Three times more efficient than an open fire, the solid fuel stove is one of the most effective, cleanburning forms of heating, and – with a range of stunning designs available – makes for a striking centrepiece. Melanie Griffiths offers buying advice and showcases some of the best woodburning stove models around.

Which Type of Woodburning Stove?

Whether you long for a cutting-egde contemporary design or you err on the side of purist traditional style, your woodburning stove’s look is unlikely to be the question over which you ponder the most. More important factors in your decision are your heat requirements (SEE BELOW) and the type of fuel you will be using. Neither define its appearance.

Multi-fuel stoves are more versatile in that they are capable of burning both wood and coal, whereas a woodburning stove burns only wood — which is more environmentally friendly. Introduced in recent years, pellet stoves burn wood pellets which have been made from sawdust bonded with a natural adhesive. For total heating needs, boiler stoves are capable of heating a four bedroom house, making them ideal for those wanting a greener heating system.

Recent developments have lead to many stoves being cleanburn: these are more efficient and produce cleaner smoke. However, if you live in a Smoke Control area you can only burn authorised smokeless fuels, or wood in an approved smokeless stove. See uksmokecontrolareas.co.uk for advice.

Less orthodox, gas and electric stoves are becoming more popular. They can either be decorative, in that they produce little warmth, or room heaters, which provide heating. Some gas models will require a flue.

Cast Iron or Steel?

Whatever their design, nearly all stoves are made from cast iron or sheet steel. Cast iron is the classic choice for a woodburning stove: not only is the material hardwearing and an excellent conductor of heat, but it can be crafted into ornate designs. It is, however, usually more expensive than steel. Better quality stoves are enamelled – often in black – while the cheaper versions are painted. Despite its many good qualities, cast iron is relatively brittle and subject to cracking if roughly handled — but you just need to inspect the stove for breaks before use and treat with care.

Steel tends to be the material of choice for contemp or – ary designs. The stoves are welded together which makes them more airtight than cast iron, which is a more problematic material to weld; they are also very strong and durable and conduct heat well. It is possible for steel to buckle or distort if over-fired — though this is rare.

How Much Heat Do I Need?

When burned in a stove, a pound of fuel can produce three times more heat than when burned on an open fire, but because stoves are so efficient, it’s essential to choose one with the right heat output for your home — or you’ll end up with a stove that produces more heat than you need. Showrooms can help calculate your required heat output, but as a rough rule, allow approximately 0.05kW/m3 of room volume. The heat output is also dependent on the fuel you burn.

Currently, there is no legal requirement for stove manufacturers to have their designs tested and efficiency rated. However, if you choose a HETAS-approved design, you can be sure that the manufacturer’s claims on heat output and efficiency have been independently verified. Log on to hetas.co.uk for more information.

Do I Need a Chimney?

Most stoves require a flue or chimney. Solid fuel stoves up to 30kW output require a ‘Class I’ flue which must be at least six inches in diameter; some appliance types with heat outputs up to 50kW require flues up to seven inches in diameter. Some gas stoves require flues, some don’t. If you have an existing flue or chimney, you will need to get it checked out before installing the stove. Hire a chimney – sweep to ensure it is in full working order. The installation of stoves falls under Building Control, so you must enlist the services of a professional to install your stove and ensure you meet the required standards.

Article Updated November 2012

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