin's day.

First, be sure the "stuffing" around the stovepipe is 101% fireproof, airtight and firmly fixed in place. Then check to see if the stove is getting enough fresh air to feed fire and flue exhaust. Open a window; if that solves the problem, consider installing an air-supply inlet from the cellar, or via ducting from the outside in the floor in front of the hearth. And leave that window open till you duct air in some other way. A smoldering fire and too little draft due to insufficient air can fill the house with carbon monoxide that can kill you in your sleep.

If (in violation of building and fire codes and common sense) the fireplace shares either a flue or a limited supply of combustion air with a flame-operated appliance—a gas water heater, say—the potential carbon monoxide danger can be even greater. Check, and if you have a shared flue, quit using the wood burner till you can manage a separate flue for it.

Since your stove smokes both on start -up and during the burn when wind blows (unless the problem is too little air supply), it has insufficient draft—which means that the chimney is not pulling well enough. This plus the installation into a fireplace scares me. There are so many potential fire hazards in old stove set-ups, so please have the fire inspector and/or a qualified installer of solid-fuel appliances check yours. The flue may be too small for the stove, may be clogged or the fireplace damper half-shut. An expert will remove the stove, clean out all ash and soot from stove and stove pipe, clean the flue, make sure there is a clear and adequate flue opening all the way to the roof, replace rusted stove pipe, and reinstall the stove correctly, making sure all connections are air tight.

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