Friday, January 17, 2014

Wood Stoves: Tips for safe and efficient use

Wood stoves are common in Thurston County. They supply heat and keep us cozy through our long, dark, wet winters. When wood stoves are not used properly, they can be inefficient and dangerous. When they are used properly less smoke enters the home and neighborhood. Smoke from any source is harmful because it is made up of tiny particles that include chemicals and are easily breathed deeply into our lungs. This is especially harmful for small children, elderly adults, and people with respiratory diseases such as asthma.

For safe and efficient use of wood stoves:

  • Burn seasoned wood. Allow wood to season outdoors (under cover from rain) through the summer for at least 9 to 12 months before burning it. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when two pieces are banged together.
  • Never burn wet wood. The moisture content should be below 20%. This can be tested with a wood moisture meter available at most hardware stores.
  • Start fires with black and white newspaper (no colored ink) or dry kindling. Never use gas, kerosene, lighter fluid, or charcoal starter.
  • Burn small, hot fires. Smoldering fires are not safe or efficient.
  • To maintain airflow, remove ashes regularly. When the stove is cool move ashes into a metal container with a lid and store outside (away from flammable material) until disposal. Wood ash can be a source of nutrients for composts, lawns, and gardens. However, they should used with caution
  • Keep the doors to your wood stove closed when you are not tending to it. Open doors allow sparks to escape and start a fire in your home. Toxic chemicals, such as carbon monoxide, can be released into your home through an open door as well.
  • Don’t let a fire smolder (burn slowly with no flame) over night, this creates a lot of smoke and dangerous creosote buildup.
  • Let the fire burn down to coals and then rake the coals toward the air inlet, creating a mound.  Do not spread the coals flat.

  • Reload by adding at least three pieces of wood each time, on and behind the mound of hot coals.  Avoid adding one log at a time.

  • Step outside and look at your chimney.  If you see smoke, the wood is not burning completely.  Smoke coming from the chimney contributes to air pollution.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher close by.

  • Keep flammable materials such as drapes, books, newspapers and furniture far away from your wood stove.

  • Be sure you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check that they are working by pressing the “test” button at least once a month. If there is no sound when the button is pushed, the batteries need to be changed.

  • Be aware of burn bans. You can sign up for email alerts through the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) to be notified when a burn ban is placed, what rules apply to it, and to be notified when a band is lifted.

Burning any items that are not seasoned wood or 100% compressed sawdust  manufactured logs (no wax) can result in the release of harmful chemicals and damage to your wood stove. Burning trash of any kind is illegal and may result in fines.

Never Burn:

  • Coated, painted, or pressure treated wood.

  • Manufactured fireplace logs made of wax and sawdust (these are meant for open hearth fireplaces, not wood stoves). 

  • Plywood, particle board, or anything with wood glue in it.
  • Wet, rotted, diseased or moldy wood.

  • Driftwood.
  • Garbage.
  • Household hazardous products.
  • Plastic.

  • Foam.

  • Any item with colored ink.

  • Boxes.

  • Wrappers.

Is your heating system inefficient? 

The Olympic Region Clean Air Agency (ORCAA) offers rebates to help residents within Thurston County cities and urban growth areas upgrade their heating systems. Get the details here:

Visit ORCAA’s website to find out if your wood stove is certified. ORCAA offers a financial “bounty” on removed un-certified wood stoves for qualifying Thurston County residents.

Use your wood stove properly for the health and safety of you and your family, for less indoor and outdoor air pollution, and for more efficient heating. It benefits all of us!

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