Heating Your Home with Wood

  • firewood

Heating your living space safely and efficiently



If you've never burned wood for heat, if your home hasn't had a wood-heating appliance in continuous winter use in recent years, or if you plan to install a new wood-heating appliance, you'll need to inspect the chimney and make sure the house is set up to burn wood in the intended appliance safely and efficiently.

Consult an expert

If you feel unsure about your own ability to make the assessments recommended here, please consult an appropriate professional or town official to help you. Woodstove vendors may offer home assessments, stove installations, and referrals to experienced chimney professionals, masons, builders, or energy auditors. Some vendors offer a complete array of woodstove services.

Check with local fire and building officials before you install a wood stove

Although New Hampshire has adopted the National Fire Protection Association's 211 Standard for chimneys, fireplaces, vents, and solid fuel-burning appliances, some cities and towns have adopted additional requirements, which typically involve inspection of the wood heating appliance before use. Contact your town fire department or building inspector to make sure your plans follow all state and local regulations.

Notify your insurance agent of your plans to install a wood heating appliance

Each insurance carrier has its own standards regarding installation, inspection, and other aspects of heating an insured home with wood. Your agent can advise you about how to proceed and whether you'll need to modify your current coverage.

Inspect your chimney (or have an expert inspect it)

Wood stoves must be connected to a lined chimney with a flue of adequate size to carry the smoke from your wood heating appliance. Note: A wood stove can't share a flue connected to another fuel source such as heating oil or propane. You may want to hire an experienced chimney professional or mason to inspect your chimney and recommend repairs or other changes. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CISA) homepage has a good tutorial on the various levels of masonry chimney inspections. This nonprofit association also certifies chimney sweeps. The Canadian nonprofit woodheat.org has an excellent primer on how chimneys work and how to avoid common chimney problems. Your local building inspector or fire official may make chimney home inspections. If not, they probably can refer you to an experienced chimney sweep or mason who can. Before you hire, ask for credentials or certifications, and ask for and check references from previous clients.

Make sure you have a good location for the stove

Will your home's design and layout accommodate a wood heating system? First, consider how the heat from your wood stove will move around and through the living space you intend to heat. While central heating systems (including indoor and outdoor wood furnaces) use pumps and fans to distribute heat throughout the building, wood stoves radiate heat directly into the space around them. Although some stoves come equipped with fans, and some stove users install fans to help distribute the warm air, the air warmed by the stove's radiant heat rises through natural convection, through open stairwells, ceiling grates and other spaces between levels of a dwelling, gradually displacing cooler air to warm those areas farther from the stove.

Follow manufacturer's instructions

Although it makes sense to locate the stove or stoves in the rooms where people spend the most time, your home's design may not permit a woodstove installation in one of them. Each wood-heating appliance will have specific requirements for safe distances ("clearances") between the stove/stovepipe and the room's walls and other combustible materials. To comply with state and local codes, follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation and maintenance of your stove. If you bought a second-hand stove that came without an owner's manual, contact the manufacturer to get one for your model. If you can't locate a manual, or you have any questions about safe woodstove installation procedures, call your local fire department or building inspector for help.

Prevent backdrafting

"Backdrafting" occurs when a woodstove puffs smoke into the living space instead of up and out the chimney. It's always a bad sign. Wood smoke should never enter your living space. An inadequate or clogged chimney can cause a backdraft. Like all fuels, wood needs oxygen to burn. A woodstove needs air for combustion and also for the draft, to keep combustion gases (smoke) going up the chimney. Typically, woodstoves draw their combustion air (sometimes also called "makeup air") from inside the house. Well-insulated homes that contain other vented appliances such as kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans, clothes dryers, water heaters, and furnaces, may not always have enough inside air available to allow efficient operation of woodstoves. When other power-vented appliances switch on, they can overcome the natural draft of the chimney and pull wood smoke down and out through the stove into the living space.

Consult your stove vendor or a heating and ventilation professional experienced with wood heating systems if:
  • You have difficulty getting a wood fire started or you can't keep a fire going.
  • You smell smoke or get soot on your walls.
  • Your carbon monoxide detector keeps sounding alarms.
If your home contains a fireplace

From the U.S. Department of Energy's wood and pellet heating pages: Designed more for show, traditional open masonry fireplaces should not be considered heating devices.... High-efficiency fireplace inserts have proven effective in increasing the heating efficiency of older fireplaces. Essentially, the inserts function like woodstoves, fitting into the masonry fireplace or on its hearth, and use the existing chimney. A well-fitted fireplace insert can function nearly as efficiently as a woodstove.

A note about rental housing

If you live in rented housing, contact your landlord before installing a wood burning appliance. If you do install one, or if the unit already contains a woodstove you plan to use, learn all you can about safe wood burning and follow the guidelines faithfully. Consult experts or local fire officials if you have questions or concerns.

Before you buy a woodstove or haul that old stove out of grandpa's barn to hook up in your living room, inform yourself! Heating your living space safely and efficiently with wood requires thinking through the many aspects of matching your living space and chimney to a stove, installing it properly, and understanding what's involved in maintaining your stove, stovepipe and chimney.

Ask questions

Talk to friends, neighbors, and heating experts who've had long-term wood-heating experience. Ask which features of the stoves they use they like or don't like. Ask about a stove's efficiency, ease of operation and maintenance requirements. Some stove vendors offer one-stop shopping for wood heat households, even coming to check out your home so they can recommend the right stove and location to meet your needs. Before you buy, ask your vendor about a stove's routine maintenance requirements. which may include cleaning the stovepipe and thimble and replacing gaskets, firebricks, baffles, catalysts and other stove components. Chimney professionals can assess the condition and suitability of your chimney, clean and repair chimneys, and teach you how to check and clean your stovepipe and thimble.

The following (offsite) links offer information to get you started
 What is a Cord?

A cord is an amount of wood that is contained in a space of 128 cubic feet when the wood is ranked & well stowed, which means the pieces of wood are placed in a row, with individual pieces touching and parallel to each other and stacked in a compact manner.

How to measure stacked firewood

Measure the length of the pieces in feet, multiply by the height of the pile in feet and multiply by the length of pile in feet. If length of pieces is in inches, divide the total by 12 to get cubic feet.

Here is an example:

how to measure cord of firewood

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Dry, Seasoned or Green?

Unless the wood is kiln dried, which assures a consistent moisture content of about 20%, the wood will vary quite a bit. It is not easy to determine the moisture content of firewood. Therefore, working with a reputable dealer is critical when purchasing seasoned wood which tends to be around 30% moisture content. Green wood can be in excess of 50% moisture content.

How to Store Firewood
  • Find sunny spot with good air flow
  • Place wood off the ground on stringers or old pallets
  • Only cover top of pile, to avoid trapping moisture
  • Depending on species, cut and split wood needs 6-8 months of drying time
How to Purchase Firewood

Purchasing firewood should be approached like any other business transaction—using good business practices. It’s best to be clear about what you want.

Specify:

  • Quantity – cord or fraction of cord
  • Length of the pieces – short enough to fit in your wood stove or fireplace
  • Species Mix – a mix of hardwood
  • Split or not? – split wood dries faster
  • Dry or not? – kiln dry wood is about 20% moisture content, seasoned around 30%
  • Where? Where do you want the wood dumped?
  • Stacked? You will pay extra?
There's no central firewood dealers' directory in New Hampshire

The best source of firewood information is in the local community. Check with neighbors and friends who burn wood for suggestions. Scan local newspapers and bulletin boards for firewood listings.

Take Precautions

New Hampshire law requires that a receipt or delivery ticket be presented to the purchaser. It is important that a receipt is received for each load delivered. Never pre-pay for multiple loads until they are delivered.

The receipt should include:
  • Name and address of the seller
  • Name and address of the buyer
  • Date delivered
  • Quantity delivered and quantity upon which the price is based
  • The price for the amount delivered
  • A description of what was delivered
Once the wood is delivered:
  • Immediately inspect the wood to determine if what was delivered is what was ordered.
  • Stack the wood within 2 weeks to assure the volume ordered is the volume delivered.
  • Contact the seller, if problems or questions, before any wood is burned or moved.
Properties of commonly used New Hampshire woods
  • Pine, Hemlock, Spruce, Aspen: Dries and splits easily, good for kindling but not a long burn. Watch out for sparks.
  • Maple, Birch, Ash, Beech: Moderately easy to dry and split. Good for all-around firewood, provides medium burn length.
  • Oak, Hickory: Difficult to dry and may be tough to split, best for long burn and developing good coals.
  • Overall: A mix of hardwoods is best with a small amount of kindling wood (pine, hemlock, spruce or aspen) mixed in. Talk to your dealer about your specific needs.
Caution

To prevent the spread of invasive insects, a quarantine is in place forbidding the transport of firewood across state lines and restricting the movement within the state. For the latest quarantine information go to www.NHBugs.org or call (603) 271-2561.

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Belknap County

Rebecca DiGirolomo
rebecca.digirolomo@unh.edu
603-749-2529

Carroll County

Wendy Scribner
wendy.scribner@unh.edu
603-447-3834

Cheshire County

Matt Kelly
matt.kelly@unh.edu
603-352-4550

Coös County

ce.coos@unh.edu
603-788-4961

Grafton County

James Frohn
jim.frohn@unh.edu
603-787-6944

Hillsborough County

Michael Gagnon
michael.gagnon@unh.edu
603-641-6060

Merrimack County

Tim Fleury
tim.fleury@unh.edu
603-255-3733

Rockingham County

Greg Jordan
greg.jordan@unh.edu
603-679-5616

Strafford County

Rebecca DiGirolomo
rebecca.digirolomo@unh.edu
603-749-2529

Sullivan County

Dode Gladders
dode.gladders@unh.edu
603-863-9200

Forestry State Specialist

Steven Roberge
steven.roberge@unh.edu
603-862-4861

Forestry Information Center

forest.info@unh.edu
1-800-444-8978 within New England
603-862-3883

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