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Free heat if you scavenge wood

As we worry about the cost of heating our homes this winter, a wood burning stove is an increasingly attractive option.  Be prepared to spend money on a high quality product.

Avoid cheap Chinese imports. And householders should know the dangers of trying to install a wood burning stove themselves

As energy companies announce another hike in fuel prices, many will be thinking about cost effective ways to keep warm. Chinese imports combined with DIY installation could prove a lethal combination.

Tristan Johnston, product development engineer at Broseley Fires, said: “it is not worth putting lives at risk by skimping on the cost of installation or buying a stove on an internet auction site that doesn’t meet stringent safety standards.” The company has seen an increasing number of cheap stoves with false safety markings. More alarmingly, many people think they can install the stove themselves or with the help of a friend.”

Why are stoves so popular? There are four main reasons:

1. They’re very energy efficient: Everyone likes an open fire, but the efficiency of burning logs in a grate is very low. An open fire has to suck a lot of the warm air out of the room and it is replaced by cold air from outside.

An open fire is estimated to be only about 20 to 25 per cent efficient, but it can be much lower, even falling into negative efficiency, potentially making your room colder than before you started.

But a modern wood-burning stove can run at over 80 per cent efficiency. So if you put your logs in a stove instead of on a fire you will benefit from at least three times the amount of heat.

Trist Wicks, manager at R A Wicks in Merriott, specialises in fireplaces, stoves and flues. He said: “Woodwarm multi-fuel stoves are probably the best on the market. The glass stays clean while the fire is burning and they have the highest energy efficiency rating.”

2. They’re carbon neutral: Wood is the original carbon neutral fuel. True, it releases carbon dioxide when it is burnt, but the amount given off is the same as was stored by the tree when it was growing.

And, if the tree were left to rot in the woods it would produce the same amount of carbon emissions as are released by burning it.

Most firewood in this country comes from sustainable sources, so for every tree cut down another is planted, and the carbon released from the felled tree will be absorbed by another tree. And, with the aid of new technology, a wood-burning stove can be even greener.

With the cleanburn or cleanheat system the gases created when the wood is burnt are circulated back into the stove and burnt off. This increases heat and cuts emissions.

Trist said: “Woodburners are great for cutting heating bills. They are a green and carbon neutral source of energy and a great source of heat.”

3. They’re clean: Both in terms of smoke and the amount of ash produced for the owner to clean up, modern wood burners are very impressive.

Even in daily use the stove should not need cleaning out more than every few weeks. In fact, a bed of ashes helps the wood to burn.

4. They look great: There are many manufacturers producing the comforting traditional-style wood burners that look fantastic in period properties.

But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, the ultra-modern freestanding stoves with big glass windows certainly make a statement. In traditional black iron, shining steel, or even a white ceramic finish, there is something to suit every décor.

“By law, once they have been installed stoves need to be checked and signed off by a local authority building control department,” said Jonhston, “which can cost £200 ($320). However, a qualified engineer can self-certify their work to ensure it meets all necessary regulations,” he continued. “A badly fitted stove can cause a chimney fire, as can burning the incorrect fuel, and we have heard of cases where this has caused many thousands of pounds worth of damage.

“An even greater threat is carbon monoxide poisoning which can prove fatal and so it is vitally important that homeowners buy their wood burner from a reputable dealer – preferably a fire specialist – and insist that it is installed by a registered engineer.”

In the UK, HETAS is the official body responsible for approving biomass and solid fuel domestic heating appliances, fuels and services – including the registration of competent installers and servicing companies. A HETAS or CE approved stove will also ensure that it is safe and fit for purpose.

Bruce Allen from HETAS adds: “Making sure your stove is installed correctly is vitally important for safety. Not only that, but an installation which meets building regulations will also burn fuel more efficiently and cost less money to run.” Added Mr Johnston: “A recent survey carried out by Brosely found that 70% of our distributors and installers frequently met customers who believe they could install a stove on their own, without professional help, this is an issue that the whole industry needs to face up to.”


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