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Choosing a wood burning stove

September 19, 2019

A new wood burning stove is an exciting proposition. But with hundreds of different models, choosing the right stove can be daunting. So make sure you understand all the options and prepare properly for the installation itself to ensure it is a success. For a more detailed review of the costs to install your dream wood burning stove read our cost guide.

Which fuel type?

The crucial first decision is based on the fuel that the stove burns. It’s possible to buy stoves that are either multi-fuel or only wood burning. Multi-fuel stoves, which can safely burn briquettes and smokeless fuels (as well as wood), have a raised grate with a void below for the ash to fall into (and therefore a removable ash pan). Bear in mind that multi-fuel stoves cannot burn regular coal. Stoves that solely burn wood allow the ash to sit in the main firebox – the bed of ash is beneficial to the efficiency of the burn.

What size stove should I buy?

choosing wood burner
The retailer gives stoves a kilowatt (kW) output figure – usually the maximum output the stove can achieve. Given that the output of many radiators is still measured in BTUs, it’s worth knowing for comparison purposes that 1kW=3,412 BTU.

The way to work out the size of stove you require is to divide the volume of the room (width x length x height, in metres) by 15. This calculation is based on a standard insulation specification, but the number is 20-25 for well-insulated rooms and more like 10 for poorly insulated homes. As an example, a standard-insulated living room measuring 5m x 6m with a ceiling height of 2.4m (72m3) will require an output of 4.8kW. It’s usually wise to specify a slightly larger output than you need – you can always burn fewer logs. Some stove sellers have online calculators to make this process quicker, but if you want to avoid buying the wrong size stove for the room, you should consult with the installer before purchase. In most cases, you can buy stoves direct from suppliers, although your chosen installer might be able to get a better deal.

Do you live in a smoke control area?

Local authorities manage smoke Control Areas. Sometimes called Smokeless Zones, they prohibit the burning of certain fuels. They are most common – but not exclusive – to urban areas. Almost all London boroughs, for example, are Smoke Control Areas. If you live in a Smokeless Zone and want to install a log burning stove, you will need to choose an exempted appliance – lookout for the DEFRA badge when selecting.

Ecodesign compliance

The Particulate Matter that burning wood emits is deemed to contribute to air pollution. As a result, a Europe-wide initiative, Ecodesign, aims to promote the sale of stoves that burn wood more efficiently and meet the minimum requirements demanded of the scheme – emitting 55% less Particulate Matter than DEFRA-approved stoves. All stoves sold after 2022 in the UK will have to be Ecodesign compliant. In many ways it makes sense to consider stoves that meet this standard now – your stove will be in place for decades, so a non-compliant one may well seem obsolete fairly soon. Look for the SIA Ecodesign compliance logo while buying a stove.

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Stoves for those without chimneys

It is possible to enjoy the benefits of a log burning stove without a flue. The only option for those without a chimney who want to burn wood in a stove is to install a twin-wall external flue (the shiny metal tubes you’ll see on the outside of some homes). However, if you still want a stove and don’t want a flue at all, then you can buy flueless stoves. For the most part, these are stoves that have been converted to burn bio-ethanol, a liquid derivate of the fermentation of crop waste. You’ll still enjoy the flames, and the heat but will pour the fuel into a special burner instead of carrying logs around. It’s a clean and efficient fuel, but it can be expensive – by most estimates around twice as much as the cost of logs. The stoves themselves are at the top end of price ranges, too.

Clean glass features

Unburnt particles can reduce the efficiency of the burn, go up the chimney and reduce the visibility of the flame through the glass. The fundamental solution to avoiding this is the introduction of air into the firebox over the inside of the window and also allowing pre-heated secondary air to be channelled into the smoke stream. These features often called clean burn or wash by the various stove manufacturers, are a great way to improve look and performance in the long term.

Fuel

The value you get from your stove will be derived from the fuel you put in it. Essentially, the drier and denser the wood, the longer and stronger the burn. So look for wood with a low moisture content (below 20%) – usually meaning it has been kiln-dried (quickly in an oven) or seasoned (meaning left to dry out naturally undercover). Hardwoods tend to be better than softwoods for burning, although there’s such a broad range of hardwoods that it’s difficult to generalise. Expect to pay in the region of £100-150 for a builder’s merchant bag of logs – most areas have local suppliers, and there are a handful of national retailers. One important thing to note is that you should never buy logs by weight. Wet logs are heavier, so you may well end up paying for water rather than the fuel.

For those with multi-fuel stoves, briquettes (often called heat logs and consisting of compressed wood chip) can provide a more efficient burn than logs, offering around 20% more kWh/tonne. They’re a bit more expensive to buy than most logs.

Getting ready for log burner installation

The critical element for the homeowner before installation is to decide the design for the fireplace and hearth itself. Your installer will be able to advise you on this, but check whether he/she will be happy to do the actual building work required. Aim to put up dust protection at doorways to minimise the mess to the rest of the house. The installation itself will take between 2-5 days in most cases, depending on the scale of the work. In almost all cases, fitting a new or altering an existing flue or chimney does not require express planning approval. If you live in a specially designated area such as a Conservation Area, you will not need to alert the local authority unless the flue or chimney is on the front elevation. If you live in a listed home or are in any doubt as to the need for planning approval, it’s worth contacting your local authority to check. Don’t forget when planning your log burner installation hire an approved installer.

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