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By Diane Small
Once the mainstay of eco-warriors and eccentrics, today wood burning stoves offer a cheaper, greener alternative to gas heating–but using one can be tricky. They can get very hot and so children need to be kept at bay; they cannot run unattended, and the chimney will need a filter, and to be cleaned once a year.
An Eco Friendly Option
Whilst some may wonder why burning wood is more eco-friendly than burning gas, the short answer is that modern wood burning stoves have a heat efficiency of about 75-80%, as opposed to a fireplace that has only 32%. This is because stoves use baffles, which move the hot air around the inside of the firebox ,and dampers, which slow the inward flow of cold air and the rate at which the wood burns.
The average fireplace set stove will have a nominal heat output of around 5kw, as opposed to the 220kwh it takes to heat the typical British home in winter–so, more than one stove is needed to make this the main source of heat for an entire home, but most people use such stoves for the one room in which they spend the most time.
Building regulations may dictate that a permanent open air vent be placed in the wall near the stove, and no matter how small the wood burner may be, you will need to have a pile of wood handy–a 5kw model normally uses around .5 cubic metre of logs to heat a single room continuously for a week. That’s about three wheelbarrows full of logs!
Despite the amount of lumber burnt, the wood that is used for these stoves is usually small logs and twigs, wood chips or lumber scraps, so it’s rare that trees are killed solely for a wood burning stove. Note that for maximum efficiency, wood must be left to dry for up to two years after felling, otherwise any energy savings will fly up the chimney, along with the water vapour these newer, wetter woods provide. Wondering which to burn? Pine is sustainable and smells wonderful but tends to snap and crackle, whereas holly and oak provide a long, hot burn.
Clean Lines, Hot Designs
There are several attractive, modern designs for wood burning stoves today, including the Riva Studio 1, which is a clean, Nordic style box that can be mounted on a bench or placed in a wall to make more of a visual impact, or the Jotul F 400, which is a Gothic arched glass door that has a removable handle to save the hands of curious children from being burnt. Finally, the Danish-designed Morso 7448 is a modern cylinder mounted on a pedestal, which fits perfectly in the corner of any room and has a ready made storage unit for logs, which is convenient.
None of these stoves are cheap, and prices start at £1,300, but knowing the fact that power cuts have become more common with increased incidences of extreme weather, and considering the energy savings you’ll make in the long run, a wood stove may be the best investment you could make this winter.