Wood Stove Fire

Wood Stove Common Problems (And Solutions)

In Wood Burning Stoves by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

Table Of Contents

Wood burning stoves are a great way to help increase the heat output and efficiency of burning firewood in your home compared to using traditional open fireplaces.

However, there are a number of problems that can arise from using wood stoves. As every situation is different, including different sized stoves, flue lengths and house layout and sizes, a wood stove may not always work as fully intended.

We have both wood burning and multi fuel stoves in the family and have been using both of them for a number of years.

Wood Burning Stove & Multi Fuel Stove
Our multi fuel stove (left) and wood burning stove (right) that we’ve been using for a number of years and have had a few issues to overcome

During this time we’ve come across a range of issues associated with using our stoves, from not being able to get the stoves to light to struggling to keep them burning hot.

We’ve therefore put together this complete guide to all of the most common wood stove problems, and outlined the solutions to help you overcome these problems associated with using any form of wood stove.

In this article we’ve covered why a wood stove:

  • Is not lighting
  • Isn’t staying lit (keeps going out)
  • Is not drafting
  • Smokes
  • Is leaking smoke
  • Smoke isn’t going up the chimney
  • Is not getting enough air
  • Only burns with the door open
  • Isn’t getting hot
  • Not heating the room or house
  • Burning too hot
  • Burning too fast
  • Just smolders
  • Not heating water
  • Smells when not in use
  • Damper isn’t working

You can use the Table Of Contents above to take you straight to each specific topic within this article.

We also have more dedicated guides for some of these issues and so we’ve linked to these articles where relevant.

Wood Stove Not Lighting

To start a fire in your wood stove and prevent it from going out ensure that the draft has been started, enough air is being allowed into the stove, and the fire is built correctly with a fire starter, dry kindling and one or two dry logs.

One of the most crucial elements of having a fire in a wood stove is being able to start the fire off well, which helps in setting up a long and successful fire.

In order to help ensure that your wood stove is lighting you’ll need to consider the following:

  • The quality and amount of firewood
  • The airflow into the stove
  • The airflow out the stove (the draft)

A fire needs plenty of oxygen and fuel in order to get going well. In a wood burning this means ensuring that you’re using the right quality of firewood and allowing as much air into the stove as possible.

You’ll also need to consider the draft, which is the flow of air up the flue from the stove. If there isn’t sufficient draft on the stove then your wood stove fire can struggle to light.

Before lighting a wood stove ensure that the draft has been started if required, you’re using dry enough firewood and that the air vents are wide open

Therefore, when lighting a wood stove and to help prevent a wood stove from not lighting properly:

  • Build the fire using a form of firelighter, such as newspaper, and one or two small logs.
  • Use only dry firewood that is of 20% or less moisture content.
  • Use softwood kindling and logs to help the fire to catch and burn more quickly.
  • Ensure that the air vents on the stove are wide open after lighting the fire.
  • Close the door to the stove after lighting if you can but leave the door open if necessary. The stove door should be closed as soon as possible into the fire.
  • Start the draft if necessary. Hold a match near the inside top of the stove to help warm up the air in the flue before lighting the fire.
  • Light the fire starter in various points across the stove to help the fire spread to the kindling as quickly as possible.

For more information see our complete guide to lighting a wood burning stove here.

We also have a guide on how to light a multi fuel stove.

Wood Stove Not Staying Lit

To help keep a fire going in your wood stove ensure that only low moisture content fuel such as seasoned firewood is being burnt, and that enough air is being let into the stove so that the fire isn’t smoldering due to a lack of oxygen.

When it comes to a wood burning stove that isn’t staying lit you’ll need to consider the following:

  • The quality of the fuel being burnt
  • The airflow into the stove
  • The draft

Ensure that you’re only burning low moisture content firewood, ideally under 20% moisture content. Wet wood will be harder to burn and can lead to a wood stove fire that keeps going out.

Ensure that you’re allowing enough air into the stove. If the vents are too far closed and the fire is being starved of oxygen then it can lead a fire in a wood stove that won’t stay lit.

Wood Stove Smoking
If your wood stove isn’t staying lit ensure that the air vents are wide open, low moisture content firewood is being used and the draft is strong enough

Also ensure that there is sufficient draft on the stove throughout the duration of the fire. A poor draft will prevent fresh air from entering the stove and keeping the fire going.

For more information we have a complete guide why a wood stove fire keeps going out.

Wood Stove Not Drafting

To help maximize the draft in a wood stove ensure you’re using a sufficient heat source to start the draft, such as matches or even a small fire. To help maximize the draft throughout a fire ensure to burn hot and efficient fires using dry firewood.

The draft on a wood stove is the movement of air up the flue.

This movement of air is triggered by the hot air rising up the flue and more air being sucked out of the stove behind it. This also helps suck more air into the stove and help feed the fire.

As a result, the draft is essential for keeping a fire going in a wood burning stove.

The things you should consider when your wood stove isn’t drafting include:

  • When the flue was least swept.
  • Whether there is a damper in the flue and that it is open.

Burning firewood can release creosote which can line the walls of your flue and reduce the draft on the stove. Burning wet firewood can also increase the rate of creosote build-up because of poor combustion of the wood.

Flues and chimneys should therefore be swept at least once per year in line with recommendations. A blocked flue may be the reason why your wood stove isn’t drafting.

If your wood stove has a damper (typically located in the stovepipe just above the stove) then if the damper is too far closed it may be restricting the flow of air up the flue. You can read more about dampers in another one of our articles here.

Therefore to help solve the issue of a wood stove not drafting:

  • Have your chimney/flue swept if it hasn’t been done so within the last couple of years.
  • Ensure that any damper located within the stovepipe is fully open to help maximize the draft.

There are also other factors that can influence the draft on a wood burning stove, such as the weather, the height of the flue and surrounding buildings.

For more information see our complete guide on reasons why your wood stove isn’t drafting.

You can also help to start the draft before each fire to maximize the chances of a successful fire.

You can use a heat source such as a match to help warm up the air within the flue and start the draft. Simply hold the heat source within the inside top of the stove for a short while. If smoke from the match starts to rise up the flue then it’s a sign that there is sufficient draft to start the fire.

Priming the flue to warm up the air can help to start the draft before starting your wood stove fires

For more information we have a dedicated article on how to start the draft in a wood burning stove.

Wood Stove Smokes

To help overcome a wood stove that smokes, ensure to burn only low moisture content firewood so that the wood is combusting properly, and allow enough air into the stove through the air vents to prevent the fire from smoldering and producing smoke due to a lack of oxygen.

A smoking wood stove fire can be a common issue. The main things that will affect whether a wood stove smoke include:

  • The quality of the fuel being burnt
  • The amount of air getting to the fire
  • The draft on the stove

Smoke is commonly produced when firewood isn’t being properly combusted.

When firewood isn’t being combusted effectively and more smoke is being produced, it can usually be down to a problem with either the draft, the air supply or the fuel itself.

Wet wood can be much harder to burn than dry firewood because the excess moisture needs to be burnt off before the wood can be properly combusted. Burning wood that is too wet can be therefore be a main reason why your wood stove is smoking.

If a fire in a wood burning stove isn’t receiving enough air then it can be producing more smoke than usual. A wood stove fire needs enough oxygen to be able to combust firewood efficiently.

If there is a poor draft on the stove (which can be caused by a number of factors including a dirty flue) it can prevent waste air from leaving the stove and therefore prevent fresh air from entering. A poor draft can therefore contribute to a poorly burning wood stove fire that’s producing smoke.

Therefore, to help prevent your wood stove fires from smoking:

  • Ensure to always burn only dry seasoned or kiln dried firewood that is ideally under the recommended 20% moisture content for firewood.
  • Ensure not to close down the air vents on your stove too far as to starve the fire of oxygen. Close down the vents to a point where the fire is burning calmly but not smoldering and smoking due to a lack of oxygen.
  • Start the draft before starting a fire and burn hotter and faster burning fires to begin with to help warm up the air within the flue and maximize the draft on the stove.

For our complete guide to why your wood stove is smoking see our other article here.

Wood Stove Leaking Smoke

To help prevent your wood stove from leaking smoke ensure that the door gasket isn’t damaged and replace if necessary. Check the body of the stove or the flue for any damage and identify where the smoke is leaking from.  

In addition to a wood stove producing smoke, there may be smoke leaving out of your stove from the inside.

This can be an indication that there is a leak somewhere in the stove. Fixing this issue will not only help stop smoke from leaking from your stove but also help bring the stove back to a fully sealed system and help return it to maximum efficiency.

The most common areas where smoke can be leaking from your wood burning stove include:

  • The door gasket
  • The flue
  • The body of the stove

Over time the seal on the door to the stove (which looks like rope) can start to wear out. If this gasket becomes damaged or too hard to create a seal then it can start to leak smoke during fires.

Smoke from wood stove fires leaves your home through the flue. If there are any bad joints within the flue then it may be causing smoke to be leaking from there.

In more severe cases there may be damage to the body of the stove. Damage to the body of a wood burning stove can be a result of the stove reaching the end of its lifespan, but can also be caused prematurely by burning fires too hot for what your stove was designed, known as over firing your stove.

To help prevent your stove from leaking smoke:

  • Check the stove and flue for signs of where the smoke is leaking from.
  • Change the door gasket if required.
  • Fix the joints on the flue if required.
  • Fix any cracks or damage to the body of the stove, or replace the whole stove if required.
A common place for a wood stove to leak smoke can be through the door. Change the door gasket if required

For more information on door gaskets we have a guide to why your wood stove door won’t close here.

We also have an article explaining what over firing is and why you shouldn’t burn fires too hot in your wood stove.

Wood Stove Smoke Not Going Up Chimney

To help prevent smoke being produced by a wood stove fire from not going up the chimney, ensure that the draft has been started and that there will be sufficient draft for the duration of the fire. Poor draft can be a result of a dirty chimney or bad weather.

The issue of smoke not going up the chimney or flue can in most cases be a result of poor draft.

The draft is created by the warm air rising up the flue pulling further smoke and air up behind it. This continuous cycle helps to keep a wood stove fire burning and remove unwanted byproducts from the fire such as smoke from your home.

If any smoke being generated by your wood stove isn’t going up the flue or chimney:

  • Start the draft before lighting the fire. You can warm up the air within a flue by holding a heat source within the top inside of the stove for a short while. We use a long match to start the draft in our wood stoves.
  • Start hotter fires. Using very dry kiln dried softwood kindling and logs when building your fires can help the fire to catch, burn and get hotter more quickly.
  • Ensure that the chimney has been cleaned. A dirty or blocked chimney or flue can reduce the draft and prevent smoke from leaving your stove.

For more information on why a wood stove smokes see our dedicated article here.

For more information on wood stove draft see our article on why your wood stove isn’t drawing and how to increase it.

Wood Stove Not Getting Enough Air

For a wood stove that isn’t getting enough air, be sure that all of the stove’s air vents are fully open and not blocked, and check that there is sufficient draft on the stove to be able to maintain airflow through the stove. Don’t leave the stove door open as this will decrease efficiency.

Wood burning stoves work by creating a sealed environment where all of the air coming into the stove is through the air vents (when the stove door is shut).

This allows the amount of air getting to the fire to be more accurately controlled, and helps fires in wood stoves to burn more efficiently and more heat can be extracted from every piece of firewood burnt.

If your wood stove is not getting enough air:

  • Ensure that all of the air vents on the wood stove are fully open. Wood stoves can have more than one air vent, and are commonly referred to as primary, secondary and tertiary air vents. If the vents are closed by too much the fire can be starved of oxygen.
  • Don’t leave the stove door open unless getting a new fire going. Leaving the door open will significantly reduce the efficiency of the stove and cause fires to rapidly burn through the wood.
  • Check the draft. A poor draft will prevent waste air from leaving your stove and in turn prevent fresh air from getting to your fires.
  • Regulate the ash. Ensure that there’s nothing blocking the air vents inside the stove, such as too much ash at the base of the stove.
Ensure that any excess ash isn’t blocking the vents on a wood stove

For more information on why you wood stove may not be getting enough air see our complete guide on how to use the air vents to control a wood burning stove.

We also have an article that explains primary, secondary and tertiary air in wood stoves, and another on why you shouldn’t leave the door on your wood stove open.

Wood Stove Only Burns With The Door Open

Wood burning stoves are not typically designed to burn with the door open. If a wood stove only burns with the door open it may be due to a problem with the air supply to the fire, or the draft.

Wood burning stoves are designed to create ‘sealed environments’ where all of the air coming into the stove can be controlled.

Being able to adjust the amount of air getting to a fire inside a wood stove helps to give much greater control over how hot, fast or efficient the fire is burning.

If the door to the stove is left open during fires, therefore allowing an unrestricted flow of air into the stove, it can lead to fast burning fires that aren’t an efficient source of heat.

If your wood stove only burns with the door open it can be due to a problem resulting from:

  • A lack of airflow into the stove. Ensure that all of the air vents on the stove (a stove can have more than one controllable air vent) are fully open when starting a fire, and then slowly close them down when the fire has got going until the fire is burning calmly. Closing the air vents down too far will cause the fire to smolder due to a lack of oxygen.
  • Poor draft. Insufficient draw on your stove from the flue can prevent enough air from coming through the air vents, meaning that leaving the door open might be the only solution to keep your fires burning.

Therefore, to help ensure that you can burn wood stove fires with the door closed:

  • Start the draft before lighting a fire.
  • Start wood stove fires with fast and hot burning very dry softwood kindling and logs to help warm up the air in the flue and start the draft as soon as possible.
  • Only burn properly seasoned or kiln dried logs through the duration of your fires so that you’re always burning hot fires.
  • Leave the air vents on the stove wide open when lighting a fire.
  • Close down the air vents after the fire has got going until the fire is burning calmly through the wood, but not smoldering or burning too fast.
The door shouldn’t be left open when using a wood burning stove

For more information on why your wood stove only burns with the door open see our dedicated articles on:

How to use the air vents to control a wood burning stove.

Why you shouldn’t use a wood stove with the door open.

Why your wood stove isn’t drawing and how to improve it.

How to start the draft in a wood burning stove.

What a fire in a wood stove should look like.

Wood Stove Not Burning Hot

For wood stoves that aren’t burning hot, ensure that enough dry firewood is within the stove and that the fire is being provided with enough oxygen by opening the stove air vents.

In order for a wood burning stove to burn as hot as possible it needs to have the following:

  • A constant and sufficient supply of fresh air
  • Enough good quality fuel to burn
  • A strong draft

These three main components work together to help a wood stove to produce as much heat as possible from every piece of wood. Wood stoves are setup in way that processes such as secondary combustion help to produce much more heat than what can be possible through traditional wood burning fireplaces.

A fire in a wood stove needs enough dry firewood to be able to combust the wood efficiently, as well as enough fresh air through the vents to be able to burn the wood as quickly as possible to produce heat.

There also needs to be a strong enough draft on the stove to ensure that enough air is being sucked into the stove to feed the fire.

Wood stoves also need to be sized for the area they need to heat. Larger sized rooms or homes will need larger sized stoves. If a stove is undersized for the heating area then it can feel like the stove isn’t burning hot enough.

If you’re finding that your wood stove isn’t burning hot as usual, ensure to:

  • Only burn high quality fuel such as properly seasoned or kiln dried logs that are ideally below 20% moisture content. The drier the firewood the hotter it can burn.
  • Add more fuel to the fire. More firewood can mean more heat being produced, but don’t add too much fuel to your stove at any one time as this can lead to a stove that’s burning too hot.
  • Let more air into the stove. Opening up the air vents will provide the fire with more oxygen to allow the fire to burn through the wood at a faster rate and produce more heat. However, allowing more air into the stove can decrease efficiency in favor of heat output. Don’t open the stove door to provide more air.
  • Keep the flue clean. A clean flue will help to maximize the draft and help a wood stove to burn as fast and as hot as possible. A chimney or flue should be cleaned at least annually in line with recommendations.
Stove Thermometer
You can use a stove thermometer to identify whether your stove is not burning hot enough

For more information on why your wood stove isn’t burning hot, see our articles on:

Reasons why your wood burning stove isn’t getting hot.

The best tips for your wood burning stove to help maximize heat output.

How to get the most heat from your wood stove.

Wood Stove Not Heating Room Or House

To help increase the heat output of a wood burning stove to help heat a room or a home, burn kiln dried wood for the fastest and hottest burn, and open up the air vents to aid in providing more heat, but reducing efficiency.

Wood burning stoves are sized to be able to heat a specific area, whether it be a particular room or whole house.

A wood stove should be sized accordingly and if it has been undersized then if your stove isn’t heating your room or home then you’ll need to help increase the heat output by adjusting the fuel and the airflow.

Burning kiln dried firewood and increasing the amount of firewood in your stove at any one time (up to your stove’s recommendation maximum amount) can help to maximize output. Opening up the air vents can also help to increase heat output, but at a loss of efficiency meaning that you’ll go through more firewood.

You can also help to spread the heat from a wood stove by using stove fans, blowers or standalone fans to help spread the heat around the room or whole house.

If your wood stove isn’t radiating heat and not heat heating your room or house:

  • Burn kiln dried firewood.
  • Add as much firewood to the stove as recommended for your particular model of stove, without overloading it.
  • Open up the air vents.
  • Ensure that the heat output of your stove matches the area it needs to heat. Larger sized stoves with higher kW heat outputs will need to be used to heat larger sized rooms or homes.
  • Use a stove fan or blower to help spread the heat around your room or home.
Wood Burning Stove
Your wood stove should be sized correctly for the room or home it needs to heat

For more information on being able to heat a room or your whole home, see our guide to using kiln dried firewood here, and our other article on whether a wood burning stove can heat a whole house.

Wood Stove Burning Too Hot

A wood stove that’s burning too hot can be a result of too much firewood within the stove, burning firewood that is too dry, too much air being allowed into the stove, too strong of a draft, or using a stove that is too large for the room.

The things you need to do if your wood stove if burning too hot include:

  • Using less firewood. Adding too much firewood to your stove at any one time can increase heat output. Reducing the amount of firewood you use on your wood stoves can help to reduce the total heat output.
  • Burn seasoned firewood that is around 20% moisture content. Seasoned firewood with a moisture content of between 15 and 20% can be ideal for wood stoves. If the wood has been kiln dried to a very low moisture content it can be burning too fast and hot.
  • Reduce the airflow. Closing down the air vents on a stove will restrict the air supply to the fire and help it from burning the firewood too quickly, in turn reducing heat ouput. Close down the air vents until the fire is burning calmly. Don’t close the air vents down too far or the fire will start the smolder and struggle, and burn inefficiently and produce more smoke.

You can use a stove thermometer (see our recommended stove thermometer here) to help you understand how hot your stove is burning.

A stove thermometer will give you an ideal temperature range for your fires, and you can adjust the firewood and air supply to help prevent your wood stove from burning too hot.

Multi Fuel Stove Too Hot
A stove thermometer will help to identify whether you’re stove is burning too hot or not

For more information on why your wood stove is burning too hot see our more in depth guides on:

Why your wood stove is burning so hot.

A guide to seasoned firewood.

What a fire in a wood stove should look like.

Wood Stove Burning Too Fast

A wood stove that is burning too fast can be a due to too much air being allowed into the stove or using firewood that is too dry.

A fast burning fire in a wood stove can be a sign that the fire is being fed with too much oxygen. Wide open air vents can lead to a fast burning fire that is burning through the firewood too quickly to be efficient.

Using very dry firewood can also lead to a wood stove fire that is burning too fast. Firewood with little or no moisture content will be combusted very fast by a fire.

Therefore, to help prevent your wood stove from burning too fast:

  • Close down the air vents so that the fire isn’t burning the firewood as quickly, but only close down to a point where the fire is burning calmly and not struggling or smoldering.
  • Use firewood that is around the recommended moisture content of 15-20%. This can help to slow your fires down to be more efficient as firewood with some moisture retained in it can burn slower and release heat more slowly as a result.
Multi Fuel Stove Fire
A roaring stove fire that’s burning too fast can be a result of burning very dry firewood or the air vents being too far open

For more information on why your wood stove is burning too fast see our complete guide here.

Wood Stove Just Smolders

A wood burning stove that just smolders can be a sign that there is an issue with the quality of the firewood, the fire isn’t being supplied with enough air, or that the draft is poor.

A smoldering fire is a sign of a poorly burning one.

As smoldering fire has the typical characteristics of a fire that doesn’t have any real noticeable flames and can be producing more smoke than usual.

The main reasons why a wood stove fire is smoldering can be:

  • Not enough air is getting to the fire inside the stove.
  • The fire is struggling to combust the fuel because there’s an issue with it, such as firewood being too wet to burn efficiently.
  • Weak draft, meaning that air isn’t escaping the stove properly or quick enough and fresh air isn’t able to replace the waste air to help keep the fire going.

Therefore, to help prevent your wood stove fire from smoldering:

  • Help start and maximize the draft before lighting the fire.
  • Fully open all of the stove’s air vents before lighting the fire, and only start to close down the air vents once the fire has got going well. If your fires start to smolder open up the air vents again to a point where the fire stops smoldering.
  • Only burn properly seasoned or kiln dried firewood so that a fire won’t struggle to burn through it. Firewood should ideally be below 20% moisture for a more efficient burn.
Smoldering Fire
If your wood stove fires are smoldering start by opening up all of the air vents on the stove as far as possible

For more information on helping to prevent your wood stove fires from just smoldering see our articles on:

How to start the draft in a wood burning stove.

How to check the moisture content of firewood.

How to use the air vents to control a wood stove fire.

Wood Stove Not Heating Water

Many wood burning stoves can be bought with, or retrofitted with, boilers to help provide hot water and central heating for your home.

We considered getting a boiler for our Clearview multi fuel stove but in the end we decided we didn’t need it.

The manufacturer of our stove explains that:

  • Boiler stoves can require double the amount of wood compared to stoves without back boilers.
  • Reload times for firewood can be much more frequent as a result.
  • Ensuring that using high quality firewood becomes more important for stove boilers.
  • Boiler stove systems can be complicated and will require servicing to help keep it in full working order.

Therefore, if your wood stove is not heating water:

  • Ensure that the stove’s boiler system has been serviced recently in line with your manufacturer’s guidelines.
  • Don’t burn any firewood that is too wet to burn efficiently. The ideal moisture content for firewood is 20% or below, and the drier the firewood the more of a cleaner and hotter burn can be provided.
  • Keep on top of maintaining the fires when using the stove to provide hot water for your home.

Wood Stove Smells When Not In Use

A stove that smells when not in use can be a sign of moisture within the stove or flue, which can be either a result of burning fuel that is too wet or due to wet weather such as rain getting into the flue.

To help prevent your stove from smelling, either when in use or when not in use:

  • Ensure to burn dry firewood that is at or below the recommended 20% moisture content for firewood. Wet wood with moisture content higher than this number can release that moisture when burnt and leave a musty smell within the stove between fires.
  • Burning hotter fires using drier firewood can help to reduce the smell.
  • Have your chimney or flue swept if you haven’t done so within the last year.
Green Wood Moisture Content
Burning wood that is too wet can result in a wood stove that smells between fires

For more information and full list of the reasons what a wood stove can smell when not in use see our complete guide as to why a wood burning stove smells.

Wood Stove Damper Not Working

A wood stove damper will typically be located within the stove pipe just above the stove.

Dampers are common on older, less efficient, models of stoves where the draft needs to be adjusted to help make the fires more efficient.

A damper is simply a round piece of metal located within the flue. There will be handle on the outside of the flue that turns the damper inside.

The way the handle is facing will indicate which way the damper is facing inside.

To help overcome the issue of a wood stove damper not working, try to spray some lubricant into the damper joints.

The damper may need to be replaced if it has sealed up inside the flue.

We have a complete guide to dampers here where you’ll find more information and a video on how a stove damper works.

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