wood burning stove fire safety

Nothing beats the cosy comfort of a wood burning stove. Wood burning is a tried, tested, and cost-effective method of heating our homes, making it the obvious choice for those looking for a renewable, sustainable, and low-carbon solution. 

As with any household appliance, there are a few key safety considerations that homeowners should bear in mind when using a wood burning stove. 

This article offers a handy guide the top five safety tips, including the importance of professional installation, and choosing the correct wood fuel, that will help ensure that you and your family get the maximum benefit from your wood burner.

The Importance of Wood Burning Stove Safety

Every new wood burning stove is supplied with a comprehensive set of manufacturer instructions. These instructions will contain important technical and safety information, along with detailed information on the correct operation and maintenance of your stove and, where applicable, product warranty details. It is vital that you read these before lighting your stove for the first time and refer to them regularly as you get used to operating your new stove. Your installer will also need these instructions to hand when they fit your stove and you should keep them in a safe place for future reference.

Not following these safety instructions can result in undesirable consequences such as damage to the stove body or its moving parts, inefficient burning, and increased emissions. 

1. Professional Installation & Ongoing Maintenance

Professional installation and ongoing maintenance are a must. It is a legal requirement under England and Wales Building Regulations that a stove installation is carried out either under Local Authority Building Control approval, or by a competent person registered with a Government Approved Competent Persons Scheme – you’ll find a list of schemes for solid fuel combustion appliances here

Choosing a registered competent person gives you the peace of mind of knowing that they have passed a comprehensive assessment of their work, and that their qualifications and paperwork have been checked. 

A reputable stove retailer will provide you with a detailed quotation that includes the cost of the wood burning stove and its installation, plus any flue installation or chimney lining requirements. They will also offer to carry out the installation, either using their own in-house registered installer or by recommending one locally. Once your installation is complete, you will receive a certificate of compliance (England and Wales).

You should have your chimney swept every year. This is a critical part of the ongoing maintenance of your stove as it prevents the build-up of soot which helps to improve the efficiency of your stove and minimise emissions.

Your chimney sweep will also carry out a visual inspection of your stove, but it is good practice to check the stove glass and rope seals on your stove regularly. If there are any signs of cracks or wear to these, or to the interior of the stove, don’t use the stove until the parts have been replaced – contact your local retailer or the stove manufacturer to arrange the purchase of replacement parts. 

Clearing the ash and keeping your stove glass sparkling clean are simple but important jobs that should also be done regularly – check your stove’s instruction manual for more information and only carry out maintenance tasks when the stove is completely cool.

2. Using the Correct Fuel

Just like the engines in our cars, modern wood burning stoves are precision engineered appliances that require the correct fuel for optimum use. 

Never burn rubbish or chemically treated wood in your stove. Doing so risks causing a flue blockage and will significantly increase emissions.

Wood fuel purchased in England in volumes under 2m3 must be certified under the Ready to Burn certification scheme. This guarantees a moisture content of 20% or less which helps prevent harmful pollution from domestic wood burning.

You can purchase unseasoned wood logs in larger quantities, but these must be properly seasoned to reduce moisture content before using. Depending on the species of wood this can take up to 2 years. 

A moisture meter is an essential part of any wood burning stove user’s kit; they are relatively inexpensive and are a way of being sure you are not inadvertently burning wet wood.

Burning wood that isn’t dry is not only inefficient, it will also cause excess smoke, blacken the glass and lead to a build-up of damaging creosote inside the stove and flue so don’t do it!  

3. Installing & Maintaining Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

A carbon monoxide (CO) detector is a legal requirement when installing or replacing a wood burning stove. If you have moved into a property with an existing stove, ensure you fit one if there isn’t one already. If you are in a rented property, it is a legal requirement of your landlord to ensure there is a working CO alarm in place. 

A by-product of incomplete combustion, carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless, and invisible and exposure can be potentially fatal. It is essential that you have one fitted and that you test it regularly.

4. Implementing Fire Safety Measures

A key safety consideration often overlooked with wood burning stoves is the importance of keeping a clear space around your stove.

Your installer will follow rules for ensuring compliance with the minimum distance away from combustible materials when they fit your stove – this may mean fitting a heat shield on the walls behind and/or around the stove and a suitable fire-resistant hearth in front of the stove – but there are some simple, common-sense rules you also need to follow to minimise the risk of fire:

  • Don’t stack logs up against the sides, on top or directly in front of your stove. While this may look attractive, it is dangerous when the stove is in use. The same goes for magazines, board games, newspapers, clothes airers or any other combustible material.
  • If you have children, elderly or vulnerable people in the home, invest in a fire screen. The surfaces of the stove, the flue pipe and the stove glass get very hot during operation and the best way to avoid burns is to prevent them from happening in the first place. 
  • Ensure you have a working and easily accessible fire extinguisher at home and that you know how to use it.

5. Educate Your Family on Safety Guidelines

One of the many benefits of owning a modern wood burning stove is the feeling of increased security that comes with having a source of heating that is entirely independent of the energy grid and that uses low carbon, renewable fuel.

We naturally gather around the fireplace so use this as an opportunity to ensure all family members are familiar with stove safety rules and the key dos and don’ts outlined above.

It’s great to get family members involved with stacking wood, maintaining your stove, and preparing the fire but be sure that they also understand the importance of:

  • Keeping the stove door closed except when re-fuelling.
  • Never touching the body of the stove or the flue pipe unless the appliance is completely cool.
  • Never leaving the stove unattended and making sure the stove is extinguished before going to bed or leaving the house.
  • Wood Burning Stove Fire Safety

Never overlook the importance of stove safety. Your wood burning stove is designed to give you hours of comforting warmth and pleasure when used correctly, and by following these five simple guidelines you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you and your family are taking all the practical steps needed to safely enjoy your wood burning stove for many years to come.