Now, onto getting a clean burn

A wood burning stove in a traditional country cottage. POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Sensing a firm squeeze on your shoulders, a loud, stern voice asks “Sir, can you hear me?!”

As you begin to regain your wits and return to consciousness, the blurred face of a burley first responder in dire need of a shave eventually comes into focus.

“Can you tell me your name sir?” the fellow with the four-day beard and large hat questions further.

“Yes” you respond, “my name’s Jack, what’s happened?”

As you turn your head to the side, the flashing lights of a big red vehicle cause you to squint, reacting with a head turn to the opposite side, where you’re semi-delirious state questions why someone has rolled up a rug and tossed it on the snowbank.

But it’s not a rug, and as your mind regains clarity, you realize it’s Aunt Tilly in her favorite floral dress being attended to by another first responder with somewhat less facial hair.

“Son of a gun,” you say to yourself, “did I forget to open that damned fireplace damper again?”

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a real threat to those households not following a clean burn practice.

So, if you’re about to enter the terrific world of wood burning, let’s follow up on last week’s good burn strategies with what it takes to have consistent clean burns. Clean burning essentially means the only time you should be smelling smoke is if you’re outside the home.

Once in the comfort of your reclining chair, your woodstove or fireplace should be providing a heat that is basically odourless. So, if there’s a smoky scent in the air while you’re burning, don’t dismiss this odour as one of the sweet smells of the holiday season.

What you’ve got is a combustion spillage, which indicates residue gases and particulates are somehow evading the chimney, and making their way into your living room.

Included in these particulates will be carbon monoxide, a poisonous, odourless gas that can be deadly.

Steps to clean burning?

No.1, invest in a CSA-certified stove and stove pipe system, reviewing the chimney design and stove output with a qualified wood burning salesperson.

Next, have your wood burning unit and chimney installed by a certified WETT (wood energy technical transfer) contractor.

Things to consider?

Wood stoves operate most efficiently when they’re delivering close to maximum heat. So, invest in a unit that will heat the immediate area, and maybe a bit more. Avoid the large, 80,000 BTU unit simply because it’s the most impressive looking stove on the showroom floor, with the intention of operating it at half capacity because it would otherwise heat you out of your home.

Combustion spillage will occur at the start of a burn, as you attempt to create an upward draft, and end of a burn, as the air in the chimney cools and sinks down, allowing particulates to drop into the room’s atmosphere.

However, when a stove is operating at full capacity, there’s little chance of combustion spillage. So, for safe, clean heating, keep your fireplace or woodstove burning hot and steady.

Next, and for optimum efficiency, install what’s regarded as a warm chimney. A warm chimney simply means the chimney is kept inside the home, exiting through the roof at a high spot.

You notice exterior chimneys on older homes, where even the fireplace itself is housed in its own little enclosure, with the chimney running along the siding, upwards through the soffit.

When the chimney is kept inside the home, the air in the chimney remains warm, which means it’s continually rising, creating that all important draft, while eliminating the chances of combustion spillage by backdraft.

Which is best: a wood stove or a fireplace? If its heat you’re after, buy a woodstove. If it’s a more traditional stone wall, hang your Christmas stockings and roast your chestnuts by the open fire type of setting you’re looking for, then you’ll have to sacrifice a little efficiency by choosing a fireplace.

Next week, how to burn.

Good building.

blished by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Getting that good burn

The F2400 wood-burning stove at My Fireplace in London, Ont. on Friday December 16, 2016. DEREK RUTTAN/THE LONDON FREE PRESS/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

In the home wood burning biz, we refer to it as a ‘good burn.’

Achieving good burn status essentially requires two things:

One, the homeowner have a wood-fueled fire contained by either a woodstove or fireplace.

And two, the same number of people who enter the home on any festive evening, safely exit the premises without the aid of paramedics, firefighters, or representatives of the local morgue, barring of course any unscheduled exits due to inebriation or substance abuse deemed unrelated to the burn.

That’s basically it.

If you can create a fire in your home, thereby providing heat and an ambiance unequaled by any other fuel, without family members or guests dying or suffering the adverse effects of smoke inhalation, then you’ve succeeded as a wood burner.

Where to start?

If you’re new to the world of burning wood, then the suggested strategy regarding the acquisition of a wood-burning unit is as follows.

Tip No. 1: Yard sales and auctions are great sources for a variety of household items, none of which include wood stoves. So, avoid buying used, especially if the unit is older than you are.

Although wood stoves have no moving parts, the gaskets around the doors, fire bricks, and ceramic catalytic parts, all wear down and eventually fail over time. Plus, 300- to 400-pound woodstoves aren’t so easily carried about. So, the chances that such a unit was consistently handled in a delicate manner over the past 30 years is doubtful, which simply means the frame could have suffered a few line cracks.

In other words, the air tightness of this unit has most likely been compromised in a number of areas. When that happens, a portion of the gases released through combustion, such as carbon monoxide, will divert from going up the chimney and spill into the room. If the room happens to be an uninsulated and drafty hunting cabin, or fishing hut, where death by any means would likely be a welcome relief to the boredom and the freezing of one’s butt, then the collateral damage is limited.

If we’re talking about a room filled with innocent women and children, then this combustion spillage would be unacceptable.

We have an old coal stove in our home, a family heirloom that was used to make candy in the day, dating back to the early 1900’s. It sits in the corner of our kitchen, set in a working position with a non-operational stove pipe leading to a wall that possesses no chimney. During the Christmas season we’ll fill the copper cauldron that rests on the stove with decorative balls and lights. That’s how old wood stoves are to be honoured.

Either that or dishonorably discharged as scrap steel.

Regardless, don’t start an old stove up again. Besides being truly airtight, and likely far more efficient in keeping heat in the room, new wood stoves also carry with them updated information regarding the proper spacing between the unit and combustible walls, which is key to safe operation.

The same buy new recommendation extends to chimneys as well. I shudder when I encounter persons looking for parts relating to a series of insulated chimney lengths they found online, or at the side of the road during anything goes garbage night.

However, if again we’re talking about heating a shack that would serve the world better by burning to the ice, with any and all contents sinking to the river bed, then a mishmash system of chimney pipe may work in the short term.

On a new home, the interior stove pipe should be of the double-wall variety, with a two-inch insulated pipe used when piercing through a wall or ceiling, with this same insulated pipe continuing up into the outdoors.

Who should install your chimney and stove? Somebody who is WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) certified, thereby ensuring your heating unit is code compliant, and adheres to all safety rules and regulations.

Next week— lighting the fire. Safe burning.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Insp. Clouseau looks for clues at the cottage

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Today we’ll be following home inspector Jack Nailbucket, aka Insp. Clouseau, due to Jack’s genealogical connection with his French cousins, and a preference of wearing a white fedora and trench coat while performing his home inspections.

The inspector will be passing his magnifying glass over a potential cottage for purchase by a Mr. Bill ‘Crusher’ Granite, the subject of last week’s column.

Now to be clear, the use of the term cottage in this case is purely subjective. What’s for purchase here is a standard 1,600-square-foot home with nearly a full-height basement, and not an 800-square-foot hunting lodge raised up on cement blocks. There’s no way we’ll be closing this baby up for the winter.

In order for this cottage to remain healthy, general maintenance, a few upgrades, and providing heat for this home year round, regardless of occupancy, will be absolutely necessary.

Our Clouseau was also suspicious of the sales person’s repeated mention the sellers of this cottage are a physics professor and his wife who are looking to retire to the city. Very good, the home has been lived in by someone capable of splitting an atom.

Unfortunately, this same fellow was befuddled by the soggy state of his loafers as he walked the perimeter of his home, and failed to recognize the fact the home’s landscape was working in a negative manner, directing water towards the foundation.

So, be leery of trusting all is good simply because a home has been lived in by persons of means or intelligence. It should be viewed as little solace or guarantee your future dwelling has been well cared for, or built to code.

The home had several little decks that permitted seating on the east, west, and north sides of the home, allowing the homeowners to view the water and strategically follow the sun, or the shade, throughout the day.

A lovely idea, except for the fact each deck was in its own stage of decay. This was due largely in part to the puddles of water and moisture-filled soil that lay beneath these decks, and the fact all three decks had been framed perilously close to the ground.

Further to the deck issue was a relatively significant crack in the corner of the foundation wall that supported the garage. Our Clouseau suspects rainwater and snow melt had been allowed to pool in this area, with this moisture infiltrating the concrete, then expanding during the freezing periods.

We haven’t even entered the cottage yet and we’re facing a foundation repair, dismantling the existing decks (which thankfully are of treated lumber, as opposed to composite, and represent no great loss), a total re-do of the landscaping (which may or may not include replacing the weeping tile, if it ever existed), then re-building the decks once again.

Properly grading the landscape is going to be a challenge because there’s little to no foundation left to work with. It’s as if the house had sunk into a hole. Built on bedrock, this cottage has never sunk, but its foundation was probably two or three rows of concrete blocks too short, a strange error considering the age of the home and the general guidelines of building.

Next, we visited the basement, which was for some reason only accessible from the outside. Our Clouseau was at a loss as to why the professor forfeited a standard stairwell to the basement, in exchange for added closet space.

His thought was that should an explosion occur in the basement as a result of the professor experimenting with a new rocket fuel, the main living area would have been shielded, with the ensuing damage limited to the basement’s block walls blowing out. With the basement walls gone, the home would have simply crashed down upon the rubble, which would have unfortunately included the professor, but on a positive note, saved on the cost of internment.

Next week, the inspection continues.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard