Art Nash

With fall approaching, our heating season is coming soon. Many Alaskans like the smell of burning wood and the type of heat they get from a wood stove. This time of year, they may think about the size of their wood pile, drying the wood and the relative price of heating oil as a competitive option. Yet often, the fitness of the stove itself can be overlooked.

It’s a fact that burning wood with a stove — even a contemporary brand — still requires knowledgeable oversight of the combustion unit itself. Getting the fires going is a small part of making warmth in your home, as the fuel and device themselves are very important for clean and efficient heating. 

Stove safety is important. One hazard with operating a wood stove is a problem which you most likely will not see, creosote. When burning logs or brush, the resulting creosote and soot build up in your smoke stack from the condensed smoke collecting over time on the inside of the stack lining, and it is a fire danger. It is still flammable and when it catches fire inside the pipe, you have a stack fire. While your standard gauge stovepipe is designed to vent off hot gasses from wood combustion, it isn’t meant to be a burn chamber itself.  

There are a couple ways to avoid a stack fire. For starters, burn well-seasoned wood that has a low moisture content. This fuel conditioning helps, as does trying to have the combustion as hot as possible in the firebox itself. Having the fire chamber lined with fire brick that can absorb and hold the heat also helps. Most importantly, though, it is a good idea to have a large metal brush pushed through the pipe, from the top of the roof downward.  This type of cleaning is usually done by a chimney sweep.  

What a chimney sweep will charge you for an hour of work will probably be worth it financially, for the reasonable expectation that your chimney is then clean and safe. Also consider the safety concern of having to get onto a roof and navigate ladders with a long brush if you decide to brush through your stovepipe yourself. Either way, this maintenance of your wood stove is very important. The key to heating efficiently and safely is to keep your wood dry, your fire hot and your family safe!

Art Nash is the Extension energy and radon specialist for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service. Contact him at 907-474-6366 or by email at alnashjr@alaska.edu.