Choosing a wood burning stove

The ins and outs of choosing a wood burning stove

You’ve seen them in other people’s houses or looked at pictures in home design magazines and now you’re seriously considering a wood burning stove for your home. With so much choice and practical considerations to think about, which you’re probably unsure of, just how do you go about choosing the right stove for you?

Of course at Billing Chimneys we can guide you through the whole process, from explaining the technical requirements to helping you select just the right stove for your needs and, of course, we can provide expert installation. However, most people like to do their homework and get as informed as possible first. So here’s a quick guide to choosing a stove.

Wood burning stoves come in a huge variety of types and designs and of varying price. Perhaps the easiest way to start is to look at some of the principal choices that need to be made in order to reduce the options.

What do you want the stove for?

standard open fire wood burning stove

Standard Open fire

Will the stove be a decorative item used to add to the warmth and atmosphere of a single room, or will it be required to heat water and other rooms?  If it’s to simply achieve an ambience or cosy effect then the choice will be limited only by the size of the room and its condition. If the stove has a more functional purpose then space for back boilers and pipework will be required. This latter will also affect the overall cost.

Once the purpose of the stove has been decided the cubic area of the room will need to be measured and insulation levels checked. This will determine what output of energy and heat is needed from the working stove. This is measured in Kilowatts (Kw) and all stoves will carry a specification giving the output it is capable of, so knowing this will narrow your search. Generally, our clients will have other heating and not be relying on the output of the stove.  For the stove and flue to run efficiently it will need to be run at high temperature at least part of the time. It is important therefore that the stove does not have to high an output. The implications for other sources of heat, in particular any underfloor heating, need to be considered.

Styles and colours for your setting

freestanding wood burning stove - Clearview Pioneer 400

Open up the recess and install freestanding stove

The image of a traditional cast iron stove is a well-established one, but with modern construction, stoves come in a wide range of styles. Some have standard windows, others wide windows and there are others with side windows. Freestanding stoves are easy to place either inside an existing recess or proud of the wall. It is also worth looking at inset stoves that will sit flush or close to flush with the face of the chimney breast. There are also firebox style open fires that can maintain the open fire aesthetic whilst requiring only a modest flue size.

Black is the traditional colour, but these days, depending upon the manufacturer, stoves come in many shades. This varies from the expected black through browns, blues, reds, terracotta and even silver or ivory. This range of choice is great for ensuring the stove you choose is perfect for the location you have in mind, whether a traditional or contemporary setting. Lighter colours may appear to be risky but special heat resistant stove paint is always available should the stove need to be touched up.

Wood burning or multi fuel?

inset wood burning stove - Jet master 18i

Inset stove designed to fit the standard opening. Jet master 18i

Cost, need and personal preference are all factors in choosing between these two possibilities. Wood burning stoves can only burn wood, whereas multi-fuel stoves can burn either wood or smokeless fuel. There is a difference in design as wood and solid fuel burn differently. Wood only burners have a simple firebox where ash gathers at the bottom and air circulates above. Smokeless fuel however needs air to circulate around it to burn and therefore sits on a grate. This fuel is ‘riddled’ as it burns to allow ash to fall and give good air circulation. A box collects the ash. Some burners have boxes that are provided with lids to prevent ash blowing around when disposing of it outside.

Wood is an environmentally friendly choice for a fuel. It is cheap, in fact you can forage for wood – though it has to be dried before burning in the stove. Coal is a fossil fuel and therefore emits COduring burning, so this may be a consideration if you are concerned about your green credentials.

It is important to check whether where you live is a smoke-free zone. If this is the case it will be necessary to buy a stove that has been approved by DEFRA, otherwise you may break local laws. If you are unsure whether you live in such a zone, you can find out by contacting your local council. Also, on the DEFRA website there is a useful list of approved fuels and appliances. See: smokecontrol.defra.gov.uk

If you intend burning wood only, then a wood burning stove will suit well, however if you’d like the option to burn solid fuel, for example if you cannot find the wood supply you need, then a multi-fuel stove is the choice.

alternative open fire wood burning stove

Alternative “open” fire designed to fit standard opening.

Using the stove

Considering the type of stove and which fuel you will use will be affected by your needs and your ability to manage the stove. You will want to know how the stove works and if the controls are simple. Most stoves have a slide mechanism to control the air circulation. Ash will need to be removed and discarded and you have to remember that the fuel needs to be stored. Another feature to look out for is an airwash system. This ingenious device helps to keep the glass of your stove from becoming blackened, not only giving you that great view of the flames you desire, but cutting back on cleaning.

Is it possible to have a stove installed at all?

Whilst it is likely the answer to this question is ‘yes’, there could be cost implications to having a stove fitted in addition to buying and installing the stove itself. The next items explain some of these issues.

Flues and chimney liners

This is an aspect of making your choice where you will need expert advice and here at Billing Chimneys we have engineers who will be able to assess your property and tell you what you’ll need. If you have an existing chimney it may need repairing and / or require a liner. Brand new flues can be built onto the most modern homes and are often in a stylish steel.

It will also be essential to have your chimney swept at least once a year. You can find out about the implications of not doing this in our Chimney Safety article. This is another cost to be considered.

Keeping legal

In addition to using the correct fuels, the installation of a wood burning stove is subject to building regulations. By using a HETAS registered installer you will not need to notify your local Building Control Officer as the HETAS certificate supplied is sufficient approval. However, if you are building a new brick / traditional chimney stack then Building Control approval must be sought.

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