What to Expect: Choosing Your Perfect Wood Stove

 

Our “What to Expect” series explores some of the factors to consider when you’re purchasing a new wood or gas appliance. Previously: gas fireplaces

So you’ve decided that a wood stove is right for you! Congratulations on your choice of such an environmentally-friendly heat source; Wooden Sun carries a variety of high-efficiency, low-emission stoves that will keep your home cozy and your air clean. A wood-burning appliance is a complicated system, however, and there are a lot of factors to consider when planning your stove project.

As in our last post, the first question to answer is what your goals are for your new stove. Customers sometimes ask us what our “best” wood stove is. There’s really no such thing as “best” in the wood stove world, only “best for you”. If you’re building a tiny home, for example, you’ll want to look into a stove with a small footprint (both stove size and required clearances) and a small enough heat output that it won’t drive you out of the house. If you’re looking for a stove that will give you an overnight burn, or let you bank the stove while you’re at work, you may want to consider a catalytic stove, which will let you keep the stove at a low temperature for a very long time. And, of course, you’re going to be looking at this stove for a very long time, so it’s important to consider what your aesthetic goals and preferences might be.

The first install consideration, of course – once you’ve chosen your dream stove – is where to put your stove for optimal safety and performance. Every wood stove on the market has its own clearance requirements to both protected and unprotected surfaces, as well as specifications for the floor protection required underneath the stove. These clearances can put your stove far enough into your room to eat up much of your room footprint, so consider traffic patterns and space usage in your home (many customers have found it helpful to cut out a piece of cardboard with the dimensions of their preferred stove or its floor protector, and set it in different locations around the house, observing clearance requirements, to get a better feel for it). And since a wood stove heats primarily through convection, it’s important to take into account the air movement patterns within the home. Placing your stove at one end of a narrow hallway, for example, will not heat the house as effectively as having it in a central location with lots of air movement to other rooms. If your HVAC system has a fan that will circulate the air in your home without having to run the heat, then installing a wood stove near the cold air return will make it easy to move the air from one room to another.

Venting requirements also need to be taken into consideration before you make your purchase. As we learned previously, wood appliance venting is a bit more particular than direct vent gas piping, since it relies on natural draft. If you want to put your stove in, say, a sun room or other 1-story addition, but the rest of your house is 2 or 3 stories high, you’re going to wind up with a lot of chimney sticking up above the roof (requiring a roof brace), which may be a deal-breaker for you. This is another reason a central location is desirable, since having the chimney relatively close to the peak of the roof will minimize how much stainless steel chimney is visible above the roofline. If your preferred stove location is directly underneath living space, rather than an attic, we may need to build an enclosed chase around the class A chimney, or find an alternate vent path; depending on how close you are to an outside wall, it’s sometimes possible to use a wall thimble connected to the stovepipe itself, then run the stainless steel chimney up the side of the house. Each situation is different, and initial designs sometimes have to be revised to take the specifics of your home into account.

Wood stove installed through cathedral ceiling with round support box

Wood stove installed through cathedral ceiling with round support box

A wood stove installed through the wall, with class A chimney held in place with wall support brackets

A wood stove installed through the wall, with class A chimney held in place with wall support brackets

Chimney pipe enclosed in a wooden chase

Metal chimney enclosed in a wooden chase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hope that this post has given you some points to keep in mind as you plan your stove project, and will continue to help you prepare for your showroom visit and sales conversations. We look forward to seeing you, and helping you “bask in the warmth”!

What to Expect: Finding Your Perfect Gas Fireplace

So you’re interested in a gas fireplace! First off, let’s make sure we’re on the same page by defining just what a fireplace is. This post deals with gas fireplaces, which can be installed on combustible surfaces and framed with wood studs and drywall for ease of construction. Finishing options are unlimited, and can be as simple as painting the enclosure or cladding it in stone or metal panels

A Direct Vent fireplace burns propane or natural gas with models  primarily for ambiance or ones that serve as efficient, thermostatically – controlled heaters. The burner is completely sealed in a metal case with a removable glass front and customized with interior and exterior options according to your tastes. Metal venting draws combustion air from outside your house, and sends exhaust gases outside so you’ll only get the warmth without soot or smells.

If you have an existing masonry or factory-built fireplace, consider a fireplace insert, which uses your existing fireplace and chimney in place of wood framing. An insert may look and behave much like a fireplace but has a different set of installation requirements. Inserts are not included in this post.

Wooden Sun carries gas fireplaces in a range of sizes, styles, and heating capacities. Our sales associates and skilled installers are happy to answer all your questions – and to ask questions that hadn’t necessarily occurred to you – so that we can recommend the product that will work best in your home. Our self-assessment form goes over many of these questions, and here are a few other things to keep in mind during the planning stages of your hearth project.

First: what are your goals for this project? Are you looking for primary heat, backup or secondary heat, or just a source of cozy ambiance? If you want to simply cozy up a small room, a large fireplace like the Valor H6 may put out considerably more heat than you want or need. On the other hand, if you want to heat a large, open-plan house with vaulted ceilings, a Valor Portrait won’t have the heating capacity you need. If you know what you want your fireplace to do, it is easier for us to show you the most suitable products.

Next is location, location, location. Whether you’re planning a new building/addition, or looking for a fireplace for an existing space, it’s important to keep in mind how much space you have available, not just for the fireplace front, but for framing and venting. Each appliance has its own set of framing requirements, and some require more “surgery” than others to work them into your existing home or new design. If your preferred location is on an exterior wall, we can either build the fireplace framing into the room (a cabinet mantel is a popular choice for an enclosure like this) or out from the side of the house, in what’s usually referred to as a bumpout or doghouse.

The second part of location planning deals with venting requirements. One advantage gas appliances have over wood-burning appliances is the flexibility of their venting requirements. Venting for wood fireplaces must follow the 3-2-10 rule (which states that a chimney must rise at least 3 feet above the point of roof penetration, and at least 2 feet higher than any point on the roof or building structure within 10 feet). However, a direct-vent gas appliance can be vented straight back through an exterior wall with a wall cap (see the “what to bring with you” link from the first paragraph). This saves material and labor costs, making exterior walls an excellent install locations. If the install location is on an interior wall, or you’re faced with zoning or HOA restrictions, vent pipe can be run vertically to exit through the roof of your house (Wooden Sun has run into some challenging installs, but we are able to navigate unusual wiring or other home design setups – an advantage to having highly-trained sales and installation staff!).

The final question for today’s post is the scope of the project. Are you interested in having a stone veneer or a set of steel wall panels installed around your fireplace? Would you like a shelf or cabinet mantel, or perhaps some built-in bookshelves? There are some types of finishing work that can be done in stages once the fireplace is installed, and some that are best put in place at the same time as the rest of the project. Let us know what your design plans are, and we can advise you on the best way to achieve them, and what order makes the most sense.

This blog entry is meant as a starting point for that conversation, and help you narrow down some of your project ideas. Each hearth project is unique, of course, and there’s no way for one post to cover every detail or take the place of a one-on-one conversation with a dedicated sales associate.

Awning, Shade, & Canopy Styles

We’ve previously discussed several aspects of why awnings are a good choice for your home, and how best to take care of them, but when it comes to the products themselves, the options can be a bit overwhelming. In this post, we’d like to offer a brief overview of different types of awnings, canopies, and shades available, to help you figure out which might best suit your needs.

Awnings

Eclipse Retractable Awning

Wall-Mounted Retractable Awning

Our most popular shade product is the retractable awning, which we offer from Eclipse and Aristocrat These awnings can be motorized or manually controlled, and are available in custom sizes to fit your space. Both Eclipse and Aristocrat use fade-resistant, marine-grade fabrics. While Aristocrat makes their awnings and canopies with a variety of fabric brands, including Sunbrella, Eclipse uses Sunbrella fabric exclusively for all of its awnings. Sunbrella has received the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Approval, documenting that it “sufficiently and safely aids in the prevention of sun-induced damage to the skin” (read more about Sunbrella’s safety certifications and sustainability initiatives).

This house has an eclectic mix of window awnings

This house has an eclectic mix of window awnings

As well as the traditional retractable awning, both Eclipse and Aristocrat offer smaller window awnings, which can cover a smaller area than their regular awnings. Eclipse’s Drop Arm Window & Porch Awning opens in an arc that stops at any angle from entirely retracted to almost entirely flat against your window or porch railing to give you maximum coverage. Aristocrat offers both fixed and retractable window awnings, in multiple shapes and styles, including fixed-frame aluminum awnings.

Shades & Screens

Please check out our post on solar shades and screens, for custom window products that keep your house cool and shaded, without  having to install a full awning or canopy.

Canopies & Outdoor Rooms

Sun Roof Plus

Eclipse Sun Roof Plus

Eclipse Pergotenda System

Eclipse Pergotenda System

For those who are looking for a shade system that functions as an outdoor room, rather than just a shade, a retractable roof system or freestanding canopy is an excellent option. The Eclipse SunRoof Plus is a roof- or pergola-mounted retractable sunroof, while the Pergotenda system is a custom-made outdoor structure offering full protection from both wind and rain, with optional side curtains to create a fully-automated, retractable screen porch.

Aristocrat Retractable Canopy

Aristocrat Retractable Canopy

Aristocrat’s freestanding and pergola canopies offer you the flexibility of a wall-mounted system extending from your home, or a freestanding canopy in your yard or next to a pool. In addition to Aristocrat’s usual range of durable, fade-resistant fabric, the canopy comes with an optional water-resistant second layer, to help you keep your outdoor space usable, even in a light rain (note: not suitable for snow loads, and Aristocrat recommends always keeping the canopy closed during high winds). Aristocrat canopies have a sturdy aluminum frame, with or without additional pergola rafters, or you can order a system designed to mount underneath your existing wooden pergola or arbor. As with the awnings and roof systems, Aristocrat canopies can be installed with optional side curtains to provide additional privacy, or protection from late-afternoon sun.

Wooden Sun has shade products to suit a wide range of needs, styles, and budgets. Call our showroom at (434) 760-8659, or submit a contact form, to speak to one of our experienced sales associates and learn more about which of our custom shading solutions is best for you. Don’t forget to ask about our summer sale on Aristocrat products, 10% off through July 4th!

Grill Safety & Maintenance

Grilling season is once again in full swing, so it’s time to revisit the subject of grill safety and maintenance. Wooden Sun services both gas and charcoal grills, and we recommend having your grill inspected and serviced by a qualified technician once a year. Additionally, there are some simple safety and maintenance tips you can follow to extend the life of your grill and make sure your outdoor events are safe and fun for everybody involved.

Let’s start with the safety precautions:

  • Never use any grill indoors; carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed space, posing a possibly lethal health hazard to everyone in the home.
  • Grills should never be used underneath a deck or balcony, or directly next to a wooden structure. Keep your grill away from flammable materials, and make sure children and pets stay a safe distance away.
  • When using a charcoal grill or smoker, there’s always the potential for sparks, embers, or hot ash to escape. We recommend a non-flammable grill mat to provide ember protection, as well as to make it easier to clean up food spillage. Wooden Sun carries these grill mats in a few stock sizes, but other sizes, shapes, and colors are available from the manufacturer.
  • When starting a gas grill, the lid should always be open. If the flame has gone out (blown out by the wind, for example), turn off the grill, wait 15 minutes for the gas to dissipate, then re-ignite the pilot.
  • Prior to the first cookout of the season, check the burners and air mixers for spiders and other insects. They are attracted to the smell and cozy spaces under the hood of your grill. Webs can reroute the gas so it comes out and ignites where it shouldn’t. Come by the shop and we can show you where to look, or schedule our techs for a thorough checkup.
  • Before you use your grill for the first time each year, be sure to check the gas line and connections. You can do this by applying a soap-and-water solution to the hose, gasketing, and connector valves. If bubbles form, there is a leak. Turn the gas off immediately and have your grill serviced by a professional before trying to use it again! Any time you are unable to trace and eliminate a gas smell, call 911.
  • Never store propane tanks in an enclosed space like a garage. If you store your grill inside, remove the tank an store it outside.
  • And, of course, always read the user manual that comes with your grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and proper maintenance of the grill.
This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

A common maintenance issue we’ve encountered is condensation buildup when a tarp or other impermeable material is used for a cover. There are a wide variety of grill covers on the market with a water-resistant exterior, and some sort of breathable material on the inside. Many are ventilated to allow additional moisture to escape. If you need a grill cover that Wooden Sun doesn’t carry,  give us the dimensions of your grill (height, width including any side shelves, and depth), as well as whether your grill is built-in or freestanding, and we can find a cover to fit.

A few additional maintenance tips:

  • Clean cooking grids and drip trays regularly. Grease and salt speed up corrosion, and pooled grease can easily ignite.
  • In addition to checking for gas leaks, check all valves and connectors for rust and other corrosion. Remove all rust with a wire brush, and apply a rust-resistant paint to the area.
  • After you finish grilling, turn all burners on high for about 10 minutes; this will vaporize most of the remaining drippings and grease.

Enjoy your grilling, and have a safe and happy summer cooking season!

Level II Inspections: What Are They, and Why Should I Get One?

In accordance with CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) standards, Wooden Sun highly recommends a Level II (video scan) Sweep & Inspection for all new customers and for customers who are selling their home, have had a chimney fire or if the certified chimney sweep recommends this service. We sometimes have customers ask us why a Level I visual inspection (an assessment by one of our certified technicians from both above and below, with the aid of a powerful flashlight) doesn’t meet the industry’s highest standards for chimney safety, or show us a recent building inspector’s report certifying that the flue liners are in good condition.

The difficulty here is that, although a visual inspection will catch obvious damage to your tiles within a couple of feet at the top and bottom of the flue, even a highly-trained chimney sweep or building inspector can miss hairline cracks in a flue tile, especially if those cracks occur towards the middle of the flue. As discussed in our HeatShield post back in March, even small cracks in your terra cotta flue tiles can allow heat, sparks, and combustion gasses to escape into your home, putting you, your family, and your house at risk. In a vid-scan, our chimney technicians lower a special camera down your chimney, rotating it to get a full 360° view of the inside of your flue. This allows us to see small cracks in your flue tiles or missing mortar joints between them. We can then recommend any repairs required, before the flue tiles can degrade to the point that would require a full relining of your chimney.

Even if you have a factory-built or class A chimney, a Level II vid-scan can still be useful to you. These chimneys are put together in sections, and some brands and styles are less secure than others (Wooden Sun uses Ventis chimney components, which are held together at each joint with screws, but some brands are held together with a twist-lock system, which is less secure). A chimney sweep using improper equipment can damage these joints. A gap between chimney sections will have the same effect as a missing mortar joint in a flue tile, only a factory-built chimney is usually surrounded by wood framing, rather than brick or stone.

Bottom line: even a small crack or gap in your chimney or flue can be dangerous, and sometimes the damage is difficult to observe from the top or bottom of the chimney. Following industry safety standards, Wooden Sun recommends getting a video scan at least every two years, to make sure you’re aware of any potential problems in your chimney before they have a chance to become major hazards to your health and the health of your home.

 

Of Chimney Swifts and Chimney Caps

ChimneySwift23It’s nesting season, so that means chimney swifts are back! Chimney swifts often return to the same nesting site every year, so if you had them last year, you’ve probably got them again, cheeping away from inside your chimney. Swift nests are small, and don’t do any damage to the masonry inside your chimney; however, the abandoned nests and other debris are flammable, and can contribute to chimney fires if left during the burning season.

In 2010, the chimney swift’s conservation status was changed to near-threatened, and swifts are protected under Federal law. This means that reputable, law-abiding chimney sweeps are unable to remove the nests while swifts are still living in your chimney. However, the birds will vacate your chimney as soon as the young are old enough to leave the nest (generally by late August or early September), and we can clean your chimney out after that. Once the birds are gone and the nests have been removed, we recommend capping the flue to keep your unwanted houseguests from returning. Ideally, we recommend putting a cap of some sort on before the nesting season begins, but sometimes a family of swifts will move in and set up house before you have a chance to schedule your appointment, and we wind up having to wait until they’ve moved out again.

Single flue cap

Single flue cap

When it comes to capping the flue, there are a couple of different approaches you can take. The first is a simple single-flue cap (these are made in a range of standard flue sizes, so we’re fairly likely to have the size you need in our warehouse), which bolts onto the outside of your terra cotta flue tiles, and has both a cap to keep rain away, and a heavy stainless steel mesh to keep intruders from making your chimney their new home. A full-coverage cap, on the other hand, is custom-made to the size of your chimney, with a lid that extends slightly past the edge of the existing crown. As discussed in our previous post on maintaining your chimney crown, the full-coverage cap will not only keep rain and animals out of your flue(s), but will serve to protect the masonry of your chimney.

Full-coverage cap

A full coverage, multi-flue cap. The overhang at the edges of the chimney protects the wash.

Gas Appliance Repair

Sometimes when we go out to perform repairs on a gas appliance (logs, insert, or fireplace), we can’t get the appliance fixed on our first visit, or we replace a component and discover a new problem. We understand the confusion and frustration that can result from this. Unfortunately, this situation is sometimes unavoidable, for the following reasons:

First, although there are some common problems and parts among gas appliances, there are many, many different brands and systems out there, as well as a great number of proprietary parts. It would be impossible for our technicians to train on every brand and understand how each and every unit is put together. Additionally, many manufacturers will not provide tech support or their proprietary parts to dealers who do not sell their products. While we will work on brands we don’t sell, we cannot guarantee that we can solve your problem in one service call.

Second, even a fairly basic freestanding log set is quite a complex appliance, with several parts that have to work together to give you the lovely flame you’re looking for. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose which specific component is the problem in any given situation. For example, it may be that your wall switch has failed, but that your pilot assembly is also malfunctioning. However, since the wall switch won’t work, we have no way of diagnosing the faulty pilot assembly. Fixing one problem can sometimes reveal a second, deeper problem, which now needs to be addressed. For comparison, imagine a severe muscle sprain concealing tendon damage or a hairline fracture. The problems are related, but it’s much harder for a doctor to diagnose the underlying injury until the inflammation is addressed. Once we’ve solved the problem of the faulty wall switch, the malfunctioning pilot assembly shows up; it looks as if a new problem is happening, but it’s just that we had no way of knowing about it before.

Our technicians also sometimes encounter the dreaded Intermittent Fault, where a component of your hearth appliance has malfunctioned half the time you’ve been using it, and just happens to be working during our service call (this writer once had a similar problem with her computer, where errors would suddenly resolve themselves the second her computer-savvy friend sat down to take a look, only to reappear as soon as the friend had gone home). This is part of why we try to get as much information as possible when we’re scheduling your appointment; if we can describe the problem, and let the service technician know it’s only intermittent, that gives them additional ideas of what to look for, even if they can’t re-create the malfunction during their visit. Sometimes, though, the source of the problem eludes even our certified technicians, and we require more than one visit to fully resolve the issue.

 

HeatShield Flue Repair

 

As we discuss on our chimney repair page, an unlined chimney can be very dangerous. Houses built to code since the 1950s have terra cotta tiles or other flue liners, but these degrade over time, or suffer damage from earthquakes, chimney fires, or other extreme conditions. Even minor cracks in flue tiles can allow sparks, heat, and toxic flue gasses to escape into your home; the results can be anything from damage to the structural integrity of your masonry chimney, to carbon monoxide poisoning, to a house fire.

There are a variety of ways to reline a damaged flue to a masonry fireplace. Our preferred method is the HeatShield® flue repair system. Rather than a full poured liner, the HeatShield system is a high-temperature Cerfractory® material designed to fill mortar joints, cover cracks, or resurface your entire terra cotta flue. After determining the extent of repairs needed to your flue, Wooden Sun will use a foam applicator, custom-sized for your flue, to extrude the Cerfactory material into any joints that are missing mortar in your flue. If there are further cracks in the flue tiles, a second layer of the Cerfactory material can be applied to resurface the entire liner. Once dry, the HeatShield Cerfactory cement is rated to withstand temperatures exceeding 2900°F, well beyond the temperature reached by most chimney fires.

But how does the HeatShield system differ from the poured liners that Wooden Sun doesn’t install? Good question, and there are two primary differences. The first is that poured liners often require a lot more material to get a less durable liner, and a great deal of special equipment, which makes them more expensive than the HeatShield system. The application of the HeatShield Cerfactory material requires relatively little by way of installation equipment, and can therefore be installed at less expense than a full poured chimney liner. Additionally, the HeatShield system is specifically designed to address multiple levels of flue damage. Many poured or cast-in-place liner systems are intended for unlined chimneys, or terra cotta flues with such severe damage that the tiles have to be removed completely. However, most of the damaged flues we encounter during our regular service work are mostly sound, but are missing some or all of their mortar joints, or have cracks running through otherwise intact flue tiles. In these situations, our certified HeatShield installers will use only the amount of Cerfactory material needed to seal the damaged surfaces of your flue tiles, rather than creating what is essentially a new flue inside your otherwise intact chimney. While any damage to the flue presents a danger to the home and its residents, the HeatShield system gives us the flexibility to target the specific problems within your flue, without requiring you to spend money fixing a problem you *don’t* have.

Fire is a volatile thing, and not even the best sweeps, installers, or masons can ensure that nothing will ever go wrong. At Wooden Sun, we believe in taking every precaution to make sure that the heat and smoke of your fire are safely ducted outside so that the rest of your home is as protected as it can possibly be.

 

Fireplace Drafting Problems

Every fireplace season, we get calls from homeowners reporting that they can’t get their wood fireplace burning right, or that smoke spills back out into their house when the fire is going. So let’s take a look at what goes into your fireplace system, and what might be interfering with it:

Draft is the force pulling air from inside your house up through the chimney. Draft is primarily a function of the temperature differential between your fireplace and the outside air, as warm air from inside is drawn up the chimney to meet the cold air outside the chimney stack. The first implication of this is that it will be harder to start a fire on a warm day, since there won’t be a significant temperature difference to kick-start the draw of the chimney. It also means that when you first use your chimney after it’s been idle for awhile, you might have trouble getting the entry to the flue warm enough to get the smoke moving. If this happens, try holding a lit piece of newspaper or kindling up to the flue entrance right by the damper for a minute or two to quickly warm the flue and establish a draft. This can also be helpful on cold, damp days; humid air is heavier than dry air, so your chimney has to work harder to overcome that resistance.

If the flue is warm enough, the outside air cold enough, but you’re still getting smoke spilling back out into the house, the next culprit is likely to be a dirty flue or chimney cap. Creosote deposits will interfere with the airflow through your chimney, slowing it down and kicking smoke back into the house. Having your chimney cleaned and inspected every year or so helps keep this from ever becoming a problem, as well as heading off other potential chimney issues.

Sometimes, even a warm, squeaky-clean flue will refuse to draw properly, depending on how your home and chimney are constructed. A short chimney will oftenflue extenders have problems drawing properly; this can be addressed by adding a flue extender or chimney pot to the top of your flue. This flue extender can help address another cause of smoke spillage, negative pressure. We often have homeowners report that when they use their upstairs fireplace, smoke spills out of the fireplace directly below it. This is because basements, which are partially or completely below grade, are negative pressure zones, which try to pull air in from outside the house (think of it as a very weak vacuum cleaner); positive pressure zones, in upper levels of the home, are where the warm air is trying to escape to the outside. Since the two flues are directly next to each other, extending one flue may be necessary in order to get the smoke away from that negative pressure zone.

A flue extender can also combat the problem of stack effect, which occurs when your chimney termination is lower than a nearby rooftop. Hot air wants to go to the highest point in your house; if this point isn’t your chimney, the smoke will be drawn back into your home as it tries to reach the highest point in your building envelope.

Additionally, adequate replacement air can be a challenge for wood-burning appliances in newer, more energy-efficient homes. In an older, leakier house, cold air is pulled in around windows, doors, outlets, and even through the walls. While you normally want to keep that cold air outside, your wood stove or fireplace needs the replacement air to maintain combustion. In tighter modern houses, an outdoor air kit may be needed. This kit is simply a 4″ diameter duct that runs from the outside directly into your wood appliance, providing enough air to keep the fire from choking out and filling your house with smoke. An alternative to the outdoor air kit is to crack a window or door while the fire is going. For obvious reasons, this isn’t a great long-term solution, but it’s a wonderful diagnostic tool. If you consistently get smoke spillage from your fireplace, try cracking a window during your next fire; if that fixes the problem, it’s quite likely that either negative pressure or insufficient combustion air is your culprit, and an outside air kit may be the best solution.

Not every chimney problem has a simple solution, but there are often steps you can take to make it easier for your chimney to do its job. If your chimney isn’t working as it’s supposed to, it’s important to remember that it’s part of a whole-house system, rather than an isolated appliance, and the root of the problem may lie somewhere else in the house, rather than in the chimney itself.

Harvest Season on the Grill!

Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association Offers Nine Tips to Put a Little Barbecue Flame on Your Fruits and Veggies This Fall

Harvest season has arrived, which means it’s time for grilled fruits and vegetables! From grilled sweet corn to delicious mushroom burgers to fresh grilled peaches, there’s almost no produce you can’t take to the next level by throwing it on the grill. The Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association has 9 great tips to spice up your fall grilling and make the most of your lovely fresh produce. Check it out after the jump:

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What Do Efficiency Ratings Mean, Anyway?

Whether you’re comparing wood or gas appliances, you’ll see an efficiency rating listed in the product information. Between uncertain fuel costs and increasingly strict air quality regulations, more and more consumers are looking for the most efficient heaters they can find. But what do those ratings mean? How are they measured?

The bad news is that there isn’t one standard rating system used by manufacturers, nor are they required to tell you which system they’re using. The good news is that by learning a bit about what the ratings mean, you can put manufacturer claims in context and compare apples to apples when buying a stove or fireplace.

What does “efficiency” actually mean?

In the simplest terms, the efficiency rating on an appliance tells you how much of your fuel will become usable heat in your home. A pound of wood, gas, or pellets contains a certain amount of potential energy; some of this energy will be used in starting and sustaining combustion, some of it will go up the chimney (carrying away particulates and other undesirable byproducts of combustion), and the rest will come out into your home as heat.

Wood Heat: EPA vs. Real-World Performance

Wood stoves and inserts are sometimes advertised with two efficiency ratings: EPA and cordwood/real world performance. EPA testing procedures are focused mostly on particulate emissions, and are very highly standardized. These tests use milled lumber (often pine), precisely stacked, with the stove draft set to its lowest (and smokiest) setting; this is also referred to as a “crib wood” test. While this is useful for determining how much air pollution a stove will generate, it has very little to do with how efficiently your stove will convert firewood into usable heat in your home. Many companies choose to do their own testing with cord wood (usually hardwood) and realistic venting setups, in order to give their customers a more accurate idea of stove performance. Unfortunately, there’s no requirement that companies tell you which efficiency rating they’re listing. For environmental impact, focus on the emissions listing (gm/hr of particulates released into the atmosphere) rather than the listed efficiency rating. For real-world efficiency, a good rule of thumb is that 67%-75% is a good range for quality non-catalytic stoves, with catalytic stoves occupying the 75%-83% range.

(Note: just to make this even more confusing, the EPA is currently in the process of revising its compliance and listing standards. While this process is ongoing, look for “cordwood/actual measured efficiency (CSA)” in your stove literature.)

Gas Heat: Steady-State vs. AFUE/EnerGuide

Gas stoves, inserts, and fireplaces are rated in two different ways. The Steady State efficiency rating, which offers a higher and more impressive number, is taken only once, after the appliance is fully heated up and burning steadily. While this number is technically accurate, it has very little to do with how your stove will perform over the course of its lifetime, and under real-world conditions. We prefer to work with vendors who list the EnerGuide, P4, or AFUE (annual fuel usage estimate) ratings. These efficiency readings reflect performance over the entire burn cycle, from ignition to cool-down, and use realistic venting setups. If you’re looking at efficiency ratings, and seeing numbers in the high 80% range, you’re probably looking at the steady-state efficiency of the fireplace. The more honest EnerGuide, P4, and AFUE rating systems give numbers ranging from around 60%-70%. A 65% efficiency rating is actually quite good, and an 85% rating, although it sounds much better, probably doesn’t reflect an actual increase in real-world efficiency or performance.

To sum up: efficiency ratings can be confusing, and don’t always give a complete picture of how an appliance will perform in your home. However, with a little bit of time and research, you can put those numbers in context when comparing different products, and make a more informed decision about which stove, fireplace, or fireplace insert will be the best fit for you!

 

Introducing Orion Coolers!

Orion cooler2

Click for larger image

Whether you’re tailgating, camping, or just enjoying a day at the park (with, say, your Kamado Joe Jr. Smoker), the Orion Cooler, now available at Wooden Sun, has you covered!  The Orion’s impressive features include:

  • 35% more insulation than comparable coolers, holds ice longer (check out Orion’s field notes page for user experiences)
  • Standing Pad
  • 6 Tie Down Points
  • 4 Aluminum Bottle Opener Corners
  • Lockable/Certified Bear Resistant (seriously, this cooler doubles as a Bear Box on camping trips!)
  • Low Profile Camming Latches
  • Motorcycle Grip Carry Handles
  • Camo Colors (6 standard colors, plus the Home Team custom series)
  • Rugged Rotomolded Shell
  • 
Made in the USA
  • Smart, Real-World Sizing (25- to 85-qt)
  • 
Drain Plug
  • YakAttack Tracks / RAM Integration for easy
  • 
Highly Functional Tray System
  • Sectional Divider/Cutting Board (optional)

Add in a Wetterlings axe or hatchet, and you’re set for anything from an afternoon of rafting to a week in the backwoods.

Charcoal: What Should I Use? For Us, Natural Lump Charcoal Is the Only Way!

May is National Barbecue Month, and what better way to kick off the celebrations than an in-depth exploration of charcoal, its different forms, and how it got that way? But wait, I hear you say, charcoal is charcoal is charcoal, isn’t it? It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Here, then, is an overview of the two most common kinds of charcoal, and the difference between them.

The charcoal briquettes you get at the grocery store are actually compressed chunks of ground charcoal and sawdust, as well as non-wood products such as coal dust, limestone, starch, borax, and sodium nitrate (not exactly what we want in our food!). The advantage charcoal briquettes have is their even size and density, which allows for a more predictable burn rate in less expensive grills. The disadvantage of briquettes is that they produce far more ash than lump charcoal, and this ash can choke the fire, limiting the heat output. With a small charcoal grill, this may not be a problem, but the volume of ash produced means that briquettes won’t work in ceramic smokers like the Primo or Kamado Joe. They also cannot be easily used for more than one cooking session. Additionally, briquettes have no flavor of their own, and so impart no flavor profile of their own to the food cooked over them.

Traditional charcoal kiln. Image courtesy of Kamado Joe.

Traditional charcoal kiln. Image courtesy of     Kamado Joe.

Lump charcoal, on the other hand, is made from hardwood which is burned slowly in a low-oxygen environment over a period of several days, through a process known as pyrolysis. (Readers may remember from our chimney safety post that pyrolysis can occur when clearances to combustibles are not met for wood stoves or fireplaces, or when venting materials aren’t connected right; essentially, this means that an improperly-installed wood stove can gradually turn your wall studs into charcoal! Pyrolysis: bad for houses, good for cooking.) This low-oxygen environment is created when wood is either placed into an oven/kiln, or covered with earth and straw, then closed off and left to burn slowly and steadily until the wood is fully oxidized and hardened. The hard wood chunks are then broken down into lump charcoal, which is filtered to remove crumbs and dust.

Because it has no fillers or binders, lump charcoal produces less ash than briquettes, burns hotter, and heats about 20 minutes longer per pound of fuel. Here at Wooden Sun, we use 100% hardwood charcoal in our grills and ceramic smokers, and feel that for flavor, lump charcoal really can’t be beat. We also like to cut the air off after cooking, let the fire die out, and use the remaining charcoal for the next grilling session, which is very difficult to do with charcoal briquettes. A bag of good lump charcoal should have very little dust (there’s always some that settles in the bottom during shipping, but more than a little indicates that your charcoal supplier hasn’t adequately filtered their product before packaging), and only a few small chips.

Whichever form of charcoal you choose for your outdoor cooking, steer clear of lighter fluid. It can impart a nasty chemical flavor to your food, as well as being environmentally unfriendly. There are a variety of fire starters available out there (usually made with some combination of paraffin and compressed sawdust), and products like the Looft Lighter and BBQ Dragon will keep hot air moving over your charcoal to get it up to temperature faster.

 

-P.S. The links below aren’t actually relevant to your choice of cooking fuel, but your blogger encountered them in the course of her research, and found them too interesting not to share:

Spring Inventory Reduction Clearance Sale!! Up to 80% Off!

spring_banner1


Big changes are afoot here at the Wooden Sun! Over the summer, we have plans to remodel our store, bring in new product lines, and expand our work into more outdoor projects! To make room for new products and displays, we’re putting all of our showroom units on sale, at discounts ranging from 10%-80% off our usual retail pricing. From April 15th-May 22nd, come into the Wooden Sun showroom for big discounts on a wide range of gas & wood stoves, fireplaces, fireplace inserts, and outdoor cookers! And be sure to look for our grilling accessories, on clearance from 10%-25% off retail price!

At the same time as we bid a fond farewell to our old inventory, we’d like to welcome the Kamado Joe line of ceramic grills and smokers to the Wooden Sun family! Every Kamado Joe cooker comes standard with cooking racks, rolling cart, grill lifter, and ash tool, so you can get started grilling right away. These grills will also be included in our sale, at 10% off retail.

Check Out Our New Masonry Stove!!

Soapstone new

Buck Stove model 21, Soapstone wrap by Alberene Soapstone

We’re very excited about our newest offering, a compact masonry heater! One of the masons from Alberene Soapstone brought all the soapstone blocks up to our showroom, and he and Kim spent a couple of hours getting those into place all around the stove.

Soapstone is a wonderful material for a heating appliance. A very dense stone, it retains a lot of heat, and releases it slowly over time. While the stove heats up more slowly than a steel or a cast iron stove would, it retains that heat longer, and therefore continues to heat the room long after the fire has gone out.

 

The narrower blocks create visual interest.

The narrower blocks create visual interest.

Unfortunately, the unseasonably warm weather we’ve been having lately means that we haven’t had very many chances to fire it up, but we’ve been able to have one or two small fires, and can report excellent heat retention! The time it takes for the soapstone to fully heat up means that this heater isn’t the best option for occasional fires, or if you need to warm up a room quickly, but if you want to maintain cozy, even heat over several hours, consider the beauty and practicality of soapstone!

No Power? No Problem!

Early 2015 brought us a lot of winter storms, and winter storms always bring at least one big power outage. Out in the country, it can be days before you get your power back, but you’ve got to stay warm in the meantime. Fortunately, Wooden Sun has your winter heating needs covered.

Valor G3Valor gas fireplaces and inserts are designed to function without a fan, and therefore without the need for electricity. In addition to the convection heating you get from all gas fireplaces and inserts, Valor has some of the best radiant heat technology in the industry. While few Valor appliances are large enough to heat your entire home, they will easily keep a few rooms warm and cozy while you wait for the power company to do its thing.

Regency Hampton H300Wooden Sun carries a variety of wood-burning stoves and inserts, to heat anywhere from 600-3000 square feet. While inserts often work best with blowers, they’ll still put out quite a bit of heat without the fan, so you don’t lose your heating capability when the power goes out (your faithful blogger has a wood insert with a very noisy blower, and she can get a great deal of heat out of the appliance without having to resort to the fan).

WiseWay pellet stoveWe’re also very excited about our most recent addition, the Wise Way brand of gravity-fed pellet stoves. While other pellet stoves rely on electric motors and augers to get the pellets from the hopper to the burn chamber, Wise Way pellet stoves have a simple gravity-feed system, which means you can still use your stove when the power goes out. Note: the zig-zag portion of the stove is actually the outlet from the burn chamber, which means that you can see the fire through the window on the side as it streaks upwards!

 

 

Common Gas Fireplace Problems: You Probably Don’t Need to Panic

Following up on our recent post about how to address concerns about wood stove performance, here’s a post about your gas stove/insert/fireplace. Since the direct vent gas appliance is a closed system, drawing air from and venting to the outside, there’s much less variation from home to home and appliance to appliance. However, there are a few issues that can crop up with gas units, so here are some common service requests we get, with a couple of troubleshooting steps to try on your own:

My Fireplace Won’t Turn On

At the beginning of each fall, we get a lot of service requests from people trying to turn their gas fireplaces on for the first time in several months, only to find that those fireplaces won’t start. The first, and most obvious question: how are the batteries? Your gas appliance may have batteries in both the remote and the receiver, so it’s important to read your owner’s manual to figure out how many sets of batteries you need to check. It seems obvious, but we’ve gone out to fix several malfunctioning gas appliances, only to discover that the only thing the customer needs is new batteries. It’s worthwhile to keep a battery tester around the house to help you determine whether or not that pack of AAs in the kitchen drawer is still good.

If the batteries in your remote and/or receiver are good, the next step is to make sure the fireplace is getting fuel. If you have a propane tank or natural gas line, are the tank and valves set in the on position? Your gas appliance should have a valve in the firebox, or a key in the wall or floor nearby, and the propane tank will have a knob on the tank outside that opens or closes it. For problems with a natural gas line, contact your city utilities office, and for propane, contact your propane company.

And if you can get your fireplace going, but it keeps turning itself off suddenly, check to see if you’ve left it set in thermostatic mode. We often have that problem in the showroom over the summer, particularly with units we don’t turn on very often; we’ll set the remote to act as a thermostat over the winter, and then in the summer, the fireplace keeps automatically turning itself off!

The Glass on My Fireplace Looks Smudged

Each time you start your gas fireplace, you’ll notice some condensation on the glass. This is a normal part of the startup process, as the water vapor in the air inside the firebox begins to evaporate. This condensation will dissipate within a few minutes, as the firebox heats up and the flames turn yellow. Over time, you can get some buildup on the inside of the glass (residue from that startup condensation), but this is harmless, and easily cleaned off during your annual maintenance call.

My Fireplace Smells Weird

When you start your gas fireplace for the first time after it’s installed, there will be an “off-gassing” period as the residual factory paints finish curing. This, again, is harmless; open the window for your first couple of fires, and the gasses should dissipate fairly quickly. When you then start your fireplace, stove, or insert for the first time each year, you’ll get a slight odor for that first fire or two, as small amounts of dust that have built up over the summer burn off. This shouldn’t last very long; if it lasts more than a couple of hours, or if you start to smell gas or plastic, shut your fireplace off and call your local certified gas appliance expert.

 

Common Wood Stove Problems: You Probably Don’t Need to Panic

Every season, we receive several calls from concerned stove-owners, worried that their stoves are malfunctioning and/or dangerous. The good news is that many of these problems are not actually problems at all, and merely things your stove will do from time to time. Let’s address some of the issues you may encounter in your wood stove or insert, as well as some troubleshooting steps you can take before scheduling a service call:

Discoloration

Some change in the color of your stove can be normal. If you have a stove with porcelain enamel cladding, the enamel may darken as it heats up, then return to its original color as it cools (the bordeaux enamel from Vermont Castings, for example, darkens to a particularly vibrant deep red when the stove is going).

Some wood-burning appliances have a stainless steel firebox, rather than the traditional firebrick or refractory cement. Although this lighter, thinner firebox will transmit heat to your room faster, the lighter constructions means it’s also subject to a certain amount of warping and discoloration (which looks like rust, but doesn’t damage the material of your firebox). During a chimney sweep and inspection, we will inspect any warping or discoloration in the firebox, and assess whether or not it’s severe enough to cause a problem.

Drafting Problems

Sometimes, problems with draft can cause the smoke from your wood stove to come back into the room, rather than going up the flue as it’s supposed to. While a blockage in the flue or the cap may be responsible, there are some steps you can take before scheduling a chimney cleaning.

Image courtesy of woodheat.org

Image courtesy of woodheat.org

The most frequent cause of cool, smoky fires is wet wood, so the very first thing to check is your firewood supply. Firewood that has been properly seasoned (cut, split, stacked to allow free air circulation, and left in the sun and air for at least 9 months) has a moisture content between 15-20%. Dry wood will have cracking and splitting at the ends, as shown in the picture next to this paragraph. Also, if you hit two pieces of firewood against each other, wet wood will make a dull “thud,” whereas dry wood will make a hollow, resonant “thunk.” While this isn’t as scientific or precise as a moisture meter, it will give you a reasonably good idea of how dry your firewood is. Another way to check the quality of your firewood is to look at the smoke coming out of your chimney. At the start of a good fire, the smoke coming out of the chimney will be white; after the fire is fully established, you shouldn’t see very much smoke at all, only a slight distortion from the heat radiating out of the top of the chimney, and a little bit of translucent steam.

Sometimes, the weather outside can be the problem. Damp, heavy air provides more resistance to draft, and it will be harder for your chimney to get a good draw at these times.  And a good draft requires a difference of temperature between the indoor and outdoor air, as the warm air inside your stove is drawn up the flue towards the colder air outside. If the temperature outside is above 55°F, this temperature difference will not be high enough, and it’ll be hard to get a good draft going. You can help your chimney out by pre-heating the flue (holding a burning rolled-up newspaper as near to the flue opening as you can get, for example), but some weather conditions will always interfere with wood stove performance.

Depending on where in your house your stove is installed, some problems with draft may be unavoidable. All homes have a neutral pressure plane, above which air is trying to leave the house, and below which air is trying to get into the house. Many basement fireplaces, unfortunately, are in negative pressure planes, which means they can sometimes experience backdraft from the flue connected to an upstairs appliance. There are steps we can take to reduce this backdraft, like extending one flue so that the smoke isn’t as readily pulled back into the house, but it’s an unfortunate reality that your wood stove may not perform equally well in all parts of your home.

Uncommon Stove Problems: Contact a Professional

While many stove issues are comparatively minor, there are some situations that require the immediate attention of a certified wood service professional. If the wall in front of your chimney, or surrounding the thimble where your stove plugs into the wall, becomes hot to the touch (some warmth is ok, but the wall shouldn’t be too hot to touch), or begins to discolor, stop using your stove immediately, and call your local certified stove technician. If the wall is hot or discolored (turning brown around the thimble, for example), this indicates that pyrolysis is occurring, and often that you have had (or are having) a chimney fire. We inspected just such an installation last year; the flue liner showed evidence of multiple chimney fires, and the wood studs in the wall were beginning to char around the edges. We removed the damaged parts and relined the chimney, but this could easily have started a house fire if left unresolved.

The bottom line is that your wood stove is a complex system, and it’s important to pay attention to how it’s working. If you notice something unusual, don’t panic! There will always be variations in the way each stove performs in different environments, and most of these variations aren’t cause for concern. But as always, if you’re unsure, feel free to call your friendly neighborhood Wooden Sun technicians, and we can discuss your stove problems with you.

Have a safe, warm, and happy fireplace and stove season!

 

 

On the Care and Feeding of Your New Awning

So you’ve just gotten a fabulous new awning/canopy/solar shade. First of all, congratulations on all of your newly-usable outdoor space! We hope that your new awning beautifies your home and improves your summer afternoons for many years to come. By keeping direct sunlight from entering your home, your new shade product should also keep your home much cooler, significantly reducing your air conditioning bill. Although both Aristocrat and Eclipse shading products are made with a coated, durable aluminum-frame construction and sturdy marine-grade fabric, some basic care and maintenance will help to extend the life and beauty of your awning or canopy.

Routine Maintenance

You should clean your awning on a regular basis, before dirt, bird droppings, or roof residue have a chance to get embedded in the fabric. Loose dirt can be brushed off with a soft brush, and you can hose the fabric down without having to remove it from the frame. To remove stains, use a mild natural soap like Ivory® Flakes or Woolite® in lukewarm water (no more than 100 degrees F). Do not use harsh soaps, detergents, or chlorine bleach. Allow the fabric to dry completely before you retract your awning, and don’t let water pool or puddle on the fabric. When retracting your awning, make sure no twigs, leaves, or other debris get rolled up in the material. We recommend retracting your awning in strong wind, hail, rain, or snow, particularly in winds of over 20 mph. The fabric should roll off the top of the roller tube, never from underneath; if your awning fabric is unrolling from below the tube, rather than above, please schedule a service call.

At the start of the outdoor season, it’s a good idea to hose down the aluminum arms of your awning and wipe them with a soft cloth, to make sure no dust or grit has accumulated during the winter. Although the framework is self-lubricating, it’s a good idea to lubricate the moving parts yearly with a dry silicone spray lubricant to maintain optimal, quiet operation. If unusual creaking occurs when you operate your awning, try lubricating it before calling your dealer. The most prevalent place where an awning needs lubrication is at the end of the roller tube, on the side opposite the motor or gear. Be sure to keep the spray away from the fabric.

Preparing Your Awning for Winter

You should retract your awning for the winter season. If your awning has a hanging valence, you should remove this and store it in a dry space, following the instructions below. Do not store the valence in a plastic bag, as this can trap moisture.

Valence removal and replacement

Awnings and fire do not mix.

Awnings and fire do not mix. (click to enlarge)

A Final Note

Please, readers, don’t store or use grills or smokers underneath your awning. This picture shows the damage that can result from having such a high heat output underneath your awning or canopy. In addition to posing a danger to your home and family, this is a sad fate for such a lovely awning.

 

 

Grill Safety & Maintenance: Refresher Course

Ed. note: It’s that time of year, so here’s our grill safety and maintenance post once again.

Summertime, and the grilling is easy! Everybody loves food cooked outdoors, whether on a gas, charcoal/pellet, or electric grill or smoker. But, as with any heating or cooking appliance, grills require regular maintenance, and some basic safety precautions to keep you, your family, and your home safe.

Grill fire

This picnic has ended badly.
Image: Countryside Fire Protection Dist., Vernon Hills, IL

Let’s start with the safety precautions:

  • Never use your grill indoors; carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed space, posing a significant health hazard to everyone in the home.
  • Grills should never be used underneath a deck or balcony, or directly next to a wooden structure. Keep your grill away from flammable materials, and make sure that all children and animals stay at least three feet away from it.
  • When starting a gas grill, the lid should always be open. If the flame has gone out (blown out by the wind, for example), turn off the grill, wait 15 minutes for the propane to dissipate, then re-ignite the pilot.
  • Before you use your grill for the first time each year, be sure to check the gas line and connections. You can do this by applying a soap-and-water solution to the hose, gasketing, and connector valves. If bubbles form, there is a leak. Turn the gas off immediately and wait to see if the leak stops. If it does stop, be sure to have your grill serviced by a professional before trying to use it again; if the leak does not stop, call the fire department. If you smell gas while cooking, get away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • If you’re storing your propane grill during the off-season, disconnect the gas tank and store it outdoors, never in the house or garage.
  • And, of course, always read the user manual that comes with your grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and proper maintenance of the grill.

As to maintenance:

  • Clean cooking grids and drip trays thoroughly. Grease and salt speed up corrosion, and pooled grease can easily ignite.
  • In addition to checking for gas leaks, check all valves and connectors for rust and other corrosion. Remove all rust with a wire brush, and apply a rust-proof paint or sealant to the area.
  • After you finish grilling, leave the grill on high for about 10 minutes; this will vaporize most of the remaining drippings and grease (although you should still clean your grill thoroughly at the beginning and end of grill season).
  • Protect your grill with a fabric-lined grill cover. A tarp or other non-breathable cover can trap moisture inside, speeding up the rusting process.
  • Finally, have your grill cleaned, serviced, and inspected by a qualified technician once a year.

Enjoy your grilling, and have a safe and happy summer cooking season!