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Wood stoves don’t function the same when it’s very cold outside as compared with use in milder weather, such as in spring and fall. Homeowners with wood stoves who are unfamiliar with the need to operate the stove according to weather often get frustrated. Their rooms fill with smoke, and their noisy fire alarms go off in mild temperatures. What’s happening is that the draft doesn’t work as effectively in seasons when the outdoor temperature is not as starkly different from indoor temperatures. Fortunately, adjustments can be made to improve draft and enjoy your wood stove whenever there is a chill in the air and regardless of the season.
What is Draft?
Draft is what evacuates combustion by-products from the home when using your wood stove. Draft pulls or sucks air into the wood stove and is used for combustion purposes and simultaneously pulls gases up and out of the chimney through the stovepipe or chimney connector and the flue or chimney lining.
More About Draft
Every house has a different draft, even if one residence has the same wood stove and chimney flue as another home in the same neighborhood. Numerous factors contribute to the function of draft, which is why even two identical homes built side-by-side will draft differently.
What chiefly determines draft is contrasting temperatures between the air inside the flue and the air outside of the flue. When the temperature contrast is greater, the draft is stronger. This is the single most important factor in determining draft, and the following are additional factors:
- Height of the chimney
- Size of the flue
- Configuration of the chimney connector
- Type and quality of fuel used
Tips for Wood Stove Use in Spring and Fall
Since draft is achieved with contrast, how do you avoid a smoky wood stove in mild weather? A guiding principle is to heat the flue more than you normally would. The following are a few tips for producing an efficient fire in your best wood stove in springtime and autumn.
Type of Firewood – Avoid using hardwoods such as oak and maple in mild temperatures, since they produce a coal bed that will burn long after the fire is out. Instead, use seasoned softwoods such as pine, spruce, willow, fir, cedar, and poplar. It can take up to two years to season certain softwoods, but typically it requires about nine months. Seasoned softwoods light easily and burn quickly. Without the significant coal bed, the fires also go out rapidly.
Size of Fire – For mild weather, build small fires, especially as compared with the large fires that are ideal for cold winters.
Configuration of Firewood – The goal is to have a quick-burning, hot fire. Crisscross the softwood logs to achieve this type of fire. This is a clear contrast with cold winter fires, when firewood should be compactly loaded. For low output and long burns, wood is loaded east-west. In mild weather, if you want a long, low output of heat for overnight, use east-west orientation. The breakdown of wood is slowed when the combustion air reaches it from the sides of the pieces. Load wood north-south in cold weather, since more wood can be loaded and the heat and flame penetrates the load with greater ease and produces a higher sustained heat output.
Air Supply – Reducing the combustion air supply may result in less efficiency, but it is a way to improve draft.
More Frequent Fires – It’s best to build one fire per day rather than burning 24 hours per day, since you want to avoid smoldering fires.