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Guide to Wood Burning Stoves

The idea of sitting around your very own log fire in the dead of winter may sound appealingly romantic, but just how beneficial can wood burning stoves be, and how easy are they to set up? Are the high costs involved worth it for the authentic ambience?

In this
guide:

How green are they?

Wood is a renewable energy source, so a wood burning stove is much greener than a coal fireplace. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) estimates that burning wood produces 0.008kg of CO2 per kWh compared to 0.517kg for electricity. However, they do create air pollution. If you live in a high-pollution area, a wood burning stove may not be right for you - check to see if there are local restrictions in place.

If you own an older fireplace unit, converting it to an energy-efficient wood burner could make heating your home much greener. While an open fire provides a heating efficiency of 32%, wood burning stoves can achieve efficiency rates of 80%. By aiming to burn wood at higher temperatures, these certified designs attempt to minimise the amount of air pollution that escapes and take as much energy as possible from the wood.

Therefore, if you choose a wood stove that is properly engineered, a wood-burning system can produce less air pollution than coal or oil. It is essential that your stove is up to standard, as when wood burns it releases noxious gases such as carbon monoxide. You really don’t want these leaking into your home!

Using forest waste for fuel also helps to improve the health of the forest ecosystem. Deadfalls are a potential hazard, as they provide fuel for wildfires in hot and dry conditions. If you are live by a forest, collecting deadfall can provide you with free fuel. But if you’re in a relatively wet area with high rainfall, buying equipment to dry out wood chips can be very expensive.

Can they save me money?

Wood is cheaper than oil, gas or coal - moreover, the cost of timber is relatively stable compared to the others, which fluctuate heavily. As these non-renewable fuels become scarcer by the day, decreasing your dependency on them could save you a lot of money in the long run - though the rate at which these prices will rise is uncertain. Also, timber can be bought locally in some areas, meaning it has a lower carbon footprint as a fuel in terms of transport. If you have enough land, timber can also be grown yourself.

The initial cost of building and installing a stove can be quite high, so the payback time is quite long. It could take years before you can notice the money that you’re saving. The combined price of purchasing and installation can range from £1,000 to £3,000.

If you live in an area where deadfall is in abundance or you have access to free or cheap timber, then your running costs will be very low. If this isn’t applicable to you, it’s worth exploring where you can buy timber from and at what cost before purchasing a wood burning stove. If you will only be able to use kiln dried logs, your stove will be very expensive to run.

Would a wood burning stove be practical for me?

There are various factors to consider when deciding if a wood burning stove is right for you.

First, how often will you need to use your stove? Will it be your only source of heat? If you are going to use the stove continuously, it will need a constant supply of biomass. If you’re in an area that is cold, it may be too damp for you to harvest and dry your biomass yourself.

If you’re looking to use the stove as an addition to your central heating system, they need a large boiler to handle the fuel. If you have a relatively small boiler then a wood system may not be cost effective, though this wouldn’t be an issue if you were to have the stove as a standalone source of heat.

There are many possibilities when you link your stove to your boiler - your biomass can then be used to create hot water, fuelling radiators and even underfloor heating tubes. Therefore, if your home lacks a centralised water supply, a wood system could be an incredibly practical solution. However, integration does come at a higher cost. You must also consider the nature of your house:

  • How large is the room which the stove will be installed in?
  • How well is the room insulated?
  • How old is your house?
  • How big are the windows?

Wood stoves require space not just for the stove itself but for fuel storage. Ideally, you would need 3-4 m³. It is important that you consider these factors when thinking about the stove’s heat output. A small capacity won’t heat the whole house, and a high capacity in a poorly insulated house could end up wasting energy.

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Maintaining a wood stove also requires time and effort. Whenever you want a fire, you must fetch the fuel and light the fire yourself, and monitor it, adjusting the air vent to keep it going. They also require regular cleaning. If you have very little time on your hands, a wood burning stove may not be practical for you.

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