There is More to Wood Heat Safety Than Just "Common Sense"
Thirty-five years ago people flooded into wood stove stores to buy anything they could use as a hedge against high oil prices and threats of shortages. The 1970s and early 1980s energy crisis rush back to wood heat after decades of decline led to thousands of tragic house fires.
Today, householders still return to wood heat to shield their families from unpredictable oil and gas prices and electrical supply failures caused by the violent storms that seem to be more frequent. In 1999 many others installed wood stoves just in case the Y2K problem had posed a real threat. And the collective shock induced by events of September 11, 2001 seems to have created another surge of wood stove sales. For supporters of wood heating, the trend back to wood heat is both encouraging and a little worrying. While we like to see more people rediscovering the comfort and security of wood heating, we don't want to see a repeat of the fires that destroyed so many homes. And there is no excuse for taking a risk this time. Here's why.
No one knew much about wood heat safety a few decades ago. Safety codes were crude and based on decades-old information. Product safety certification and professional training did not exist at the time, so retailers, installers and even building inspectors were just floundering around doing the best they could with limited information. Homeowners thought that wood heat safety was just a matter of 'common sense', so they installed stoves themselves without much guidance. The results were bad — lots of house fires and lots of insurance claims. To this day the insurance industry has a rather negative attitude about wood heating, having been badly burned by all the losses.
Starting in the early 1980s when it became apparent that we had a serious safety problem with wood heating, government and industry rushed to develop safety standards for products. These led to much better stoves, fireplaces and furnaces that were accompanied by reliable installation instructions giving safe installation clearances. The wood heat industry developed professional training programs to educate their members on how to find and use the safety rules. Today the industry is much more sophisticated. Wood stoves are now certified for low emissions as well as safety. Installers and chimney sweeps have become professionally certified by attending courses and passing examinations.
If you think wood heat safety is just common sense, think again!
Don't put your family's safety at risk. Research wood heat safety requirements by following these links:
- A comprehensive Canadian government booklet on all matters of wood heat.
Get professional advice and if possible, have a professional installer put the stove and chimney in for you. Here is how to identify qualified personnel.
- In Canada, look for retailers, installers and chimney sweeps who are WETT certified under the Wood Energy Technical Training program.
- In the United States, look for retailers and installers certified under the National Fireplace Institute training programs.
- Look for certified sweeps at the Chimney Safety Institute of America site