Using a Wood Burning Stove: Dos and Don’ts

A wood burning stove can make a beautiful, practical addition to your home, transforming your environment and giving you an enduring sense of comfort.

But however attractive, a wood burner is also an investment for you and a commitment, if you’re going to ensure that you make the most of it.

Here are some of the key things you should, and shouldn’t do, when using a wood burning stove.

First Things First…

When buying your wood burner, you must be sure you make the right choice for your home. You’ll want to think about how it fits in with how things look but also you want it to be as efficient and effective as possible at heating the space around it.

So do consider heat output, stove efficiency, style, and whether you’re in a smoke control area or not, because all these things will have a bearing on your final decision.

Do take note of regulations – these govern how you have to install your stove and cover things like ventilation and flue pipes, and lining your chimney.

Do ensure that you have your stove properly installed by a fully qualified, HETAS-registered installer.

Looking After Your Stove, and Your Family

Do burn the right fuel in your wood burning stove – make sure it’s clean and dry. If your wood has been properly seasoned it should have a moisture level below 20 per cent.

Do ensure that your chimney or flue is kept clean – arrange for it to be swept at least annually, but preferably before and after the winter months, when it’s going to get the most use.

When it comes to keeping your stove clean, do keep the airwash open to help with this, so that the glass doesn’t get dirty; and clean the inside of your stove regularly to keep it free of ash.

When lighting your stove, do warm it thoroughly with your first loadings of fuel – this will help with its efficiency. Then you can reduce the air controls.

Protect yourself and your family – do wear protective stove gloves and use the correct tools when tending to your stove; and arrange for a fireguard to protect your kids, or anyone else for that matter, from getting too close to your wood burner. Do get a carbon monoxide (CO) alarm and make sure it’s always in proper working order.

Things Not to Do when Using Your Stove

We don’t like to get all bossy here, but there really are things you should watch out for and avoid doing to be sure your stove is safe, and that you’re getting the very best out of it at all times.

When you first light your new stove you may get a some hazey smoke coming off it. Don’t be alarmed – this is just any remaining protective oil film evaporating off it.

Don’t leave your stove unattended with the airwash controls wide open – this will cause the stove to run at too high a temperature and could damage it.

Don’t over-fire your stove – if any of its metal parts start to glow red hot you know this is happening and, again, it could damage your stove. Go easy on the wood and don’t overload the stove with fuel.

Don’t burn any old wood, because if it’s painted, preserved, or damp it will give off lots of smoke, bad odours, and will not burn efficiently. It may also leave deposits in your chimney which could lead to it eventually igniting.

After lighting your stove, don’t close the stove airwash vents too quickly. The stove and chimney need time to properly warm up. Closing the vents too quickly can suppress the fire and also cause a build-up of smoke and tar.

We know we’ve talked about making sure your firewood is dry, but don’t store your logs right next to your stove because they can actually overheat.

Finally, never remove, cover up or switch off your carbon monoxide alarm.

Mr Stove says:

  • Look after your stove and use it properly to get the most out of it.
  • Follow these dos and don’ts to ensure your stove is safe and fully functioning to its top capability at all times.

Can You Have a Wood Burning Stove in a Smoke Control Area?

Some areas in the UK are smoke control areas, which means local authorities have the power to limit emissions of smoke and fumes from residential and industrial properties. These areas tend to be larger towns and cities.

Under the 1993 Clean Air Act, it is an offence to emit smoke from a chimney or a building in a smoke control area.

So what happens if you want a wood burning stove but you live in a smoke control area? Can you in fact have one without committing an offence?

What is Authorised Fuel?

Under the general regulations covering a smoke control area, you can burn specifically authorised solid, man-made fuels that are HETAS-approved.

HETAS is official body that approves biomass solid fuel domestic heating appliances, fuels and services.

Firewood is not an authorised smokeless fuel. So where does that leave wood burning stoves?

Is Your Stove DEFRA Approved?

All is not lost – even though wood is not an authorised smokeless fuel, you can install a wood burning stove in a smoke control area providing it is DEFRA approved.

DEFRA (the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) tests wood burning stoves, and if it approves a stove for wood burning, it means it can burn exempt fuels, so you can use it in a smoke control area.

What are the exempt fuels you can use in a wood burner? Each stove has an exemptions list, which includes properly seasoned firewood.

If a wood burning stove is DEFRA approved, then providing you burn the right kind of wood in it, you won’t fall foul of clean air regulations.

What is Properly Seasoned Firewood?

To burn most efficiently, firewood must be seasoned, which means it must be dried. In a growing tree, water is captured in its cell cavities and moisture is locked in the cell walls. Once felled, the tree begins its process of drying out.

Initially the free water from the cavities evaporates. After this the wood’s moisture content is around 30 per cent. However, it still needs to dry out further, because for optimal burning, it needs a moisture content of less than 20 per cent.

Attempting to burn firewood that has a moisture content above 20 per cent is likely to be frustrating, as it hard to light and to keep burning, and its tar and creosote can end up coating the inside of your chimney. Importantly, it also produces a lot of soot and smoke.

Therefore, if you’re burning fuel in a wood burning stove, always check the quality of the firewood first, and if you’re using a DEFRA approved stove, you have to burn properly seasoned firewood.

Mr Stove says:

  • Check out our selection of DEFRA approved stoves – you don’t have to miss out if you live in a smoke control area.
  • Make sure you only burn properly seasoned firewood – it’s clean, it’s efficient, and it’s the only wood to burn if your wood burning stove is DEFRA approved.

Will Your Wood Burner Benefit the Environment?

A wood burning stove can be a fantastic addition to your home, providing heat and comfort, and giving a room a whole new aesthetic feel. But in terms of the environment, are wood burners a good thing?

What are the environmental benefits of a wood burning stove?

Using a Renewable Energy Source

Other mainstream energy sources – coal, oil, gas – are not renewable. They have to be sourced from somewhere, otherwise they run out. Hence the current controversy around fracking. Wood, although perhaps the oldest source of fuel for energy, is renewable.

Here’s how it works: providing the wood for your stove comes from a sustainable source, then it’s a renewable source of energy. In sustainable forests, a new tree will be planted for every tree that is felled for firewood.

In the UK, the Forestry Commission actively encourages the growing of trees for firewood and provides expert advice for doing so. The Woodland Trust helps landowners plant trees, contributing to a half hectare or more by bearing up to 60 per cent of the cost.

Wood burning stoves are far more efficient at wood burning for heat than traditional open fires, up to three times more. So while you’re using a renewable energy source you’re also making the most of it, using less fuel for more heat. This is worth considering when upgrading a wood burning fireplace.

Some models of stove also burn off gases emitted by the wood by circulating it back into the stove, which you might weigh up when thinking about which new stove to buy.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

Your carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas your activities release into the atmosphere. We all have modern lifestyles we support through energy consumption, so we all make some contribution to greenhouse gases.

A primary footprint is the sum of the direct emissions of carbon from burning fossil fuels for domestic energy consumption. This is where a wood burning stove can make a real difference.

Wood emits significantly less carbon than other fossil fuels, such as coal. Furthermore, the amount of carbon burning wood emits is roughly the same as that extracted from the atmosphere and stored by a tree during its lifetime.

Trees will emit an equivalent amount of carbon if they are simply left to decompose, so using them for firewood, if the wood is untreated, will not emit any additional pollutants into the atmosphere.

Your Own Environment

Will you pay a different kind price for having a wood burning stove in terms of its effect on your own environment – do wood burning stoves smell?

For some people this is a concern when considering changing to a wood burner, but in fact stove technology ensures that smells are contained.

Providing you look after your stove, it won’t release the smell of burning wood into your house. Contemporary wood burners are airtight, designed to prevent smoke leaks.

Wood burning stoves are a clean, efficient source of energy, providing clear environmental benefits alongside the advantages for your home, giving you an enduring feeling of comfort.

Mr Stove says:

  • Your stove is environmentally friendly and will help reduce your carbon footprint.
  • The changes you’ll notice are entirely positive – comfort combined with energy efficiency, without the lingering smell of smoke.

Love and Money: Reasons for Choosing a Wood Burning Stove

Does a wood burning stove save you money? This is a key question, because while wood burners can have a transformative effect on a home, in term of how they become a focus for comfort, you also want to know what sort of ongoing commitment they represent.

There are two main things to think about here: the cost of heating your home, and the investment you’re making in a wood burning stove.

Are Wood Burning Stoves Efficient?

If you install a wood burner suitable for the size of your home, and, crucially, matching the purpose you intend to use it for, then you’ll have a lifetime of heating that isn’t hostage to the big utilities providers.

Wood burners come in a whole range of sizes, so the size of the wood burner, and its firebox – which determines how much wood you can actually burn at any one time – needs to be appropriate to the space you want to heat.

However, wood burners are very thermally efficient, with an energy efficiency rate of over 80%. They’re a very old, established form of heating, but they give off a unique kind of ambient heat, a cosiness that other forms of heating cannot replicate.

The efficiency of the stove you choose is important, and this is different from its maximum output in kilowatts. A stove’s efficiency comes from the amount of heat it retains minus the amount of heat it loses when burning wood. So, if you had a wood burner with a big output but relatively low efficiency, it would not be as effective as, perhaps, a smaller stove with greater efficiency.

Choose wisely, consider function as well as form, and what you want your stove to be able to do. For some it’s about being the centrepiece in the home, for others it’s having a different quality of comfort and heating.

Heating as an Investment

When it comes to deciding which new stove to buy, you should be thinking in terms of a long-term investment. A wood burner is a lifestyle choice. It can actually change how you spend your time in your home, and how your home appears to your family and visitors.

So, when it comes to the decision about getting a wood burner, you have to weigh up all these things. Yes, it can save you money on your fuel bills, and yes, it is an efficient way of heating your home; but most of all you should do it for the love of your home.

It’s less like fitting a new boiler and much more to do with transforming your environment. You’re investing in something with a real legacy, and this is reflected in more than just well-managed energy costs.

Mr Stove says:

  • Choose the right stove for your home for size and efficiency.
  • Think of it as a long-term investment in your family’s comfort.

How to Be Sure Your stove is Safe and Working Well

Wood burners work best when they’re well looked-after. For some people, having a real fire in their home will itself be a new thing, and this obviously brings with it a certain degree of responsibility.

So a key question is, are wood burning stoves safe? The answer is yes, but, they need care and attention, and you do need to be aware of the potential risks of having a wood burner in your home.

A Clean Sweep

Many houses have a chimney but many also are unused to it being a working one. It’s important when you’ve had a stove installed that you arrange for someone to sweep your chimney. This removes any build-up of soot or tar that builds up over use.

How long should you leave it between chimney sweeps? The busiest time for your stove is going to be the winter months, so really you should have your chimney swept at the beginning and the end of winter.

A build-up of deposits in the chimney, if left, could damage it, and, importantly, might block it. The danger then is of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Are wood burning stoves, therefore, bad for your health? Not as long as you ensure you look after your stove. Remember to sweep your chimney regularly.

Are Wood Burning Stoves Messy?

Fire equals soot and ash, equals mess, right? Well not if you’re careful about what kind of wood you burn, and if you clean out the ash from your wood burner regularly.

If you burn wet or unseasoned logs, this will create the amount of sooty deposits in your chimney, and therefore will require more chimney sweeps.

Keep up with cleaning out the ash from your stove’s ash pan, but remember that it can help to keep a layer of ash in order to get the fire burning. If in doubt, check the manufacturer’s instructions for your wood burner.

If your stove has airwash you won’t need to clean the glass as often, because the inbuilt vents will help circulate cool air in the stove when you’re burning wood in it.

Similarly, if your wood burner has cleanburn technology this burns off more smoke, which means less soot.

Do wood burning stoves need servicing on top of regular cleaning? With no electrical parts, a wood burner should require no regular servicing, except of course, for getting the chimney swept.

However, when you routinely clean out your oven do watch out for any breaks in the seal, or other holes or cracks which may appear over time. Like most things, stoves can suffer from some wear and tear, and when they do, don’t hesitate to get them repaired. This will ensure their safety and efficiency.

Protect the Family

Take a common-sense approach to your wood burner. If you’ve got children, then look at getting a fire guard or fire screen.

There are plenty of different designs to choose from, depending on the level of protection you require, and how you want this to fit in with the overall look of your stove.

Keep the glass door of the oven firmly closed and always be careful about how you load your logs, and how many you put into the stove – too many and you risk them tumbling out when you open the door.

Mr Stove says:

  • A wood burning stove is as safe as you are – look after it and it will look after you.
  • You can have a lifetime’s home heating and comfort as long as you treat your wood burner with the respect it deserves.

What is the Perfect Stove Size for Home Heating?

A wood burning stove provides a bespoke heating solution for your home, and just as each home has its own layout and characteristics, so it’s important to find the right wood burner for the job.

Choice is a good thing, but faced with a wide range of wood burners to choose from, you want to get it right, while selecting a stove design that absolutely fits in with your home.

What’s the Difference Between Output and Efficiency?

We measure the heat output of stoves in Kilowatts (kW), and this ranges from a nominal heat output to a maximum heat output. A nominal output is basically the amount of heat you can expect to achieve; the maximum output is the top performance you can expect from your wood burner.

What you also should consider is the stove efficiency. This is measured by a percentage, and it indicates how much heat the stove actually emits into the room once a proportion has gone up the chimney. So, for example, an 85% efficient stove loses 15% of heat up the chimney when burning wood.

In other words, you’re looking to get the right combination of heat output and stove efficiency when considering which stove to choose to heat your home.

What About Firebox Capacity?

Your wood burning stove has a firebox, which is where you actually put the wood you’re going to burn. Clearly the capacity of the firebox will determine how much wood the stove can burn at a time, and therefore its maximum heat output.

So, think about how many logs the firebox of your stove will reasonably hold. In practice, this also involves you finding the ideal log size for your wood burner. For example, trying to cram too many smaller logs in might result in one of them falling out each time you open the stove door; whereas fewer slightly larger logs may be better, but too big and you’re not making the most out of your firebox’s capacity.

Once you’ve hit your stride though, maintaining the right amount of heat from your wood burner will be like second nature to you, and you’ll really feel the benefits.

Take Your Room Measurements

Have a look at the room where you’re planning to install your wood burning oven. Measure its width, length and height in metres.

Multiply these three figures together. This gives you the cubic metres, or room volume.

Next, think about your insulation.

  • if you’re in a house with very good insulation, divide the room volume figure by 25;
  • if the room has fair to average insulation, divide by 15; or
  • if you have poor, or even no insulation, divide by 10.

If you’re not sure about the quality of your insulation, use the 15 figure.

This figure – the total of cubic metres divided by the insulation figure – will give you the kW output requirement of your wood burner. But remember, always check the actual firebox capacity.

Make the right choice and you’ll benefit from a special kind of cosiness while saving on your fuel bills, and you’ll have a striking feature in your home.

Mr Stove says:

  • Think about your surroundings and your requirements in order to choose the right stove to match.
  • Bear in mind the capacity of your wood burner as well as its efficiency, and remember that the size and type of logs you burn will make a big difference.

A Stove Alone? How to Accessorise Your Wood Burner

Your wood burner is a great practical addition to your home, but it’s also a statement. It makes a change to your habitat and in the process it says something about your home and how you value it.

So when you’re planning to have a wood burning stove installed, you should also think about its immediate surroundings, and what opportunities you might have to add to, or change, them, in order to bring the best out in your stove.

This is where wood burner accessories can add a vital extra quality to your home and your stove.

In Situ

Obviously when choosing to have a stove, your home needs to be set up correctly, ready for the installation. But you should also consider the overall setting of it. Whether, for instance, it’s free standing in its own space, or if you have a specially built surrounding and base for it.

Stoves come in many contemporary and traditional designs, so you want to ensure that whichever of these you choose, it fits in with the look of your home, and where the stove itself will be situated.

The Log Holder

So a key part of having a wood burner is the wood that goes into it, naturally. Fortunately, logs are themselves an attractive feature, bringing a real sense of authenticity into an interior space. But they also raise the question of storage.

There’s plenty of choice when it comes to log holders, and each helps create a different look. You might have a minimal, metal log rack to stack your logs on. Or you could go for an antique-effect lined log basket. You can see how each of these will bring a different quality to your wood burning area. There are more esoteric choices on offer, from modernist Scandinavian-styled towers, to recycled materials and contemporary basket designs.

You should always consider the design of your wood burner and try to co-ordinate you log holder so even if you choose something contrasting, if fits with the general look you’ve got.

Fire Screens and Guards

Particularly if you’ve got kids, then having some sort of protection around your wood burner is a must. Fortunately, these now come in a wide range of designs and styles that are far from being merely functional.

You might go for a more grid- or bar-based, three-sided nursery guard, or a more elaborate, five-piece hearth gate.

For more traditional tastes, there are also heavy duty, cast-iron fenders which create a clear zone around your wood burning stove. Designs vary in terms of ornateness and detailing.

Practical Tools

Even the practical tools you’ll find invaluable in the everyday maintenance of your stove can come in different styles and combinations, each differently suited to the type of stove and surrounding space you have.

Essentials include a log roller, poker, tongs, brush and shovel. You can find different combinations of these in different materials, including wrought iron, brass, stainless steel and chrome.

They also come in designs ranging from the more traditional to modern and streamlined. Again it’s a question of matching the tools to the overall look of your wood burner and its surroundings, and creating a harmonious sense of all these things coming together naturally.

Mr Stove says:

  • Your wood burner is a statement as well as a practical piece, so do it justice with its surroundings.
  • Make sure all the accessories, including the essentials, match the style of the stove, and fit in with your vision of your home.

Not All Wood is the Same: What’s Best for Burning?

A wood burning stove can absolutely transform your home. It looks amazing and it’s an elegant solution to heating that can actually save you money. Here’s a thing though: not all wood is equal when it comes to burning. Some wood burns better than others, and if you’re really going to get the best out of your stove, then choosing the right kind of wood for burning is crucial.

Choose Your Wood Wisely

Welcome to the world of logs – it’s a lot more fascinating than you might have thought.

First things first: make sure the wood you’re going to burn is dry. Logs have a calorific value, which accounts for how much available heat per unit of fuel they possess (and unlike cakes, the higher the calorific value then naturally, the better the log will be for you).

If the wood has a high moisture content, then this will reduce the amount of energy available when you burn it. You should really only burn dried wood, often known as seasoned wood.

So, onto a selection of the different kinds of wood for burning, rated very good, good, and to be avoided. This list isn’t fully comprehensive, but it does give you an idea of the range of wood for burning that’s out there.

The very good:

  • Ash – one of the best woods for burning, with a good heat output.
  • Beech – much like ash, another reliable performer.
  • Hawthorn – very much a traditional firewood, for the reason that it burns well.
  • Yew – slow burning with a very good output of heat.

The good:

  • Apple – a slow and steady burner with a small flame.
  • Birch – a good heat output but burns rather quickly.
  • Cedar – consistent heat with a small flame.
  • Hazel – performs well, fast burning.

Avoid – The following are poor burners with not much heat output:

  • Alder
  • Douglas Fir
  • Eucalyptus
  • Holly
  • Willow.

Please also note that both Laburnum and Poplar are really unsuitable for burning as both are very smokey and produce a very poor burn.

As with many things in life, there are also a fair number of wood types that are medium to so-so in burning performance. They shouldn’t be your first choice, but if pushed you could burn the following:

  • Elm
  • Larch
  • Laurel
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut.

A number of Pine trees burn well, with a strong flame, but they do leave sap deposits which can increase the risk of a chimney fire. If well-seasoned, pine wood can be okay to burn, but proceed with caution.

Drying Logs

The most effective wood to burn in your stove will always be dry wood. Avoid buying green wood, unless you’re going to dry it yourself.

It’s important to know when the trees your logs come from have been felled – standing timber is driest in winter.

Green logs are generally cheaper than seasoned logs, but you will need to stack and dry them before use. Logs should be stacked off the ground, on bearers, in a sunny, windy locations, under waterproof cover.

Ideally your cut logs should be split to diameters of less than 10cm, allowing moisture to more easily move to the surface of the log. Bring your cut and split logs indoors before burning to ensure they are well dried-out.

You should be aiming for a moisture content of 20% or less for logs suitable for burning in your stove.

Mr Stove says:

  • Choose the right wood to burn and make sure it’s seasoned.
  • If you’re buying green wood you’ll need to dry it yourself, and make sure it’s properly dried out before using it.