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Ashes are a natural byproduct of the wood you burn in your top-of-the-line wood stove. It may seem that ashes aren’t much more than a nuisance, but there are some very important reasons to be diligent and careful about ash removal.
Improved Durability and Performance
A wood stove that is kept clean burns firewood more efficiently, partly because there is a better draft. Your wood stove will also last longer if ashes are removed as needed. The frequency of ash removal is dependent upon how often you use the appliance, and it also depends upon the type of wood you burn. Well-seasoned firewood burns far more efficiently than green firewood, and less ash is left behind.
A Serious Fire Hazard
Ash removal is more of a complex matter than some homeowners realize. Many house fires have been caused by improper handling of ashes. A tragic fire in Stamford, Connecticut that resulted in the loss of five lives on Christmas Day 2011 was caused by mishandling of ashes.
Little known facts about ashes:
- Hot coals that are buried in piles of ashes can be dormant for literally weeks; but if the coals are exposed to oxygen, they can flare up and start a fire. After putting out a blaze and returning to their stationhouses, fire departments frequently return to add more water on coals that have flared up.
- A metal ash pail is not the foolproof place for wood stove ashes that many people mistakenly think it is. If a winter breeze comes along, the contents of the pail can become stirred, causing the coals to re-ignite. A breeze can blow live coals from the ash pail onto a wooden porch and start a dangerous house fire. Lidless pails are not a good choice for ash storage.
- If a metal pail containing hot ashes is on a wooden surface, such as a wooden porch, the floor can become charred as the pail heats up to high temperatures. Hot ashes should be treated with great care and should not be left unattended for a long period of time.
How to Properly Remove and Store Ashes
Sheet metal is the safest material to use for ash removal and storage. A sheet metal pail with a handle for carrying, a raised bottom (to prevent hot contents from being in contact with flooring), and a tightly closing lid is ideal for wood stove ash.
Homeowners should be aware that many products made for ash removal are more about aesthetics than safety. It’s a bit more costly to get the sheet metal bucket described above, but safety should be the top consideration. There are actually some decorative sheet metal ash pails available, which can add to both your décor and your safety.
Step-by-step ash removal:
- Place ashes in a metal container. Warning: Never use flammable materials for ash disposal, such as plastic bags, paper, or cardboard boxes.
- Place the metal bucket outside, and pour water into it, to douse any hot embers that may be inside. Keep in mind that hot coal or wood can smolder for days.
- After adding water, stir the ashes, so that all of the bucket’s contents are wet.
- Place the ash bucket away from flammable materials, and tightly secure the lid. Warning: Do not put the metal container on a wooden floor or any other type of flammable surface.
- If you vacuum remaining ashes out of your wood stove, only use a vacuum that is especially designed for the purpose of removing hot and cold embers. Warning: Never use a vacuum designed for cleaning floors to remove ash.
Uses for Ash
Ash produced by premium wood burning stoves is a great fertilizer that can add nutrients to your soil. Ash is high in calcium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium; and it can help decrease the acid level in soil. Be aware, however, that soil in dry regions contains more alkaline; and as a result, wood ash should be used sparingly in those locations.