The ‘range’ can be categorised into two groups:
- the traditional range gives cooking, hot water and sometimes heating for up to 24 radiators
- the ‘range style’ that provides cooking only.
Within the scope of the traditional range there are more choices to be made. Stored heat ranges are left on all day, providing instant heat at a constant temperature, warming the kitchen at the same time. Most will need to be switched off during the summer months.
However, innovations such as AGA’s Intelligent Management System (AIMS) now allow greater flexibility — with slumber and holiday modes.
The single-burner, by comparison, can be fired up when required, typically ready for action within 15-20 minutes. And twin-burners allow hot water and heating to be operated independently of the cooker.
While smaller range-style cookers often have just four burners, you can have a fifth, central burner. This could be a standard hob burner or a ‘wok burner’, shaped to take the curved base of a wok. The bigger you go, the more options open up, such as griddle plates, deep-fat fryers and barbecues.
Traditional cast iron ranges typically have two hot plates:
- one slightly cooler plate for simmering
- a hotter plate for boiling.
Both can be covered with lift-up ‘hoods’ and, as they are constantly hot, burn off any food deposits, leaving an easy-to-clean dust.
The Everhot 110 in Dusky Pink (above) retails from £8,425. Using less than half the energy of comparable range cookers, Everhot cookers are also well suited to running off solar or other forms of renewable energy.
While cookers measuring 600mm are likely to feature just two ovens, wider versions can offer many more. Avoid models with just one large oven — it will take a long time to heat up. Several smaller ovens operating at different temperatures are more practical. Optional extras typically include rotisseries and warming drawers. Pyrolytic self-cleaning ovens can also be specified.
In traditional ranges there are commonly two ovens, one that is cooler for ‘warming’ and another hotter oven which is designed for roasting.
Design and Size
There is a range to suit all tastes — from free-standing streamlined stainless-steel models which lend a professional edge, to the quintessentially British cast-iron range. Bold façades, bespoke colours to match kitchen interiors (though you may pay £200-300 extra for the privilege), designer-engraved finishes and ‘fingerproof’ stainless steel are further innovations designed for modern life.
There is also a size to meet all needs. The standard widths are 900mm to 1,100mm, but models of 1,500mm with six ovens are available for large kitchens. A number of manufacturers now also offer 600mm models for the smaller kitchen.
The beauty of the modern range is the array of cooking options that can be specified — from simple plate-warming draws and rotisseries for Sunday roasts, to ceramic induction hobs, wok burners, ‘turbo’ and ‘defrost’ modes, and chargrill griddle plates.
Cleaning has also gone hi-tech, with innovations such as catalytic oven liners which help absorb spills. However, at the top end of the market is pyrolytic cleaning — at the switch of a button temperatures of 500°C burn off grease, saving you the chore.
The Klover Smart 120 cooker burns clean, carbon-neutral wood pellets, which will need topping up once a day. The cooker provides central heating and hot water, lighting itself whenever there is a heat demand. The RHI grant scheme will reward householders with up to £11,000 following installation. The model is priced at £6,650 including VAT.
Are Range Cookers Suitable for an Energy-Efficient Build?
The cast iron, heat storage stove cooker – to give it its full name – has been in almost continuous evolution since the 1920s. Original models were coal-fired and kept lit 24/7, a great idea in the big, draughty houses they were intended for.
Later in that century, water heating was added, although the idea of using the cooking heat source to also heat water had been around for a very long time, just not in the same machine. Equally, using the room (or, actually, house) heater to cook on has been around since at least 1834, when Esse produced its first machine.
But what we have now from manufacturers such as Thornhill, Esse, Aga, Klover, Rangemaster, Lacanche and Everhot are very different machines. They now boast efficiency and functionality undreamed of in the 1920s and are far less challenging for today’s housebuilder than they were even 10 years ago.
What are the Fuel Options?
You can run a range cooker to run on pretty much any fuel you want:
- coal (but perhaps not recommended)
- gas, mains or bottled
- wood, logs or pellets
Whatever your choice, ensure you plan for your range from the outset. Some fuel choices, such as solid fuel, will normally require a flue, while others may need to be located against an exterior wall. If you plump for an oil range you’ll require space outdoors for an oil tank. LPG is a good alternative for off-mains living, but you will need to purchase an LPG-compatible model.
Purchase and Running Costs
Range cookers aren’t cheap: expect to pay from £1,000 to £10,000 for high end models. Running costs have never been the big issue for the owners — indeed, any other means of cooking and/or heating a house would be cheaper. An electric heat storage range cooker will cost around three times as much to run as a conventional electric stove but we want the character and that warm heart of the home that the range cooker provides. The purchase price and running costs are something we choose to afford.
Range cooker manufacturers are working hard to ensure that their products remain relevant in the 21st century:
- Esse is putting a catalytic converter in its gas-fired products — making the range cookers massively more efficient than was once the case, but also meaning that they don’t need a flue. They also have gasification technology in the log-fired boilers.
- Thornhill has the world’s first wood pellet-fired stove, using similar highly efficient technology to be found in wood pellet boilers.
Most manufacturers provide programmable thermostatic control, allowing the stove to go into ‘slumber mode’ when not in use, and providing a shorter warm-up time, as little as 15 minutes in the case of some of the Thornhill products. For some machines, that control can be on your phone.
Many machines, from Aga, Esse and Thornhill, for example, also have electric induction hobs included. For the Thornhill cooker, it is the lid to the wood pellet hopper. That innovation recognises that sometimes we need cooking options that are a bit quicker and more controllable, and that owners often invest in a conventional cooker as well.
The Rayburn 200 Series is a compact model suitable for smaller kitchens, with a boiler output capable of heating up to three radiators. Prices start from £5,345.
What is the Heat Output?
Range cookers are valued as much as a room heater as a cooker, and it is here that problems can start. The addition of those modern innovations mean that the ‘waste’ heat – heat emitted by the stove at times when it is not wanted – is minimised. In some cases, where the machine is switched off when not in use, that will be virtually zero. In other cases it can be well over 10,000kWh per year. Aga’s new dual control system, for example, allows the ovens to be kept warm in slumber mode but to have the hot plates switched off, minimising waste heat output.
Excessive heat output can become a problem in a modern, well-insulated home as the underfloor heating is thrown into a tizzy when the thermostats are showing the room is warmer than it should be. The key is to understand exactly how much heat the stove will actually put out and give that information to the heating system designer, who can then make the problem go away.
It is the ongoing technical innovation that ensures that heat storage range cookers, with a 19th-century look, remain relevant in the 21st century.
In terms of energy efficiency, these machines are not as efficient as a conventional cooker. But they make the statement that every owner wants to make. It is almost impossible to enter a room with a range cooker in it without being drawn over to look, and even to touch it. That has never been true of a conventional cooker and it is that indefinable quality, together with innovation, that will keep them going, probably well into the next century.
Note: Article updated January 2018