Using a wood burning stove

Wood burning stoves

Using a wood burning stove

Article 6 of 6

Using a wood burning stove

Our guide to using wood burning stoves takes you through how to light your stove, how to maintain it, and how to use it efficiently.

Whether you’ve bought a wood burning stove, are thinking of getting one, or have inherited one with a home you’ve moved into, there are a number of things to consider so you can make the most of your stove. 

We’ve spoken to stove owners, installers and industry experts to get the best advice on using and maintaining your wood burning stove.

If you're considering getting a wood burning stove, or want to know how much you could save by using one, see our expert advice on stove costs and savings. This includes our step-by-step guide to working out if you'll save on your energy bill, as well as our handy downloadable checklist on buying, installing and using a stove.

To download the checklist and access our expert advice, you need to log in as a Which? member. If you're not yet a member, you can gain access to all our expert advice and reviews for a £1 trial subscription to Which?.

Stoves: coal vs wood

There are clear benefits to burning wood, instead of coal. As well as coal being more expensive, it produces much more CO2, so is less environmentally friendly.

This is what we discovered when we asked Which? members who own a stove whether they believe their stove has saved them money or not (survey, Dec 14):

  • wood burning stoves - 61% of owners said it saved them money 
  • multi-fuel stoves - only 39% said it saved them money.

If you're thinking of getting a multi-fuel stove, think about what fuel you're going to use. According to a survey conducted by the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA), 77% of multi-fuel stoves owners said they used their stove exclusively to burn wood. As multi-fuel stoves do not burn wood as efficiently as dedicated wood burning stoves, they would be better off with a wood burning stove.

For more information on different types of stoves and to find out which is right for you, see our guide on types of stoves.

Sourcing wood fuel for your wood burning stove

To make sure you get the most out of your wood burning stove, it’s important to use the right kind of wood.

The price of wood varies, depending on where you are in the country and what type of wood you buy. Wood is normally sold by cubic metres, rather than by weight, to ensure the cost isn't inadvertently hiked up by any moisture contained in the logs.

For wood burning stoves, the drier the wood the better. Using fresh logs with a high moisture content will reduce your stove’s heat output, as you’ll waste energy burning off the water. So you’ll need to use more to warm the room.

Never burn freshly-cut wood as it creates a lot of smoke and makes the stove dirty

You can reduce the moisture content of freshly-cut wood by drying it yourself, also called seasoning. To do this, it’s best to store the wood in a dry place for at least a year, preferably two. To help you work out how dry your wood is, you can also buy a moisture meter - these cost around £20.

It's also preferable to burn hardwoods, such as oak and ash, instead of softwoods, such as pine or fir. Hardwoods take longer to burn, and so you'll use less.

Cost of wood fuel

For the best results, the wood should be left on a dry surface protected from rain. Leave the sides exposed to air and wind, as it will speed up the drying process. Chopping the wood down to size before storing it will also help it to dry quicker. Alternatively, you can buy ready-seasoned wood at a little extra cost.

Different types of logs will state the estimated kWh heat output when it's burnt - the higher this is, the more heat it will produce.

  • Freshly-cut logs are cheap to buy at around £80 per cubic metre, but have a moisture content between 60% and 90%. The heat output from freshly-cut logs will be around 1kWh per kg.
  • Ready-seasoned wood has around 40% moisture content, and can usually be purchased for around £95 - £123 per cubic metre. Burning wood that has been seasoned will give you a heat output of about 3kWh per kg.
  • Kiln-dried wood is more expensive, about £115-£145 per cubic metre. But it's highly efficient and can be used immediately. On average, it contains less than 20% moisture and burning it produces a heat output of around 4.5kWh per kg.
  • Briquettes, fuel created from crushing recycled wood, paper or peat together, have a low moisture content - as little as 10% or less. So they burn very efficiently. These are sold by the kg, and usually cost around £150 for 500kg of hardwood briquettes, which should burn slower. You can also get peat briquettes, or make your own using a compressor machine - which you can buy online for around £20.
  • If you have a specialised wood-pellet stove, you can usually buy wood pellets online or from a local supplier. Wood pellets are sold by the kg and cost around £120 per 250kg. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) recommends that you buy ENplus standard pellets, which have roughly 10% moisture content and will give you a heat output of around 5kWh per kg.

Note that 500kg is around one cubic metre, so working out how much wood will cost for the amount you'll use is a little tricky. But you can find out more about how to calculate this, as well as the costs of buying, installing and using a stove, in our expert guide to stove costs and savings.

Kindling can be sourced from pallets used for building suppliers and found in skips (just check with the owners first)

It is sometimes possible to collect wood fuel for free from building sites, skips or local woods. But legally you don’t have a right to it, so it’s really important to check first with the site or land owners that they’re happy for you to take it. It’s worth also asking whether the wood has been treated with chemicals - if it has, it could be unsafe to burn.

As a rough guide, an average-sized house which uses a stove in the evenings and at weekends will need about three to four cubic metres of wood a year.

Although wood itself is considered a carbon-neutral fuel, transporting it uses CO2. So it’s best to try and find a supplier close to home. You can find a local supplier on the wood fuel directory website.

Lighting and controlling your wood burning stove

Lighting your stove in the most effective way could take a little bit of practise, but the following steps will help you out:

  • Fully open the primary air vent/control and airwash controls
  • Place a firelighter or, to be more eco-friendly, paper or beeswax together with some dry kindling wood on the grate
  • Light the firelighter or paper/beeswax
  • Leave the door slightly ajar and open vents while the fire establishes and the glass warms up. This will help avoid condensation building up
  • Once the fire is going, add some larger pieces of wood. Be careful of adding too many logs as they could smother the fire
  • When the logs have caught and the fire is fully established (it's worth letting it burn for half an hour), close the door completely and close any vents half way
  • Close the primary air control
  • Use the airwash to control the burn rate when the stove is at operating temperature. 

It's key to make sure the flue heats up and stays warm. This will help avoid carbon monoxide coming down the chimney and creosotes building up, which can be flammable. Make sure you have left enough time for the flue to heat up before adding logs - the fire should be burning well, but not fiercely.

It's worth buying a stove thermometer to monitor the temperature - this will go on the side of the stove. Most stoves should stay between 200 and 250 degrees but this can vary for each stove, so check with the manufacturer.

Stove maintenance and safety

If you choose the right stove, it should be fairly easy to maintain. But there are a few steps you should take to keep it efficient and safe.

To keep your stove in good working order, the Stove Industry Alliance recommends that you have your chimney swept at the beginning and the end of the winter to avoid a build-up of tar and soot, which could damage the chimney and stove when not in use.

From a safety point of view, blocked chimneys can also cause deadly carbon monoxide. One sweep should cost £30-£60.

Wet or unseasoned logs will leave more sooty deposits and could increase the number of sweeps you need, so it’s best to use seasoned or kiln-dried wood to cut down on maintenance. You can find a chimney sweep in your area by visiting The National Association of Chimney Sweeps website.

If you have a pellet stove, you will also need to have a yearly service as the stove has electrical working parts. This can cost around £200.

It’s also a good idea to clean out the ash from the ash pan and to clean the glass regularly. Keep in mind, though, that leaving a layer of ash in the grate can help to start the fire and keep it burning. So it's best to check the manufacturer's guide for specific instructions on how often to clean it out. 

If your stove has airwash - a cool air vent that helps to stop tar building up on the glass - you may not need to clean the ash or glass as often.

Some stoves also have special cleanburn or cleanheat technologies, which pull in extra air to help burn off more smoke, reducing sooty deposits.

Use damp newspaper dipped in ash to clean the glass, then reuse the newspaper as kindling for your next fire

When cleaning out the stove, it’s worth keeping an eye out for any cracks, distortions, breaks in the seals, holes or rust. These can all affect the stove’s performance and safety.

Depending on how long you’ve had the stove, getting the affected part repaired or replaced if there are any problems may be covered in the manufacturer’s warranty. For more information on stove warranties, see our guide to installing a stove.

If you have children or pets, you might want to consider getting a fireguard to go around the stove. Also, it's worth having a bird guard fitted at the top of the chimney to stop birds nesting - this shouldn’t add a lot to the installation costs.

We recommend getting a carbon monoxide detector to sit in the room where the stove will be - it's a legal requirement with stoves installed after 2010 and stoves in rented properties. This must be placed on the ceiling at least 300mm away from any wall or, if it is located on a wall, as high up as possible (above any doors and windows) but not within 150mm of the ceiling. It must also be located between 1m and 3m horizontally from the stove.

Carbon monoxide detectors only cost around £15 and monitor whether any carbon monoxide, which is tasteless and odourless and highly poisonous, is being expelled.

It’s also worth getting a smoke alarm added to the room the stove is going in. Take a look at our smoke alarm reviews to find the best - we found two you should avoid because they failed our safety tests.