Wood-burning stoves: Myth Vs Fact

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With the cold continuing now the new year is here, now is the time many of us fantasise about a roaring real fire and a beautiful wood-burning stove to come home to.
But what are the realities of having a wood-burning stove?  
Ben Freeman, HETAS confirmed solid fuel and wood burning engineer (now pen pusher!) and co-owner of wood burning specialist BMF in Leeds (http://www.bmfonline.co.uk), reveals the truth behind some of the most common wood-burning myths.

MYTH: You can’t have a wood burning stove if you live in a smoke control area.
REALITY: Many modern stoves are so clean burning they can be used even in smoke-free zones. The stove will clearly state if it is suitable for use in a smoke control zone, but ask your retailer if you are concerned.

MYTH: Burning wood is bad for the environment
REALITY: When a tree is burned, it releases carbon into the atmosphere – but only what it has absorbed in its lifetime. So in that respect it is carbon neutral and much greener than burning fossil fuels. High quality modern wood burners have cleanburn technologies which reduce the particulate emmissions.

MYTH: You don’t have to worry about Carbon Monoxide (CO) when you use a wood burning stove.
REALITY: This is a common and potentially very dangerous misconception. Burning any fuel can produce deadly CO – so it is vital you follow standard safety tips, such as ensuring that you have sufficient ventilation, your appliance if properly fitted by a qualified engineer, your chimney is clean and clear, the stove is well maintained and that you have an audible alarm. It is now a regulation to install a carbon monoxide detector with every wood burning stove.

MYTH: The person who fitted my gas central heating can install a wood burning stove for me.
REALITY: NO! This could be extremely dangerous. Just as a plumber can’t do electrical work, someone who is qualified to work on gas appliances isn’t necessarily able to work on wood-burners. It may appear less dangerous, but the risks from Carbon Monoxide are serious if the fitting isn’t done properly. Make sure you use a HETAS accredited installer, as they are the only ones qualified to work with solid fuel appliances. Many companies try sell you a wood burning stove for DIY installation, this is irrisponsible behaviour and their advice should be avoided.

MYTH: The initial cost outweighs any savings you might make
REALITY: Stoves come in a range of prices, so you can spend as much or as little as you like. It is important to have it fitted by a qualified HETAS engineer, so never try and save money by installing it yourself. In terms of heating savings – wood costs vary depending on if you collect and season the wood yourself or buy ready to burn kiln dried wood. If you have an energy efficient heating system a stove will reduce demand on your boiler.

MYTH: They can’t heat a room – or the house - as well as central heating.
REALITY: Wood burning stoves can heat the room they are installed in or even the whole house. This can be achieved by back boiler installation connected in conjunction with your central heating system or using ducted hot air to be fanned throughout your property.

MYTH: A wood burning stove isn’t much more efficient than my open fire
REALITY: Most quality wood burning stoves will operate at between 70-85% efficiency with the door closed. That means just 15-30% of the heat is lost up the chimney. With an open fire, the efficiency is probably nearer to 20%, meaning over four fifths of the heat is lost up your chimney.

MYTH: Wood burning stoves are a nightmare to clean
REALITY: Many modern stoves now come with cleanburn technology, which helps keep the glass clean by blowing super hot air down it, reducing any cleaning required. Of course ashes do need removing from time to time, but usually once a week rather than daily compared to open fires. Your chimney should be cleaned annually by a professional to make sure there’s no build up and to ensure safety and efficiency.

MYTH: Anything can be burnt on a wood-burning stove
REALITY: Ideally you should only burn seasoned or kiln dried, untreated wood, unless you have a multi-fuel stove. If you burn rubbish or treated wood (for example, wood that has been painted or varnished) you risk releasing harmful chemicals into the air we breath and causing a nasty build up in your stove. Some paper is fine and can help to get the fire going, but stick to plain newspapers or paper, without any plastic element, and don’t overdo it.

MYTH: I have a very modern house and wood-burners always seem quite traditional to me
REALITY: There really is a wood burner to suit every home. Several quality brands produce some very modern looking wood burners now, such as the Dutch stove designer Harrie Leenders or the Belgian Stuv range of wood burning stoves, cassettes and fireboxs. For example, the Harrie Leenders Pharos Interior hangs down suspended from the ceiling, and can be rotated around the room if required - it wouldn’t look out of place in a modern art gallery! Some of the Stuv stoves can come with very modern surrounds which can pretty much suit any style of home, no matter how modern.

MYTH: We can’t have a wood burner because we have nowhere to store the wood
REALITY: The wood for stoves needs to be kept dry and ventilated. If there is no room for a dedicated wood store, many people use a garage, shed or even a watertight box in the garden. It depends how much wood you will need to burn and how you plan on sourcing your wood. It may be someone can deliver more frequently for you, removing the need for an external place to store the wood altogether.

MYTH: Wood burning stoves go out after a couple of hours, leaving you to return to a cold house
REALITY: If you have chosen the right stove for your home, you are keeping it clean and you are using it correctly, with appropriate fuel, a wood-burner should be able to keep going for some time if you want it to. Some stoves now come with a slow burner option, which means you can keep the fire at its very minimum perhaps overnight, but it is ready to rekindle at a moment’s notice.

MYTH: Having a wood burning stove is a lot of hard work, compared to flicking a switch on the central heating.
REALITY: Some people who have a wood burner love to make collecting wood a family activity. Others have wood delivered and it’s as easy as loading the ready seasoned wood into the stove and lighting it. If you ask people who have a wood burner if any extra effort is worth it, I’m absolutely sure the majority would say yes!

BMF has a wood burning stove showroom in Moortown, Leeds. For more information, or to view the full list of myths debunked, visit www.bmfonline.co.uk or call 0113 2660096. Follow BMF on Twitter (@bmfonline) or Facebook (BMF Ltd) for special offers and top tips.

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