A Consumer Guide to Wood-Burning Stoves
Nothing really matches up to the heart-warming glow of a real fire on a cold winter’s night. There’s something incredibly satisfying – primeval even – about stacking the kindling, lighting the wood and watching the flames catch and roar.
Thinking of buying one and joining the ever-growing club of wood burner owners? Then read on, because we’ve done your homework for you.
How much will a wood burner cost?
It’s certainly not cheap, but it could be worth every penny.
Your three mains costs will be – the stove itself, the installation and the wood.
Stove costs vary enormously, so you could pay as little as £400 (although you might question its quality and efficiency) or as much as £2,000. But the average installation will be about £1,500, which should include sweeping and lining your chimney.
Once the stove is in place, all you need to think about is the wood. You might be one of those lucky people who’ll get your logs for free but, for most of us, we’ll need to buy it in. Like stoves, the price of wood can vary greatly, depending on whether you buy cheap green wood and dry it yourself at home – or seasoned logs that are ready to burn.
What should I look for when buying?
Always make sure you buy a stove with the CE marking. This tells you that it meets the right EU safety, health and environmental standards.
What size wood burner will I need?
This is a very important question!
Stove sizes are measured by how much heat they kick out in kilowatts (kW) and range from 3kW to over 15kW. If you choose one that’s too big for your room, you’ll have the windows open the whole time. Likewise, if you choose one that’s too small, you simply won’t be warm enough.
To get a rough idea of what size stove you’ll need, Which? suggests multiplying the room’s height, width and length in metres, then dividing it by 14. Although this calculation is helpful, don’t use it to buy a stove. Your engineer will be able to tell you exactly what you’ll need.
Who can install my log burner?
Theoretically, you can install a wood-burning stove yourself, so long as you comply with UK Building Regulations (in England or Wales only). But, for most of us, it would be much simpler and safer to call in the professionals.
It’s best to use an engineer that’s registered with HETAS, as they’re the government-recognised specialists.
Will a wood burner save me money?
60% of people surveyed by Which?* said their wood-burning stove, which they use alongside their central heating system, had saved them money.
This is probably because most people only use their woodburner to heat up one room, not an entire house. So, in that sense, you’ll save money, as you’re not wasting heat on the rooms you’re not in. However, when it comes to heating your entire house, the Energy Saving Trust says that a gas central heating is usually the cheapest heating system.
So although wood burners can’t compete when it comes to gas central heating, they tend to be cheaper than other heat sources. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) says that a wood burning stove is 77% cheaper per kilowatt hour (kWh) to run than an electric fire, 29% cheaper than a gas fire, and around 43% and 50% cheaper than an oil and LPG fire.
What wood should I buy?
Wood from trees that have just been cut down could contain between 35% and 60% water, which doesn’t bode well for burning. Like we mentioned before, you can buy green wood and dry it yourself at home (as it’s the cheapest) – but not everyone will have the luxury of a shed or barn for doing that in.
The best wood will always be well-seasoned hardwood logs. These will be lovely and dry, and ready to burn. You can also get kiln-dried logs, but they won’t be as eco-friendly, as the kiln needs energy to heat up. So it’s a bit like switching on the oven to bake your logs, before you light your fire.
One more thing. Always look for wood with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo, as it guarantees that your logs have come from responsibly managed woodland.
Can I still have a wood burner if I don’t have a chimney?
There’s no smoke without fire – and there’s no fire without smoke! And that smoke has to go somewhere...Where? Up a chimney.
Installation will, of course, be cheaper and easier if your home already has a traditional chimney, but don’t fret if it doesn’t. You can get a special insulated stainless steel pipe fitted, which will run through the roof or wall of your home to let the smoke out.
Do I live in a smoke-free zone?
Many towns and cities in the UK are smoke controlled areas. This means you’ll need to get a Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) approved stove if you want to burn wood. Or, if your stove isn’t Defra-approved, you’ll only be able to burn approved smokeless fuels. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to find out online if you live in a smoke control area - you'll have to contact your local council to find out if you're unsure.
Is there a trick to lighting my stove?
A lot of people make the mistake of loading the stove with newspaper, but this just creates smoke – and little fire. Like anything, making the perfect fire is easy when you know how:
Keep a good bed of ash laid down on the bottom of the stove, as it’ll help your fire to ignite.
Pull open the air vents on your woodburner (it’ll either have one or two).
Stack your kindling so that you create a square space in the middle. Start with two pieces flat on the bottom of the stove, then another two at a 90° angle. Repeat this until you have a four-stack or five-stack tower with space in the middle.
Light a firelighter (the wood coils dipped in wax work great) and drop it down into the gap.
Push the door shut, but don’t lock it with the latch. You want to allow a little air to get in.
Once the kindling is roaring, stack a log or two on top and lock the door.
Keep the vent fully open until the logs catch fire, then close it gradually until the logs are burning steadily.
*November 2016 survey of 242 stove owners and Which? members who have a stove as well as central heating.