Wood Burning Stove Safety Guide

Learn how to use your wood stove safely with our guide to installation, operation, and maintenance.

wood burning stove

Wood burning stoves have become very popular among homeowners in recent years thanks to their stylish good looks and the comforting heat that they provide. However, are wood-burning stoves safe?

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about wood stove safety. You’ll learn how to install one safely, how to vent it correctly, and how to operate it and maintain it so that it stays in good working order.

If you follow the advice outlined here, you’ll have no difficulties in using your wood burner safely and efficiently so that you can enjoy the comfort and coziness of wood-produced heat.

Wood-Burning Stove Safety

Before we even begin to look at how to use a wood-burning stove safely, the first thing you need to consider is which stove to purchase.

Always make sure that the model you choose is certified so that you can be certain of its quality and that it won’t produce harmful emissions when in use.

Installing Your Stove Safely

Every operating wood stove needs to adhere to the specified minimum clearance or distance between the bottom, sides, top, back, and front and the combustible materials inside it. 

If there isn’t sufficient clearance, the heat the stove produces may penetrate combustibles nearby and cause a dangerous fire.

A wood-burning stove’s chimney needs to be either masonry or UL-listed, as well as factory built. There should never be a time when a single brick, unlined chimney is used with a wood-burning stove since they are likely to deteriorate and this could be hazardous.

A double brick unlined chimney can be used with wood-burning stoves, but they must be carefully checked first for any missing or loose bricks or cracked mortar. Metal sleeves can be used as a chimney liner as long as they were designed for this purpose.

It’s important to be aware that a metal, factory-built chimney shouldn’t be used for coal stoves since the flue gases that coal fires produce are corrosive and cause the chimney to deteriorate quickly.

Woodstove flues venting an oil burner should never be connected to wood-burning stoves since the unburned deadly vapors from the burner may back up, not only filtering into the stove but also into the room in which the stove is located.

burning wood in a wood stove

Venting Your Stove

It’s absolutely essential to vent a wood-burning stove correctly. It’s important to be aware that a chimney isn’t a venting system – a venting system consists of an insulated 24-gauge stovepipe connecting the stove with the approved chimney.

You must keep your vent short, and have 2 or fewer right-angle elbow joints. You should assemble the stovepipe sections with the male, crimped section ends facing downwards towards your stove.

These sections need to be fastened using a minimum of three fasteners such as sheet metal screws with overlapping seams that face upwards on any inclined runs.

It’s also vital to bear in mind stovepipe clearance. It mustn’t be allowed to pass through interior ceilings, floors, or walls. You must also never use a stovepipe as a chimney since its elements will eventually rust.

Whenever possible, you should make sure your insulated stovepipe goes directly into a factory-built UL listed or masonry chimney that is factory-built. If it has to go through one of the exterior walls to get to the chimney, a minimum of 18” of clearance to combustibles must be maintained.

Should your stove feature an automatic, thermostat-controlled draft regulator you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully for installation. Alternatively, you can install a manually operated damper onto the pipe close to the stove.

The damper mustn’t obstruct over 80% of the stovepipe area. You are also advised to install another damper high up on the stove pipe’s vertical section so the stove can be rapidly shut down should the chimney catch fire.

Note: Always check the manufacturer’s guidelines for specific clearances and installation requirements. You don’t want to fall foul of any regulations!

Wood fired stove with fire-wood

Operating And Maintaining Your Stove Safely

It’s important to operate a wood-burning stove safely at all times. You should do this by only using hardwoods like maple, ash, beech, oak, or hickory as fuel.

Wood must be cut and split, then air-dried for a minimum of one year before you burn it as fuel. Storing your wood correctly is also important, so make sure it is stored underneath a tap or inside a shed.

You must clean the chimney and stovepipe with a wire brush a minimum of once per year. You should also use high-temperature, controlled fires occasionally in your stove.

Avoid salt-based chemical cleaners and heavy items like bricks or chains since these could cause serious damage to the interior lining of the chimney.

It’s essential to avoid the buildup of creosote in your wood stove since creosote is an extremely combustible fuel that burns intensely. The temperature in the flue of a wood-burning stove is relatively low and therefore all the combustible, unburned gases cannot be released into the atmosphere, condensing instead into creosote along the chimney and stovepipe’s walls.

Creosote may take the form of a liquid which runs back down the stove pipe and chimney to be burned; a black, flaky deposit which can be removed easily by brushing, or a glazed, hard tar which is virtually impossible to get rid of without professional help.

Related: We explain how to remove stains from wood stove glass in this guide.

old wood stove

How to Start a Fire Safely in a Wood Stove

Once you’ve properly installed your wood-burning stove, you’ll need to build a fire correctly to ensure safe operation. Building a fire requires you to use good firewood as well as good practices for fire-building.

First, make sure you’ve seasoned the wood that you intend to use as fuel outdoors during a dry, hot summer for a minimum of six months before you burn it. You will know your wood is properly seasoned when it is dark in color, has cracks in its end grain, and has a hollow sound if it is hit against another bit of wood.

You should store your seasoned wood outside but stack it neatly, raised from the ground and keep it covered up so that it won’t get wet.

When starting a fire, use clean newspaper to get the flames going along with small pieces of dry kindling.

Make sure the fire burns hot and bright, but if you’re using the stove in mild weather, use a smaller fire.

Always allow the fire to burn fully down to its embers before you rake them towards the door of the woodstove to create a mound. Avoid spreading them out flat.

You can then reload the stove, adding a minimum of 3 pieces of wood every time. Add them onto the embers and behind them.

Regularly, take the ashes out of your wood stove, putting them into a covered metal container before storing them outdoors.

About the Author Jamie

I'm an English teacher and writer. I'm passionate about the environment and love the tiny house movement!

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