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Chimney sweep information hub > Information about wood burning stoves

How to Prepare a Fire

How to Light a Wood Burning Stove and Keep the Fire Burning

Lighting a fire may sound old-fashioned but there are many reasons - including the need to save money in a recession - why the sale of open fires and wood burning stoves in particular, are currently booming across the globe. Please note when using a stove for the very first time, it needs a couple of hours for the paint on the stove to cure. Please open your windows to allow adequate ventilation.

Features of the Wood Burning Stove

Before we get down to lighting the fire, it is helpful to understand some differences between ordinary fires and wood burning stoves: The wood burning stove is in an enclosed metal box. It therefore takes a lot of heat energy to get it hot (particularly if it is made of cast iron). Air intake is controlled by one or more valves. The design means you can preheat the air so the stove burns much hotter than a conventional wood fire. The wood stove is therefore much more efficient in terms of converting fuel to heat energy than an ordinary fire.

As with a conventional fire, you can start your stove with either Fire-lighters or old Newspaper. With a wood stove, it is recommended to light the next fire on a bed of ash, so don't remove all the old ash when preparing the fire.

Open the stove door and add several sheets of scrunched up paper to the top off the ash. Some people prefer to roll the paper into a cylinder and then twist the ends together. Next, add small pieces of kindling on top of your paper or fire-lighter - typically arranged in a ''wigwam'' pattern.

Kindling is any easy burning material but typically a soft wood like pine chopped into small pieces with a hand axe.

Fire-lighters are typically made of paraffin wax. Some manufacturers add small amounts of paraffin or other light fuel to the wax in order to make them burn better. This means they are a bit more smelly than newspaper but slightly easier to use and more efficient at getting the fire started.

Have larger pieces of very dry, seasoned wood ready to add as the fire catches hold.

Air Input Controls

Your wood burning stove may typically have both primary and secondary air input controls or valves. When lighting the stove, these should both be open in order to get as much oxygen to the fire as possible. Until the fire really gets going, it is also advisable to keep the door open too.

The Primary Air Input Valve brings cold air from the room under the burning wood.

The Secondary Air Input Valve takes air which has circulated around the stove and over the front viewing glass (helping to remove soot and keep it clear). This means the secondary air is already very hot when it meets with the hot gases from the burning wood. The gases therefore ignite in the upper part of the stove, making the stove much hotter and releasing more heat energy from the wood than with a conventional open fire. The goal with a wood stove is to get the stove up to working temperature as quickly as possible. Ideally, you need to end up with a bed of glowing red embers before you add more wood.

Also, it is important to make sure the wood is seasoned (has been stored long enough for the wood to dry out fully). Seasoning typically takes about a year for newly felled wood, providing that it is stored in a wood store.

Generally, build up the temperature of the stove using soft wood such as Pine (which burns easily) and burn harder woods such as oak once the stove is really hot. Once the fire has warmed up you can close the front door.

More on Those Air Intake Valves

As the stove is warming up, it makes sense to keep both valves fully open and get as much oxygen to the fire as possible. Once it is really hot, you can close the primary (cold) air input and use only the secondary (hot) air valve to control the fire.

This makes the fire operate at a higher temperature and means you get more heat energy from the wood you are burning. Hot air ensures flammable gases are burnt and not lost up the chimney as is the case with a conventional, open fire. If your fire is burning too quickly or is too hot you can reduce the secondary air flow. Note that if you completely close both valves then the fire will quickly go out as it has no oxygen supply. If the fire isn''t burning well enough then open up the primary valve for a short period of time and/or open the front door slightly to get more oxygen into the fire.

Lighting My Fire

Lighting and maintaining a fire in a wood burning stove is, in some respects, different to lighting and maintaining a conventional open log fire. The main differences are the need to control the air supply and the understanding that you need to get the stove itself hot before it will burn efficiently. There is nothing quite like a real log fire on a cold winter''s day!

One of the many advantages of the wood stove is you can leave it burning while you go out knowing that the fire is safely enclosed.

How a Fireplace Works

As a fire burns in a clean fireplace, the air from the room goes through the grate and fuels the fire. As the fire burns, it releases numerous gases which rise as they are lighter than the surrounding air. These gases then escape up the chimney and are released into the atmosphere. As these substances pass through the chimney, a substance commonly referred to as soot begins to accumulate on the walls of the flue; this includes a flammable substance called creosote. Over time, these deposits can begin to obstruct and eventually completely block the chimney.

Such an obstruction can lead to an inefficient and potentially unsafe, fireplace. This can be explained by Clean fireplace, that are well-functioning chimney is necessary not only to allow potentially harmful gases to escape from the room, but also to ensure that the fire burns efficiently. As hot air ascends in the chimney, the fire sucks in more air from the room through the grate, in order to fill the space that has been left. Without this continuous supply of air, the fire would burn itself out. Deposits of flammable substances such as creosote also have the potential to cause chimney fires. Thus, a clean chimney is also a safer, more efficient chimney.

How often should I clean my chimney?

At least, once a year.
Chimney sweeps usually advise that chimneys ought to be cleaned after a period of prolonged disuse (over the summer for example). Many also advise that chimneys should be cleaned before the end of the heating season to ensure that the chimney is clear of animal nests and prepared for the subsequent idle period. If a chimney is used very often, it might be necessary to sweep it more often. A professional chimney sweep would be able to advise the optimum cleaning schedule for your chimney.Chimney fires are an all too frequent occurrence in many homes every year. To help prevent a chimney fire occurring in your property, you should ensure your chimney is swept as often as recommended by the Solid Fuel Association.

Appliance Frequency:

Smokeless Fuel - Once per year
Coal - twice per year
Wood Burning - Quarterly when in use
Gas - Once per year if designed for chimney sweeping
Oil Fired - Once per year

Why is chimney maintenance important?

When fuels burn in an appliance, the fumes that are the by-products of combustion - including carbon monoxide - are released into the chimney. Removing these fumes from the living area is the main purpose of a chimney. In addition to carrying off toxic gases, chimneys also create the draft (flow of air) that provides the proper air and fuel mixture for efficient operation of the heating appliance. Unfortunately, many chimneys in daily use in homes throughout the country are either improperly sized or have conditions that make them unable to perform their intended function.





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