Grate expectations!

A wood burning stove
A wood burning stove

Winter’s coming and there’s nothing nicer than snuggling up in front of a roaring fire, which is where wood burners come into their own, says Julia Gray

September was unseasonably cold and rainy and if the miserable weather’s inspired you to do something about warming up before your teeth start to chatter, how about investing in a natural fire as we enter October?

The problem with open fires is that they’re not very energy efficient, at only around 20%. The majority of wood-burning stoves, on the other hand, are 70 to 90% efficient, so you get all the benefits of a real fire without most of your money going up in smoke.

You may be surprised to learn that prices for wood burners start at less than £200 and, while you can pay a lot more for one that has more features, amazing looks or a high output, cheap and cheerful models make wood burners an option if you’re on a budget. That said, remember to add on the cost of the accessories, installation and any associated building working.

The good news is that your stove should start saving you money straight away. The more powerful it is, and the smaller and better insulated your home, the more money you’re likely to save, especially if your house has an open-plan layout or you keep the internal doors open, so the stove does more than just heat the room it’s in. Wood burners chuck out heat, and you should need the heating on less when it’s lit.

Wood (as long as it’s sustainably sourced) is, of course, a more environmentally friendly fuel than oil or gas - and subject to fewer price rises. Freshly-cut wood contains up to 90% water, so you have to dry it out (season it) before you can burn it. This can take as long as three years.

You can buy wood that’s already seasoned, or you can season it yourself, using a log store. The important thing is to allow air to circulate all around the logs to dry them out. And if you don’t want to only burn wood, you don’t have to – with a multi-fuel stove, you can also burn coal, smokeless fuel, peat and turf (depending on any smoke-control restrictions in your area).

The installation of a wood-burning stove must comply with building regulations. Rather than involving your local council’s building control department (which can check and sign off the work) or an improved inspector (who does the same job but is employed by a private company), it’s often easier to use a qualified fitter.

HETAS-registered installers deal with wood, solid-fuel and biomass domestic heating appliances and can self-certify that their work complies with building regulations, so it’s safe and legal.

Another consideration is whether the chimney needs to be lined before the stove is installed.

Homes dating from the mid-Sixties onwards will have had a concrete or clay chimney liner fitted when they were built, but older properties won’t necessarily have a liner – your installer will be able to check for you. There are lots of benefits to having a chimney lined, including better energy efficiency – and who doesn’t want that?