Choosing the right wood heat system.

THINKING OF HEATING YOUR HOME WITH WOOD. Good choice but make sure you get all the details and make sure the fireplace or wood stove is safe to use.

The subject of wood heat is vast and cannot be effectively dealt with in one issue but I will try to touch on as many aspects of wood heating as possible. First of all lets look at what you are likely to find in most homes today. If the home was built prior to 1970 it most likely will have a full masonry  fireplace. That is, a concrete base with a block style chimney lined with clay tiles and an open faced firebox for building the fire. Factory built fireplaces or zero clearance fireplaces seemed to come on strong during the decades of the 70’s -90’s. These units were the first units to be lab tested and certified and most will have a label signifying just that.  Due to the inefficiencies of these units  the widespread use of sealed fireplace units and freestanding air tight wood stoves became more popular in the 90’s until present day.  EPA began measuring and testing wood burning appliances and making the units more efficient in terms of heat recovery and reductions in pollutants. (See video at http://www.borderhi.com/wett-inspections/)

So there you have it in a nut shell, the three stages (as I see it) of the evolution of wood heating your home. Now lets look at the strengths of each. The masonry fireplaces were expensive and time consuming but worked well to heat a room or two and if used consistently they would provide some offset to the home heating costs. The factory built fireplace was introduced as a cost effective means of heating with wood as they were so much quicker and easier to install. The drawbacks to the factory built fireplace was that they were actually negatively efficient. That is to say that more heat ended up going up the chimney then what was produced by the fireplace. So in essence you ended up with a higher fuel heating bill with the fireplace then without. There were a few exceptions but they were few and far between. Finally the sealed wood stoves and factory built fireplaces were introduced that actually worked. Most of these units today are between 60 and 80% efficient and the amount of smoke sent up the chimney is reduced drastically.

If you are buying a home with a wood burning fireplace or wood stove be sure to have the system evaluated by a WETT inspector. If you plan to install your own wood stove,  fireplace or pellet stove be sure to consult a WETT Technician such as myself to help you install it correctly. I have installed well over 300 such units and have a vast knowledge as well as the certification to help you get it right. If you go it alone that’s fine but make sure to get it right or your insurance company will most likely make you remove or repair it. Finally be sure to install the proper chimney for use with your stove or fireplace. The manufacturer will require a certain type of chimney and other components to use. If you deviate from the instructions you may need to take it all out and start again, yes I have see this. Over all be safe when it comes to wood heat.


The acronym WETT stands for Wood Energy Technology Transfer. WETT was established to train inspectors and installers to do their jobs properly and to ultimately save lives in the process. Most wood stoves today are EPA certified and have manufactures labels showing the minimum installation clearances. It is critical that the stove or fireplace and chimney maintain these clearances. The manufactures who design these wood burning products must submit the finished product for testing in a test laboratory. Once the stove is certified it can be sold to the public. There are minimum distances to combustibles that must be met and each unit is different depending upon how they preformed in the test enclosure. The B365 code applies to wood burning appliances and written in there are some other regulations that must be adhered to such as rules for shielding and so on. The big thing to remember is to be sure about the requirements before you attempt to install or use a wood burning appliance. Most insurance companies today will not insure a wood stove or fireplace unless it has been inspected by a WETT certified inspector. SGI has a 25% surcharge on their homeowner policies if there is a wood stove in the home. If the stove has been inspected by a WETT certified contractor and it meets the current code requirements as well as the manufactures requirements the surcharge is reduced to 10%, a significant reduction in insurance costs year after year.  I personally hold a WETT TECHNICIAN CERTIFICATE which means I can go beyond the basic visual inspection and make repairs etc. With over 300 installs I can say there is a lot to learn and I am still learning, You can never be too safe!