Homes have evolved throughout the years, from the styles of architecture to gadgets found within the home. Another aspect of homes that has evolved is how they're heated. Wood heating is becoming a less popular method to heat homes due to the fact that wood stoves and fireplaces are illegal in certain cities.
It's important to find out the kind of heating system that the house functions on before you decide to purchase a home. Wood-burning heating systems can mainly be found in more rural areas and could pose some serious questions in terms of maintenance and daily operation.
When looking into woodstove functionality, terms such as draft, boiler and barometric damper may appear, and it's important to know what these are first before assuming you know how a wood stove works.
What is a Draft?
Normally, the term draft has a negative connotation because it refers to cold air filtering through a room. When it comes to a draft regulator on a wood stove, it's essentially the same idea but can be seen as a good thing. In order for a fire to succeed it needs to breathe, and in order for that to happen it needs to come into contact with air, in this case, a draft. The draft must be controlled by the person making the fire in the stove; otherwise, the fire won't catch.
The draft is located in the boiler section of the stove, which is found in the chimney. In some systems, the draft can also come from frontal vents located in the stove door or beneath the stove door. When the draft comes in, the hot air and smoke in the stove from the burning fire will be pushed out of the chimney by the new air being pumped into it. The new air is generally colder than the air found in the furnace, so when cold air comes into contact with hot air, the cold air will drop below the hot air, giving the hot air no place to go but up the chimney and outside.
Drafts are usually easy to control due to the readily available levers or knobs that your damper system provides. If you see a knob on your fireplace or wood stove that you don't understand then odds are that this is the control "button" for your damper. It can be loosened to move either left or right, to shut or open the damper, and the tightened back again to secure it in place. Sometime a lever can also be found to control the draft which you simply slide back and forth depending on how much of a draft you wish to have in your stove.
It's important to know how to control the draft so you can then control what's happening inside the stove. You must also know how the draft affects your fire in order to have the advantage over the fire itself. If the draft isn't kept under control, it can cause high-velocity flue gases to block the hot air from getting to the boiler along with other issues that can be hard to manage.
What is the Purpose of a Flue Damper?
Before jumping into what a flue damper is, first we must understand what a flue is on a wood stove. A flue is a pipe that acts as a passageway for any gas, smoke, hot air or other fumes created by the fire to be led away from the fire source. It's also an essential piece in making sure that the chimney doesn't suffer any damage from the emissions the fire puts off.
A common misunderstanding is that the flue is the chimney itself, but this isn't the case. The flue is found inside the chimney and contains the heat created by the fire. It can be controlled by a damper, allowing the heat to be dispersed into the room instead of lost up through the chimney. The flue protects the chimney from any potential damage the fire may cause and allows your chimney to have a longer life.
When the flue damper is closed, you're essentially not letting the heat escape. Instead of escaping out the chimney, the heat will be dispersed in the room, allowing the room to warm up. This will allow the room to retain its heat. If the flue is left open, all the heat from the fire will escape and leave your room, or home, cold. Learning to use the flue damper will enable you to have control over the stove draft, and by extension the heat in your home, by managing how open or shut the damper is.
A flue damper is a system that's manually manipulated and is the stove pipe damper system most commonly found on wood stoves. Seasoned wood stove users prefer this method of draft regulation due to the fact that its functionality depends solely on what the person desires. It doesn't rely on an automatic system like the barometric damper.
Are Barometric Dampers Essential on Wood Stoves?
All wood-burning stoves do need a system that enables air to reach the fire. The airflow can be regulated by a barometric damper, a flue damper or simple vents that allow air to access the fire. Selecting a damper system is completely up to the preference of the user, depending on what they're most comfortable with. Barometric dampers aren't necessary on wood stoves but are often seen as beneficial for homeowners who are new to the workings of wood stoves. Since there are many different styles and functionalities of wood stoves, it's important to understand how your wood stove works before operating a manual damper.
A flue damper can be difficult to figure out for new wood stove users, but a barometric damper takes all the guesswork out of the fire-making and maintenance process. A great option is to install a barometric damper until you figure out the workings of your wood stove. Once you have a better understanding of drafts, dampers and making a fire in general, using a manual damper would probably be more beneficial.
Barometric dampers aren't commonly used on wood stoves, but they can be seen more frequently on other types of stoves, such as oil-burning or coal-burning types.
How to Regulate the Draft on a Wood Stove
The draft in a stove can be tricky to deal with because if you give to much air, or not enough, it can affect the heat coming away from the fire. The damper needs to bring in "fresh" air, also known as a draft, into the stove in order to push the emissions from the fire up and out of the chimney. If there's a damper in the chimney, it should be open when a fire is going to allow the hot, smoky air to flow up and out the chimney. When there's no fire, it should be shut to prevent the outside air from coming in through the chimney and flowing out through the stove.
The draft must be controlled when the fire is trying to catch and needs to be watched closely. The damper should be wide open when the fire is just beginning so that as much air can reach the flames as possible. Once a solid flame has been established with no fear of it going out, the damper should be adjusted and slightly closed off. This will prevent the fire from burning through the wood too quickly and will keep the fire stable and "alive" for a longer period.
Regulating the draft on your stove also allows you to put the stove into a "sleep" mode where the fire can stay burning for longer periods, such as overnight. The draft to the fire source must be extremely limited in order to preserve the fire and make it last longer. Keeping an eye on the damper setting is crucial because if it remains closed at pivotal moments, it will kill the fire, hence killing the heat source coming from it. If you leave the damper open too long, the draft will make the fire become slightly out of control. You'll find yourself burning more wood than necessary and also facing potential dangers like having your chimney catch on fire or filling your home with smoke.
How a Barometric Damper Functions
A barometric damper can be summarized as an automatic damper regulator for stoves. As previously mentioned, it's not the ideal system to use on a wood stove. Although it's not illegal, it's simply not the preferred method of regulating the damper on a wood stove. Barometric dampers are usually used on oil-burning systems. A barometric damper is usually found in the flue vent where the chimney meets the heat source, in the case of wood stoves that's where the fire is made.
An adjustable weight system is how the barometric damper functions. The weight is adjusted so that the door in the barometric damper system swings open or closed depending on how much air the fire needs. The more air that's let in, the more the fire will burn. What makes this system good for people who are new to using wood stoves is that it removes the guesswork from maintaining a fire. The weights are adjusted by the technician who installs the barometric damper system and doesn't need to be self-adjusted afterward.
There are two kinds of barometric dampers. There's the single-acting damper, which means the little door only swings one way allowing the air to go out. However, if there's any kind of pressure or pushback from the chimney, the door will shut, preventing the air from coming in from the opposite direction.
The other type of barometric damper is the double-acting damper, which allows the door to swing both ways. This allows the hot air and smoke to go out while letting air in from the flue if the flue becomes blocked or if there's a downdraft from the chimney.
The barometric damper may remove a lot of thinking from the fire-maintenance process; however, it's still important to remain informed on how this type of damper system works. It's also important to make an effort to research how your barometric damper functions and what role it plays on your wood stove.
With this system installed, you may find it difficult to start your fire from scratch since the airflow to your flame will be limited. Knowing how to get around this dilemma and others that may arise is important. Most issues can be avoided altogether by fully understanding barometric damper functionality.
Taking on the role of the household's 'handyman' was a natural path for me. Watching my dad as a child be able to fix anything made me want to be just like him. Now with a toolbox of my own I tackle any task that my home throws my way. If the task can be accomplished with my own two hands, I have never been the type to hire someone else to do it. There is nothing more satisfying than staring at your completed project while you brush some dirt from your hands.