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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Cures for hard-starting wood-burning stoves

In the middle of winter when temperatures are very cold and the wind is biting, a nice cozy fire to warm up to is what many people look forward to at the end of the day. But some wood-burning stoves just won’t start, or take forever to get going, and that can be extremely frustrating.

We had this issue just yesterday when my husband started up the wood stove at 630 p.m. after we had both been out all day. The stove was cold, there were few embers left from the morning fire, and the temperature outside was 22 degrees not counting the wind chill factor. The Class A stainless steel chimney was very, cold and the stove just didn’t want to start.

There are several factors that can affect wood stove starts:
  • Cold air falls, so the air in the chimney pushes downward making it more difficult to get a stove started on very cold days. This applies to metal chimneys and masonry chimneys.
  • Inadequate air supply will hinder or make it impossible to get a fire going.
  • Wet wood is hard to start and burn and should never be used.
  • Stoves located on lower levels are affected by negative house pressure.
Regency wood stove
Solutions to these issues can involve opening a door or window to get adequate air needed to start the stove, or installation of a whole-house ventilator to be sure that there is adequate air for the house in general, and for the stove in particular. If the stove is located on a lower level negative pressure will also work against it, so the installation of a chimney pipe heater will likely be necessary. The heater can be installed on a stove on any level to make starting easier. What the heater does is keep the chimney warm so that draft is easy to establish, and it also kicks in when the stove is cooling down so that there is no smoke backup.

Always use dry wood (hard or soft) with 20% or less moisture content. Investment in an inexpensive moisture meter will assure that the wood is dry enough to burn.
Start a fire using very small pieces of kindling or Fatwood (dry pine). Start a fire using the top-down burn method with kindling on top and larger pieces below it. This method makes the fire burn longer and is more efficient and easier to start.

According to the Midwest Chimney Safety Council, when planning location of a wood stove, try to place the stove in the center part of the house and have less chimney exposed to the exterior. Besides being the best location to distribute heat evenly throughout the home, the less outside exposure for the chimney the better. The house will keep the pipe warmer and make it easier to start a wood-burning stove and keep the fire going.

When starting a wood stove, open up the air supply doors fully to let in as much air as possible. After the fire is going, slowly close these doors, leaving enough of an opening for the fire to keep going without having roaring flames. A fire that is too hot can cause overheating of the stove and/or a chimney fire. Keep a stove thermometer on the stove to regulate temperature, which should be between 400 – 600 degrees.

For more information:
Chimney Safety Institute of America
Midwest Chimney Safety Council
Hearth, Patio, and Barbeque Association
National Chimney Sweep Guild

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