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A Guide for Heating with Wood

For millennia, humankind has utilized wood for its heat potential. The first million years were spent hoping the smoke would find its own way out of the cave.

Woodburning evolved as did everything else, over the intervening centuries, but at a very slow rate. In fact, we landed on the moon before anyone really tried to get a handle on building woodburning appliances that were environmentally benign, highly efficient and cost competitive with other sources of energy.

Ironically, the technology and metallurgy of the Roman Empire could have produced today’s high-tech stove. They didn’t. We did. Now what?

A modern woodburning stove, with a sophisticated firebox design produces 90% less emissions and is up to 50%more efficient than its highest quality counterpart of two decades ago.

In the late 1980’s, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began to regulate woodburning stoves industry being small and lacking the financial wherewithal to hire an army of lobbyist. Had no choice but to comply. The result has been a winning situation for all concerned.

Regardless of the quality or technological sophistication of the appliance, it is up the operator to achieve the most efficient heat output and least emissions, more BTUs for the buck.

The Combustion Triangle Fuel

All wood should be split, stacked and covered several months prior to heating season. Splitting wood increases surface area exposed to the air, speeding the drying process.

Water doesn’t burn, and every bit of moister in or on the wood must be distilled out. Much of the energy value within wet or green wood will be used just to dry it instead of providing useable heat.

Rain Water and Wood

Make sure your wood is stored where absolutely no rain can get on it. Wood is permeable. Meaning it soaks up water like a sponge. When the wood is 100% saturated with rain water it can take 3 to 6 months to completely dry. Even if the surface looks dry, inside the wood is still wet. Rain soaked wood is just as bad or worse than unseasoned or green wood. They use water to put fires out so trying to burn wood that is not dried to at least a 20% moisture content is defeating your whole purpose. It does not heat well and causes excess pollution and smoke. It also can be frustrating trying to heat with rain soaked wood. It will also cause excess creosote buildup in your chimney that can lead to dangerous chimney fires.


Study your stove. Learn where the control lever is and its settings. Find out where the air is introduced into the firebox. Keep this area free of ash buildup, a common cause of problems.
Many newer homes are so tight that not enough air infiltrates the structure to allow a stove to “breathe” properly (let alone the residents).

If a stove is operating sluggishly and cracking a nearby door or window alleviates the problem, then “make-up air” may have to be provided to the home or the stove directly connected to an outside air source. Powerful kitchen exhaust vents can work against a stove’s draft as well.


In a properly operating modern stove, 70-80% of the energy contained in the firewood becomes usable home heat. Of the remaining energy, some goes to distill remaining moisture from the wood, some heats the rest of the wood to kindling temperature and what’s left of this energy powers the system, maintaining air flow and combustion process.

The only real sign of wasted heat energy is smoke. Smoke is a produced by incomplete combustion. Incomplete combustion is generally caused by insufficient heat. Keeping firebox temperatures high is the key to efficient woodburning in ANY appliance.

Learn to burn

The following techniques apply to, and will benefit, any woodburning stove, whether high-tech, catalytic, or pre-EPA dinosaur. It will be assumed that the appliance has been installed compliant to the manufacture’s specifications and/or local mechanical codes, and the chimney is clean and unobstructed. If you’re not sure call us for an inspection.

Shovel Ashes

More than a couple inches of ash on the stove floor should be shoveled into a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Coals can remain live in the ash bed for days. Use a vacuum hose only to control airborne dust and ash, not to clean the firebox. A fire inside your vacuum cleaner is no fun.

Stoves with catalytic combustors should be cleared of ash often, if not daily, as ash carried in the air flow can coat or clog the combustor, rendering it inoperative.

Fully Open the Air Control

The key to maintaining high firebox temperatures is a nice thick glowing bed of coals. Building the fire should be with the object of getting to that stage as quickly as possible. To get there use good dry kindling wood to get the draft going as soon as possible. Get as much heat up the flu as soon as you can.

Burn Clean to Protect Air Quality

Due to the strong demand for wood heat across Northern California Grand Ole and Discount Chimney Sweeps LLC is urging people to follow responsible wood burning techniques when they stoke up a cozy fire. The concern is over the needs to protect air quality from excessive wood smoke.

Responsible wood burning entails utilizing new wood burning technology and clean burning habits to reduce wood smoke.

“Wood burning is a great choice if people do it right and act responsibly.” Heating a home with wood has many benefits including energy independence. Wood heat helps people control high home heating bills, keeps a house warm when the power goes out and helps reduce global warming.”