To start a fire in an EPA certified woodstove you need to build the fire upside-own or between two parallel logs. It will take longer than a traditional stove to ignite, but the secondary combustion will keep your home warmer for a longer time.
When trying to start a fire in our EPA certified woodstove, I failed over a half dozen times before my husband finally succeeded. What I didn’t understand is that new EPA certified stoves require a completely different fire building technique than traditional woodstoves and fireplaces. In order to start one of these new stoves, it is important to know how they work. This knowledge, along with my technique, will ensure you get a fire started the first time every time.
What is an EPA Certified Woodstove?
In 2020 the United States entered “Step 2” of the guidelines set forth by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). This phase mandates that all new woodstoves sold must emit no more than must emit no more than 2.0g/hr of particulate matter. Step 2 of the guidelines do not affect wood heating appliances already in use my home owners. This means if you had a woodstove or other wood heating appliance before 2020 that does not meet the new Step 2 emissions standard you may continue to keep using it.
EPA certified woodstoves have a firebox designed to maximize air flow and combustion, allowing the wood to burn completely and produce less smoke. The stoves also have a catalytic converter or non-catalytic combustion system, which helps to further reduce emissions. The overall goal of the EPA certification program is to encourage the production and use of woodstoves that are better for the environment and public health.
How an EPA Certified Woodstove Works
An EPA certified woodstove not only burns wood (the primary burn), but also the mixture of gases and particles that are produced (secondary burn). They are designed with better insulation and airflow, allowing these gasses and particles to burn inside the stove. This results in less smoke. In a properly installed EPA certified woodstove there will often be little to no visible smoke from the chimney. These stoves can be both catalytic and non-catalytic.
Catalytic stoves have a honeycomb catalyst and a lever-operated catalyst bypass valve. This valve is opened at start-up and during reloading. During catalytic combustion, the smoky exhaust from burning wood passes though the coated ceramic honeycomb. In this catalyst the gasses and particles ignite and burn. This happens because the coating on the catalyst lowers the ignition temperature of some of the components of the smoke as it passes through. The ceramic catalyst degrades over time, but it can last up to six seasons if only well seasoned wood is burned. The long burns of a catalytic stove create a thick layer of soot on the glass door because not enough combustion flows past the glass to keep soot from condensing on it.
Non-catalytic stoves do not have a catalyst. Instead, they have three internal characteristics that, together, create a good environment for secondary combustion. These are: firebox insulation, a large baffle, and air tubes. The firebox is well insulated, and all doors and dampers have excellent seals. The large baffle allows a longer, hotter path for the gas to flow through and ignite. The air tubes introduce pre-heated air back into the firebox through small holes above the wood load. Non-catalytic stoves cannot compete with the heat output of catalytic stoves, but they are less expensive to install and require less maintenance over time. In addition, they offer a better view of the fire in the stove and are more simple to use.
How to Start a Fire in an EPA Certified Woodstove
To start a fire in an EPA certified woodstove you will need the following:
- Twisted paper or newspaper
- Cardboard ripped into pieces about the size of your hand
- A handful of dry split kindling in varying sizes
- Seasoned firewood split into varying sizes and diameters
Using the traditional method of lighting paper, then stacking kindling onto of it, and wood onto that does not work well in EPA certified wood stoves. These piles have a tendency to collapse on themselves and do not get hot enough to ignite larger logs in the low-oxygen environment created in new fireboxes. To ensure your woodstove starts the first time every time I recommend using the two parallel log method or the upside down build method.
Two Parallel Log Method
To start a fire in an EPA certified wood stove with the parallel log method, place two of your shorter logs parallel to each other with the ends facing the door of your firebox. Place your twisted paper or newspaper between these logs. Next add a few pieces of cardboard on top of the paper. Add kindling of various sizes across the cardboard and tops of the logs.
Open both the start-up damper and the airwash damper fully. Light the the twisted paper or newspaper in 3-4 places across the front. Close the door 95% of the way, but do not latch and seal yet. Remember to never leave your woodstove unattended with the door open. The newspaper will catch first, then the cardboard and kindling. This should be enough to ignite the two larger logs. Once the kindling is almost burned out, open the door and add two logs perpendicular across the top of the parallel logs. Again, only close the door 95% of the way.
Once all four logs in the firebox ignite, add a full load of wood to the stove. Then close the door closed fully. After the new wood ignites, close the start-up damper. At this point, use the air-wash damper to control the fire. To get the longest burn time from your load of wood, keep the air-wash damper toward “low.”
Upside Down Build Method
To start a fire in an EPA certified wood stove with the upside down build method place three or four split logs along the floor of your firebox. Spread your medium kindling perpendicular across the split logs. Then add fine kindling on top of the fine kindling. Place the ripped cardboard on top of the fine kindling, ensuring there are still air gaps. Take 8-10 pieces of twisted paper or newspaper and distribute them over the cardboard.
Fully open the start-up damper and the air-wash damper. Light the paper or newspaper in 3-4 places and close the door 95% of the way, but do not latch and seal yet. Remember to never leave your woodstove unattended with the door open. The fire should burn down through the paper, cardboard, and kindling, eventually lighting the split logs on the bottom. Once the logs ignite, close the door fully. After 10-15 minutes the close the start-up. At this point control the fire with the air-wash damper. To get the longest burn time from your load of wood, keep the air-wash damper toward “low.”
Troubleshooting an EPA Certified Woodstove
If these two methods of starting a fire in your EPA certified woodstove fail to light your stove it is time for troubleshooting.
- Take a deep breath and be patient. When I couldn’t light our stove over and over again with the methods listed above, it turns out I was actually the problem. EPA certified woodstoves take longer than a traditional woodstove or fireplace to start and keep going. I just had to sit back and trust the method. Let it burn, don’t tough the controls or the door for up to half-an hour after lighting it. Set a timer if you have to. If just being patient doesn’t work, look at your wood.
- Is your wood actually seasoned? With older stoves, you could get away with burning “green wood” in a pinch. This practice is unsafe due to creosote build-up in the chimney, as well as inefficient, but it used to work. With new EPA certified woodstoves, the water content of your wood should be no more than 20%. They simply won’t burn wet wood. To check if your wood is a problem you can either purchase a **, or go to the hardware store and purchase a bundle of campfire hardwood there. That wood is absolutely going to be dry. If the hardware store wood burns, it’s your wood that is the problem.
- Confirm your stove is set up correctly. Check that the air tubes are installed correctly and are not loose. If your stove has a catalytic converter, make sure it is not damaged. Confirm strong seals on all your gaskets, dampers, and seals. You can find all things in the manual that came with your woodstove, or look up the make and model on the internet
- Contact Your Woodstove Installer. If you still cannot get a fire lit in the stove after going through all three steps it’s time to give your woodstove installer a call. They will be able to walk you through more troubleshooting and help get that first fire lit.
Hopefully one of these methods worked to start a fire in your EPA certified woodstove. If you are looking for more recourses, I’ve found Hearth.com to be invaluable. It is a forum style website that’s been around for almost 30 years. I’ve found an answer to every one of my questions in their archives.
If you have an EPA certified woodstove, I would love to hear any tips and tricks you use to start it and keep it going through the winter.
Thanks for coming along on the journey,