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Flame on!

Lighting a fire isn’t just for camping trips – it’s a smart heating method in 21st century homes. Wood burning stoves save money and are reliable in the face of up-and-down prices in global gas supplies. These stoves are also more efficient than ordinary fires too. A wood burning stove is an enclosed metal box. A lot of heat energy is needed to make it hot – especially if it is cast iron. Air intake is controlled by one or more valves. It is cleverly designed though so you can preheat the air and make the stove burn much hotter than a conventional wood fire.

Start indoor wood fires with old newspaper or firelighters. A bed of ash supports the flame. So don’t throw old ash away! Open the stove door and place scrunched-up paper sheets on top of the ash or in the form of rolled up cylinders with the ends twisted. Layer on kindling (soft pine pieces are ideal) or firelighters (often made of paraffin wax) on top of the paper, building a wigwag shape. Then light the fire at the bottom and put on larger dry, seasoned wood (e.g. oak), as the flames get stronger.

Aim to get a wood stove hot quickly, building up the temperature. Add more wood when there’s a bed of glowing embers. Leave the stove door open until the fire is independently burning, then close the door.

Wood burning stoves often have primate or secondary air input controls/valves. Primary controls draw in cold air under the burning wood from the room. Secondary uses air that’s circulated around the stove including the front viewing glass (cleaning it). Secondary air is already hot when it meets the hot gas from the burning wood, that results in fierce energy in the upper parts of the stove, which is more efficient for heating needs than open fires.

Keep both valves open during the initial fire burning process, to encourage oxygen to the flames. Close the primary controls once the fire is intensely hot. Then use the secondary valves only, to control the flames. Operate the fire at a higher temperature via this method, to optimise heat energy efficiency. It also ensures flammable gases are burnt and not lost in the chimney. Open the primary valve for a while (or partially open the door) if the fire isn’t burning well but don’t close both valves or the fire will go out.

Tip: The stove needs to heat before wood burns well. You can leave a wood stove burning if you leave the room, as it is safely enclosed.

Fireplaces need to be clean for efficiency. Air in the nearby room is sucked through the grate and feeds the flames. This releases gases such as carbon monoxide, dispelled via the chimney to the outer atmosphere. These gases create soot in the flue walls, including flammable creosote. If the chimney is not swept regularly, the soot clogs-up the flue. That’s dangerous because it risks fires in the chimney itself. Dangerous gas is also prevented from escaping safely – wafting back down the chimney instead and into the room. These gases can cause serious injury or death in a home or business premises.

Regular chimney sweeping is essential to protect occupants in a property. How often do chimneys need cleaning? At least once per year but also if they’ve not been used for a while, such as after the summer months. Sweeping after winter is also ideal to clear animals nests and to keep the flue clean. Chimneys that are used regularly need regular sweeping too. Ask a professional chimney sweep, such as James the Sweep, for professional advice about cleaning schedules for your chimney(s), as recommended by the Solid Fuel Association. Regular chimney sweeping gives you peace of mind that the indoor fire is safe to use and protects your loved ones.

Basic Annual Schedule of Sweeping

Smokeless fuel: 1 x sweeps
Coal: 2 x sweeps
Wood burning: 4 x sweeps (when in use)
Gas: 1 x sweeps (if the fire set-up is designed for chimney sweeping)
Oil fired – 1 x sweeps

Chimneys exist to safely remove combustion fumes, containing dangerous gases, away from a property. These gases, such as carbon monoxide, are produced by fuels burning in an appliance or open fire. The toxic gas is drawn up the flue but the flow of air (draught) also bolsters the balance of air-and-fuel needed for the indoor fire.

Tips to maximise wood burning efficiency

Use seasoned wood. It burns hotter, more efficiently and stops a build-up of creosote (saving money).

Make fires small and hot. They will need frequent fuel loading but volatile gas is burnt quicker, which is safer and better for air quality.

A stove thermometer on the stove flue, is ideal to monitor temperatures of dispelled gas (ideally 300°F to 400°F).

Remove excess ash to free-up your stove’s air intake vents and allow oxygen to feed the flames.

Check your chimney stack by burning your stove at different levels and see if there is an absence of smoke outside – an indication the stove is efficient.

Inspect your stove’s warping and baffle to ensure there are no gaps. Check for creosote. Ask a professional chimney sweep if you’re not sure.

If you buy a stove, ensure it’s properly sized. If it’s too big, there will be more creosote.

Buy the most efficient design you can afford. It will pay for itself in the long run.

Fuel burnt must suit your stove. Don’t burn coal in a wood stove, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Never burn rubbish in a stove. You risk chimney fires and poisoning from harmful gas, especially if plastic is burnt.