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It Is Key To Burn The Right Fire Wood

There are many factors that impact how well your wood stove works, the heat it provided and how safe the overall operation might be.  Of course regular inspection and cleaning are two of the key ones.  But wood selection is also important.

Now all wood per pound has roughly the same energy content or BTU’s per pound.  The only difference is the density of the wood, so a piece of oak has more heat than a piece of ash simply because it weighs more – hence has more BTU’s.  Let me list a few species to give you some examples below.  I have included species such as Hemlock, White Pine and Cedar so you can compare with Sugar Maple and White Oak.  When you read this, you might be surprised!  Keep in mind this does not mean the same size stick of White Oak will be the same heat as the same size stick of White Cedar – because this is heat per weight unit or pound.

SpeciesBTU Per Pound
Hemlock6406
Eastern White Pine6395
Balsam Fir6395
Eastern White Cedar6377
Honey Locust6463
Apple6950
Beech6388
Northern Red Oak6388
Sugar Maple6388
White Oak6388
White Ash6397
Yellow Birch6921
Paper Birch6386
White Birch6328
Black Walnut6410
Cherry6410
Black Cherry6771
American Elm6389
Red Maple (Soft Maple)6241
Aspen6405
Butternut6905
Willow6395

Our hard woods (oak, maple) will burn longer and produce more heat than softer woods (pine, birch) simply because the wood is denser (a stick of same size weighs more.

In the end, it is more important to have wood that is cut, split, stacked and dried properly than it is to find the hardest wood available. Proper drying or seasoning of your wood prior to burn is critical to a high efficiency, low emissions fire.  While it does vary by species, generally wood should be cut, split and properly stacked to dry for six months to two years.

A couple of problems with some local suppliers are:

  1. wood is NOT stacked properly to allow proper drying
  2. wood is not dried long enough – some dry for only three months to six months maximum and then sell as seasoned firewood.

I have contacts with some of the best firewood supplies in the area and give referrals to all of my regular customers.

What Are Your Best Picks For Firewood?

We may think winter is a long way away, but not too far to begin thinking of firewood.  Remember to keep warm this winter, you will need more than some warm clothing and electric heaters. (especially at the cost of electricity in Ontario)

Using wood to keep a fire in the wood stove at your home can provide a reliable and efficient heat source all winter long.

However, to get a reliable and clean burning fire you need to plan, it is not simply grabbing the first log you see lying around to heat your home.  setting up a fire is not as simple as grabbing the first log you see and keep in mind the type of wood you use in your fireplace is one of the key areas to begin.  When I say type, I mean species as well as how it is seasoned and stored.

But what is good wood.. some is so hard that it is difficult to split into smaller pieces – however buying firewood already split from a reputable supplier can partially fix some of that!   However some other species may burn quickly, produce loads of creosote and not heat very efficiently.

I know several reputable firewood producers who do things the old fashioned way and produce great wood.  I personally do not care for some of the mass produced firewood producers who use processors, while the wood may be lower cost but often time it is also of considerable lower value.  Lower cost is NOT always the BEST VALUE.

 

 

Understanding the 10-Foot 2-Foot 3-Foot Chimney Rule

A common problem I see is chimney height, actually have had 3 in the past month.

The Ontario Building Code states:

9.21.4.4. Height of Chimney Flues
1) A chimney flue shall extend not less than
a) 900 mm above the highest point at which the chimney comes in contact with the roof, and
b) 600 mm above the highest roof surface or structure within 3 m of the chimney.

This applies to all chimney types used in solid fuel burning appliances (there may be exceptions and different rules for pellet vents).

There seem to be a lot of questions and confusion about this rule, actually it is quite simple.  Note to avoid confusion the title says 10 foot – 3 foot – 2 foot rule, which is commonly referred to and is the old way of stating it. The new codes today in Canada have converted to metric equal values.  Before I begin, I will post a graphic presentation that may assist in understanding of this rule.

 

You can actually calculate the height of the chimney quite easily, even without going on the roof.  To begin with you nee to know the pitch of the roof, there are several good phone apps that can help with this ( I use one called Pitch Gauge.  Once you have that you need to know how far you plan to put the chimney from the roof peak.

As I work in feet and inches on all my jobs (the materials are all pretty much American or marketed to American so makes easier (chimney sections for example are in even foot measurements, etc.)

Now also keep in mind there is often a minimum chimney height as well, which is usually stated as 15 feet and can include the vent or stove pipe in measurements.  This length is required because the stoves, when certified, are tested with a 15 foot long pipe.

Altitude can also impact total height, which will need to be increased slightly with elevation rise.  In many areas of Ontario this is not something that most worry about.

Increasing a chimney too high however can also be a problem, with over drafting becoming an issue causing hotter temperatures and over-firing of wood burning appliance.

Now back to calculations, the most common pitch is 4/12 or 4 inches of rise for every one foot of roof run (or horizontal distance).  Lets assume you have a 4/12 roof pitch.

This means if you are over 10 feet from the peak, you need 40 inches of chimney to reach the peak level (4 inches per foot times 10 feet).  However, you have to go another two feet above the roof, for a total of 64 inches in total height.  (remember the chimney – as it is over 5 feet will now need a support brace)

Let’s assume the chimney is only 2 feet from the peak now and recalculate.    This means you need only 8 inches of chimney to reach the roof peak!  ( 4 inches per foot times 2 feet )  However, keep in mind there is a minimum height of 3 feet above where chimney contacts roof, so you need to have a 3 foot chimney.  You will not need any supporting brace as chimney is under the 5 foot total height above roof line.

Now lets pick another one for fun, say 5 feet away from peak.  This means you need 20 inches of height to reach peak.  ( 4 inches per foot times 2 feet )  However, again you need to be at least 2 feet above the highest point within 10 feet, so need to add another 24 inches.  Total height then becomes 44 inches tall, again not requiring any bracing.

Keep in mind you can never have a chimney that is under 3 feet tall, regardless of any other conditions that exist related to the roof or other structures.

Bringing In Pests With Your Firewood

In the Midland and Penetanguishene area we have quite a few people who use wood either as a primary or secondary heat source.  The burning of wood inevitably involves brining firewood indoors, and in doing so it is possible for pests to ride along to the warm interior of our homes.  Fact is many insects may find a nice home in your woodpile.

There are generally two pest types that may be in your wood pile; those who find the wood a delightful meal and those who simply want a nice secure shelter.  There are a few insects who live in our area that love wood piles, fortunately not as many as in warmer climates, but none the less there are a few. 

The wood eating ones might be of concern, as they could potentially find the wood in your home quite tasty as well.  Fortunately, at least for now, we do not have termites this far north.. although they are in the Toronto area and may arrive in Midland in coming years.  We do however have ants living in our area which will consume wood and build nests within wooden structures.

So is there an easy way to keep pests out of your home.  The first one is to not put a pile of firewood too close to the home.  If the wood is touching your house, any wood boring insect can easily move form the wood pile to the framing of your home.

It is also best to keep away from trees, as they could also infest the tree and cause distress or eventually death of the tree.  

Keep firewood stacked off the ground, this will help to keep it try and also help keep pests away. 

Pests love wood that is a little more moist if they can find it.  Stacking and drying the wood in full sunlight helps keep pests away.

When using firewood, use the oldest first.  This not only gets the older wood used up, which will continually loose potential to produce heat as it ages, but also reduces potential of pest infestation.

Buy your wood locally, this keeps insects from coming into your yard from other areas.  This is particularly important when importing from areas with invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer which is prevalent in the GTA.

Quickly look over wood before brining inside, look for evidence of infestation.  It only takes a moment.

Once inside, burn it.. only bring enough inside for the day.  Once inside, remember to not stack too close to wood stove and keep your porper clearance to combustibles. 

 

Are wood stoves safe?

The title asks the question “are wood stoves safe?”, and I will attempt to provide you with some information related to that question and hopefully answer it for you.

First of all, there are wood stoves and there are wood stoves.  Actually there are inserts, factory built fireplaces, pellet stoves and all manner of wood burning appliances.  I have cleaned chimneys in most of them, and inspected pretty much all the styles over the years.

What is the biggest difference in any wood burning appliance – or one from another.  Well to make it easier, lets compare apples with apples or wood stoves with wood stoves.  Since the title says wood stove, we will stick with that.

There are old wood stoves build in factories, new wood stoves built in factories and even some home made or locally fabricated stoves.  Each is different, partially on rules in place at the time and partially the knowledge, experience and research put into the design.  Generally speaking all things being equal a factory built stove is of a safe design when used properly.  The companies must follow strict rules and guidelines in their design and test for clearance requirements and emission levels.  Now having said that, there are some really old factory built stoves with no clearance requirements shown.

However, there are also installation codes (B365), fire code and building codes to be aware of as there may be implications and rulings in each of these which can impact your wood stove.

Any wood stove will require clearances, this is to ensure heat produced by the stove does not cause combustion of nearby combustibles.  The clearances required are defined by the manufacturer during a rigorous testing process or if not tested by CSA B365 Code.  

The first step in keeping your stove safe is ensuring it meets every one of these clearance requirements at all times (even or perhaps especially movable combustibles such as piles of wood, furniture, newspaper, etc.).

If you need to have stove closer than clearances allow, there are possible solutions by using shielding materials as defined in CSA B365.

Next lets look at the chimney.  The chimney must be either a factory built, tested and certified chimney or a masonry chimney which complies with the local building code.  Single wall brick chimneys of yesteryear are something which generally should have a liner inside to protect against inevitable disaster.  A lot of the older homes in the Midland and Penetanguishene area have double brick chimneys, these often have cracked mortar and loose or missing bricks.  Clay tiles inside or even more preferable steel liners are a great solution to improve safety of these old chimneys.  If you have room an insulated steel liner is the absolute best solution in these old chimneys!

Often for newer chimneys I see the factory built or 650C chimneys.  These chimneys are generally very good, however I have seen some with terrible creosote build up and even some with discolouration of the outside surface which would indicate breakdown of the insulation in the walls.  This is why when I do WETT inspection, I prefer a Level 2 inspection – inspect inside the chimney – look in the attic when possible.

Check your wood stove is using the flue pipe or chimney by itself.  While there are some conditions where two appliances can share the same flue pipe, generally speaking this is a bad idea for a few reasons.

  • sometimes flue is not large enough to provide proper use of the two appliances at full capacity
  • the flue can get dirtier much faster and require much more frequent cleansing – I have one customer who needs three cleanings a year and in the middle of winter is not nice for me or the occupants (as stoves much be cold)
  • sharing with fossil fuel appliances (such as stove oil) is just plain nasty and makes a terrible sticky nasty creosote

Bottom line ensure you chimney meets proper code and that it is in good condition.  When you get a WETT inspection – believe it or not – the LEVEL 1 inspectors generally do not check for condition of chimney!  They are neither trained nor equipped to do this task.

Vent pipes or flue pipes.  A critical piece and where the majority, perhaps 90%, of all chimney fires begin.  The vent pipes or flue pipes are not chimneys, they are stove pipes (with either a single layer of steel – single way – or two layers with an air space – double wall).  They connect the stove to the chimney.  Generally the shorter the vent pipe the better, and it can have no more than 2 – 90 degree elbows in the run, I prefer to use 45 degree elbows where possible as two 45 degree elbows offer less resistance than a single 90.  The stove pipes must be installed with the crimped ends facing down toward the stove, this allows any water to remain inside.  They also must have a minimum of 3 screws designed to hold stove pipe at each joint.  While single wall pipe is allowed by the code, I would never install it myself, and have never done so.  In fact I have replaced a lot of single wall with double wall in years gone past.  The clearances are better with double wall pipe and overall it is just generally safer.  Stove pipe clearance, even with double wall pipe, must be closely followed.  Stove pipe must NEVER pass through an interior wall, floor or ceiling.  (although I have seen from years gone by where they passed through walls and had spacers to keep away from combustible materials – not permitted today)  Stove pipes are permitted to pass through an exterior wall, if necessary, however there must be a minimum 18 inches clearance to combustibles on all sides – there are steel thimbles designed to accomplish this task.

Okay we have covered the easy stuff.  Now the operation and maintenance.  Yes the biggest part of safe burning of a wood stove is YOU!  They require proper use and proper regular maintenance.

  1. use proper fuel – dry hardwood is best.  Maple, beech, ash, oak are all good.  Wood should be cut, split and air dried for a year prior to burning.  Well seasoned hardwood will show cracks in the ends.
  2. Clean regularly – at least once a year.  Don’t bother with the chemical cleaners.
  3. Avoid creosote buildup – a highly combustible material that clings to the chimney and vent pipe walls.  Older stoves are much more prone to creosote buildup as they do not have the secondary burn phase which will burn the combustible particles in the flue gases, which later condense on the cooler walls and form creosote.
    1. Creosote can be either a stickily messy runny almost liquid material or;
    2. a black flaky almost dust like material or;
    3. a hard glazed shiny tar like material that is almost impossible to remove with help form a chimney sweep.  This is the hardest to get off and is going to cost the most when a chimney sweep arrives as it takes them a lot more effort to get off as well.
  4. Never burn anything other than natural firewood in the wood stove – no building material or construction wood, no cardboard, no paper, no plastic or Styrofoam.
  5. Read the owners manual and burn according to stove design.
  6. Let fires burn down before adding more wood, do not open door in middle of burn and throw another stick of wood onto the fire.
  7. Regularly remove burnt ash from woodstove and store outdoors.

 

The operation of a wood stove in a safe manner comes down to :

  • proper installation and code compliance
  • use of proper components – chimney, vent pipe, stove, ember pad, etc. throughout the entire installation
  • proper maintenance and cleaning on regular basis
  • knowledgeable use of stove in burning properly using the proper fuel

Here is a good resource to download and read on wood burning.

Guide_Residential_Wood_Heating
Wood Burning Stove Safety Tips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you need your chimney cleaned.. call..

When you need your chimney cleaned.. well most at least once a year is a good practice.  Some who only burn on occasional basis can get by longer, some actually need done more than once a year.  Fire code however says to inspect once a year and clean if necessary.

Don’t – whatever you do – let it get like this chimney!  Just too dangerous!

Experience of WETT Inspectors

It is generally best to find an inspector that understands wood burning systems.  That kind of makes sense..

Some SITE Basic Inspectors do it only so they can add on a ancillary service to their other job.. something to make their other job more attractive to the consumer perhaps.  Frankly that is wrong.  A WETT Inspection is about looking over the wood burning appliance (stove or fireplace) and I mean really looking it over.

There are and have been complaints from Insurance Companies about some WETT reports and for good reason.

Frankly some of the people who take and pass the SITE Basic course have never operated a wood stove, and likely would not know how if they had to..!

Find a WETT Certified Chimney Sweep, WETT Certified Technician or WETT Certified Comprehensive Inspector to perform the inspection.. do it RIGHT.. protect YOURSELF.

What Is A WETT Inspection

Well, let’s just say what it is NOT.  A WETT Inspection IS NOT simply taking a few measurements to combustibles.  If you get that.. then frankly question the ability of the inspector — and if a Home Inspector maybe even question their Home Inspection skills.. just thinking.. if you don’t do one right then what about the other!

For WETT.. clean the firebox, get on roof, take off rain cap.. camera photograph of inside of chimney.  These are common items covered.  See a few photographs of one done yesterday.

Get IT DONE RIGHT – HIRE A COMPREHENSIVE INSPECTOR.. PROTECT YOURSELF..