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Burn Wise

Consumers -
Energy Efficiency and Wood-Burning Stoves and Fireplaces

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Replacing an old wood stove or fireplace with a more energy efficient appliance can save fuel, money and protect you and your family’s health.  Older stoves that were manufactured before 1990 burn wood inefficiently which wastes firewood, pollutes the air in your neighborhood and creates dust inside your home.  Newer stoves can reduce smoke and dust, as well as cut heating expenses.  There are many cleaner, energy saving options, ranging from gas to high-tech wood stoves certified by the EPA.  To locate an EPA-certified wood stove, see the list of appliances (PDF) (24 pp, 550 KB, About PDF). Read more about older and newer stoves in the Dirty Little Secrets brochure (2 pp, 3.5 MB, About PDF)

There are approximately 12 million wood stoves in homes today and 9 million of those are older, non EPA-certified stoves that are 50% less efficient than newer stoves. 

Energy efficiency benefits of replacing old wood stoves and fireplaces:

  • Saves money, fuel, time and resources.
  • 50% more energy efficient.
  • Uses 1/3 less wood for the same heat.
  • Cuts creosote build-up in chimneys that helps reduce the risk of fire.
  • Produces 70% less particle pollution indoors and out.

Environmental benefits of replacing old wood stoves and fireplaces with new appliances:

  • Reduces indoor and outdoor wood smoke pollution which has been linked to cancer, asthma and other serious health conditions. See health effects of wood smoke for more information.
  • Improved combustion efficiency reduces CO2, methane and black carbon emissions.
  • Saves billions in health benefits each year.
Check Your Wood-Burning Appliance

Make sure your wood-burning stove or fireplace is an EPA-certified appliance.  To identify an EPA-certified stove, look on the back of the appliance for a metal tag, refer to your owner's manual or check the list of appliances (PDF) (24 pp, 550 KB, About PDF).   Stoves with solid doors are generally older and should be replaced and disposed of properly.  To learn more, visit how to choose an appliance.

Weatherization and Wood-burning Stoves and Fireplaces
Weatherizing your home by sealing and insulating cracks and crevices can help improve indoor temperatures and save energy.  But there’s a tendency to seal and insulate, while avoiding the monster in the room- an old wood stove or fireplace.  To help improve indoor and outdoor air while maximizing energy efficiency, consider replacing or removing your wood-burner.  Installing a more energy efficient stove will provide more heat while using less fuel- saving time, energy and money.  Be sure to have the stove installed by a professional installer.  Check CSIA Exit EPA disclaimer or NFI-certified Exit EPA disclaimer professional for more information.  Visit Burn Wise Installation and Maintenance for more information on your chimney and appliance.

Generally, burning in a wood-burning fireplace is an inefficient way of heating your home.  Fireplaces provide less heat to your home, since most of the heat goes out the chimney.  They also do not burn as cleanly as EPA-certified wood stoves- polluting 20 times the amount of an EPA-certified stove. 

If you use a wood-burning fireplace, try to avoid using it as a primary source of heat.  Draft from a fireplace tends to suck all the warm air in a home and take it up the chimney.  If you use a fireplace, expect other rooms in the home to be cooler due to escaping warm air. And, if you’re using central heat while burning in a fireplace, expect your heater to work harder to maintain temperatures throughout the house.  For more efficient heating with less smoke, consider asking your local retailer about gas, pellet, or EPA-certified wood fireplace inserts.  You may also want to ask your local retailer about gas log lighter kits that can be added to your existing fireplace. These devices make it easier to light a wood fire and provide a more efficient start up.

EPA is working with manufacturers to bring cleaner burning fireplaces to the market.  See the voluntary fireplace program for more information.

If you have an existing wood stove or fireplace, make sure to inspect the chimney inside and out for any cracks annually.  Cracks in your chimney can allow smoke to enter your home or can expose your chimney’s components to high temperatures that may cause a fire.  Repairing cracks will help ensure your home is as efficient as possible.  Contact your local certified chimney sweep or CSIA Exit EPA disclaimer for more information. 

Chart showing relative emissions of fine particles from fireplaces, wood stoves, pellet stoves, gas and oil furnaces
Look for lower emitting appliances when replacing your older stove or fireplace.  In general, the lower the emissions, the higher the efficiency.

Split, Stack, Cover & Store
  • Make sure you split your wood into small pieces - 6 inches in diameter or smaller.
  • Stack in a neat pile.
  • Cover the top.
  • Store for at least six months to dry wood.

Burning the Right Fire Wood and Efficiency
Burning dry firewood can save money, time and resources.  A properly installed wood-burning stove should produce little smoke.  That’s because newer technologies have better combustion.  Better combustion technology produces a hotter fire.  A hot fire releases little smoke and requires less fuel.  Smoke coming out of your chimney is wasted energy.  If you smell smoke in your home or see smoke coming out of your chimney, you may be burning wood that is too wet or have a problem with the stove or fireplace.  If the problem persists after burning dry wood and opening the damper to get a full fire going, it’s best to contact your local CSIA Exit EPA disclaimer or NFI-certified Exit EPA disclaimer professional for an inspection.

If you burn wood, make sure the wood is dry or “seasoned.”  Wet wood can create excessive smoke which is wasted fuel.  Moisture meters that allow you to test the moisture level in wood are available in all sizes and can cost as little as $20.  Properly dried wood should have a reading of 20% or less.   In addition, the type of wood that you burn can make a difference.  Wood that is hard tends to have the most energy per cord.

Density of Common Tree Species

Here is a list of the tree species commonly used for firewood, according to their relative densities.
Trees at the top of the list have the most energy per cord, while those toward the bottom of the list have the least energy per cord.

Although they are less dense, the species in the lower half of the list can make excellent firewood for spring and fall because they make heat control easier and don’t tend to overheat the house.

Hardest (long burning)
Ironwood
Rock elm
Hickory
Oak
Sugar maple
Beech
Yellow birch
Ash
Red elm
Red maple
Tamarack
Douglas fir
White birch
Manitoba maple
Red alder
Hemlock
Poplar
Pine
Basswood
Spruce
Balsam
Softest (shorter burning)

Source:  Government of Canada, Burn It Smart

 

Resources

EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Home Retrofit

Energy Star’s Home Improvement

Department of Energy’s Energy Savers Wood and Pellet Heating

Alliance for Green Heat Exit EPA disclaimer

Chimney Sweep Institute of America Exit EPA disclaimer

National Fireplace Institute Exit EPA disclaimer

Home, Hearth and Barbecue Association Exit EPA disclaimer

 

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