Feeling a little chilly at night? A wood-burning heater can not only keep you warm on a cold night, it can also provide a cheaper and more efficient way to heat your home as compared to gas or electric heaters. A major challenge you’ll face with a wood furnace, however, is keeping it burning overnight at a reasonable temperature. So here are some tips on how to make a fire burn through the night.
8 Ways to Keep a Fire Burning for a Warm Night’s Sleep
Check the condition of your heater
Slow combustion heaters rely on an airtight seal around the door to work properly, so check for wear or damage and replace it when necessary. Any cracked glass in doors should also be replaced as soon as possible. Keeping up with this kind of maintenance is essential to help your heater last many years and your fire burn overnight.
Clean the wood heater
Over time as you use your wood heater or fireplace, some of the combustion gases condense on the inside of the flue or chimney, leaving you with a residue of creosote (a black tar-like substance). If this substance is allowed to build up it will restrict the airflow in the heater, which reduces its efficiency and can eventually block the flue, making the fire impossible to operate. You can tell that your flue is blocked when smoke comes into the room as you open the heater door, or if creosote appears on the glass door. Creosote is also flammable, so can result in a dangerous chimney fire. It is strongly recommended that you engage a chimney sweep to remove creosote build up regularly, at most every two years.
Load the heater at the right time
Load your wood heater with wood at least 30 minutes before you go to bed, and only turn down the air supply/burn rate to a minimum once all the wood is charred (about 15-20 minutes). This allows you to maintain a flame over time, whilst preventing creosote problems which can occur if you turn your heater to slow burn straight away.
Put in newspaper and kindling
First twist 5-6 sheets of newspaper into tight coils and place them in the middle of the heater on top of the ash base. Then criss-cross 8-10 pieces of kindling (about 1.25cm in diameter and 25-45cm long) such as small twigs, dry branches, bark or finely chopped wood over the newspapers, making sure that there are gaps between the pieces to allow oxygen to circulate. To keep the fire burning longer, add more newspaper and kindling before you add logs to create more flames and heat and help the logs burn.
Open the air vents
Open the air vents completely (or even a window in your home) to allow air into the furnace and then light the newspapers with a match or lighter. Air turbulence is important when lighting a fire because when the temperature is low, the oxygen doesn’t mix with the molecules in the wood. Air helps mix the smoke gases and oxygen together and make lighting easier, which is why firewood burns more easily when the furnace door is left ajar. Leave the furnace door open 2-5cm until the kindling starts burning and then close the door to let it continue burning and create a sturdy flame.
Add small and large logs
Open the furnace door, put in 3-4 small logs about 5cm in diameter and 25-45cm long on the burning kindling, and then close the door until the logs catch fire and create a sturdy flame and a hot bed of coals is established. Add 2-3 larger logs about 10cm in diameter and 25-45cm long on top of the burning smaller logs, but keep them away from the furnace door and close to the middle of the fire. Then close the door and watch until the fire becomes strong and steady.
Note that more logs have a bigger surface, which helps create more turbulence and keeps the fire burning. You can also encourage the fire to burn slower and last longer by using unsplit logs and tightly packing the logs together.
Stoke the fire regularly
If the fire looks like it’s about to die out, move the logs around with a long stick or a fire poker. Blow on them as well to provide a burst of oxygen and keep working on the fire until it’s stable again. Also use your stick or poker to keep the coals together so they become hotter and retain heat for a long time.
Close the primary air vent
After the logs have been ignited, close the primary air vent to the furnace. This slows the rate of burning by reducing the amount of air supplied to the heater.
It will probably take you some time to get used to operating your heater for long periods. If your house is well insulated, you may even find that once you have a good lighting method worked out, you don’t need to burn overnight except on the coldest nights.