4 important practices to care for a wood stove

Wood-burning stoves keep you cozy in the frigid winter months, but they also require a fair bit of maintenance. Perform the following practices regularly to keep your wood stove in prime condition.

4 important practices to care for a wood stove

1. Clean your chimney walls

If your wood stove is used regularly throughout the winter months, its chimney walls (or flue) should be cleaned each spring to remove accumulated creosote. The easiest way is to call in a professional chimney sweep. The chimney sweep will inspect the flue to make sure that it's safe and operational and can also check, service, and clean the stove. If you decide to do the job yourself, you must be confident about climbing onto the roof safely. Flue brushes and extension handles are available from wood-heating retailers. It's essential that the brush is the correct size for the chimney — if it is too large it may get stuck in the chimney. Once on the roof, remove the rain excluder cap and push the brush down the flue until it reaches the stove. Then pull the brush up again. Make sure that the stove is shut tightly and completely sealed with a drop sheet.

2. Handle creosote buildup

Creosote is a black, sticky, sooty material deposited on chimney walls or flues by smoke. Creosote can burn, making it a fire hazard, and it can build up to such a point that it partly or completely blocks the flow of air through the chimney or flue, making the stove smoky and hard to light. Check the flue regularly for  buildup. For most wood-burning stoves, you will probably need to clean the flue annually.

A vertical flue can be checked by holding a mirror inside the stove when it is cold. Hold the mirror at a 45-degree angle directly under the flue opening. You should be able to estimate the amount of creosote buildup by the amount of daylight you're able to see filtering through the top of the chimney. A less reliable estimate can be made by tapping the flue with a finger. The tapping should produce a resonant, metallic sound if the pipe is clear, and a dull sound if the pipe walls are laden with creosote.

3. Eliminate draft reversal

An age-old problem of fireplaces and stoves is draft reversal, which is when warm air flows into the room rather than up the chimney. This is most common with external-wall chimneys. To counteract the effect, open a window near the stove. Also, before starting the fire, ignite some paper under the stove's exhaust flue or in the stovepipe. Once the chimney is warm, air will be drawn upwards.

4. Guard against radiant heat

Protect floors and walls from radiant heat — the fire does not have to be exposed for it to cause flammable materials to ignite. A radiant heat stove will heat most effectively if it's located towards the centre of the house. Central placement of circulator-type stoves is less important; put them where they take best advantage of natural air-flow patterns.

From removing creosote to guarding against heat, it's important to maintain your stove so that it stays both functional and safe. Do that, and it will continue to provide you warmth and comfort when you need it most. Is anyone chilly?

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