As residents turn to stoves, fire officials turn pro-active

Proper installation seen as vital to averting fumes, fire

Jack Driscoll

No alarm has been sounded, but concern is being expressed by fire departments, including Rye's, regarding the proliferation of wood stoves as cold weather approaches.

Proper installation is the key to maintaining the "chimney's integrity," says Rye Fire Chief William "Skip" Sullivan who is offering his department's services to those who are adding stoves in their homes.

A free-of-charge permit is required for new stoves, and Chief Sullivan says his fire-prevention officers "will gladly inspect an existing installation or
existing chimney and give the homeowner an opinion." About a dozen permits have been issued so far with more expected this fall, Chief Sullivan said.

Sales of wood, pellet and gas stoves have been "booming" since June at the North Hill Nursery & Hearth Shoppe on Route One in North Hampton as residents started coming to grips with the pending fuel crisis this winter.

Pellet stoves seem to be the most popular. A Dover outlet reports that stoves bought now won't be available until next spring.

About three-quarters of the stoves sold at North Hill have been installed by professionals. "If you do your own installation, says Chief Sullivan, "be sure to follow the manufacturer's recommendations. They usually specify distance from wall, handling of heat shields, etc."

Sullivan said creosote buildup in the chimney is the biggest danger. "The slower the burn the more smoke and gases. Get a good fire going at least once a week, especially in the warmer weather. And don't use green, soft wood."

In anticipation of the conversion to alternate fuels Seacoast fire officials held a clinic on July 1 to provide instruction and answer questions from the public.

Safety experts recommend a once-a-year cleaning of chimneys and the presence of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, that are tested at least monthly.

Poisonous carbon monoxide gases, which are odorless and colorless, are produced when wood, oil, natural gas, gasoline or kerosene are burned improperly, according to the Northern New England Poison Center, which warns that this invisible gas can kill you in minutes.

The price per ton of pellets has increased from $250 last spring to about $300. Pellet stoves generally cost between $1500 and $3000. According to the N.H. Office of Energy and Planning, a 2,000-square-foot home is estimated to burn about four tons of pellets.

Availability of pellets, made out of compressed wood chips and sawdust, also is an issue. Some retail outlets only have enough of a supply to sell to customers who have bought stoves from them. A fire at a major pellet-producing company in Jaffrey in August also has been a setback. But many pellet-stove owners played it safe and bought their supplies last spring, so it is difficult to know how scarce pellets might be this winter for others.

Still, homeowners in large numbers are turning to pellet stoves as a hedge against high fuel costs.

For more information on wood pellet stoves, go to The US Office of Energy's Consumer's Guide.

October, 2008