By Sally Praskey
Special to Kanetix

With the high cost of home heating, many homeowners, especially in rural areas, are turning to wood stoves to ward off winter's chill.

But wood stoves are a hot potato in the eyes of insurers, because if they're not installed and used properly, they can pose a serious risk of fire.

Inspection important
That's why some insurers may want the installation - whether new or existing - inspected before agreeing to cover your home. And then, be prepared to pay a higher premium to reflect the potentially higher risk. If your installation is new, you may also require an inspection by the building inspector for your municipality.

Would-be wood stove users should buy a stove that is approved, and have it professionally installed according to the official code for wood heat appliances.

Use safely
Just as important as the installation is the proper use of your wood stove. Keep anything that is combustible clear of the stove and its pipes. Check the chimney and the flue pipe often for creosote buildup that can ignite. Clean them regularly, or have them cleaned by a certified professional annually. Use properly seasoned wood to minimize creosote production.

Also check the flue pipe each year for signs of corrosion - don't wait until holes appear. Use a covered metal bucket to hold ashes, and store it outside or on a concrete floor away from walls or anything that can burn.

Fireplace inserts, also popular for their fuel efficiency, can pose similar fire risks. Because these devices do not fit flush with the fireplace, ashes and other debris can accumulate unseen in the spaces around them and eventually ignite.

Keep insurer posted
If you've made any changes to your wood heat system, be sure to inform your insurance representative, because it may affect your policy's coverage - better safe than sorry! After all, you want to bask in the warmth of your wood stove, not take the heat from your insurer!

Sally Praskey is the editor of Insurance Canada,, an insurance-related Web site for consumers and professionals, and co-author of The Insurance Book: what Canadians really need to know before buying insurance.

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