energy / space heating  

Wood Burning Stoves

Summary - Burning logs from local woodlands has many environmental benefits; you can also used reclaimed wood from building projects if they are untreated and unpainted as it would stop waste wood going to landfill.

Burning waste wood - A lot of people doing up houses throw away good wood. Never burn painted, plastic or melamine coated wood, chipboard or MDF - these give off toxic fumes.

Buying logs - You should only burn wood there's been cut down for a year or more as unseasoned wood may present a fire hazard or cause chimney damage but also it does not burn as well or as hot.

Remember, if you are buying a wood burning stove, to ensure that your installer is HETAS registered. 


Woodburning stoves can warm your house and save you money. Options to consider are the type of stove you have and the kind of wood to burn; also what grants are available for you to install your stove.

At Green Information HQ we have a lovely wood burning stove that gives us our heat, saves money, saves carbon emissions and of course nothing beats the look of a real fire. In these times of rising electricity, gas and oil prices, more and more people are turning to wood to heat their homes.

Everyone likes an open fire, but the efficiency of burning logs in a grate is very low. An open fire has to suck a lot of the (warm) air out of the room, and it is replaced by cold air from outside.

An open fire is estimated to be only about 20-25% efficient, but it can be much lower, even falling into negative efficiency, potentially making your room colder than before you started!

But a modern wood-burning stove can run at over 80% efficiency. So if you put your logs in a stove instead of on a fire you will benefit from at least three times the amount of heat.

In addition, you may be able to use the top of the stove (if it is flat) to boil a kettle or make toast, and some models even have ovens built in, so you can bake a cake while you’re warming your home.

Wood burning stoves are normally used for background heating, although some higher output versions are fitted with a back boiler, heat hot water and radiators.

Burning logs from local woodlands has many environmental benefits you can also used reclaimed to wood from building projects if they are untreated and unpainted as it would stop waste wood going to landfill.

Benefits of burning wood

The carbon footprint is already down. Wood is the Alpha-Material. Being the only 100% renewable material grown by solar power, needing very little or no irrigation, needing generally no pesticides or herbicides to grow and requiring very little disturbance of the soil over the growth cycle of the tree, it is one of the most sustainable materials. 49% of wood dries as sequestered carbon. Until it is burned or totally decomposes, the carbon is held in the wood. No other material can tell this amazing environmental story.

Like all fuels, wood is essentially carbon. Burning it emits carbon dioxide, and growing it absorbs carbon dioxide. A new tree absorbs the carbon dioxide emitted by burning an old tree. But there is a time delay of around 25 years. This is nothing compared with fossil fuels, but may be significant in the current global climate change situation. Therefore wood is not considered carbon neutral, but since trees are planted or coppice continues to grow you would only get ‘charged’ for half the emissions produced by burning it.  To keep the carbon footprint down make sure your logs are sourced from local woodlands

Wood is a renewable resource, most firewood in the UK comes from sustainable sources, so for every tree cut down another is planted, and the carbon released from the felled tree will be absorbed by another tree.  Logs cut locally have not been transported long distances; this also has wide reaching environmental implications.

Woodland management contributes to the rural economy and supports local jobs.  Appropriate woodland management benefits wildlife and enhances the landscape.

Both in terms of smoke and the amount of ash produced for the owner to clean up, modern wood burners are very impressive.

Even in daily use the stove should not need cleaning out more than every few weeks. In fact, a bed of ashes helps the wood to burn.

As for the emissions, many stoves are now clean enough to be legally used in urban smoke-free zones.

Burning waste wood

Since we started looking out for waste wood we have been surprised how much people throw away, we get untreated wood pallets from lots of places who are glad for us to have them as they normally have to pay for someone to take them away.

A lot of people doing up houses throw away good wood. You can use it all, as long as it’s not painted or treated.  A friend is having an extension built and has saved all of the off cuts for us.  Our builder even brought round all the untreated wood from a floor he had just replaced.  We have also advertised in freecycle with great success.

Enormous quantities of waste wood from demolition sites, timber yards, packaging and scrap furniture are landfilled each year.  Never burn painted, plastic or melamine coated wood, chipboard or MDF - these give off toxic fumes. You also have to be particularly careful with wood that has been treated for outdoor use, such as fence posts, as in the past CCA, which contains arsenic, was commonly used. You also have to avoid wood treated with halogens, chlorine, fluorine and bromine, or treated with heavy metals.

Buying logs

If you look in your local Yellow Pages, newspaper or parish magazine you'll probably find adverts for companies that will deliver wood to you.  The more locally the wood has been cut, the lower the CO2 emissions will be from the transportation.  But you also need to find out some other information.  The most important is whether the wood is seasoned or green.  You should only burn wood there's been cut down for a year or more as unseasoned wood may present a fire hazard or cause chimney damage but also it does not burn as well or as hot.

Other questions to ask are: is delivery included in the price?  Are they selling by weight or volume and how much does it cost? (In other words, what constitutes a ‘load’).  Check with your supplier whether the cost includes stacking or whether they will be up-ending a load on your driveway for you to move.

You also need to check the type of wood that you're getting.  Generally the heavier the log the longer it will burn (providing the weight isn't due to water from unseasoned logs), you could use birch or alder to get your fire going and burning fast then mix-and-match different woods once its established and then put on oak or beech to keep going overnight.

You will definitely need kindling which you can usually get from most log merchants but also from farm shops or use small pieces of waste wood.  Dried bark also works well as kindling.

In addition you could also purchase a ‘log maker’ and make your own logs from wastepaper, although be warned they take ages to dry.

Don't forget to get your chimney swept regularly!

Be careful when you are thinking of buying a new stove.  In the future when you need an Energy Performance Certificate for a Home Information Pack (HIP) for selling your house you could improve your rating by having a wood burning stove but decrease your rating if you get a multi-fuel stove that is capable of burning coal (even if you personally don’t use it for coal).

Remember, if you are buying a wood burning stove, to ensure that your installer is HETAS registered.  HETAS is the official body recognised by government to approve solid fuel domestic heating appliances, fuels and services.  If your installer is not approved you must seek Building Regulations Approval from your local authority before proceeding.

Grants may be available for some installations through the DTI/BERR low carbon buildings programme.   See the clear skies website for details of approved products.  The installer also has to be approved. The grants can be an overall maximum of £1,500 or 30% of the relevant eligible costs, whichever is the lower although there is also a maximum of £2,500 per installation address if you have applied for grants for other Low Carbon grants in the past, check http://www.lowcarbonbuildings.org.uk/about/hfaqs/ for details or ring 0800 915 0990.

Some rhymes to help you remember which wood burns the best...
There are some variations on the same poem:

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year
Chestnut’s only good, they say
If for long ‘tis laid away
But Ash new or Ash old
Is fit for a Queen with Crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last
It is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould
E’en the very flames are cold
But Ash green or Ash brown
Is fit for a Queen with a golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke
Fills your eyes and makes you choke.
Apple wood will scent your room
With an incense like perfume.
Oaken logs, if dry and old.
Keep away the winter's cold.
But Ash wet or Ash dry
A king shall warm his slippers by

OR

Oaken logs, if dry and old,
Keep away the winter's cold
Poplar gives a bitter smoke
, Fills your eyes, and makes you choke
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould
, E'en the very flames are cold
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread -
Or so it is in Ireland said,
Applewood will scent the room,
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom,
But Ashwood wet and Ashwood dry,
A King can warm his slippers by.

OR

Beechwood logs burn bright and clear,
If the wood is kept a year
Store your Beech for Christmas-tide,
With new-cut holly laid aside
Chestnut's only good, they say
If for years it's stored away
Birch and Fir wood burn too fast,
Blaze too bright, and do not last
Flames from larch will shoot up high,
And dangerously the sparks will fly...
But Ashwood green,
And Ashwood brown
Are fit for Queen with golden crown

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