Wood burning stoves have been designed to help overcome many issues present with existing open fireplaces, and one of these is safely being able to burn firewood in your home.
Wood stoves help to keep a fire contained within a protected and controlled environment within the firebox, but in order to generate the most amount of heat from burning firewood and transfer that heat into a room, stoves are designed to get extremely hot.
So are wood burning stoves safe?
Wood stoves can be very safe appliances for burning firewood, but in order to be as safe as possible they must be installed as per the manufacturer’s guidelines and per local and national building regulations. Wood stoves must also be operated efficiently and with care, as well as maintained and inspected periodically for signs of damage.
Wood stoves can be considered to be safe appliances by design because fires are contained within a metal box, with a flue transferring smoke, gases and other harmful particulates out of a home.
However, wood stoves must be correctly installed and properly operated in order to maintain this certain level of safety. The wood must also be of sufficient quality for use as firewood in order for a stove to work as designed.
We’ve discussed in more detail below using our own stoves as examples whether wood stoves can be considered safe or dangerous, and explained what factors can influence or compromise the safety aspect of using a wood stove.
Are Wood Burning Stoves Safe?
Wood stoves can be considered a safer form of fireplace compared to other types of fireplace, in particular open wood burning fireplaces.
However, having fires in your home will never be completely safe and so wood stoves still have a number of design features that can make them a safety concern for use around young children and/or pets.
If installed and used correctly however, the very small risks associated with using a wood burning stove can be kept to a minimum.
To understand the full range of factors that can influence how safe wood burning stoves are we’ve discussed and explained:
- How wood stoves compare to open wood burning fireplaces.
- What needs to be considered when wood stoves are installed.
- Why wood stoves need to be used correctly.
- Why the right quality of firewood needs to be used.
Wood Stove Safety vs Open Fireplace Safety
Wood burning stoves can be an alternative solution for burning wood in your home over using traditional open fireplaces.
Wood stoves are commonly installed within existing fireplaces to help improve the heat and efficiency of burning wood.
Traditional open wood burning fireplaces are ‘open’ by nature. A fire is built either on the hearth or within a fireplace grate, and a fireplace screen is required to help prevent hot embers from being spat out from a fire into a room.
On the other hand, a fire inside a wood burning stove isn’t open to the room. A wood stove also doesn’t typically require a fireplace screen, but can be used as a further safety precaution when using a stove if required.
We have two stoves in family, and although we’ll feel completely safe using them in our home we understand that they can get very hot, and that we need to take precautions by using a glove when opening and closing the stove doors during use.
There are a number of reasons why wood stoves can be considered safer than open fireplaces:
- The fire is contained within a firebox. The door must be opened in order for the flames to be reached.
- The fire can more easily be controlled. Both the air supply and the amount of firewood on the fire can be controlled, and both can be adjusted to fully control how quickly or slowly a fire inside a stove is burning.
- Sealed flue. A stove requires a sealed flue or lined chimney in order for any smoke, waste gases or other harmful particulates to safely leave your home.
- Cleaner combustion. A stove is designed to burn firewood much more efficiently and can lead to a significant reduction in emissions when using newer models of stove.
In order for a wood stove to work as designed the door must be closed to ensure that all of the air is going through the air vents.
This means that a fire in a wood stove can only be reached by opening the door, which is an added safety feature over open wood burning fireplaces, which simply may only have a screen/guard for protection from the flames.
Unlike open fireplaces, the air coming into a stove can be controlled because all of the air is going in through the air vents.
This allows us to control the fire inside a stove for added safety.
If a fire is burning too fast and hot, simply closing down the air vents can bring the fire down to a more calmly burning one. There’s no need to wait for the fire to burn through the wood like you would need to with an open fireplace.
Wood stoves must (through regulations) have a sufficient pathway for byproducts from a fire to leave a home safely.
This comes in the form of a sealed pipe known as a flue.
If installing a stove in your home you’ll need to have a flue extending up through your roof or up an external wall of your home. If installing a stove in your existing fireplace then you’ll need to have your chimney lined with a flue.
In comparison, poor design of an open fireplace or another issue such as a blocked chimney may lead to smoke coming out of the fireplace and into a home.
Finally, wood stoves can be far more efficient at combusting wood, which helps to lower emissions from burning firewood.
Higher pressures and temperatures within a stove helps to allow for secondary combustion of waste gases to occur, which helps to increase heat output and reduce emissions.
One of the downsides of a wood stove is that the body of the stove can get extremely hot during operation, and so it’s important for everyone to understand that a stove should not be touched during fires without the use of a glove.
In terms of safety, we personally can’t think of any other issues we’ve had when using our own stoves apart from being careful around them to not touch during fires.
Wood Burning Stove Safety – Installation
In order for a stove to be as safe as possible it must be installed in line with manufacturer’s recommendations and local and national regulations.
For safety reasons a wood stove must be installed:
- On a sufficient hearth.
- With sufficient gap between the stove and non-combustible materials.
- Sufficiently far way from combustible materials.
- With a suitable flue.
A stove must be placed on a suitably sized and deep hearth in order to help protect the floor of the building from the heat of the stove.
For more information we have a complete guide to fireplace hearths here.
A wood stove must also be installed with sufficient distance from both non-combustible and combustible materials and object in the vicinity of where you’re having your stove installed.
Finally, wherever you’re installing a stove in your home it will require a sealed flue in order to safely remove byproducts from a fire from your home.
A suitably qualified professional will install your stove in line with your local and national building regulations.
Using Wood Stoves Safely
Although wood stoves are designed to be as safe as possible, they must be used as per the manufacturers guidelines in order for a stove to maintain the high levels of safety.
Improper use of a stove may result in damaged parts over time, such as to the baffle plate, body of the stove or to the flue.
The main issue can be with having fires too hot for the size and designed heat output of your stove. This can lead to over firing of the stove and may result in permanent damage of the stove that can compromise safety.
Fore more information on safely using stoves we have a complete guide on how to use a wood stove.
The right quality of firewood needs to be used to ensure that a stove works as designed.
Using firewood that is unsuitable for burning, such as being too wet, can lead to a poorly burning fire that can produce more smoke than usual.
You should ensure that you’re only ever burning properly seasoned or kiln dried firewood.
We’ve covered seasoned firewood in more detail here.
You can also find our guide to kiln dried firewood here.
Are Wood Burning Stoves Dangerous?
Wood burning stoves can be very safe appliances if installed, used and maintained correctly.
By design, wood stoves can be considered to be safer compared to open wood burning fireplaces because the fire is kept behind a sealed door, while any byproducts from a stove fire must leave your home through a sealed flue.
Even though safety has been at the forefront of wood stove design, they must be used and treated correctly in order for the high levels of safety to be maintained.
Stoves should be used as per their design capacity and not overloaded with fuel and oxygen that can lead to damage of the stove over time.
The right quality of firewood should also be used to ensure that wood stoves work as intended to burn firewood cleanly and efficiently.