In these economically trying times when petroleum prices have gone through the roof, we may find ourselves looking for an alternative means of warming our homes through the winter season. Although central heating is awesome, let's face it! – It can be doggone expensive! Not to mention there are many countries – Japan included – where for some reason, central heating is just not all that popular. This beats me, as Japan isn't exactly "the tropics" if you know what I mean, and I personally don't like the idea of an ugly kerosene heater in the middle of every room in the house.
This is where wood stoves come full-swing into play. The "fuel" costs anywhere from nothing to nothing, and it also LOOKS awesome as well, giving your home that "frontier" feel to it. But as with anything, there ARE drawbacks. First of all, for clarification, the fuel – which essentially, is the firewood – isn't always free, per se. It CAN be, and there's a big chance the local lumber yard has some scraps that they'll be more than happy to give you on a regular basis.
But before you begin happily loading all that – most-likely – green lumber scrap into your pick-up, take note that this is possibly the worst kind of firewood you could ever expose your beautiful little wood stove to! Yes, it's true! There happens to be "good" and "bad" firewood. The "bad" stuff is the trimming and scrap – or even solid pieces – that just came off of freshly felled lumber. Why? Because it hasn't had time to "dry" and there is still high concentrations of sap and "juices" left within the wood.
This is one reason you might see firewood being sold. GASP! You mean people actually SELL firewood?? Yup. This might be considered normal in some countries, but in others where firewood is easily harvested or in areas where lumber yards have lots of giveaway scrap, you might wonder if there's even a market for it. Well, actually, there is. The free stuff is only free because it's not really worth anything. The firewood being sold is not only bone-dry, but the type of tree used is also most-likely superior in terms of heat value and/or sustained output.
Ok, let's talk about what happens when after all is said and done, you decide to just go ahead and burn the green stuff anyway. Well, apart from producing very low heat outputs, all that moisture that was concentrated in the wood has to be burned out before the wood itself can actually burn. This "burning" up of the moisture content produces what's called creosote which forms on the inner wall of your chimney. Over the course of even a single season, there can be an accumulation of several inches. Imagine that!
This has at least 2 potentially devastating effects. First, creosote is highly combustible. – Go figure. Second, the build-up reduces the draft within the chimney limiting the oxygen supply to your fire, causing it to burn slower and at lower temperatures. In other words, it gets less and less effective as a heating instrument as the chimney's inner diameter shrinks. Creosote deposits are not limited to green firewood, but can also be caused by dry wood as well – just at a much slower rate. Of course, nowadays they have high-efficiency wood stoves that burn up the volatiles in the smoke, but even this doesn't completely remove the need for periodic maintenance.
In conclusion: Wood stove dangers are real! Watch what you burn. Don't just throw anything and everything into your wood stove. If you want your wood stove to last -as well as your HOUSE – you're gonna have to take the pointers mentioned to heart. And even if you consistently burn "dry" firewood, You MUST perform periodic maintenance. Seasonal chimney sweeps are essential to preserving the life of your precious heating device. Upgrading to a high-efficiency wood stove is also an idea to consider seriously. Chopping your own wood is a fine idea, just make sure you season it! Don't put your home and loved ones in jeopardy by being careless with your wood stove. Good luck!