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The Efficient Woodstove

10 tips that work for gas and pellet stoves, too
By Jennifer Hawks
Published: February 1, 2006
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Photo by istockphoto.com
So you’ve cranked up the stove, settled into your favorite chair and put your feet up. But does your cabin feel a little less cozy than it used to?
   
It may not be just your imagination. Hearth products, like everything else in life, need a bit of TLC now and then to operate at maximum efficiency.  
   
Here are 10 tips to ensure a warmer cabin:
   
1. Call in a professional.  At least once a year, hire a specialist to inspect your gas, pellet or wood stove. If your wood stove has a catalytic combustor, it should be cleaned if necessary. Appliances with control boxes have thermocouplers, valves, and other parts that can break or wear out. The National Fireplace Institute is a certification agency and can recommend a specialist in your area. Call them at (703) 524-8030 or go to www.nficertified.org.
   
2. Have the stovepipe inspected and cleaned annually. It should be checked for leaks, creosote buildup and emission code violations. The Chimney Safety Institute of America is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety. To locate a certified chimney sweep in your area, call CSIA at (317) 837-5362 or go to www.csia.org.
   
3. Maximize the efficiency of your living space. The best stove in the world can’t operate at maximum efficiency in a drafty home. Weather-strip or caulk windows and doors, and seal any cracks or openings in the foundation. If you have a cathedral ceiling, use a ceiling fan to help disperse the heat as it rises. You can also control airflow by leaving certain doors open or closed.
   
4. Vacuum the blower fan and surrounding area. Amazing how it can get so clogged with dust bunnies! Cleaning the blower fan will make a tremendous difference. Not only will it run more quietly, it will be more powerful. If your model doesn’t have a blower, but it’s available as an option, consider purchasing one.     
    
5. Clean out the firebox and ash tray. And do it on a regular basis. Ash buildup can interfere with the heating system, lowering efficiency dramatically. Clinkers (fused ash) in pellet stoves are notoriously problematic and should be removed. In gas appliances, the logs should be cleaned periodically. While you’re at it, carefully clean out the control compartment.   
    
6. Check the door gasket. Replace the gasket if it’s frayed, burnt off or severely decompressed. You want an airtight seal when the door is closed. Gaskets are available as tape or rope and can be purchased in bulk or pre-measured lengths. Don’t forget to clean the gasket groove before installing the new gasket and use stove gasket cement for proper adhesion.
    
7. Clean the door glass periodically. Avoid using oven cleaners or ammonia-based products since they’ll damage the glass. For wood burning and pellet stoves, use a glass cleaner specially designed for them. Glass doors in gas stoves acquire a white residue that requires a special non-abrasive cleaner such as White-Off (made by Rutland, www.rutland.com). In all cases, you’ll get better results if the glass is completely cool before cleaning.
   
8. Replace cracked firebrick if your appliance is lined with it. For do-it-yourselfers, Rutland sells bricks in boxes of six and also has a product called Castable Refractory Cement for making your own (great for bricks that are a non-standard size or odd shape).
   
9. Check for cracks in the stove's exterior. Even a hairline crack can reduce efficiency. If the crack is sizeable, it’s best to replace the appliance. If the crack is small, a certified appliance specialist can tell you if the crack is repairable. Patching usually isn’t recommended.    

10. Be mindful of what you burn in a wood stove. Materials like plastic, colored paper, plywood or painted or treated wood can generate toxic fumes or lead to chimney fires because of creosote buildup.
   
Follow these tips and before you know it, your cabin will give you that warm and cozy feeling all over again.

Freelance writer Jennifer Hawks can never have it too warm in her Yukon cabin.
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