Why Does My Wood Burning Stove Keep Going Out?

Date: 3 August 2015

Unlike gas stoves, lighting a wood-burning stove can be something of an art form.

With a little experience, most stove owners become highly proficient at getting a roaring fire going. However, one common problem experienced by new wood-burning stove users is that their fire keeps on going out. Bearing in mind the time and effort that it takes to get a wood-burning stove operating this is an undeniably frustrating experience.

If you’re the proud owner of a wood-burning stove but you find that your stove often goes out, what are the problems you should be aware of?

The Fire Triangle

As every schoolchild knows, fire requires three things to burn (the so-called “fire triangle”). Firstly there is a need for heat, secondly for fuel and thirdly for oxygen. If any of these are absent – or missing in a suitable volume – it can affect how well your fire burns.

If your wood-burning stove keeps on going out then the most likely problem is to do with this trio of factors.

Incorrect Fuel

What are you trying to burn in your wood-burning stove? The perfect solution consists of carefully-seasoned logs that have been allowed to sit for a period of time. In doing so the logs will not only dry out but some of the creosote will also be eliminated, leading to a cleaner-burning fuel.

Many cases where wood-burning stoves go out repeatedly can be blamed upon incorrect wood.

Most commonly the timber you have chosen may be too damp (“green”) to burn properly. To be certain of appropriate fuel it is wise to purchase it from a professional supplier rather than relying on felled wood from your own garden.

Insufficient Kindling

One cannot light a large log with a match. The reason is simple; you simply can’t get such a large log hot enough to combust with a match stick. Instead, you must use the match to light a far smaller piece of wood – kindling. Then, as the kindling starts to burn you can add progressively larger pieces of wood until your fire is finally hot enough for the log to catch light.

Another source of wood-burning stoves going out can therefore be a lack of patience in getting your stove hot enough. Remember to take your time, starting off with small pieces of kindling – or even just firelighters – before slowly working your way up to ever-larger pieces of wood. Attempting to skip steps in the hope of getting your fire going faster is only likely to end in disappointment.

Insufficient Air Inlet

Fire won’t burn without oxygen; this is why we use fire blankets to smother burning surfaces and put out fires. While a suitable oxygen supply is rarely a problem in open fireplaces, this isn’t necessarily the case for stoves, which are typically sealed off from the room with their glass front.

However your stove needs to draw in fresh air from somewhere, and it is possible that these vents have become blocked.

Try consulting the instruction manual that came with your stove in order to check where the air inlet valves are. Some stoves will draw air from your home, while others will use an external supply. Whatever the case, if your fire keeps on going out then it is wise to check that these valves are open and unobstructed.

Exhaust Fume Elimination

Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve checked the above points but your wood burning stove still keeps going out. What next?

In this case, it is worth checking that the exhaust fumes from your stove are being efficiently removed from the main stove and released into the atmosphere via your flue.

The reality is that no stove burns with one hundred percent efficiency; every stove produces smoke and soot that must be removed from your stove.

A common cause of wood-burning stoves going out, therefore, is simply that these exhaust fumes cannot be successfully eliminated, hence suffocating your fire and putting your stove out. Such a situation may also encourage smoke to make its way into your home rather than being drawn away up your chimney.

Open Flues

Many modern flues can be opened and closed at will. Closable flues benefit from protecting your chimney from detritus, bird’s nests and so on when your stove is not in use.

It is not uncommon for homeowners to move into a property with a wood-burning stove and be unaware that their flue may be closed, leading to problems with keeping a fire alight or with smoky rooms.

To be certain, try looking around your stove pipe or chimney for a switch that will allow you to check that the flue is open. Furthermore, some flues do not just operate on an on/off basis but rather can be partially closed at will. Therefore even if you have had fires successfully in the past it is worth checking that the flue has not partially closed for some reason, such as accidentally getting knocked when cleaning or dusting around your stove.

Unblocked Flues

Assuming you have checked that your flue is fully open, another concern worth addressing is whether there are any obstructions in your chimney. Over time soot travelling up the flue will stick to the inside, gently building up and reducing the diameter through which smoke can pass.

This is the primary reason why it is so important to have your chimney swept on a regular basis. If in doubt, hire the services of a professional chimney sweep who will be able to check the condition of your flue and remove any creosote build-up they find.

Appropriate Through-flow

Somewhat oddly just because your chimney is clear and your flue is open doesn’t necessarily mean that exhaust fumes will be able to successfully exit through it. The reason is that the air within your chimney must be warm in comparison to the outside environment in order for the smoke to rise successfully.

When lighting a wood-burning stove it can take time for the fire to really heat up and produce the necessary warmth that will encourage the smoke up your flue and out into the exterior environment. Before this point is reached, your fire may, unfortunately, go out in response to all the exhaust fumes still within your stove.

The key, then, is to try and heat the air within your chimney as quickly as possible, helping you to more easily establish a roaring fire.

One trick that many homeowners use to accomplish this is to start by setting light to a scrunched up ball of newspaper directly under the flue pipe. Newspaper sets light rapidly and burns hot. While the fire will soon go out, the burned newspaper will immediately start to warm the air within your flue, encouraging smoke to travel up and out of your chimney.

As soon as the newspaper has burned you can then start the fire that will burn long term in your stove, and in response to the warm air in your chimney, you should find the exhaust fumes are quickly removed via your chimney.

Here at Ignition Fires we have over 30 years of experience in helping homeowners like you to enjoy their stove. If you have any questions at all or are considering purchasing a new stove, we’d encourage you to pop in for a chat. Our highly-experienced team are on-hand to offer any help we can.