Leaving a stove un-attended?

Machria Posted By Machria, Nov 13, 2012 at 12:17 AM

  1. Machria

    Minister of Fire

    Nov 6, 2012
    Brookhaven, Long Island
    So while trying to select a new stove, I'm seeing all these long burn times. So what's the deal with leaving a stove with a load of wood in it, and un-attended?

    1. Un-attended via your in another room, another floor of house, and sleeping... Nobody worries about this?

    2. Un-attended via, load the stove and leave the house (got to work, out to dinner, whatever....)?
  2. jophysx

    Burning Hunk

    Apr 12, 2011
    Portland, OR
    Personally I am comfortable leaving the stove unattended once I have the air closed down and it is cruising along. I go to bed with no worries and also leave the house to go to work during the day.
  3. blacktail

    Minister of Fire

    Sep 18, 2011
    Western WA
    During burning season I always leave for work with a fire going. I try to load it up at least 30 minutes before I leave so I can get it dialed in.
    Beer Belly likes this.
  4. Sprinter

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 1, 2012
    SW Washington
    Nobody will blame you for being cautious about that, but once you get your stove and build a few fires and get comfortable with running it, you will figure out that once your fire is mature and stable, it's not much different than leaving your oil furnace (or whatever) running. It's a non issue. But it can take a half hour or an hour after lighting a new fire to get to that stable point.

    Well, okay, it's not exactly like a furnace because it depends on you to make it safe, but nobody worries about it.
  5. firewoodjunky


    Sep 18, 2010
    Central/Western MA
    Once you get over the learning curve and get used to how your stove handles, you'll have no problems leaving it "unattended". I fire mine up and head out for a 10 hour shift with no worries. But some people are only weekend/evening burners and that works great for them too!
  6. Monosperma


    Jun 4, 2011
    My biggest worry is that I, or someone else - say, a houseguest- will make a big mistake, such as getting distracted or drawn away during start-up, with the air open all the way or even the door ajar. It is a real concern that you need to consider.
    mfglickman and Beer Belly like this.
  7. Sprinter

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 1, 2012
    SW Washington
    Right. Generally, you will have the air control full up or even the door cracked open until the fire is getting going well enough to start turning it down. This may be a half hour or more which is plenty of time to get distracted. I set a timer I have close to the stove to remind me.
  8. etiger2007

    Minister of Fire

    Feb 8, 2012
    Clio Michigan
    For me its always in the back of my mind that I have a fire going and I'm not home. I lit one this morning the stove top was 550 and the air was dampered down and off to work I went. Once you get used to your stove you will know how it will perform and this makes it easier to trust it.
    Backwoods Savage and mfglickman like this.
  9. zzr7ky

    Minister of Fire

    Jun 12, 2006
    Hi - I light it, damp down the air after 45 mintutes and go about my business. I do check the air and area around the stove before leaving, but that's about the only precaution. I live alone and burn pretty nearly 24/7.
  10. njtomatoguy

    Feeling the Heat

    Jun 20, 2006
    Maple Shade, NJ
    When I put mine in 6 years ago, I only used it when I was home for a while. As I gained more experience,
    it became a non-issue. Practice on the weekends for a while..
    I have not used the furnace at all in the past 3 years.
    You'll get in a groove.
  11. eclecticcottage

    Minister of Fire

    Dec 7, 2011
    We do both-run it at night and when no one is home. When it's your only heat source, you kinda don't have a choice. I think once you get used to your stove, it's not really anything unusual. Practice long burns/full load burns on days when you plan to be home all day and can keep an eye on it at first so you can see how it acts. You'll learn how to load it and where you need to leave the air control, etc.
    Backwoods Savage and mfglickman like this.
  12. firefighterjake

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 22, 2008
    Unity/Bangor, Maine
    Random thoughts . . .

    Sprinter made some good points . . . namely being that with a woodstove it is an obvious fire hazard . . . whereas that hidden electrical wiring in your home is easily forgotten . . . or the everyday cooking that we do (the biggest cause of fires and fire injuries by the way) is done all the time so we get acclimated to the dangers . . . or the oil furnace/gas boiler has a fire going, but we often don't see it as it is hidden behind a bunch of metal and oftentimes hidden away in our basement somewhere. A woodstove is just more visible. . . . and as mentioned . . . the user plays a more direct, hands-on role in the safe operation vs. central heating where all one pretty much does is call to schedule the annual cleaning, call to make sure the tanks are full and turn the thermostat up or down depending if they are cold or hot.

    It's normal to be concerned about leaving the house with the woodstove going . . . or going to bed at night with a fire going strong. I've said it before . . . and I'll say it again . . . it's the folks who are cavalier and not worried when they are first running their woodstove that make me worry . . . it's good to be cautious . . . being cautious at first helps develop good and safe practices and habits. Heck, I would guess a fair number of us spent the first few nights of those overnight fires on the couch or sleeping in the recliner so we could check on the fire every few hours . . . and many of us probably have left the home and then came right back to double check the air control . . . this is normal . . . and good.

    What it comes down to is essentially this . . . there is a fire danger here . . . whether you're home and putting your life at risk . . . or whether you're gone and not able to respond early. The key here is a multi-pronged safety approach of prevention and survival.

    1. Prevention: Install the stove to the manufacturer's specs . . . and if you want exceed those specs. There's nothing wrong with building a hearth with a better R value even if the manufacturer says you only need ember protection . . . there's nothing wrong with pulling the stove out from the wall by another few inches to buy you some peace of mind. Problems I have seen here is folks either put in a stove with what they think they need to do without knowing the specs (sometimes they just go by what they remember their parents or grandparents did without realizing that not all stoves are created equal -- some can be closer to the walls, some need beefier hearths) or they don't like what the manufacturer says they need for the distance to clearances or the hearth size or construction due to size limitations, cost, etc. and do their own thing . . . this can lead to a problem.

    2. Prevention: Develop the good habits . . . learn how to run your stove. As Sprinter said it's not as easy as turning up the thermostat. You have to take the time to get the fire going and have it in "cruise mode." If I don't have the time to get the fire up and running I will not light the fire . . . plain and simple. Good habits include learning what to do and not do while starting the fire (i.e. not using the ash pan, not leaving the stove while you have the door ajar, not using flammable liquids to start the fire, etc.), what air control setting you want to be at so that you are producing good heat and not creosote (i.e. thermometers are very useful), keeping combustibles such as kindling, wood, etc. away from the stove while it is running, etc. These good habits also include the proper way to dispose of the ashes, the importance of inspecting and cleaning the chimney regularly, etc.

    3. Survival: In an ideal world if you install the stove right, develop the good habits and do everything right you should never have a fire . . . but in the real world we are simply significantly reducing the chances of a fire. Accidents do happen . . . which is why you should be prepared for the worse . . . making sure your insurance is good, having working smoke detectors, CO detectors, fire extinguishers, talking over the escape plan with the family, etc.
    corey21 and Tramontana like this.
  13. ColdNH

    Minister of Fire

    Oct 14, 2009
    Bow, NH
    I said the same thing when I first started burning, very typical thoughts to have when you first start out, if your stove is installed with the proper clearances, has been properly maintained and has the chimney cleaned routinely and you dial the stove in before leaving or going to bed then you wont think twice about it.
  14. Beer Belly

    Beer Belly
    Minister of Fire

    Oct 26, 2011
  15. ikessky

    Minister of Fire

    Sep 2, 2008
    Northern WI
    You are starting a fire in your house. What's not to worry about????

    Seriously though, I think most everyone goes through this phase. When I first did the furnace, I only burned it when we were home. After I got comfortable, I did some over night burns. Eventually, I loaded it with wood and went to work. People here have already posted some great advice, so I don't have much more to say. I do the same as blacktail when it comes to loading. I make sure I have about 30 minutes so I can get it cruising comfortably and I can leave with a clear mind.
  16. WellSeasoned


    You will be concerned until you learn the stove. Then you will be comfortable with it, and burning whenever. Research burn times well, as these times advertised with alot of stoves is from the first start up to the potentially last coals. Some stoves heat longer than others. Search this site for answers.
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  17. eclecticcottage

    Minister of Fire

    Dec 7, 2011
    In burning season when we need the stove running during the day if we're not going to be home, I get up an hour before I have to leave and the very first thing I do, even before I let the dog out, is start the stove. That way it's completely settled in by the time I have to leave, and it gives me enough time to shut down the air control gradually. I try to reload for the night the same way.
  18. northwinds

    Minister of Fire

    Jul 9, 2006
    south central WI
    Same here. I'm also a big believer in timers. I'll set the kitchen timer or (better still) my wrist watch for 15 or 20 minutes to remind myself to
    adjust the air/check the fire during "before it's settled down" stage. Life can get busy with kids, dogs, phone calls, wives, etc., and without that
    timer going off, the wood stove can get forgotten unless you're sitting in front of it.
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  19. Backwoods Savage

    Backwoods Savage
    Minister of Fire

    Feb 14, 2007
    What you are questioning is rather typical of new wood burners and rightly so. As someone said, you are starting a fire inside your house. But then, consider that your furnace give a whole lot larger fire than a wood stove!

    For us it is rather simple. Both my wife and I grew up in farm homes and they were heated with wood. Unfortunately, the stoves we had then were rather primitive compared with today's stoves. But that means fortunately, today's stove are much, much better. Shoot, if we just consider our last stove compared with our present stove it is amazing. With our last stove we had to clean our chimney several times every winter and we burned a lot of wood. In addition, we had to close off part of the house and still were wanting for more warmth. So we bought our present stove and we burn only half the amount of wood we used to and stay a lot warmer without closing off part of the house!

    I think one of the very best things a new wood burner can do is to use weekends for learning the stove. Weekends when you are there to see what is happening. The second best thing, but maybe this should be first, is to learn about the fuel you are going to burn. Learn the different types of wood; how long they take to dry before burning; how many btu's they will produce; how the wood burns (some burns fast and hot while others are slower but burn much longer), etc. And do yourself a big favor and get some wood long before you need it. You right now should have the entire winter's supply on hand and have had it on hand for a year. If you do this you will have much less problems with the stove and more importantly, with the chimney. I mentioned we used to clean our chimney several times each year. We haven't done ours now for the past 3 years and it is fine. But we have an excellent stove and excellent fuel to put in it; wood that has been split and stacked for several years.

    So what about an unattended stove? So long as you set the draft right and have good fuel, that stove will do better than your furnace ever could. We simply give it very little thought and the reason is that we set the stove the same whether we are here or gone.

    Good luck.
  20. JCass

    New Member

    Sep 21, 2012
    SLC, UT
    I'm a newb and installed the stove in early October. I've been spending the "shoulder" season learning the ins and outs of my stove. This past 4-5 days have been rather chilly and I have been running the stove 24/7. Overnight and at work.

    As others have already stated, I get the stove going about an hour before bed or leaving for work, then get it dialed in before leaving. This morning the stove top was cruising at 600 degrees with the air closed off and out the door I went. It's always in the back of my mind, but I feel fairly comfortable with leaving it, and it's nice and toasty when you get home.
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  21. Dakotas Dad

    Dakotas Dad
    Minister of Fire

    Mar 19, 2009
    Central Kentucky
    I am much more worried about the plumbing or wiring doing something bad than the stove. Heck, we used to just go to bed or leave when it was a fireplace. Close the glass doors, walk away. With the stove, even easier. Took me a while to get used to the idea that it DIDN'T need to be tended at night... although I still come down and check on it if I wake up.. Burning junk right now, so not getting good long burns.. was up at 4am, so reloaded, got it aired down by 445 or so.. went back to bed.
    Backwoods Savage likes this.
  22. Woodrow

    New Member

    Jan 13, 2012
    Unattended fires certainly are a concern and you're wise to raise to the issue. Here are the basic action items (as I see it) to help set your mind at ease prior to unattended burning (especially while sleeping at night):

    1. Ensure your new stove is installed properly and to manufacturer's specification.

    2. Learn how to throttle the fire down by restricting airflow into the firebox before going in for the night. This lowers the temperature and makes it less likely an event will occur at night while you're sleeping. Most flue-pipe fires start when the flue is dirty and there is a raging fire/high temperature operation. Even with a dirty flue, a simmering fire is unlikely to ignite it. Make sure everyone who uses the fireplace/stove is educated on how tro properly operate it.

    3. Keep your flue pipe CLEAN and properly serviced every year. Have it video inspected once a year to ensure nothing has gone wrong since last season. Know its condition every year before using the unit.

    4. Properly seasoned, dry wood will help keep the flue clean and make chimney fires much less likely.

    5. Ensure you have several smoke detectors with fresh batteries located throughout the house in logical locations. Check/replace batteries frequently.

    6. Keep a CO detector in your bedroom (and kids room if you have them). I position my CO detector down low at head level so that it detects CO at an elevation I'm breathing instead of on the ceiling. This may not be necessary, but I do it just in case.

    7. Do the obvious: remove flammable materials from around the fireplace. Visualize what would happen if a log settled/shifted in the fireplace at night and possibly attempted to roll out of the grate/firebox. Make whatever precautions it takes to prevent it from happening. Ensure the latch mechanism and grating are sufficient to prevent it. Don't pile logs up in a way that promotes a "logalanche" as the fire burns down.

    8. One of the most common areas a fire starts with stoves/ZC fireplaces is at the throat of the stove where the flue emanates from the firebox. Fire can emerge from here if there is a flue-pipe fire and the metal flange is overheated and distorted (where the seal integrity is lost). I've strongly considered mounting a temperature probe array in this area to detect this situation and provide a pre-emptive audible warning that a breach has taken place well before the rest of the house is burning. Otherwise you have to wait for smoke to reach the detectors. By then it's often too late - for the house at least.

    9. Keep a decent sized fire extinguisher on hand. Make sure everyone knows where it's at and how/when to use it.

    10. Remember in school when you were taught to "have a plan" in preparartion for a house fire? The same is true today, it's not just a corny educational film after all. Make sure everyone knows what to do in the event there is a fire. Where to meet, where to go, what number(s) to call to get the fire dept there ASAP. Not to go back into the house after getting out (you'd be amazed at how many get killed doing this simple thing). Explain that the house becomes a deadly gas chanmber filled with invisible poisonous gases once plastics/synthetics start burning. It can and will bring you down, so get OUT when there is a fire. There are other considerations too. For instance, in my bedroom the windows were sticky and difficult to open. My girlfriend couldn't open them because they were sticky, ill adjusted and the latch system was non-intuitive. You couldnt tell which latch position was open. And since the windows were sticky, even with them properly unlocked, they still appeared to be locked. In a panic, this is absolutely deadly. Also, even if the windows were opened, there was metallic debris below that would have injured anyone jumping out of them at night (or during the day). All of these interfering factors must be recognized and remedied - especially where children are considered! Install esxcape ladders where necessary. Practice at night for realism - make it second nature. Practice escape plans and remove ALL obstacles. Do dry runs until they are second nature.

    Those are my 10 basic remedial factors that help me sleep at night right before I turn down the fire before turning in.
  23. corey21

    Minister of Fire

    Oct 28, 2010
    Soutwest VA
    I feel safe leaving my stove once i have it going good and air down on almost low.
  24. PapaDave

    Minister of Fire

    Feb 23, 2008
    Northern MI - in the mitten
    You hid a couple cameras at my house, dincha?;)
  25. Pierre902


    Dec 23, 2009
    Western MA
    Although I am not a newbie to wood burning I am a newbie to wood burning in my own home with with a family of 5. Since installing my insert and going thru a few weeks of learning my stove, this question has crossed my mind. I'm glad it was raised.

    At this point I won't have any reservations about leaving the stove unattended, but I will be waiting to do this until I am certain I have the stove dialed in and I get a routine going. The weather hasn't been consiistently cold enough yet to do this. I have had ample opportunity to run the stove and learn from you guys. I also want my family to get used to the stove and get my wife in the practive of knowing the draft control and start a fire ect..... Kids are hands off completely and got the safety talk.
    Backwoods Savage likes this.

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