How to Clean Your Wood Burning Stove
by Damien Andrews
ANNUAL CLEANING OF YOUR WOOD BURNING STOVE
The annual cleaning of your wood burning stove is the most important one of the year. It’s the time when you get to deal with any tiny rust spots, light oiling of moving parts, greasing as necessary and, most importantly, the chimney and chimney spark arrestor. For liability reasons, and since chimney cleaning is beyond the scope of most people and their equipment, this article will not be specific about what to do. Rather, this article will only itemize some tips and things to check, clean and maintain.
• The annual cleaning of your wood burning stove should be done after the last fire of the season has gone out and the firebox is completely cooled.
• The spark arrestor on top of the chimney should be checked for breakage, rust, damage, etc. If necessary, it should be repaired or replaced. A faulty spark arrestor could lead to a fire.
• The chimney sections above the roof should be checked for stability. If any sections are loose, or a support system is loose, it should be dealt with appropriately.
• Any chimney seams above the roof should be sealed. There are special high temperature caulks for doing this.
• The chimney flashing should be carefully checked – to ensure the seal is tight and waterproof. Water damage is not always visible from inside the house – until it’s too late. Repair seals as necessary.
• If you have any rust in your system at all, now is the time to deal with it. How rust is removed is dependant on how much rust there is, and what surface it is building up on. Usually, a small piece of fine or extra fine steel wool is all that’s required. Remnant bare metal should be treated to prevent future rusting. Use an appropriate rust preventative based on the material and temperatures involved.
• Be sure to close the dampeners during the off season.
• If your wood burning stove has a fresh air intake system, located beneath or behind the stove, close it off during the off season to prevent drafts and bugs from entering the house.
• You can purchase a cover for the top of your chimney system to install during the off season. This will prevent debris from blowing into your chimney, as well as discourage most bugs from entering and building a new home.
• Be SURE to remove any accumulation of creosote from inside of the entire chimney system – top to bottom! The accumulation of creosote is a primary cause of chimney fires. Chimney fires are not only scary, they are extremely dangerous. It’s best to keep a good fire extinguisher, properly charged, close to the front of your wood burning stove. If a chimney fire starts, being very careful not to be injured, carefully open the firebox and completely extinguish the fire with the extinguisher and then close all dampeners. Then go outside and check. If the fire is still burning in the chimney, call the fire department.
• You should already have a smoke detector in the same room as your fireplace, but not too close to it so that it doesn’t go off unnecessarily. Make sure it is in good working order by following the test procedures for your specific unit.
NOTE: creosote formation in your wood burning stove and chimney are of particular concern if you burn conifers or use fatwood to start your fires.
Pro Tip: If your wood burning stove is your primary heat source, or you use it quite often, purchase one of the inexpensive propane torches for fire starting. These are available at hardware stores and plumber’s supply stores. The 14.1 ounce propane tanks will last at least one full season, sometimes two – depending on your kindling size and quality. The torch will more than pay for itself in fatwood starter – and will keep your firebox and chimney system much cleaner! It will also get that fire blazing hot in about 1/5 the time.
The thoroughly clean wood burning stove firebox – ready for a match – and some marshmallows!
Owning a wood burning stove has many enjoyable aspects. To ensure that your wood burning stove ownership remains a positive and pleasurable experience, be sure to keep it clean and performing at its best. A well cared for wood burning stove will last several lifetimes and provide countless seasons of charming, economical warmth. Now, where are those marshmallows…