Airtight Wood Stove Operation

Operating and caring for a non-catalytic wood stove Improper installation of your woodstove can result in a house fire and cause greater pollution. If a stove isn’t installed properly, it can also affect the draft of the stove (i.e., ability to draw combustion air and expel exhaust). Note that in 2009, when this video was made, some of the wood stoves shown were considered certified, but aren’t now. You can see which stoves meet Washingto.

After selecting and installing a wood stove you will be anxious to get it going. Learn to operate and maintain the stove so it can provide warmth and comfort in a safe and efficient manner.

This guide provides general information on the operation and maintenance of wood stoves as supplemental heat sources in residences.


Once a good stove has been selected and installed correctly, the next important factor is proper operation. Many problems that arise with a correctly installed stove are the direct result of incomplete combustion.

Combustion consists of a complex chemical reaction between the fuel (wood) and oxygen. The combustion of wood in a stove results in heat and water vapors, carbon dioxide and other products of combustion such as gases and ash. To ensure satisfactory combustion and safe operation, you must meet several conditions:
  • Keep a continuous supply of oxygen for the fire and the occupants of the room or area.
  • Use a proper amount of fuel (wood) not enough to cause overheating, but enough to maintain a flue temperature that prevents the accumulation of creosote residues.
  • Burn properly to avoid wasted fuel and toxic products of combustion such as carbon dioxide.
  • Remove unwanted products of combustion. Gaseous products should be continuously removed while the stove is in operation, and solid products such as ashes should be disposed of safely.
Wood Ensure complete combustion by supplying air and maintaining a sufficient heat level. Incomplete combustion results from an insufficient air supply, misapplied air or insufficient heat.
Wood combustion
There are three basic stages to wood combustion:
  1. Water is removed by evaporation and vaporization. This heat does not warm the stove or room.
  2. At 500 degrees F, the wood starts to break down chemically, and volatile gases are formed. These vapors contain from 50 to 60 percent of the heat value of wood. At approximately 1,100 degrees F, these gases, when mixed with the proper amount of air, break into flames and burn. To ensure complete combustion, maintain this temperature and a sufficient air supply.
  3. After the release of gases, the remaining material (charcoal) burns at a temperature in excess of 1,100 degrees F. When charcoal is completely burned, a small amount of ash remains.


Since moisture must be evaporated and expelled before wood will burn, the wood should be cut and seasoned. Use well-seasoned wood with a low moisture content to reduce the likelihood of creosote buildup.

When building a fire, follow the manufacturer's recommendations. The following steps will also serve as a guide:

  1. Open the damper completely.
  2. Place paper and/or kindling over the entire bottom of the fire box to achieve an evenly burning fire. Never use flammable liquids such as gasoline, lighting fluid or kerosene to start a fire an explosion may result.
  3. To achieve a better chimney draft, hold a lighted roll of paper near the flue opening inside the stove to warm the flue and start it drafting.
  4. Light the wood and paper in the grate. When the kindling is burning, add additional seasoned wood to build up a hotter fire. Be careful at first when adding wood to avoid smothering the fire.
  5. With the fire door closed, use the draft regulator to maintain the desired heat. The proper heat can only be obtained by trial and error because conditions of the fuel (moisture content, hard or soft wood), space being heated, individual preference, outside temperature and wind vary. After some experience with your stove, you should learn the best setting for your needs.
New stoves with cast-iron parts should be 'seasoned' to avoid cracking. Do this by building only small fires for the first two or three times.

The entire system must be properly maintained to operate safely and efficiently. The chimney connectors, joints and flues must be clean and in proper working order.


When wood is burning rather slowly, the smoke usually contains a substance called creosote that collects in the relatively cool chimney flue. The main causes of creosote buildup are:

  • wet or unseasoned wood
  • incomplete combustion or
  • cool surfaces
The best way to control creosote is to prevent its buildup by maintaining a briskly burning fire with dry, well-seasoned wood. Maintain a flue temperature exceeding 250 degrees F to prevent creosote condensation.

Some new, more efficient stoves deliver more heat to the room than an open stove or fireplace. This reduces the amount of heat escaping up the chimney and lowers the flue temperature. Make sure creosote is not building up as a result of improper operation of these stoves. Additional inspections and clean-outs may be needed.



With the increased accumulation of creosote in the flue comes the increased possibility of a chimney fire. The combustion of these creosote deposits is most likely to occur during a very hot fire in your stove. Burning creosote deposits cause a very intense fire, a roaring noise, and flames and sparks shooting from the top of the chimney.

Any chimney, metal or masonry, can be weakened or deformed by a chimney fire. The complete chimney should be inspected after a fire, and any repair should be made or parts replaced before re-starting the stove.

If a fire occurs, follow these steps to reduce your losses:

Airtight Wood Stove Operation

  1. Call your local fire department immediately.
  2. Close all openings and draft controls on the stove.
  3. If the fire is burning vigorously, squirt a multi-purpose dry chemical extinguisher or throw baking soda onto the fire in the stove. The chemicals will travel up the chimney and may extinguish the fire. If possible, avoid introducing water into the chimney; the water could damage a relatively brittle heated flue liner.


Stovepipes and chimney flues should be inspected each year before you use your stove. Look for cracked flue liners, broken or missing bricks, heavy creosote deposits, bird nests and other foreign material. Thoroughly clean the flue and stovepipe of any soot and other residues. Repair the chimney or replace the stovepipe to avoid any problem later in the season.

The stovepipe and chimney should be inspected frequently during the heating season for creosote buildup. If you use an air-tight stove, check the stovepipe at least once a month.

Your chimney cleaning schedule will depend on how frequently your stove is used and how it is operated. Should your chimney have an excessive buildup, a stiff wire chimney cleaning brush like the ones used by professional chimney sweeps are available at a reasonable cost.

Some people recommend pulling a bag containing wire netting weighted with chains or rock up and down the chimney; others use tire chains or wire netting without a bag. The effectiveness of these techniques is questionable. Tire chains or a weighted bag may damage the flue liner.


Store ashes in a non-combustible metal container with a tight lid. The closed container should be placed on a non-combustible floor or on the ground well away from all combustible materials pending final disposal.


In addition to the extinguishers already in the home, a multipurpose fire extinguisher should be installed for each stove. The extinguisher should be located near the stove within easy reach. To offer your family additional protection in case of fire, equip your home with an early warning fire detection system.

  • Because of high temperatures when the stove is operating, locate the heater out of traffic and away from furniture and draperies.
  • Tell children about the high surface temperatures and keep them away from the stove so they avoid getting burned or igniting their clothes.
  • Carefully supervise young children when they are in the same room with the heater.
  • Do not place clothing or other flammable material on or near the heater.
  • Have a qualified person install and service the stove and inspect it before use and at least annually.
  • Keep combustible materials away from heaters to avoid the possibility of igniting such materials. These include combustible walls, ceilings, furniture, rugs, draperies and fuels.

Publication #: GO1731

This document is published by the University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO 65211. Publication date: March 1991.
David E. Baker, University Extension, Department of Agricultural Engineering, University of Missouri and Lincoln University, Columbia, Missouri 65211.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture.
Ronald J. Turner, Interim Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Missouri and Lincoln University, Columbia, Missouri 65211. An equal opportunity institution.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More

Installing Your Catalytic Woodstove:

Improper installation of your woodstove can result in a house fire and cause greater pollution. If a stove isn’t installed properly, it can also affect the draft of the stove (i.e., ability to draw combustion air and expel exhaust). Proper draft is critical to reducing pollution and maintaining high efficiency. Before having your stove installed, be sure to check with local authorities regarding building codes and permits, and notify your fire insurance company. The following tips discuss the importance of proper installation.

What You Should DO:

DO have your woodstove professionally installed by a certified installer.

BECAUSE: A certified installer can determine the proper draft for your stove, make sure all the seals are tight, and ensure that your stove is installed with all safety measures in mind.

DO consult a certified installer about the need for a flue liner in your masonry chimney.

BECAUSE: Lining the chimney can help maintain proper draft and prevent icing, which can block your chimney.

DO use the manufacturer’s recommended flue diameter.

Small Airtight Wood Stove Operation

BECAUSE: An improperly sized flue will not provide the draft needed to operate the stove. Also, smoke may leak into your house through the air inlets without proper draft.

DO make certain that all seals connecting the stove to the flue, and within the flue, are as tight as possible.

BECAUSE: Tight seals will prevent smoke from leaking into your house and contribute to good draft.

Operating Your Catalytic Woodstove:

Follow the procedures below to operate your stove for maximum efficiency and minimum pollution. The catalyst plays an important part in how well your stove does its job. The catalyst in your stove, similar to the catalytic converter in your car, burns the unburned fuel (smoke) from the fire before it exits through the flue. A catalyst will start burning the smoke coming from the fire when it has reached a temperature of between 350 and 600F. At this point, the catalyst is said to “light-off”. In some models, the catalyst will begin to glow when the temperature rises above 1000F.

What You Should DO:

DO burn only dry, well-seasoned wood, not wet or freshly cut wood. Season wood at least six months; store outdoors, loosely covered, to allow air to circulate freely through the pile.

BECAUSE: “Green” or wet wood releases less heat because energy from the fire must first evaporate the moisture before producing useful heat.

DO build and maintain moderately hot fires quickly after loading the wood.

BECAUSE: A hot initial fire will help your catalyst light-off faster. However, once lit, the catalyst will stay lit even if the fire burns lower. Catalyst temperatures of 1000F or more are typical in normal operation. Once a catalyst lights-off, it will stay lit at temperatures of about 500F.

DO burn moderate to full loads of wood that will provide several hours of uninterrupted burning and minimize door openings.

BECAUSE: Minimizing door openings keeps the temperatures high, which reduces pollution. Frequent door openings increase pollution both inside and outside your home.

DO operate your stove in the bypass mode initially (i.e., smoke bypasses the catalyst). Wait until the stove is hot enough before engaging the catalyst, but be careful not to overheat the stove.

BECAUSE: To some extent, the catalyst may reduce the draft. With poor draft, the fire will take longer to develop and the catalyst will take longer to light-off.

DO operate the stove’s internal fans (if your stove has them) in strict accordance with the operating instructions. Some manufacturers recommend leaving the fans turned off for 30 minutes after start-up and refueling, and setting them on low for small fires.

BECAUSE: Fans remove heat from the fire; cooler fires result in more pollution.

DO buy a catalyst temperature monitor (if your stove doesn’t come with one). Monitor catalytic temperature to determine when the catalyst lights-off.

BECAUSE: If your engage the catalyst before light-off, it will reduce the draft in your stove without reducing the pollution. If you engage the catalyst too late after light-off, you won’t be benefiting from its operation.

What You Should NOT DO:

DO NOT burn trash, treated wood, particle board, plywood, or other fuels (such as coal, kerosene, or lighter fluid) unless they are listed on your stove’s permanent label.

BECAUSE: Trash produces fly ash. Treated wood, particle board, and plywood contain chemicals that, when burned and inhaled, are hazardous. Burning other fuels may poison your catalyst or damage your stove. Cardboard, foil, and plastic may block exhaust flow through the catalyst, causing smoke to spill into your room.

DO NOT operate your stove in the catalyst bypass mode after the catalyst has reached the recommended temperature (350 to 600F).

Federal airtight wood stove instructions

BECAUSE: At this point, your catalyst should be working for you (to produce more heat using less firewood) and for the environment (destroying smoke and the cancer-causing pollution in the smoke).

DO NOT overfire your stove, especially when the catalyst is engaged. Avoid catalyst temperatures near of above 1600F. This is another reason to use a catalyst temperature monitor.

BECAUSE: Catalysts can be damaged or destroyed by prolonged high heat. If temperatures are above 1600F, switch to bypass mode and allow the catalyst to cool down to about 100F before resuming normal catalytic operation.

DO NOT open the ash pan while catalyst is engaged.

BECAUSE: This will lead to overheating.

Maintaining Your Catalytic Woodstove:

What You Should DO:

DO check the catalyst when the stove is cool by shining a bright flashlight (where possible) onto the catalyst’s surface from above and viewing from inside the stove; look for gaps between the catalyst and the gasket. Replace gasket if necessary.

BECAUSE: The amount of light you can see coming through the gaps in the catalyst’s surface is a good indication of how clean the catalyst is. Creosote buildup will block much of the light. Gaps between the catalyst and gasket can allow smoke to bypass the catalyst.

DO check the catalyst for crumbling, peeling, or other signs of physical damage and for buildup of ash or creosote that can plug up the catalyst. Buildup can be burned off by building a hot fire and partially engaging the catalyst (i.e., open catalyst bypass halfway, if possible). When catalyst is cool, brush with a soft brush or vacuum the catalyst face carefully. Replace catalyst if necessary.

BECAUSE: Buildup can occur on the catalyst and interfere with its proper operation. This will diminish the catalyst’s efficiency and increase pollution.

DO replace the catalyst if it’s damaged, if large parts are missing, or it’s obvious that the catalyst had deteriorated (i.e., fails to light-off when it should). Follow your owner’s manual for replacement instructions. Be sure there are no leaks around the catalyst gaskets.

BECAUSE: When a catalyst fails to operate because of either physical or chemical deterioration, you will lose the benefits of reduced pollution and improved efficiency. It’s a violation of federal law to operate your stove if the catalyst is deactivated or removed.

DO check for catalyst deterioration by either of these two methods: 1) observe the chimney, both before and after the catalyst has engaged, to determine if the catalyst has reduced the amount of smoke, or 2) inspect the inside of the chimney for creosote buildup.

Airtight Wood Stoves Brands

BECAUSE: Although there will still be some pollution and creosote buildup from operating catalytic stoves properly, the rates of pollution and buildup should be much lower than in conventional stoves. If the sky provides a solid light background, you should be able to see a difference between the pollution from a stove before and after the catalyst is engaged.

DO remove the catalyst at least every two years and soak it in diluted (50/50) vinegar for 30 minutes, followed by two 15-minute rinses in boiling water (unless specified otherwise by the manufacturer). Replace the gasket after this cleaning operation. Check with you catalyst manufacturer for more details.

BECAUSE: Vinegar will dissolve the residual impurities that aren’t removed by dusting and other routine maintenance.

DO use your catalyst warranty if your catalyst fails within the first two years or crumbles within three years of purchase.

BECAUSE: You’ve paid for the right to a properly working catalyst in your purchase price.

DO check all gasket material, the bypass damper, and on cast iron stoves, the seams, once a year; replace frayed or worn material. Re-cement the seams as necessary. Check the catalyst gaskets and the gasket that seals the bypass mechanism (if your stove has one). Hint: One way to test the tightness of a gasket seal is to close the door on a dollar bill. Pull gently on the dollar bill. If it pulls easily out of place, the seal isn’t tight and the gasket should be replaced. Repeat this test in several locations to check the seal all around the door.

Small Airtight Wood Cook Stoves

BECAUSE: Gaskets in good condition will provide an airtight seal. A poor seal around a catalyst bypass allows smoke to pass through unburned, thereby increasing pollution. Like gaskets, the bypass damper and seams are areas where leaks can develop.

DO check the wood-loading door and the ash drawer for tightness.

BECAUSE: These two areas are subject to warp or worn gaskets. Poor fit may result in over-heating or may allow smoke to escape into the room.

DO make sure the thermostat (if your stove is equipped with one) is working properly; replace as necessary. Refer to parts list in your owner’s manual.

BECAUSE: A broken thermostat can prevent air inlets and dampers from opening and closing properly.

DO check the flue twice a month and have it cleaned at least once a year. After cleaning, check the seals and retighten joints in the flue and to the stove.

BECAUSE: Buildup of creosote on the flue walls can re-ignite and cause fires. Tight seals and joints prevent leaks.

Airtight Wood Stoves For Sale

DO replace firebrick and other insulating materials when you see crumbling or if pieces are missing.

BECAUSE: These insulating materials are critical to your stove’s heating efficiency and pollution-reduction properties.

What You Should NOT DO:

Federal Airtight Wood Stove Manual

DO NOT remove or tamper with the preset operating or temperature controls.

BECAUSE: It’s against the law, it will void your stove’s warranty, and it will create a safety hazard. The stove will be less efficient and more expensive to operate. Thermostats control either primary or secondary air, or both. Tampering may ruin the precisely designed secondary combustion capabilities, resulting in lower efficiencies, higher operating costs, and greater pollution.

DO NOT abuse your catalyst. Don’t drop or scrape the catalyst, remove the metal band (if your model has one), or use high-pressure air to clean. Don’t clean the catalyst with water when it is hot and in the stove.

BECAUSE: Catalysts can be damaged, thereby reducing their effectiveness.

Airtight Stoves Wood Stoves Local

(This Page courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

Wood Heater Program (EN-341W)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency