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16 Overlooked Ways To Boost Wood Heating Efficiency

For all the intrepid pioneers who have left the grid behind and are making a go of it on their own, wood stoves are one of the best options available anywhere on the home heating scene. While dependence on the grid leaves us at the mercy of others, wood burning represents the ultimate example of self-sufficiency in action: if you are willing to get out there into the forest with your pickup, your chainsaw, your maul, a couple of wedges, and your trusty ax, laziness and a poor work ethic are the only things that will prevent you from putting up enough wood to keep your family comfy and toasty throughout the long cold winter. Self-sufficiency and independence are what true off-the-griddism is all about, and that is why so many homesteaders and preppers have chosen to install wood stoves in their homes to help them meet some or all of their cold-weather heating demands.

But let’s not kid ourselves here – cutting, splitting, and loading wood is grueling labor, and when you bust your hump trying to put up enough firewood to keep your home warm all winter, the last thing you want to see is a significant portion of your efforts go for naught, simply because your wood stove isn’t functioning as efficiently as it should. And even if you are buying wood instead of harvesting it on your own, you still work hard for your money, so the principle is exactly the same.

In some instances where wood is not being burned effectively, the mistakes could be yours, while in others there may be something wrong with your stove or with your overall wood-heating set-up. Of course the chances are that you won’t actually realize that your stove is gobbling up more wood that it really should need, and it will never even occur to you that two chords should have been enough to get you through the winter instead of the three you ended up using. But needless to say, that extra chord represents a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and in the long run, off-the-gridders simply can’t afford to be that inefficient if they expect to survive out on the land.

So, you are asking, how can I cut the waste and inefficiency out of my wood burning practices? Or if you are planning on installing a wood stove soon, maybe you are asking, how do I make sure that I don’t make any mistakes that could hamper the effectiveness of my new heating unit? These are excellent questions, and they deserve excellent answers. So in honor of you and all those other hardy homesteaders who are dedicated to the proposition that “wood is good,” what follows are sixteen terrific tips that can help current and future wood stove owners wring every last drop of heat out of the wood they burn.

#1 – Avoid Stovepipe Angles

When it comes to flue pipe or stovepipe assemblies, the hard and fast rule is the straighter the better. Ideally, your piping should rise directly up into a chimney located right above it, but if you must angle your stove piping into the chimney, you would be much better off using two forty-five-degree elbows as opposed to one that bends sharply at ninety degrees. Straighter or less curvy runs set up stronger air drafts that promote more intense burning, and they also reduce the amount of creosote buildup (for those who don’t know, creosote is a flammable fireplace/woodstove residue that can cause chimney fires).

#2 – Put Your Wood Stove and Your Chimney in the Center of the Home

In winter, wood stoves and chimneys installed on outside walls are surrounded by warm air on the one side and cold air on the other. Consequently, their surface and inside air temperatures are cooler than room temperature, forcing your wood burning stove to work harder to overcome the extra chill. But with centrally positioned units, the stove and flue pipes are kept at room temperature all the time, while the chimney is also kept warmer, and this significantly reduces the burden on your stove once you start your fire. Additionally, centrally installed wood stoves will distribute heat throughout a room much more evenly.

#3 – Protect Your Chimney from the Wind

Winds whipping around the top of a chimney can cause backdrafts and interfere with proper updrafting. Therefore, steps should be taken to protect the top of your chimney from the wind. To do this you should install your wood stove near the center of the home, but not exactly at the center, so the chimney will penetrate the rooftop just behind the peak, preferably on the opposite side from the prevailing winds. Also, if you add a baffled cap to the top of your chimney, that will provide even more protection from stiff breezes and howling gales.

#4 – Check Your Door Seal for Leakage

Your wood stove door should fit snugly to keep the heat of the fire concentrated inside. To check it, you can lay a dollar bill across the door gasket lengthwise and then close the door with the bill still in it. If you can pull your money out with a quick tug, your door is too loose and you will want to tighten the latch described in your manufacturer’s instruction manual. Or, you can manually bend the hook welded to the body of the stove so it will grip the latch better when the door is closed. If your gasket shows signs of wear or damage, you will need to replace it immediately.

#5 – Check the Interior of the Stove for Signs of Warping

Some warping of the metal in a wood-burning unit is to be expected, and it will often have no effect on the overall operation of the stove. But if the internal steel parts of a wood stove become misshapen, that can cause the unit to perform below specifications by allowing exhaust to bypass the combustion system. For this reason, any interior part that can be replaced should be replaced if it shows signs of bending or warping.

#6 – Cut Your Firewood in a Variety of Sizes

Packing a wood stove fully and efficiently requires wood slices that come in different sizes. A good assortment should include cross-sectional cuts of three, four, five, and six inches (but probably not any bigger), and there should be some variety in the lengths as well so you will be able to fill all of the available space in your burning chamber.

#7 – Make Sure You Season Your Firewood for the Proper Amount of Time

People have a tendency to underestimate just how much moisture firewood contains. Nothing will cause your stove to function less efficiently than to fill it with green wood, so to avoid the problem you should begin the seasoning process in the early spring if you want your wood to be ready by the next fall.  And if you plan to use any wood that is larger than normal, you will need to set it out to dry even earlier than that. Essentially, you should be harvesting your wood about a year in advance of when you actually plan to burn it, if you want to guarantee that it will be properly seasoned.

#8 – Season Your Wood Sensibly

Wood being dried should be stacked in open areas, under some kind of a suspended cover or roof, where it will be exposed to the sun and the wind. If you put it in a shed, garage, or outdoors in the shade, you will inhibit the seasoning process significantly. Of course, you have to be ready to wrap your wood completely with plastic if it rains, but if you add extra cover overnight you should only put plastic over the top and not over the entire stack. One thing you should never do is put wood on the ground to dry; instead, you will want to pile it on rails so that air can circulate underneath.

#9 – Choose the Types of Wood that are Appropriate for a Given Season

What you want are high-density, high-heat-content hardwoods like oak and maple for the winter, and softer, less potent woods like poplar, aspen, or spruce for the fall when temperatures are milder. Too much wood heat when it is not frigid outside is wasteful, and too little heat in the winter when Jack Frost gets really nasty will force you to compensate by burning extra wood or using back-up sources of heat more frequently.

#10 – Give Your Wood a Week to Warm Up

When burning season starts, you do not want to fill your house with firewood because of the moisture, sleeping insects, and mold spores it may be carrying. But you should try to keep about a week’s worth in the house at all times so it will have the chance to warm thoroughly before being thrown into the fire.

#11 – Use an Intelligent Kindling Scheme

Whether you are starting a fire from scratch or re-igniting one on an existing bed of coals, proper kindling technique is of course very important. To begin, you can place two pieces of split wood in a parallel position on opposite sides of a stove’s combustion chamber, and then stuff the pocket between them full of newspapers (save this step for last if you are working from an existing coal bed). Your smaller pieces of kindling can then be stacked on top of the original pieces of wood, but in a crosswise position that will suspend them directly over the paper. Any larger pieces of wood that you would like to add can then be stacked lengthwise on top of this second layer of kindling. With such a logical arrangement, things should take off quickly once you light the paper or after it is ignited by the coals.

#12 – Build from the Top Down

Here is an excellent technique for fire building that many wood enthusiasts swear by. With the top-down method, you will start out with a parallel arrangement of large pieces of wood across the bottom of the burning chamber, and working from that foundation you will then stack more layers of wood pyramid style one on top of the other, alternating between lengthwise and crosswise. Each layer of wood should be comprised of pieces that are incrementally smaller than those on the layer directly below, and your kindling and finally your newspaper should be placed on your pyramid’s apex, directly beneath the ceiling of the stove. After that, the only thing left to do is light the newspaper before you stand back and let nature run its course. With the top-down approach, you will be able to make a smooth transition from kindling fire to the real thing in a matter of minutes, and if you have done it correctly it should be at least a couple of hours before you will have to add more wood to replenish your roaring blaze.

#13 – Burn it Hot, Burn it Quick

The most efficient type of fire burns fast and clean, releasing the heat contained in the wood it consumes in bursts rather than in a steady stream. Slow-burning fires smolder inefficiently, and the hotter you can you make your fire, the more effective you will be at milking your wood supply for all it is worth. Rather than filling your stove full of thick wood and relaxing while it simmers for hours, you will get much more bang for the buck if you burn a few separate cycles over the course of the day. It may take a little more effort and attention to do it this way, but this is the way to go if you are serious about heating your home as efficiently as possible.

#14 – Get an EPA-Certified Unit

Admittedly, the federal government doesn’t do a whole lot of things well. But the standards they set for energy efficiency in household appliances are pretty useful, and you can expect any wood-burning stove that has been certified by the EPA to be at least 30 to 40 percent more efficient than an older model. It will be a heck of a lot easier to get fire insurance if you have an EPA-certified stove as well.

#15 – Build a Thermal Mass Wall Around Your Wood Stove

Thermal mass is the measurement of how much heat a substance can absorb and re-admit at a later time. Any time an object made of materials that have a high thermal mass is exposed to a heat source, it will continue to radiate warmth long after that source has been removed, which is why a thermal mass wall built around the perimeter of a wood burning stove is such a fantastic idea. Brick would probably be the most convenient and aesthetically appropriate choice, but masonry or concrete walls would work perfectly well if you wanted to go in that direction. In the fall and early spring in particular, if you had a thermal mass wall to recycle the heat you were producing, you could see dramatic reductions in the amount of wood you would have to burn to keep your house comfortably warm.

#16 – Recycle Your Wood Ash

Okay, so strictly speaking this is not a tip that will help you burn wood more efficiently. But we will include this suggestion anyway, because wood ash is full of healthy nutrients and can make an excellent lawn or garden fertilizer. It can also perform wonders in compost piles by helping to maintain neutral acid levels, and it can improve traction significantly when it is spread on icy driveways or sidewalks in the wintertime.

©2012 Off the Grid News

© Copyright Off The Grid News


  1. Hi Folks,
    This is an excellent resource for anyone who burns wood, or who wants to. I have been a chimney professional for over 30 years, and you have included more relevant, valuable info in this article than I’ve seen in one place in a very long time. In fact, I would like permission to distribute it, with proper credit of course, to my clients and others (wood sellers, stove stores, etc.) with an interest. Thank you for all you do in the cause of self reliance.
    Best regards,
    Ed Williams
    Advanced Chimney Services
    Woods Cross, Utah

  2. mountainviewoffgridliving

    This is a wonderful article on wood burning stoves. The Kimberly Wood (Multi Fuel) Stove is the most efficient stove we’ve found. Made of Stainless Steel, weighs only 56 lbs so it’s completely portable including the 3″ pellet stove type venting, emissions are only 3.2 grams per hour which is far better than the strict 4.5 grams per hour that Washington State requires, maximum output of 40,000 BTUs, will heat up to 1,500 sq ft and you can cook on top. The patented upper gasification chamber burns smoke particles and gasses which would normally escape out your vent so gives you a second burn and more heat off of less fuel. Will burn a 5 lb cordwood log up to 8 hours. Will burn one pound of standard charcoal for up to 12 hours. The Kimberly Stove will also burn wood, Presto Logs, Coal, Charcoal, Pellets or if in a pinch dried animal manure!! There are optional accessories: The Oven, The Hot Water Coils (hot water directly into your existing water lines), and The Thermo-Electric Generator YES YES YES make electricity from the heat of Your Kimberly Stove!!! This stove is so amazing that we added it to the list of items we sell on our website: Please check out this Must Have Off The Grid Equipment!!

  3. what stove is that a picture of in this article? That is what I am looking for

  4. Remember to make sure chimney is clean. I do mine every Sept. Just to make sure there s no build up. If wood is cured there shouldn’t be much if any. Just wanted to put my 2 cents in. Great article. Also if you live near saw mill you can get slabs or ends cheap or for free.

  5. Also, an excellent source is . The Masonry Heater Association (MHA) has a gallery of super efficient masonry stoves, heaters, and wood fired ovens. These will cost a bit more than your average metal wood burner (around here most folks choke them down so hard..they are rather ‘smokers’.., than ‘heaters’..!). A masonry heater is 90+ percent efficient and creates no creosote (as they burn so hot, the ‘volatiles’ just burn up). On average they can save 25%+ on fuel usage, and you only fire them twice a day. They emit healthful long wave infrared, and negative ions, and do not ‘singe’ the air like a hot metal surface can do. Check them out.

  6. great article and timing, am strugglin with mine some and needed these good tips. thanx much from deweydusk

  7. Great article like to add that the best time to fell trees is pre winter. You get your trees down or green wood before it gets cold. You split it and stack it before it gets cold. When it gets cold the moisture gets sucked right out. Look at your hands are they dry and itchy, well so is youy wood ( maybe not itchy ) getting ready for next year. If your wood is cracking (have a star like patterm in the center ) or thuds not thumps its dry also. I learned the hard way about the slow smolder fire and green wood. Started having a chimney fire, sounded like a train ( just like they say ) took off the top cover and a flame came right up with it made a hellava sucking noise too. Shut it all down and ran the chimney brush up it 3 days later. I use a fiberglass pole with a non metal brush. Not sure what the brush is now, its a coated thick chimney brush. The metal one scratched the inside of the pipe and then water got in and it rusted. I got my stove free and had to cut down the legs to fit. I wanted it stop rusting ( had to get it welded in the back under the pipe due to holes ) was going to paint it but once done and said it would cure and stink. I finally found something that wouldn’t smell to bad and would stop the rust and the stove didn’t have to go outside. Its an old product that works 100% on metal to stop rusting and cure it. Its called bacon grease / or hamburger yup you just let it cool and little and wipe it on with you hand or paper towel ( like I said warm NOT HOT ) and let it sit on there. Look like when you armour all you tires. Even seen a cast iron frypan rust with bacon grease on it….me neither. It will smoke depending on how much you put on but it goes away quickly ( unless you really smear it on light coat please ) but your house will smell like BLT night I usually light a candle to help any way to help get the stove going. But thats another article.

  8. Im an experiance stove owner and the advice in the colmn is very good. One thing I just learned as Im currently building a new home is that it is possible to run heat from a fresh air fireplace through the home’s furance heat ducts to get a more even comfortable heat throughout the house.

    • Great advice I would like to know what if any products are in production that can tap in to the. Nearest existing duct work in an attic with a more energy efficient blower/filter

  9. Good article and tips Nathan. We’ve been using wood heat longer than I like to admit and it’s served us well. A good addition to any home when properly installed and used. One big plus is the woodstove will work when the utilities are down. Most stoves can be used to cook or at least warm food and that’s a big comfort when things get rough. A safe installation, clean flue, seasoned wood and a dab of common sense, it’s simple prepper stuff. And it sure does my old bones good to warm-up by a hot stove on a cold day. Merry Christmas and good holidays to us all…..

  10. What kind of stove is that in the picture?

  11. The article was good, but I do take exception to #12: “build from the top down.”
    I have found that laying in two logs parallel with space between for paper, then doing basically the opposite of the “top down” method by putting kindling opposite to the base logs in a grid over them, then slightly larger pieces on top of that, parallel to the base will start quickly and easily.
    Two other suggestions:
    (1) For fire starters, if you do crafts or make sawdust in any form, take paper egg cartons and melt parafin wax to make a sawdust/wax mixture in the ‘cups.’ Separate the cups and you have ‘one-match’ fires every time.
    (2) If you have a ceiling fan in the same room, run it on reverse, on low RPM in reverse. That will create a gentle air flow that will distribute the heat throughout the room for greater comfort, pulling the hotter air from the ceiling area and also ‘washing’ the stovepipe with a slight draft for additional efficiency.
    Just one last comment for those who aer contemplating buying a stove: get a stove with a glass (actually clear ceramic) window in the door. Just seeing the flame through the ‘glass’ will warm you! 🙂
    Have a blessed Christmas.

    Kingsville (MO) Bob

  12. Oops! I guess I’m getting old and forgetful.
    One other thing– if possible, duct outside air into the combustion chamber of the stove (stove design permitting) and you won’t pull cold air into your house when there’s a fire in the stove.
    If you use inside air for combustion the hot air going up the flue will be replaced by cold outside air from leaks thtoughout the structure.
    Burning inside air may also create a potential issue with carbon monoxide as the fire burns down to coals.

    Forgetful Kingsville Bob

  13. Excellent article. I agree with every point except #3. A chimney stack should exceed the height of the roof within 5 ft. Preferably, it should exit the roof close to the ridge, but far enough down to utilize a proper boot assembly, and exceed the ridge height. Wind blowing over the ridge will create a downdraft and turbulence that can disrupt the flow of gasses. I have seen installations such as you suggest actually backdraw and fill the home with smoke. One must also be aware of overhanging trees and adjacent structures, as they can also effect the flow of winds over the stack.

  14. Thanks for the detailed information. We have a fireplace but can also utilize some of these tips to get the best out of the wood and the fireplace!

  15. Yup, there’s some good info here Anne. If you have a fireplace, my humble suggestion would be to shop around for a fireplace insert. More or less a woodstove that fits in your fireplace and makes it much more efficient. Look for one that has glass in the doors, radiates the heat well and adds some simple enjoyment.

  16. Another good use for wood ashes: Wash the ashes with water and collect the liquid product. It is rich in calcium hydroxide or lye. Yes, Grandmother’s famed lye soap uses that process. Just save some of that bacon grease to use, also. Check the internet for details.
    Some of the high efficiency stoves need to be carefully cleaned each season because ash particles can collect in virtually hidden air passageways, gradually reducing the performance of the stove. Sometimes that requires partial dis-assembly. I just lost my 6-year old stove from severe internal warping because of that issue. Read that manual, talk to the dealer / installer, and check on the internet.

    p.s. Some parts of the old stove are going to find their way into a Rocket Mass Heater / clay oven project underway soon.

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  19. I have a older medium Buck free standing wood stove and I cant keep a gasket on it. It uses too much wood. Any suggestions?

  20. I am so impressed by the commenters to all your articles. They say what I feel only better!

  21. if you are not using out side air directly in the fire. Your system will never be optimised !

  22. Fabulous info and great blog you shared here…

  23. Bought a new Vermont Castings wood stove and am very pleased. One issue that I would like some input on with ideas on why my stove operates the way it does. I found that if I load my stove from front to back instead of side to side it operates better and gets much hotter. There fore I am now finding myself recutting my wood to fit to this front to back position. I am kinda puzzled but if this is how it wants to operate ok with me. Thanks for your input

  24. Hi,

    I am really influenced by your post! This is absolutely amazing. this is quite informative and useful.
    Efficiency of older stoves can be improved in several ways such as you can use a fan to rob hot air off the surface of the stove. It pushes hot air off of the stove and down the hall, greatly improving the efficiency of the stove over simple radiation and natural convection.
    Even the simple act of blowing air across a stove can force combustion air out of the stove and into the room, so do this with great care. Having a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in the house is always a good idea.
    The best modern stoves have this heat exchange component built in to the design, so that they extract as much heat as possible from the gases before they reach the chimney.

    Thanks for such a nice post!! Keep sharing more!

    Audrey G. Crabb

  25. I currently live in a very small 130 year old house heated 100% by wood. The mistake I think that most people make burning wood is the mindset that wood heat is free or super cheap making insulation a low priority. The introduction of this article goes into waste and inefficiency but the advice concentrates on wood prep and stove efficiency. The single largest source of inefficiency is the heat retaining qualities of your house.

    I super-insulated my old house of about 1000 square feet. As a result, unless the outside temperature is below 20 F, I need only one very small but intense fire each morning and the house stays warm all day/night until the following day. I don’t burn any until the temperature gets below 35 for extended periods. I cut my wood in 8 inch lengths and split it down to 2 to 3 inch cross sections. My indoor woodbox 2x2x4 stores plenty of wood for 3 to 4 weeks of January northern West Virginia winter.

    All the advice is good except #12. #13 is very good, but it’s not intuitive and unless your house is well insulated like mine one tends to prefer a constant slow burning fire simply to keep the house at a more constant temperature. This is because the house doesn’t hold the heat. After an intense morning fire my house temperature typically rises from a morning low of 65 to 73-75 and remains warm until the next morning as long as it’s not below 20 outside.

  26. A highly insulated flue will all but eliminate creosote build up when combined with well seasoned fire wood. I have a 6 inch stainless pipe routed through a tile lined fireplace flue. I filled it with vermiculite in and around the pipe. In 34 years, I’ve never found creosote buildup.

    On point #3. I live atop a West Virginia hill were wind is severe. The unprotected stove pipe exits the top center crest. I’ve I’ve never had blowback. Insulate stove pipe and it will draw so well you won’t need wind protection.

    On point #6. If wood is cut to 4 to 8 inch lengths it can be split easily with a one pound hammer and a boy scout hatchet used as a wedge. I split my wood very fine, that way I can meter the exact amount of BTU I need for a particular day. One quick burn in the morning lasts until the next day unless it’s bitter cold. Super insulate your house.

    Point #8 and #9 are important. Three years or more of seasoning is best. Wood takes to ignition easily that way and burns hot. I use woods like Maple and Popular in warm weather and black Locust and red oak in bitter cold.

    On point #10. Really? #10 is just silly, can’t imagine how this would be significant, unless the wood needs to dry out a little more from damp outside storage. But even then…??

    #12 should probably not be followed.

    #15 is very good advice. Besides brick and concrete I have two 5 gallon stock pots completely filled with water setting on the stove top. This adds a lot of thermal mass and humidifies the house. Water has the highest heat capacity of all common liquids or solids. One unit of water will hold 5 times the heat of an equal volume of brick or masonry.

  27. Umm two cores of wood for seasoned or three where are you getting high? That’s some great stuff my 2500 Sq house cold winters are 35 heavy cores 28 for mild winter and yes it’s insulated like there’s no tomorrow

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