Hearth News

Learn Helpful Tips & Tricks from the Community

Some Folks say that “there’s no fuel like an old fuel” and these words definitely pertain to our favorite fuel—Wood.

Wood just seems to have more “soul” than many other fuels and it can be used in a tremendous variety of ways. Wood is truly a renewable fuel. The heat released from wood is actually stored solar energy—released from its bounds when consumed in a stove. Our country has vast resources of wood. Properly managed, these forests could provide large fuel wood supplies forever. In addition, the new EPA approved stoves burn wood cleaner and more efficiently than ever before. As older stoves are replaced with newer ones, any concerns about “wood smoke pollution” will quickly fade.

Types of Wood Burning Products

Wood Burning Stoves, Freestanding—New EPA approved clean burning stoves are now available in many styles, sizes and colors. These are perfect replacements for older stoves or to add heat and ambiance to any part of your home.

Wood Burning Fireplace Inserts—There are a wide selection of units which will fit into your existing fireplaces and turn it into a “heating machine.” Many Freestanding Stoves will also sit on an existing fireplace hearth and vent up the chimney.

Wood Burning Fireplaces—Two types are available. Zero Clearance wood burning fireplaces that make it easy to add a fireplace to your existing home. Prices for complete Zero Clearance fireplaces are very reasonable. There is also a new breed of fireplace—the so-called “Built-in-Stoves.” These are heavy-duty units which heat like a stove, but are built into a wall like a fireplace.

Wood Burning Central Heat—Some Hearth dealers carry Wood Burning and Multi-Fuel (Burn oil, gas, wood,coal—all in one unit) furnaces and boilers. This provides a good alternative for the serious woodburner who wants to keep all the mess in a basement or garage / outbuilding—and heat the house evenly through duct work or baseboard radiators....
Of all the non-renewable fossil fuels (Gas, Coal, Oil), Natural Gas is the cleanest burning.

Environmental Outlook—Gas

Of all the nonrenewable fossil fuels (Gas, Coal, Oil), Natural Gas is the cleanest burning. The United States’ supply of Gas is mostly homegrown and the production and distribution of this fuel is quite clean. On the down side, there is only a limited amount of Natural Gas on the earth, so we should use it efficiently and leave some for the future generations.

Image courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Types of Gas Products

Gas Stoves-Freestanding

Who would have ever thought that we’d have Gas stoves that look AND heat just like wood stoves? The biggest difference is that they turn on with the flick of a switch or the turn of a thermostat. These stoves are available in many sizes, styles and colors. Three venting options are available, Direct-Vent, B-Vent and Unvented.

Gas Fireplace Inserts

These are decorative units which install into your existing masonry or pre-fab fireplace. They have large glass viewing windows with glowing ceramic logs that simulate a wood fire. A substantial amount of heat is produced which can help to heat your living areas. Most newer gas inserts are Direct Vent, which means that a two-pipe system is used to vent the exhaust gases and also bring fresh air into the unit.

Gas Logs

These are decorative logs with burners and safety controls that are designed to convert a wood burning fireplace to gas. They are available in different sizes and styles. Most gas logs are designed for style and convenience and are not used as room or home heaters. An exception are unvented gas logs. These logs are extremely efficient and can act as a temporary backup source of heat.

Gas Fireplaces

Hearth Retailers carry a large selection of gas fireplaces. They are available in all three basic types, Direct Vent, No Vent and Natural (B-Vent). Direct vent gas fireplaces need no...
Central Heating with Wood, Coal or Pellets (note: this article covers INDOOR approved central heating systems and does not address the Outdoor Wood Boilers (OWBs). See this article for more on OWBs.

Central heating has been with us for thousands of years. In fact, cities in the Roman Empire heated many public building and baths by conducting heat from a wood fire up through empty spaces under the floors.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, things actually went backwards, and early Americans 1,700 hundred years later were still using open fireplaces and vast quantities of wood to stay warm—well, actually to stay cold! It took a new revolution started by Ben Franklin (who redesigned cast-iron stoves) to finally bring some decent heating appliances to our American ancestors.

Fast forward to the late 1800s and a new fuel was discovered: Clean burning hard coal (anthracite) became the fuel of choice for a nation on the move. The old stoves were junked and coal-fired central heat was installed in virtually every home and commercial building. This continued until after WWII, when most coal units were replaced over time by oil or gas-fired boilers and furnaces.

Now we are in the midst of the “modern” stove movement, and it appears a lot of folks have forgotten about one of the BEST options for using alternative fuels: clean and comfortable Central Heat—controlled by a thermostat!

Stay warm and comfortable with Central Heating Products by Alternative Heating of North America. Our products range from high efficiency indoor residential boilers to outdoor and commercial units. Accessories include plate heat exchangers, Danfoss themostatic valves and more. Declare your Energy Independence now. Dealer inquires invited!...
DON’T Just “Do it” - Placing a wood stove into an existing masonry chimney could be hazardous to your health and house. Read this to learn more.

One of our biggest problems occurs when a customer enters the shop and states “I have an existing woodstove into a masonry chimney - I’d like to replace the stove with a more modern one”.

In the old days, we thought this was a gravy job…these days I wonder if I should send them packing….why? because:

1. 90%+ or more of existing masonry wall-pass throughs are wrong

2. It is often difficult confirming or repairing these installations.

What to do? Most customers state “well, it’s worked for 10 years”. and look at us like we’re trying to take advantage of them by being concerned about their safety. However, I can assure the public that these “wall pass-throughs” are responsible for a LARGE percentage of house fires resulting from woodstoves. Let’s talk about the right ways and wrong ways to pass through a wall into an outside chimney. Most important - DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOUR WALL PASS-THRU IS OK - MOST ARE NOT.

The Problems:

1. Many masons and building inspectors are not aware of the current standards.

2. Most existing wall pass-throughs do not meet these standards.

3. It is difficult to inspect these installations, since the pass-through is often covered by the brick veneer on the inside of the fireplace.

Discussion of the solutions:

Most older chimneys use a “crock” , which is simply a piece of round terra cotta tile (similar to your chimney liner) which is cemented into the wall. The material that this crock is made from has little or no insulation value, which means the heat from the stovepipe is passed through to adjacent wall materials such as 2x4’s, paneling and the kraft paper on wall insulation. Our installation crew has found wood studs as close as 2” away from this crock - many times they are charred! The only reason that the wall didn’t catch...
by Ken Rajesky, Hearth Industry expert

Proper Wood Stove, Fireplace, and Gas Stove Glass Door Cleaning

Before you start any procedure involving your glass door, its important to fist check your manufacturers instructions to ensure that the cleaner or the method that you plan to use complies with their requirements. This is especially important if the glass is still under warranty. Second, always make sure that you have the proper safety equipment such as gloves or glasses. Cleaners may be caustic to your skin, and your eyes are irreplaceable.

There are two ways to clean your glass. The first way is to clean the glass with the glass still attached to the door. I recommend using a cleaner specifically designed for removing the brown and black stains (carbon) from the glass. Cleaners such as Glass Plus do not do a good job when it comes to carbon. There are several brands available, and the cleaner I have had great success comes in the form of an aqua colored paste. Typically the cleaner will come in a 12 oz. Bottle, and say Fireplace Glass Door Cleaner or Woodstove Glass Cleaner. You must clean the glass while its cool for best results. All youll need is a few paper towels, or cloths.

Leaving the Glass in the Door

1. Open the door(s), and if possible, remove the door for easier access to the glass. If access is easy while the door is still attached, then leave it on.

2. Apply an amount of cleaner about the size of a 50-cent piece onto the paper towel.

3. Rub the paste onto the glass in an elliptical pattern. Be sure to clean the edges and corners.

4. Allow the cleaner to dry for a few seconds, and then rub off the paste and carbon with a clean cloth.

5. If carbon still remains in a few spots, repeat steps 2-4.

Removing the Glass to Clean


If you need to remove the glass to clean, and/or you feel you need to replace the glass gasket, then you follow the steps outlined below. If you have a digital or...
Central Heat with Coal

Coal Stoker Fire (efm)

Hard coal (anthracite) can be an economical fuel and is in ready supply within a couple hundred miles of the Pennsylvania Coal fields. For some reading on space heating coal stoves, see this article. Check out our Fuel Comparison Calculator to compare the cost of Anthracite coal to other home heating options.

Coal is well suited to central heat because of the long burn times, clean burn characteristics and the ability to easily burn at a range of outputs. As with other central heating equipment, coal units are available for Hot Water (boiler) and Hot Air (furnaces). Note that a boiler can be tied into a hot air system using a fan coil, but a furnace cannot be tied into a boiler system.

Types of Systems

Coal central heaters are available in hand-fed or stoker models.


EFM Coal Stoker Furnace

A hand fed (also called batch fed) unit is similar to a freestanding coal stove, where the operator loads the coal into the unit using a shovel or coal bucket. The coal burns in one large mass - usually using the natural draft of the chimney, and the heat is exchanged into your existing distribution system. Hand fed models will usually use “nut” coal or larger. These larger sizes allow for air to easily come up through the large batch of coal. A typical mid-size hand fed unit will hold 70 pounds of coal, and require approx 2 feedings every 24 hours (12 hour burn time).

A Coal Stoker is a automatic system, using a screw auger to feed very small coal (rice size) into a burn pot. The stoker can be fed from a large bin holding many tons of coal. Most stokers on the market today are boilers (water based), although a few companies (EFM) produce hot air models.

Shopping for a Coal Central System

Make certain that the...
Coal fires are not as easy to start as wood fires and the ease of burning will vary with different types and makes of stoves. The burning of coal requires patience and a specific and regular procedure of loading, shaking, adjusting, etc. If you do not follow the right procedure the coal fire will go out. This can happen in a short period of time and once the extinction process has begun, it is almost impossible to reverse.

In this article:

Starting a Coal Fire

Additional Tips on Starting

Raking and Shaking your Stove


Safety First


1. Use paper and dry kindling to start the fire.

2. Add small pieces of hardwood when fire is burning hot. Keep the draft control fully open till a hot fire is established.

3. When a decent bed of red wood embers is built up, start adding coal—small amounts at a time. Keep the draft control open!!

4. Continue adding small amounts of coal until there is a 1” to 2” bed of burning coal. Don’t add too much coal at one time and allow sufficient time between each small loading for the coal in the stove to thoroughly ignite.

5. It is important at this point to fill the stove to the highest level possible. A deep bed of coal is critical for the proper function of all coal stoves. Since coal can be regulated better than wood, a deep bed does not mean that you can only run the stove hot - rather you can control the stove by setting the air control on your stove.

6. After all the coal has been ignited and is burning with a blue flame, then the draft control can be turned down. Serious damage can result if the stove is run wide open for extended periods of time. Make sure that the ash pan door is closed at all times.



1. Some users have...
Understanding hopper-fed coal stoves (Gravity type)

Many European and some American coal stoves use a hopper to hold coal that is to be fed onto the fire. Some popular brands that use this design are: Surdiac Efel Franco-Belge Certain Vermont Castings Vigilant Models

Surdiac Stove w/Hopper

Although many of the same tips mentioned in our coaltips article apply, it is also important to have an understanding of the way these products work.

The drawing on the left shows an inside view of a typical hopper-fed coal stove. Coal is loaded into the top of the stove and, once the stove is going well, should be kept full or nearly full. Because of the air flow design only the coal in the lower part of the firebox will burn.When this coal burns completely and turns to ash, new coal will take its place, helped along by your raking/shaking of the grates.

(efel type shown in cutaway. Surdiac and Vermont Castings use a center-fed hopper - operation is similar)

The temperature of these stoves is usually controlled by a thermostat with either a bulb-type or bimetallic element. European Coal Stoves often use a thermobulb connected to a control knob. The dial opens the draft inlet (higher number is more open)- and then when the stove gets hot- the thermobulb closes and opens the inlet to even out the effect of the fire. The bimetal thermostats function in much the same fashion, but not as accurately.


Hopper-Fed Cutaway

Fuel and Hopper settings - Most of these stoves are designed to use pea (smaller) coal, which tends to flow onto the grates easier. Inspect your stove for different hopper adjustments and experiment (middle setting is best on most).An exception is the Vermont Castings Vigilant, which uses nut sized. European coal stoves work best with a low-ash coal. Poor fuels will result in shorter burn times and less heat output. Old Company Lehigh brand anthracite coal is known for low ash content.

In certain parts of the country, coal is popular as a home heating fuel. Coal comes in different grades, the best grade for home heating being “hard coal” or anthracite, of which the best varieties are mined in Eastern Pennsylvania. Most of the coal appliances on the market are designed to burn this high grade coal, which sells for $150. to $250. per ton. Because coal is a dense and powerful fuel, and burns extremely efficient, this ton of coal can produce as much or more heat than a cord of wood and substantially more (almost twice as much) as a ton of Pellets.

Typical Coal Stove or Insert

Coal stoves are quite similar to their wood burning cousins. Most use natural draft (don’t need electric or a fan assist for combustion), and have the same chimney requirements as wood stoves. In the past, many stoves were designed to burn both coal and wood. This type of stove is rare now, as the EPA standards have forced manufacturers to “tune” their stoves for one fuel or the other.

All Coal Stoves must have grates and an ashpan or ash removal area. Coal produces 10 times as much ash per pound as wood does, so a large ashpan is a good feature. For coal to burn properly the combustion air must enter below the grates and come up through the coal bed. Most natural draft coal stove use a medium to larger size coal (Chestnut size).

Typical Coal Stove

Learning to ignite and burn anthracite coal can be frustrating and patience is surely a virtue. If you have not had previous experience, please read the document Coaltips before you attempt starting your first coal fire. This document was created after we heard the same questions hundreds of times over. If you read it carefully and follow it to the letter, you’ll be an expert in no time.

Stoker-Feed Coal Stove

Some coal stoves, both central heating and freestanding, use a stoker feed mechanism to automatically feed coal and remove the ash from the firepot. These stokers usually use a smaller...
Consumer Guide to Pellets Part 1

Checking It Out - Understanding Pellet Fuel and what to look for in appliances.

Note: The following information was prepared by HEARTH Education Foundation, in cooperation with the Hearth Products Association and the Pellet Fuel Institute.


What are pellets made of ?

All pellets are biomass materials, that is, products of commonly grown plants and trees. The most common residential pellets are made from sawdust and ground wood chips, which are waste materials from trees used to make furniture, lumber, and other products. Resins and binders (lignin) occurring naturally in the sawdust hold wood pellets together, so they usually contain no additives. Nut hulls and other materials are pelletized in some areas, and unprocessed shelled corn and fruit pits can be burned in a few pellet stove designs. Your fuel of choice and its price may depend on the waste biomass most avail- able to pellet mills in your region. In turn, your choice of appliance design depends on the fuel available.

Where do pellets come from?

Pellet mills across the country receive, sort, grind, dry, compress, and bag wood and other biomass waste products into a conveniently handled fuel (Figure 1). Today, over 100 pellet mills across North America produce in excess of millions of tons of fuel per year, a figure that has more than doubled in the last five years. Pellets are available for purchase at stove dealers, nurseries, building supply stores, feed and garden supply stores, and some discount merchandisers. Pellets are usually packaged in forty pound bags and sold by the bag or by the ton (fifty bags on a shipping pallet). Some mills offer twenty pound bags for easier handling.

Video of Pellet Products Process

What are common characteristics of all pellet fuels?

Although the chemical constituents and moisture content of different biomass...