Using a wood burning stove
Whether you’ve bought a wood burning stove, are thinking of getting one, or have inherited one with a house you’ve moved into, there are a number of things to consider so you can make the most of your stove.
We’ve spoken to stove owners, installers and industry experts to get the best advice on using and maintaining your wood burning stove.
If you’re considering getting one, or want to know how much you could save by using a stove, see our page on the costs of a stove, which includes our step-by-step guide to working out your savings, as well as our handy downloadable checklist on buying, installing and using a stove.
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Coal vs wood
In terms of fuel, there are clear benefits to using wood over coal. As well as coal being more expensive, it produces much more CO2, so is less environmentally friendly.
When we asked Which? members in December 2014 about whether they believe a stove has saved them money or not, 61% of the people that said it has own a wood burning stove, while 39% own a multi-fuel stove.
In a survey conducted by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), of those who owned multi-fuel stoves 77% said they used them exclusively to burn wood.
As multi-fuel stoves do not burn wood as efficiently as dedicated wood burning stoves, it’s worth thinking about what fuel you think you’ll use before you buy.
For more information, see our guide on types of stoves.
Sourcing wood fuel
To make sure you get the most out of your wood burning stove, it’s important to use the right kind of wood.
The price of wood varies depending on where you are in the country and what type of wood you buy. Wood is normally sold by cubic metres, rather than by weight, to ensure the measurements aren’t taking into account any moisture contained in the logs.
For wood burning stoves, the drier the wood the better. Using fresh logs with high moisture content will reduce your stove’s heat output as you’ll waste energy burning off the water, so you’ll need to use more to warm the room. Never use freshly cut wood to burn, as it creates a lot of smoke and makes the stove dirty
You can reduce the moisture content of freshly cut wood by drying it yourself, also called seasoning. To do this, it’s best to store the wood in a dry place for at least a year, preferably two. You can also buy moisture metres, which cost around £17, to help determine how dry fuel it.
It’s also preferable to burn hardwoods, such as oak and ash, instead of softwoods, such as pine or fir, as these will take longer to burn and so you’ll use less.
Cost of wood fuel
For the best results, the wood should be left on a dry surface protected from rain. Leave the sides exposed to air and wind, as it will speed up the drying process. Chopping the wood down to size before storing it will also help it to dry quicker. Alternatively, you can buy ready-seasoned wood at a little extra cost.
- Freshly cut logs are cheap to buy at around £80 per cubic metre, but have a moisture content between 60% and 90%. The heat output from freshly cut logs will be around 1kWh per kg.
- Ready-seasoned wood has around 40% moisture content, and can usually be purchased for around £95 – £123 per cubic metre. Burning wood that has been seasoned will give you a heat output of about 3kWh per kg.
- Alternatively, kiln-dried wood is more expensive, about £115-£145 per cubic metre, but is highly efficient and can be used immediately. On average, it contains less than 20% moisture and burning it produces a heat output of around 4.5kWh per kg.
- If you have a specialised wood-pellet stove, you can usually buy wood pellets online or from a local supplier. Wood pellets are sold by the kg and cost around £120 per 250kg. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) recommends that you buy ENplus standard pellets, which have roughly 10% moisture content and will give you a heat output of around 5kWh per kg.
Note that 500kg is around one cubic metre, so working out how much wood will cost for the amount you’ll use is a little tricky. But you can find out more about how to calculate this, as well as the costs of buying, installing and using a stove in our guide to stove costs.
Kindling can be sourced from pallets used for building suppliers and found in skips (just check with the owners first)
Which? member tip
It is sometimes possible to collect wood fuel for free from building sites, skips or local woods – but legally you don’t have a right to it, so it’s really important to check first with the site or land owners that they’re happy for you to take it. It’s worth also asking whether the wood has been treated with chemicals, as it could therefore be unsafe to burn.
As a rough guide, an average-sized house which uses a stove in the evenings and at weekends will need about three to four cubic metres a year.
Although wood itself is considered a carbon-neutral fuel, transporting it uses CO2, so it’s best to try and find a supplier close to home. You can find a local supplier on the wood fuel directory website.
Lighting and controlling your wood burning stove
Lighting your stove in the most effective way could take a little bit of practise, but the following steps will help you out:
- Fully open the primary air vent/control and airwash controls
- Place a firelighter or paper together with some dry kindling wood on the grate
- Light the firelighter or paper
- Leave the door slightly ajar while the fire establishes and the glass warms up. This will help avoid condensation building up
- Once the fire is going, add some larger pieces of wood. Be careful of adding too many logs as they could smother the fire
- When the logs have caught and the fire is fully established, close the door completely
- Close the primary air control
- Use the airwash to control the burn rate when the appliance is at operating temperature.
If you choose the right stove, it should be fairly easy to maintain. But there are a few steps you should take to keep it efficient and safe.
To keep your stove in good working order, the SIA recommends that you have your chimney swept at the beginning and the end of the winter to avoid a build-up of tar and soot, which could damage the chimney and stove when not in use.
From a safety point of view, blocked chimneys can also cause deadly carbon monoxide. One sweep should cost £30-£60.
Wet or unseasoned logs will leave more sooty deposits and could increase the number of sweeps you need, so it’s best to use seasoned or kiln-dried wood to cut down on maintenance. You can find a chimney sweep in your area by visiting The National Association of Chimney Sweeps website.
If you have a pellet stove, you will need to have a yearly service, which can cost around £200, as well as chimney sweeps, as the stove has electrical working parts.
It’s also good idea to clean out the ash from the ash pan and to clean the glass regularly. Keep in mind thought that leaving a layer of ash in the grate can in fact help to start the fire and keep it burning, so it’s it’s best to check the manufacturer’s guide for specific instructions on how often to clean it out.
If your stove has airwash – a cool air vent that helps to stop tar building up on the glass – you may not need to clean the ash or glass as often.
Some stoves also have special cleanburn or cleanheat technologies, which pull in extra air to help burn off more smoke, reducing sooty deposits. Use damp newspaper dipped in ash to clean the glass, then relay the newspaper as kindling for your next fire
When cleaning out the stove, it’s worth keeping an eye out for any cracks, distortions, breaks in the seals, holes or rust, as they could affect the stove’s performance and safety.
Depending on how long you’ve had the stove, getting the affected part repaired or replaced if there are any problems may be covered in the manufacturer’s warranty. For more information on stove warranties, see our guide to stove installation.
It’s also a good idea to get a carbon monoxide detector. This will monitor whether any poisonous carbon monoxide, which is odourless and tasteless, is being emitted.
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Article taken from www.which.co.uk