Can you Leave a Wood Burning Stove Unattended?

Whether you are burning logs regularly or not – there is nothing quite like sitting down and lighting a fire to keep you warm on a cold evening. Fires are a staple in households all over the globe, there is no better way to reconnect with the people you love than with the cozy ambiance created by a fireplace or wood burning stove.

However, sometimes life calls and you may find yourself in a position where you have a roaring fire on the go and other matters to attend to. Is it possible to keep the fire going? And if so, are there any precautions you have to take?

When it comes to fire, safety should be your first priority always. And so, if you find yourself asking ‘Can I leave my wood burning stove unattended?’ then be sure to read on, as we break down everything you ought to know below.

Wood burning stoves can be left unattended as long as a refuel hasn’t just taken place and the stove is operating at a safe temperature. The door must be closed, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in place, and flammable objects at the correct distance as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

How a wood burning stove works

So, how exactly does a wood burning stove work? Before we get into the dos and don’ts of leaving a wood burning stove unattended, it is first important we take a quick look at what exactly the stove is, and how it works.

A wood burning stove, as the name implies, is a stove used for burning wood. These stoves run entirely off logs (or other wood-based fuel alternatives such as heat logs) and operate by creating a contained environment for wood to be safely burned, which is then used to heat your home.

The upside to using a stove over a traditional open fireplace is that the fire is in the open air, meaning that air intake cannot be efficiently managed. By creating a controlled environment when burning wood, this airflow can be controlled, allowing you a greater degree of control over the rate of burning, which corresponds to the amount of heat produced.

Along with the amount of wood you are burning, the stove supplies air intake via vents that can be opened or closed to vary the oxygen supply. Reducing the amount of oxygen, the fire is receiving slows the rate of burning – and closing them entirely will cause the fire to suffocate.

Wood burning stoves come in two varieties – catalytic and non-catalytic. Catalytic combustion is a chemical process that makes fuel easier to burn by reducing the build-up of pollutants. The residual smoke from burning reacts with this catalyst lowering the burn rate of the smoke.

This lower burn rate means you can burn cleaner at low rates, which increases your rate of secondary burn. Thanks to the controlled exit of the smoke, these waste gases are even likelier to burn along with the wood – making the wood burning stove more efficient than a traditional fireplace.

Why might you need to leave a wood burning stove unattended?

While in an ideal world you have plenty of time to sit and maintain a lengthy burn, in reality, there are many reasons you may need to leave a wood burning stove unattended – here are just a few circumstances where you might be inclined to leave the fire burning.

Believe it or not, some houses are heated entirely by a wood burning stove. While the typical application is limited to a single room, with the right placement and circulation it is possible to heat an entire house off a burner. This means that in some situations you need to attend to pressing matters while you are in the process of warming your house – meaning leaving your burner alone for some time.

Even if you aren’t looking to use your fire to heat an entire house, there are many factors that may require you to make a sudden exit without the time to let your fire run its course. An issue or emergency may require you to need to leave the house suddenly and leave your fire running.

If this is the case, then it is good practice to ensure that the fire isn’t roaring when you leave. You may find that you’ve run out of logs halfway through a burn and need to get some more. In this case, it is counterintuitive to let your fire die out completely when you want to reload – and so by leaving your fire burning you can return and quickly return to your burn.

Is it safe to leave a wood burning stove unattended?

As you should be well aware by now, there are many reasons you might leave a wood burning stove unattended – however, should you be leaving it on while you aren’t about? The answer varies depending on who you ask, and while it is ultimately up to you to decide whether you feel it’s safe, here are some arguments from both sides of the fence.

In their article ‘How to Properly Put out a Fire in A Log Burner’ DirectStoves suggest that ‘Leaving a burning fire unattended is rarely a good idea’. The reason for this is due to the hazard of leaving a fire unsupervised, as well as the smoldering over time leading to an excess of smoke. argues that it is fine to keep a burner going unattended, provided you take some steps to reduce any risks. They state that you should remove any flammable objects nearby, have your stove chimney swept annually to reduce the risk of a chimney fire, and ensure that there is little air intake to allow the fire to burn slowly and eventually burn out safely.

When commenting on the operation of their burners, stove manufacturer Hunter says that their products should not be left unattended until flames are fully established and that when leaving the stove for any period of time it is good practice to reduce airflow substantially, allowing the fire die down and burn at a safe rate during your absence.

What should you do with a wood burning stove when you go to bed?

Another reason you may want to leave a wood burning stove unattended is to go to sleep so if you are planning on leaving your fire burning overnight, what can you do to minimize the risks and hazards? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Ensure the unit is sealed

The most important rule you should follow when securing your stove for the night is ensuring it is sealed. If you happen to leave the door ajar with a fire burning, you are not only making the burn less efficiently – you are also leaving your house in serious danger.

Why? Well firstly, with any open fire, the burning may cause the spitting of flames or debris. If this spit comes into contact with a flammable surface when unattended, you may have a fire on your hands, meaning the unit should be thoroughly checked before going to bed.

Secondly, carbon monoxide is a serious danger when it comes to burning fuel for heat and as a fire starts to die out, high levels of it can be produced making it particularly important that your stove door is closed and all the seals are working effectively. Also, ensure that your flue and chimney are functioning correctly to ensure that the dangerous gases are drawn up them so they escape safely out of the chimney. Carbon monoxide detectors should always be used and placed in the correct position inside the recommended rooms as per the manufacturer’s guidelines.

In summary, wood burning stoves are designed to be operated with the door closed so even when you’re there and closely monitoring it, the only time the door should be opened is when you need to refuel.

Remove any flammable objects

Spits aren’t the only part of the fire that can cause a risk when left unattended. The unit itself is built to reach incredible heat, and as such you must take extra precautions to ensure that no flammable materials are too close to, or in contact with the stove. Read your stove manufacturer’s guidelines for minimum distances between the stove and other objects to ensure that fire risk is minimized.

Position the vents

This next one is subject to your own preference; however, the position of the air vents will largely determine the duration of your fire. Some people prefer to provide only a small intake of air to ensure that the burn remains low and lasts for longer. Others argue that leaving the vents wide open is the best option – ensuring that the flames go out quickly instead.

It is up to your own discretion, however, whichever you chose it is important to…

Ensure the fire is low

Leaving a roaring fire is asking for trouble. A fire is highest after lighting and reloading, and during these times you must not leave your fire unattended. They are prone to risk and so to make sure that your wood burner is safe to leave you must first wait for the flames to die down a little.

This doesn’t mean that you can leave a fire following a reload before the new fuel has ignited and the flames have established. If you leave it before this point, there’s a risk that the new fuel will ignite and the flames and/or temperature will get too high when you’re not there to manage it.

Many argue that the optimal time to leave a stove unattended is when the flames are close to glowing embers. By this point, the fire is much smaller and is therefore much safer to leave – as there is no possibility of it growing larger in your absence.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, there are many different views about leaving a wood burning stove unattended, and while the final verdict is up to you – do your research.

The main point is that you should be fully aware of the risks of leaving a stove, and how you can negate them. By having an understanding of how a wood burning stove works, and the potential dangers of an unsupervised fire, you are in a better position to ensure that you can leave it in as safe a state as possible.

Want to know more about lighting and burning wood fuel in your stove efficiently? Then you must check out our new article ‘ How to Build a Top Down Fire in a Wood Stove’.