How to get the most from your wood burning stove.
A wood burning stove can be expensive to install, but can also be an aesthetically pleasing and cosy edition to a home – perfect for those cold winter nights in the run up to Christmas. Let’s face it, what could be nicer than huddling in front of the fire on Christmas morning? It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of it all. However, magic aside, most will purchase a stove for more than just its aesthetic appeal. Wood fuel, when responsibly sourced, can offer a sustainable, environmentally friendly and arguably cheaper alternative to gas and electric heating and, if gas prices continue to rise, investing in alternative heating sources could make economical sense.
This being said, according to a Which? survey carried out in January this year, only 53% of householders with a stove believe they have saved money on their energy bills since having it installed. This makes 47% of householders who do not, which begs the question – are these householders using their stoves to their fullest potential?
Installing a wood burning stove in your home will not automatically save you money on your heating bills, but you are more likely to make a saving if you take care of your system. Here is what you can do to ensure your stove is running both efficiently and economically.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. These will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and from model to model. Many modern stoves are designed to burn very efficiently but only if the instructions are followed carefully.
- Use seasoned wood to fuel your stove: wood with excess moisture will expend a lot of energy burning off its water content before it begins to heat your home. The dryer and denser the wood, the longer it will burn. Many will even save money by seasoning their own wood – but this takes forward planning as it can take 1-2 years to properly dry wood for burning.
- Frequently clean your flue to prevent soot building up in the chimney: not only does this improve the efficiency of your stove, but it should also be done at least once a year as a safety measure. A build up of soot can be a major fire hazard and although newer stove systems have been specially designed to prevent excess soot from accumulating, they do not stop it forming altogether and the fire risk is still present unless you properly maintain the system. Also, clear chimneys are essential for the safe removal of gases.
- Book a full inspection of your system once a year (particularly before use in winter) to ensure your stove and adjoining pipes are correctly sealed. A system with loose seals will not heat your home effectively and also puts your household at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, so yearly checks are advised.
Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas produced by incomplete combustion. When breathed in, carbon monoxide bonds with haemoglobin, displacing oxygen in the blood, inhibiting the amount of oxygen carried to muscles and vital organs. This can cause anything from shortness of breath to sickness and even death, which is why it is otherwise known as the ‘silent killer’.
If you live in a rented property, under the new Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Regulations 2015 which came into force on 1st October, your landlord is required to install a carbon monoxide detector in any room with a solid fuel system installed, so do check this is done.
For more information, click here to view Gov.uk’s explanatory booklet for landlords covering smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Check your chimney is lined: pre-1960s properties with older stoves may not have a chimney lining. Un-lined chimneys tend to have more ridges which encourage soot and tar build-up. Adding a lining to your chimney will create a smoother surface meaning less ridges for waste products to cling to and a more efficient system. In addition, a chimney lining helps protect against carbon monoxide leaks, particularly where a chimney is in poor condition. For more information on chimney linings, visit the HETAS website or click here to view their advice sheet.
- Use your stove alongside your gas heating and find the best balance for your property: if you have a lot of rooms to heat and your stove is not in the centre of the house, it might not be feasible to heat the whole house with a stove alone. However, with a bit of fine tuning you can certainly slash your gas consumption by using your stove to boost the temperature rather than reaching for the thermostat.
A healthy system is key to making the most of your wood burning stove, so it is worthwhile setting aside time to carry out the proper maintenance and ensure you have procured the best fuel. Not only will your stove burn more efficiently, but it will also benefit the environment. A wood burning stove is a carbon neutral heating system – the amount of CO2 absorbed by trees during photosynthesis is the same as the CO2 released during combustion. This means that, when used to its fullest potential, a wood burning stove produces less carbon emissions than other fuels.
But remember, although wood heating is more environmentally friendly than gas, if you are buying your wood from a dedicated supplier, it is important to check if they are committed to replanting the trees they harvest – after all, wood is only a sustainable resource if we commit to replanting what we use.
And naturally, fuel costs will fluctuate, but if gas prices continue to rise you will be glad of your investment. Looking beyond the initial expense of installation, a wood burning stove gives you flexibility when heating your home and, provided you maintain the system correctly, you may just see those pounds dropping off your energy bills. And just think how happy you will be to have an alternative heating system in the event of a dreaded boiler breakdown!
They’re charming, they’re sustainable, and with a bit of practise they’re easy to use. Nothing beats a cosy evening by the fire and, let’s be honest, in England we need a bit of that.
For more information on using wood fuels for a sustainable future, visit the HETAS website.