How to Maintain a Wood Stove

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A Guide to Maintaining Your Wood Stove

Whether you already have a wood stove or are looking to buy one, there’s a lot you need to know. From proper cleaning to correct firewood, the choices you make concerning your wood stove affect its safety. These guidelines will help you enjoy your wood stove and ensure it’s burning as efficiently as possible.

Written by Megan Schetzsle
Photography by Megan Schetzsle

There’s nothing cozier than a crackling fire in the wood stove on a cold day. But wood stoves aren’t only cozy: they’re cost effective, good for the environment and efficient in heating your home. It’s much easier to enjoy your stove—and make the most of its powerful heat—when you know how to care for it. Keep reading for how to prevent house fires, correctly burn firewood, prevent creosote buildup and more!
 

Cleaning & Inspecting Your Wood Stove    

If you’re moving into a home with a wood stove it’s a good idea to have it inspected when you move in. A certified chimney sweep can inspect your stove to ensure that it’s safe to operate and meets local codes.
 
If needed, you should also have your chimney cleaned before using it. With a clean bill of health—a clean chimney and a passed inspection—you’ll be safe to use your stove for the winter.
 
After an initial cleaning, you’ll likely want to have your stove serviced yearly. How often you have it serviced depends on how often you use it and what kind of fires you burn. A good rule of thumb is to have it done annually, after the burning season.
 
If you get tired of paying your local chimney sweep, you can also buy the equipment to clean the stove yourself. The important thing is that your stove gets cleaned regularly and properly.
 
 
 

Choosing The Right Firewood for Your Wood Stove 

 
Choosing the right firewood can make all the difference for your wood stove. There are two types of firewood: hardwood and softwood. Hardwood is more dense and comes from trees such as oak, maple, birch. Softwood is conifers: pine, fir, cedar.
 
Since hardwood is more dense, it takes longer to burn. It puts out more heat over a longer period of time. For this reason, hardwood is usually preferred for wood stoves. Softwood works fine too, it just burns faster and hotter.
 
The kind of wood you get will mostly depend on where you live. In some places, hardwoods aren’t readily available, and your cord may be mostly softwood. 
 

Creosote 

Creosote is important to mention when talking about wood stoves because it can become a safety hazard. Creosote is a black substance that builds up in your chimney due to incomplete combustion from your fire.
 
Why is this important? Too much creosote can cause chimney fires and ventilation issues. Over time, creosote hardens, and if it gets too hot it can catch on fire. Creosote is one of the reasons why it’s important to have your stove and chimney cleaned regularly by a professional.
 
One small, handy item that can help with regulating your fires is a wood stove thermometer (pictured below). Add one of these to your chimney to make sure that your fires burn in a safe range—not too hot and not too low for long periods of time.
 
 

A couple things you can do to prevent creosote:

You can take measures to reduce creosote but almost all chimneys will accumulate some creosote over time. How much creosote depends on how often you use your stove, the wood you burn and how hot your fires are.
 
  • Burn hot fires, rather than low, smoldering fires. Creosote accumulates faster from slow-burning, smoldering fires.
  • Burn the right wood. Only burn seasoned, dry wood. And only burn wood (not materials like newspaper or cardboard, which contain man-made chemicals)  in your stove.
  • Creosote is unavoidable for most wood stoves, so it’s important to clean it out regularly. In most cases, an annual cleaning will do.
 
 

About Megan

Megan lives with her husband and son in an 800-square-foot log cabin in Jackson Hole, WY. In search of a simpler pace of life, Megan and her husband took a leap of faith to pursue their own cabin dreams: they quit their jobs, sold what they own, and moved across the country from downtown Austin, TX to their mountainside cabin in Jackson Hole, WY. 

Megan runs her blog The Cabin Diary (www.thecabindiary.com), and can be found sharing day-to-day cabin life through social media (@thecabindiary).