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Wood Burning Stove Safety Tips

Because of the ever-growing cost of natural gas, many people have resorted to purchasing a wood stove to heat their homes. While this may be a cost effective way to get heat, there are many dangers that having a live fire can cause. Each year, about 3,000 people in the U.S. lose their lives in residential fires. These deaths are most often the result of smoke and toxic gases, not burns.

To learn how you can take the necessary precautions when choosing, installing, ventilating, and maintaining your wood burning stove, follow the checklist below;

Before Installation

When deciding on which wood stove you should purchase, be sure to find one that is listed by an approved testing laboratory. It should be the correct size for the room or area it will be heating and should be made of sturdy and durable material, such as steel or cast iron. Before installing the stove, check the following:

  • A layer of sand or brick has been placed in the bottom of the firebox, if suggested by the manufacturer.
  • The stove is placed on a non-combustible floor, or an approved floor protection material is placed under the stove.
  • Floor protection extends out 6 to 12 inches from the sides and back of the stove and 18 inches from the front where the wood is loaded.
  • Stove is placed at least 36 inches away from combustible materials. If not, fire resistant materials should be used to protect woodwork and other combustible materials.

During Installation

  • Have wood stove installed by a professional. If you decide to install the stove yourself, follow the manufacturer’s instructions very carefully and seek help if needed.
  • Prepare the chosen area properly to ensure there is adequate clearance from combustible materials. This includes floors, furniture, drapes, newspapers, books, and walls of plaster, drywall or paneling. Check with your local building inspector to determine clearance standards in your area.

After Installation

  • Install and maintain fire alarms on each level of your home.
  • Install and maintain a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Inspect stovepipes and chimneys regularly for creosote accumulation.
  • Keep small children away from the stove. A touch to the stove’s surface can result in severe burns.
  • Develop and practice an escape route from all rooms in the house, especially bedrooms.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Conduct proper and regular maintenance of the stove. This can reduce the risk of fire.

Building a Fire

There is a correct way to build a fire in a wood burning stove. There also are specific types of wood and kindling that should be used. Building a safe fire is an easy way to protect your home from devastating losses. The following tips will help you build a safe and secure fire.

  • Season wood outdoors through the hot, dry summer for at least six months. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood. Do not burn wet or green logs.
  • Store wood outdoors, stacked neatly off the ground and covered.
  • Do not use logs made from wax and sawdust. If you do use manufactured logs, choose those made from 100 percent compressed sawdust.
  • Safer burning woods include oak, hickory and ash. Avoid burning pine and cedar logs.
  • Start fires only with clean newspaper and dry kindling. Never start a fire with gasoline, kerosene, charcoal starter or a propane torch.
  • Burn small, hot fires. A smoldering fire is not safe or efficient.
  • Keep woodstove doors closed, unless loading or stoking the live fire.
  • Let the fire burn down to the coals, then rake the coals toward the air inlet (and woodstove door), creating a mound. Do not spread coals flat.
  • Reload by adding at least three (3) pieces of wood each time, on and behind the mound of hot coals. Avoid adding just one log at a time.
  • Regularly remove ashes into a metal container with a cover. Ashes can remain hot up to a week after they are created. Store outside on a cement or brick slab, not on a wood deck or near wood.

Ventilation System

  • Stove pipes should be made of 22 or 24 gauge metal.
  • Total length of the stove pipe should be less than 10 feet.
  • Keep at least 18 inches between the top of the stove pipe and the ceiling, or other combustible material.
  • The stove pipe should enter the chimney higher than the outlet of the stove firebox.
  • Stove pipe shouldn’t extend into the chimney flue lining.
  • The inside thimble diameter should be the same size as the stove pipe, creating a snug fit.
  • The stove pipe should not pass through a floor, closet, concealed space or enter the chimney in the attic.
  • The chimney should extend at least 3 feet above the highest point where it passes through the roof and 2 feet above any portion of the building within 10 horizontal feet of the chimney.
  • The chimney flue lining should not be blocked and the chimney flue and stove pipe should be kept clean.
  • If you connect the stove to an existing chimney, the chimney should be inspected before using the stove.
  • Make sure that the stove ventilation system is the proper size. Particularly avoid oversized flues.
  • Make sure that the stove ventilation system is the proper height. This is often taller than minimum code requirements.
  • Make sure the stove ventilation system has the proper configuring, avoiding excessive horizontal runs and system turns.

Controlling Creosote Build-up

As with all appliances, keeping your wood burning stove properly maintained is important to maintaining a safe and healthy environment for you and your family. Make sure to check for creosote build-up in the stove pipe. The biggest wood stove hazard is chimney fires, which are caused by byproducts from smoke building up and igniting. Creosote condenses when stack temperatures drop below 250 degrees Fahrenheit, so the type of chimney you have is important. An insulated one is desirable. A large, air-tight heater in a small home in a chocked-position will produce creosote regardless of the type of wood burned or its moisture content. Follow this checklist to minimize creosote formation:

  • Using UL listed wood-burning equipment and chimney materials and installing the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Properly sizing the chimney and its components.
  • Building a small, hot fire for a short period, rather than an idle fire over a long period, when temperatures are moderate.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

National Ag Safety Database (NASD)


© 2020 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.