Wood Smoke - it's always there
Wood smoke will always be an undesirable part of heating with wood. It can't be avoided, no matter how clean your wood stove burns - it's always there.
As a wood stove enthusiast, my job is to make certain that my stoves burn as cleanly as they can. A clean burning stove is an efficient stove. With all the time and effort associated with having a pile of firewood for home heating, there is no sense having an inefficient wood stove.
Yes, smoke is wasted energy, and that means wasted effort and wasted money - it goes up in smoke. Wasting my efforts isn't part of my approach to frugal living.
In addition to the waste, a smokey fire is a source of creosote buildup in the flue and in the wood stove, and it's a source of irritation for others that are sensitive to the by-products of wood fires.
So, let's be a good steward of our environment and our resources, and a good neighbor in our community by maintaining clean burning fires.
A reader wrote to me to explain how her son experiences acute respiratory distress as a result of a neighbor with a smokey wood stove. It sounds like a serious situation where they will likely have to move.
I see no reason for excessive smoke coming from any wood heating appliance. Well made wood stoves should be largely smoke free once they're up and running, and older stoves can be modified to burn cleaner.
It's with great apprehension that I mention making modifications to a wood stove, purely because of the risk involved, but the truth is simply that many commercial wood stoves aren't built nearly as well as they should be. So, I don't hesitate to modify them when it's warranted for "smoke free" operation.
Most of my modifications are to allow more air into the stove so it burns hot and clean. I don't like the looks of wood smoke, and it sets the stage for a chimney fire, so I do everything I can to promote clean burning fires. That means burning dry wood in a fast and hot fire that has plenty of air for complete combustion.
Once a neighbor came over to visit in the dead of winter. He mentioned after he got into the warm house that he had no idea (from outward appearances) that I even had my stoves running. That's because I make clean burning fires that produce no wood smoke.
Here is a picture of the firebox of my living room wood stove insert as it burns away. You'll notice that it looks like a regular fire inside a wood stove. It is. There is nothing special about it.
You'll notice logs fully ablaze, a bed of hot coals, a log smoldering away, and a couple of fence rails that I just placed on the fire.
Now, look at the rain cap of the same wood stove insert. You'll notice that there isn't a trace of smoke coming out of the flue, even after I put new wood on the fire. This photo was taken only moments after the one above. It's probably not visible in the photo, but the only thing that I could see coming out the stack were heat waves. And, that's the way it should be.
But, this isn't the way it was when I first got the stove. It used to produce lots of wood smoke.
The reason for the excessive wood smoke was inadequate air intake. The problem was clear even before I made the purchase of this homemade wood burning appliance - there was a 3/16th inch layer of creosote on the walls inside the firebox of the stove.
This layer of creosote was proof positive that there was inadequate combustion inside the stove. That meant that I had to help it along by providing additional sources of air to promote complete combustion. After a few modifications to provide more air inlets, the wood smoke was greatly reduced.
After a year of operation, I added two more sources of intake air, and now the wood smoke is basically non-existent. There will always be combustion by-products from any wood stove, but there won't be plainly visible and irritating combustion by-products that are found in wood smoke.
A word of caution - too much air intake can over-fire a stove, so any attempt to introduce more combustion air must have a way to regulate it so you don't start seeing orange hot metal on your stove.
If you enjoy heating with wood, if you think it's one of the viable alternative energy sources, if you believe that it's natures original renewable energy source, and if you want to be a good neighbor, then you must eliminate excessive wood smoke from your wood burning appliances either through modification or replacement.
Learn more about clean burning fires, and you'll enjoy more heat, less wood smoke, a lower chance of a chimney fire, and better relations with your neighbors.
The reality of wood heat can be found in the Denver metro area where the government regulates when fireplaces and wood burning appliances can be used - regardless of how clean they burn. They prohibit heating with wood in the interest of air quality, much like smog alert days in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, they allow industrial facilities to spew brown and orange contaminants into the air 24 hours a day all year long.
So, don't give the do-gooders in government any reason to make your warmth in winter less important than year round employment at the local industrial facility. Make clean burning fires a priority, and you'll enjoy more heat on the inside and less "heat" from others.
Done with Wood Smoke, take me back to Heating with Wood