Wood Stove Safety
Wood stove safety is key when you're using a wood burning appliance in your home as part of your approach to frugal living. It you're not safety minded, you can damage your home and furnishings, burn you or your family members, start a house fire, or put you and your family at risk of death or severe injury due to toxic fumes and flames.
So, the whole idea of being safe when it comes to wood stoves and other wood burning appliances is very important.
Remember, an operating wood burning appliance is a fire inside your house. It's a controlled fire inside your house, but it's still a fire, so we all need to think about safety first and foremost.
The four topics I want to address are:
- chimney fires
- sparks, embers and coals
That ought to wrap up wood stove safety in a rather comprehensive manner.
I know people that have had chimney fires. According to these reliable sources, they say a chimney fire sounds like a freight train in the house. Okay, now that would be an attention getter - a fire and a freight train in the house.
The three primary causes of chimney fires are:
- cooler, smokey fires
- burning wood with creosote
- infrequent chimney cleaning
With a wood shake shingle roof, I'm a bit paranoid with respect to a chimney fire. A wood stove is a controlled fire inside your house. A chimney fire could mean an uncontrolled fire of and on your house.
Not good. And, it's clear that practicing wood stove safety is much more preferable to trying to put out a house fire.
Don't wait for the sound of a freight train. Try these suggestions:
- Burn all your fires hot and clean. Hot fires don't leave deposits in the chimney.
- Don't burn creosote treated wood. This is a major source of chimney deposits that tend to catch on fire.
- Clean your chimney each year - twice a year if you can safely get to the chimney during a break in the heating season.
Most of all, have a healthy respect to the power of fire
. It can keep you "warm and safe and dry", and it can burn down your house, destroy your possessions, and kill you and your family. Have respect for fire and never take it for granted.
Cleaning your chimney can be a wood stove safety issue all by itself. Ladders, climbing on the roof, and perhaps high wind while on the roof can all be hazardous.
Plan what you're doing. Do it carefully. Use fall protection if warranted, and have a buddy standing by just in case.
Sparks, Embers and Coals
Another possible safety issue is sparks flying into the room. This may sound like a rare situation, but it really isn't, especially for older stoves that take air from inside the room.
If air can get in, generally a spark can get out. Sparks can fly with tremendous speed and ricochet around a corner and drop out of a small hole in the side or bottom of the stove. Even if the stove is designed with deflectors to guard against this, it can and does happen.
To minimize the hazards associated with flying sparks, always make certain the area around the stove is fireproof. You can also install metal screening in association with the vents and guards to minimize the possibility of a spark getting through.
Sparks also can come out when you open the door or loading chute. Again, having a fireproof stove mat or other fireproof flooring is important to prevent burns and the possibility of fire. Consider concrete board, tile or metal.
If you suspect that a spark has escaped, or is smoldering in your carpet or wood floor, use water to wet the area and then pick it up. It's better to have a wet floor than one that starts to smolder and burn after you have walked away thinking that all is well.
When heating with wood, be sure you're safe. Guard against sparks, and wet down the area if you have any suspicion of embers outside the stove.
A common cause of sparks is embers in the stove that are refreshed when the door opens. This intensifies their burning and the intensified heat can cause the ember to spark and just out into the room.
To guard against this, plan your stove loading and do it rather quickly to minimize the time that an ember might turn into a source of sparks. Also, load more wood into a mature fire that has a good bed of hot coals instead of one that still has lots of charred wood looking to spark.
Hot coals are also a wood stove safety issue. This is especially true when you're cleaning out ash from the stove. Even if left overnight, your wood stove can have plenty of hot coals still in the grate or on the bottom of the stove.
Don't think for even a minute that overnight burns will consume all the wood. The ash from wood fires helps insulate the coals and keeps them hot. Always look when shoveling ash to see if there are hot coals in the ashes. Make certain it's completely out before messing with it.
My rule is simple. I shovel ash out two days after the last fire. Only then am I confident that no hot coals could possibly remain. If I clean it out sooner, I assume that there are hot coals in the ash, and there usually are.
Basic wood stove safety also dictates that you use a metal container to hold the ash. It's naturally fire proof. If you're not going to dump the ash right away, at least take it out of the house after it's removed from the stove. You don't want the potential for smoldering coals inside your home where they will consume oxygen and give off harmful combustion products.
Another area of wood stove safety is burns. When heating with wood, burns will likely occur - on you and others, especially small children or those unaccustomed to being around a hot wood burning appliance.
Stay out of the habit of leaning on your stove when its cold to either load it or clean it. If you do, you might get forgetful and try it when it's hot. Not a good idea.
It's a good practice to assume that it's always hot, because during the heating season, it probably will be. Keep in mind that it only takes a moment to prevent a burn, and once you have one, it can remind you of your mistake for more than a week.
When I have company over, and there will be children present, my wood stove safety policy is to never burn my wood stoves. There is just too much of a chance of a child running or falling into one of the stoves. The intense heat from a wood stove will cause considerable tissue damage to the small hands and fingers of a child, and that's something that I never want to be a part of.
Wood Stove Safety also involves being mindful of combustion products and how they can affect your health. Whether it's carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon dioxide (CO2), both are colorless and odorless combustion byproducts and both are harmful.
CO is poisonous. CO2 isn't poisonous, but it doesn't support life, so you don't want it creeping into your home to displace oxygen.
Smoke is another irritant that you don't want in your house either. In third world countries, huddling around an open fire inside a hut or shack is a leading cause of health problems. Smoke can taste good and smell good, but a steady intake of it isn't good at all.
Here are things you can do to minimize fumes from your wood stove:
- open the door slowly to prevent sucking fumes into the room
- make certain your flue drafts properly
- leave the flue open a bit when you know there is fire or coals still in the stove
- check door seals to make certain they provide adequate sealing
- provide adequate air intake to prevent "burping" or combustion products lingering in the stove
There you have it, wood stove safety in a nutshell. If you're going to make good use of this part of a frugal living lifestyle, then you have to mind the chimney, be aware of the fire and its byproducts, and take care with all the hot surfaces. The most important wood stove safety concept is that an operating wood stove is a fire inside your house.
Always think fire safety. Treat wood stoves and the fires inside of them with respect and they'll keep you warm and safe.
Done with Wood Stove Safety, take me back to Heating with Wood