Woodstoves are an excellent way to provide auxiliary heating for your home during the colder winter months. There are certain requirements that every woodstove needs in order to function with maximum efficiency and safety. Requirements differ depending on the make and size of the woodstove, but all woodstoves need to be kept away from combustibles, and attached to a properly installed venting system.
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A woodstove needs a proper draft in order for the fire to burn well. The draft is created by the air flowing through the intake opening (usually in front underneath the lower lip of the stove), around the flames, and up through the stovepipe and the chimney. If you are not getting a proper draft, you will know it because the fire won't stay lit and/or you will have smoke leaking out into your living area. The causes for this could include a chimney that is too low, a house that is too airtight, and a stovepipe that is clogged with creosote. Open a window or door a crack to increase the draft, and always keep both your stovepipe and chimney clean.
Freestanding woodstoves need to be a designated distance away from walls and other combustibles to be operated safely. What this distance is depends on your woodstove: consult the owner's manual for your make and model. The required distance can be decreased by installing a metal heat shield on the wall and/or on the stove itself. Woodstoves should also be mounted on non-burnable surfaces such as a brick, stone or tile hearth, not on a wood floor. Any stovepipes that pass through walls need to be insulated and have adequate clearance from combustibles. This is usually accomplished by replacing drywall around the pipe with non-combustible concrete board.
Most newer stoves are manufactured with catalytic converters in them. These are inserts that are installed at the entry from the burn box to the stove pipe, which break up the gas that is exiting the stove and lower its temperature, allowing it to be reignited. This process has two primary benefits: it extracts more heat from the wood being burnt, and it decreases the gas and particulate pollution that is exiting the stove. Catalytic converters need to be periodically inspected and maintained. They will degrade and need replacement over time. Also, if you allow the fire in your woodstove to get too hot, it can crack the catalytic converter (which is ceramic) as well as warping the metal case in which the catalytic converter is held.
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