A wood burning or multi-fuel stove can be a lovely focal point in your living room. But they’re also a potentially dangerous fire hazard and producer of pollutants if installed or used incorrectly.
To find out how much people know about vital stove safety information, we asked nearly 1,500 stove owners what details they were given when they bought their stove and had it installed.
Our research found that a quarter of people weren’t given advice about how to use their stove safely and effectively when they bought it.
A third weren’t told that the best fuel to use and nearly half (43%) weren’t told which ones to avoid – leaving them potentially using the most polluting fuels.
What’s more, a third didn’t get any information about choosing the correct stove wattage, which could mean wasting energy or being left with a product that fails to heat your home efficiently.
Read on to find out what important stove facts you should be aware of. Or check our stoves guide to understand how to buy a stove and use it in a way that limits its impact on our planet.
Wood burning and multi-fuel stoves – what you should know before you buy
The chart below highlights the patchy levels of information provided to people on important usage and safety details when they bought their stove.
Interestingly, our research also found that people who bought from a big-name retailer were less likely to have been given information than those who went directly to the brand or an independent store, installer or chimney sweep.
This was also the case for people who bought online, as opposed to buying in a physical store, especially when it came to the correct wattage for their stove or the best fuels. Just 43% of those who purchased online received this information compared with 71% of those who bought in a physical store.
Of course some people may have got this advice at the point of their stove installation. But, whomever you buy your stove from, we’d recommend asking for as much information as possible at that time. If you’re not sure of anything, ask for clarification, do your own research and get a second opinion.
We wouldn’t recommend buying a stove online, unless you have done extensive research beforehand and sought professional advice.
Don’t play with fire – use your stove safety
Knowing how to use your stove properly will not only save you money, but will mean you don’t run the risk of accidentally starting a fire or creating unnecessary and higher levels of pollution.
Your fire should always burn well with a visible flame, and the flue should remain at the optimum temperature (check the manufacturer details for guidance on this for your stove).
This will limit the pollution your stove creates and encourage gasses up and out of the chimney and away from your home. You can use your air vents to control the fire, and a stove thermometer will help you to ensure it’s hot enough.
Our page on using your stove has step-by-step videos to lighting a stove and maintaining it so that you can perfect your technique.
Stove wattage and fuel – choosing and using the right ones
Using the right fuel is also key – it will not only help your stove to run more efficiently, but it will also minimise the pollutants it produces. Dry wood with a maximum of 20% moisture and smokeless fuels with less than 2% sulphur content are best.
Another benefit of using the right fuel is that it will keep your stove cleaner, reducing the risk of sooty build-up in your chimney. This could cause a fire hazard or limit potentially harmful gasses leaving your home.
Getting the right wattage can also make a big difference. A stove that is too high a wattage for your home will pump out more heat than you need.
This means you’ll end up wasting money by having to open windows to cool your home down. Too low a wattage and you’ll struggle to burn enough fuel to produce the heat you want.
Visit our page on buying a stove to ensure you fully understand how to get the best for you and your home.
Getting a stove installed
You don’t have to get your stove installed by a professional – although we highly recommend that you do – but it does need to meet building regulations.
Therefore, if you install your stove yourself, or get a friend or family member to do it, the installation will need to be signed off by building control.
The graphic above also highlights worrying gaps in information sharing when it comes to the installation process. When buying their stove, 53% of people we surveyed weren’t told that it needs to conform to building regulations, and 79% weren’t told about the need to inform building control. At the point of installation, it was 45% and a huge 99%, respectively.
This could be because the installer was part of a Competent Persons Scheme. This means that they can self-certify their work to say it meets regulations, so building control doesn’t need to be contacted.
Again, it could also be because they were given the details when they bought the stove – so make sure you’re informed, whatever part of the process it is.
Our full guide to installing a stove explains everything you need to know about getting one fitted correctly.
Maintaining your stove
Keeping your stove in tip-top condition is as important as buying the right one and using the best fuel. Our chart below shows again that there are gaps in the advice given by stove installers. For example, half of stove owners weren’t advised on how often they should get their stove checked and maintained by a professional.
Ideally, you should get your chimney swept and stove checked annually, preferably before you’re about to use it for the season.
Making sure your stove doesn’t have any cracks or distortions is also important to ensure it’s not leaking smoke or gases into your home.
Even if you do check it regularly, to be on the safe side: we’d recommend getting a carbon monoxide detector. It will alert you if this invisible and odourless gas is present if your home.
Stove schemes and organisations worth knowing about
If you’ve got a wood-burning stove or are considering getting one, there are a number of organisations and government-associated schemes worth knowing about. But a quarter of the people we asked hadn’t heard of any of the names listed.
The most widely recognised one was Hetas, selected by 54% of people. Hetas is a national organisation aiming to ensure safe use of solid fuels, such as wood and coal, by training installers and chimney sweeps and approving stoves and fuel. When buying, look out for its ‘Hetas Approved’ stamp to know that the product or service has been verified.
In our survey, 33% and 29% of people had heard of two chimney sweep organisations – the National Association of Chimney Sweeps and Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps. These are both useful organisations listing professional chimney sweeps. You can also use Which? Trusted Traders to find someone in your area.
Just 14% of people have heard of Defra-exempt. If you live in a smoke-controlled area, you will only be allowed to burn wood if you do so on a Defra-exempt stove (also called Defra-approved). You can find out whether you live in one of these areas, and see exempt stoves, by visiting the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs database.
Only 2% had heard of Ecodesign, a new regulation stove manufacturers have to meet to sell their stove in the EU from 2022. The knowledge among current stove owners is probably low because they already own one. But Ecodesign is worth keeping in mind as these new guidelines will greatly increase the efficiency of a stove and limit emissions from potentially harmful gasses. Most manufacturers are already selling stoves meeting the emission elements of the EU specifications (but not all), which will be labelled with the logo below.
For two helpful fuel vetting services – Ready to Burn and Burnright – a very small 1% of people had heard of each.
The Ready to Burn logo shows that fuel is dry enough to burn (the wetter the wood is the less efficient and more polluting it is), so look out for the logo above when you buy wood for your stove. The Burnright website has a wealth of information on correct fuel and stove usage.
(*Survey of stove owners and Which? members in January 2019 – 1,413 people for purchase figures and 1,338 for installation).