Wood has been used as a primary heating source by humans for eons. Now, wood burning systems are mostly used as a secondary heat source or to create a cozy environment.
There are many different types of wood burning systems and each one has its own unique characteristics. In this post, we will concentrate on two types of wood-burning systems, masonry fireplaces and wood stoves and inserts. A wood burning system includes the appliance that burns the wood and the chimney.
The traditional masonry fireplace is typically built out of bricks and may have firebricks in the fire chamber or a steel form. Masonry fireplaces are built according to the local building code and this is why many older fireplaces do not comply with the current version of the building code. Many aspects of the construction of masonry fireplaces have changed over the last decades, including hearth size, provision of combustion air, cleaning of ashes etc.
Masonry chimneys are also built with brick with a clay flue in the center. The building codes for chimney construction have also changed significantly in the last few decades with the purpose to make the chimney less susceptible to deterioration from the weather exposure. I see a lot of chimneys in older homes that have heavy deterioration because of the way they were built back then.
The fireplace itself does not need frequent maintenance other than cleaning the ashes, but the chimney should be inspected on a yearly basis for gaps on the chimney cap, proper flashing details, and cracks on the flue. It should be cleaned every year before the heating season starts. The Ontario Fire code requires yearly cleaning of the chimney and in the event of a chimney fire, the first thing that will be required is the chimney cleaning record. The build-up of creosote in the chimney is the primary reason for chimney fires. We recommend always hiring a professional chimney sweep to clean the chimney.
Modern wood burning stoves and inserts must abide by a multitude of rules and regulations, including environmental, manufacturer specs, certification standards, safety standards and local building codes. Wood stoves and inserts should always be installed by a professional WETT-certified installer. WETT stands for Wood Energy Technology Transfer and it is a not-for-profit organization that has the responsibility of training inspectors and technicians and setting the minimum standards for wood-burning appliances where manufacturer specifications or building codes do not exist or apply.
If an appliance is not installed according to the clearance requirements of the manufacturer, the local building code requirements or the minimum WETT standards, the risk of fire is very high. In the case of a fire, if the Fire Marshall’s office deems that these requirements were not met, there may be consequences for the homeowner.
Wood burning stoves and inserts require the typical ash removal and chimney sweep, but long-term maintenance includes glass door maintenance and firebricks replacement.
General operation rules include the use of only dry natural wood in the appliance, keeping combustible material at a safe distance from the appliance and not overfiring the appliance.
- Can I install a wood stove myself? No. You should only hire a professional WETT-certified technician to do the installation.
- Can I clean the chimney myself? No. You should hire a professional chimney sweep to do that.
- When is the best time to clean the chimney? After the heating season ends, chimney sweeps are typically less busy. Plus, if there are any issues with your chimney, you have the time to correct them.
- Do I need to get a WETT Inspection when I install my wood stove? If it was installed by a WETT certified technician then you do not need a separate inspection.
- Do I need to do a WETT inspection every year? No, it is not required. Typically, a WETT inspection is required when a new insurance company will insure the home, the insurance is being renewed or the home is being sold.
- Does a WETT Inspection include a WETT certificate? No, there is no such thing as a WETT certificate. A WETT-certified inspector will perform the inspection and provide you with a report.
- How long is a WETT inspection report good for? The inspection report will show the condition of the system ON THE DAY of the inspection. Typically, insurance companies will ask for a report performed in the last 6 months.