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Why Choose a Wood-Burning Stove?

1. People want to reduce their heating costs
Every household is feeling the pinch in the current economic climate. With people watching the pennies, it is far easier to keep an eye on what you are spending with a wood-burning stove than alternative heating methods, not least the complicated formulae involved in calculating gas and electricity bills.

2. Even politicians are telling us something is amiss

There has been a stream of stories in recent months about politicians telling energy companies to clean up their act amid accusations of confusing billing systems and price-fixing. Government ministers taking big business to task is bound to unsettle consumers, and this lack of trust means that many customers are now cutting out the middleman by installing a stove.

3. Free fuel
With oil and gas prices continuing to rise, the prospect of free fuel is very appealing. Wood is a far cheaper fuel and is often free if you can find someone with wood to give away or tree branches to chop.

4. Bringing the family together
Perhaps it is the aforementioned difficult economic times, but there has been a re-evaluation of the important things in life for a large number of people. One aspect of that has been the resurgence of the wood-burning stoves as a focal point of living rooms across the country.  

5. Reliability
In the harsh winters that we have been experiencing in recent years, many households have endured freezing conditions as central heating boilers struggled to cope and oil and gas deliveries ground to a halt. This has prompted an increase in the installation of wood-burning stoves as a more dependable source of heating.

6. Energy efficiency
A combination of ever increasing qualities of stove production and wider knowledge of the best ways to operate wood burners efficiently means that less heat is lost than ever before.  An open fire can be something like 15% efficient (less if your chimney is left open all the time and your central heating warmth goes up the flue!) but the best stoves are now in excess of 85% efficient.

7. Eco friendliness
With increasing awareness of fossil fuels contributing to climate change, wood is a great renewable alternative.  When you add a wood-burning stove to the way you heat your home, your reliance on fossil gas or oil is reduced, cutting your carbon footprint.  Many stoves are now designed to burn 'smoke-free' so that they can be used in smoke control zones.  Flat topped stoves can be used to heat a kettle or even cook on.

8. Aesthetics
With the array of contemporary and traditional wood-burning stoves now on offer, there is barely a living room in the country that wouldn’t benefit from the addition of a stove. With other factors such as the rising price of fuel being taken into consideration, the homely atmosphere created by a wood-burning stove has never been so appealing.

9. Online stores keeping prices down
As with almost every other aspect of retail, the advent of e-commerce for wood-burning stoves has helped to lower the price of wood-burning stoves and make them more accessible.

10. Media attention
In recent times, wood-burning stoves have been getting a greater focus from national newspapers and lifestyle magazines, bringing awareness of the many benefits of installing a stove to a wider audience.

11. Concern that worse is to come
Wood-burning stoves are being installed in many homes as a pre-emptive measure. The economy is forecast to go into recession once more, fuel prices are still rising and winters are becoming increasingly unpredictable. People are buying wood-burning stoves for their properties now to serve them through whatever the future might hold. 

How To Get The Best Out Of Your Stove

Once you have made the decision to improve your energy efficiency by installing a wood-burning stove, it makes sense to make it as efficient as possible. One of the best ways of doing that is by always using seasoned wood.

Seasoned wood is wood that has been chopped and dried for a sustained period of time. Ideally, any wood that you are planning to burn on your stove should have been seasoned for at least 18 months beforehand.

The need for allowing your wood to season is due to the moisture content and its effect on how the wood burns.

Freshly cut wood will contain around 45% water, while this can be as little as 20% in seasoned wood. Using seasoned firewood instead of fresh ‘green’ wood will make it easier to light your fire, generate more heat for your home and ensure a cleaner burn.

To season wood, you need to chop, split and stack it, and expose as much of the surface area of the wood as possible to allow the moisture to evaporate.

Wood which is covered to prevent rainwater wetting it dries fastest, but most important is good air circulation so that the wind can help with the drying process. Stacking your wood on a pallet or something similar will also help to aerate the wood and prevent it from rotting. Don't stack woodpiles against house walls, leave an air gap all around the stack.

To ensure that you have a good supply of firewood that has seasoned sufficiently, you will need to acquire your wood at least 12 months in advance.

If you don’t have the room to store your own wood for such a long period, you may be reliant on buying wood that has been seasoned by someone else. That means being able to spot seasoned wood.

Apart from looking like it is dried out, and feeling much lighter than freshly cut timber, the clearest indication that a piece of wood has been correctly seasoned is the appearance of several cracks across the end grain. If you are not certain that you will be able to detect well-seasoned wood or you want to track the seasoning process of your own firewood, you could buy a moisture meter. These are electronic devices that indicate the moisture content of wood. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and can save you money in the long run by making sure you never burn wood that has not reached the optimum level of moisture content.

Different wood has different heating qualities.  'Hardwood' is best, from slow-growing trees, and you'll get most heat out of apple, oak, hawthorn and holly.  Although coniferous softwood will burn if seasoned, it tends to burn quickly, and it doesn't give off as much heat.  Poplar is the worst wood to try to heat your house with!

The stove you choose is only one half of the equation.  You also need a good flue which allows the exhaust gases to escape unhindered, with as few kinks and turns in it as possible. Existing chimneys can be lined with a metal liner, which may be insulated to increase the pull on the stove.  A longer lasting option is to have the chimney lined with insulated concrete.  The flue drives the stove, if you don't have a good pulling flue, no stove will work well.

Once you have your stove installed and fuel supply, the best and most efficient way of using it is to fill it to maximum capacity and let it burn hot, refilling as necessary.  You will get a less efficient use of the fuel if you have a small fire in the stove, which is more likely to generate smoke and leave deposits in your chimney.

You will soon learn how best to regulate the air supply to the stove.  Wood burns best with air to the top, not coming through the grate and embers, except right at the start of the burn when you're lighting the stove.  Sit your logs on a bed of ash, don't riddle the stove clean each time. This will give you a better burn.

Good luck with your stove, and if you want any advice, please don't hesitate to contact me.
John Cossham December 2011

Blog post content from and John Cossham