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Is Your Wood-Burning Stove Safe? 3 Signs of Danger

For new users, information about purchasing, installing, and safely using wood-burning stoves can be found in A Guide to Residential Wood Heating from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). All users should consistently be aware of signs of danger.

Here are 3 specific signs to watch out for.

1. Smouldering, smoky fires

When a fire smoulders, smoke may spill into the room – a smouldering fire is a very common reason for smoke spillage. When this happens, it means the fire isn’t receiving enough air, and temperatures throughout the system are low. The chimney won’t be receiving the hot gas needed to produce a strong upward draft.

Avoid smouldering fires by making sure you’re using a safe firing technique. If the manual for your appliance has detailed firing instructions, read and follow them. Every system is different and your idea of a properly built fire may not be the best for your system.

2. The smell of smoke in the home

The smell your wood-burning stove gives off may be pleasant, but the strong smell of smoke in the home is a sign that your system is not working properly. Properly operating  wood-burning systems don’t spill smoke into the house.

There are three possible reasons why your system may be smoking:

  • Bad system design: Certain design features can make a system likely to spill smoke. For example, chimneys that run up the outside wall of the house may produce very little draft, or a long flue pipe design may slow the flow of gases and cause a restriction to flow. When you shop, look for an advanced technology stove, and if you plan to install it yourself, get advice from a dealer who is certified under the WETT program.
  • Negative pressure in the house: Because new houses are more tightly sealed, there are fewer means by which air can enter. This may mean that negative pressure works against chimney draft, causing a wood-burning stove to spill smoke. Since it’s difficult to predict when or if spillage due to house depressurization will occur, it is important to have a smoke detection and alarm system installed.
  • Improper wood burning technique: Make sure your fires are built according to your users manual and if you get smouldering fires, reassess your technique. Burn only seasoned firewood that fits your appliance. Never burn garbage, painted or treated wood, plywood, cardboard or garbage.

3. Ash buildup

Ashes tend to contain live embers that can stay hot for up to days, releasing carbon monoxide gas all the while. Owners of wood-burning stoves should be diligent about removing the ash from their appliance regularly. Most modern stoves work best when a small amount of ash is removed often, rather than letting it build up for a few days.

Sweep ashes into a designated metal container with a secure lid and keep it stored outside on a concrete surface. Never keep ashes stored inside, or in a nonmetallic container or on a wooden surface like a patio or deck.

When you’re sure your wood-burning stove is safe, you can enjoy with peace of mind as a comforting part of your home. Keep your household’s fire safety rules in practice, and have a warm winter.

Is Your Wood-Burning Stove Safe? 3 Signs of Danger

Planning on heating your home with a wood-burning stove this winter? The process is very different than using oil or gas, and certain knowledge and skills are required to ensure it is safe.