Wood burning stoves: what you need to know
How to buy a log burner or multi-fuel stove
By Liz Ransome-Croker
Article 1 of 7
How to buy a log burner or multi-fuel stove
We guide you through what you need to think about when buying a log burner or multi-fuel stove, with advice from experts and stove owners.
Whether you want to get a wood-burning stove to make your living room cosy or save on heating bills, our guide will walk you through the things you should consider to ensure it's right for you and you spend your money wisely.
Having spoken to thousands of stove owners and experts, our guide includes:
- Wood-burning stove buying video
- What to consider when choosing a stove
- Getting the right stove for your home
- Stove wattage calculator
- Why stove efficiency is so important
- The dangers of buying a stove online
- Stove features explained
If you've already done your research on buying a stove, then head straight to our wood-burning stove reviews, including for Clearview, Charnwood, Hunter, Morso and Stovax. The best got a phenomenal customer score of 94%.
Our video below will give you a summary of the key things you need to think about when buying a stove.
1Is a wood-burning stove right for you?
Although wood as a fuel could be considered environmentally friendly (see more on this below), a stove still emits a certain level of pollution. This is particularly the case if it's not efficient, you burn polluting fuels (such as wet wood or house coal) or aren't using it in the right way.
If you have a health condition or are concerned about the effect of pollution on the environment, you might want to think twice. You can find out more about this on our stoves and pollution page.
If you decide against a stove but still want the look and feel of one, why not consider a gas or electric stove?
2What type of fuel do you want to burn?
Wood is considered to be a low-carbon fuel as the carbon it gives off is counteracted, in part, by the carbon it takes in while growing, although this depends on where it's from and how it's processed.
However, if you burn the wrong types of wood, such as wet logs, it will create potentially harmful gases and polluting particulates.
House coal is far less eco-friendly, particularly if it has a high sulphur content, and is being phased out by the government. But there are lots of smokeless fuel alternatives, such as anthracite.
Your choice of fuel may also depend on what supply you have locally and what the costs are. There are a number of websites that list local fuel suppliers or sell fuel in bulk for delivery.
You could also check what free fuel there is near you, such as a nearby factory that would be happy for you to take items being thrown away.
What fuel you choose will also affect the type of stove you go for - take a look at our guide to multi-fuel vs wood-burning stoves for more to help you decide.
3How much space do you have to store fuel?
For the most cost-effective way to use a stove, you’ll need plenty of room to store fuel, especially if you'll be burning logs. Roughly speaking, if someone is using an average-sized stove they will use about 1 to 1.25 tonnes of wood a year.
Of course, you can buy smaller bags of logs at a time, but buying in bulk is cheapest. It will also cost less if you buy or collect wet wood and dry it yourself. This can take two or more years.
You will need somewhere dry where the wind can get to it, but not the rain. It should ideally be easily accessible for deliveries.
Smokeless fuel takes up less space, but is also best value if you buy it in bulk. Visit our guide to using a stove to find out more about costs.
4Do you want to heat one room in the house or the whole property?
Stoves are generally used to heat one room, but you can attach it to the central heating system to heat other parts of the house. Take a look at our page on wood heating systems to find out more.
5Do you live in a smoke-controlled area?
A lot of towns and cities are smoke-controlled areas, meaning you will have to get stove approved by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to burn wood.
If you don't want to buy a Defra-approved stove, you can instead burn smokeless fuels, on a multi-fuel stove, but you won't be able to burn wood.
Even if you don't live in a smoke-controlled area, we'd recommend getting one of these stoves anyway, as it will produce less pollution.
6How often will you be home and able to light the fire and clean the ash away?
Keep in mind that stoves can take time to light, need to be controlled effectively and some need the ash cleaned out every time you start the fire.
How you use your stove will also have a big impact on how efficient it is and whether it emits harmful gases, so you'll want to make sure you know how to use yours. You can watch our stove videos on our using a stove page.
It’s also worth noting that you will need to get the chimney swept at least once, preferably twice, a year and pellet stoves will need to be serviced once a year as well.
7Will you be able to comply with building regulations?
All stoves must meet UK building regulations. For example, there are specifications around how the flue is fitted, the size of the hearth or the distance of the stove from combustibles.
Also, every home and installation is different, and there are a number of other factors that affect what stove you need, from the size of your home to what chimney you have. If you live in a listed building, this also may affect your options.
These can all affect the type of stove you buy, so make sure you speak to an approved installer and/or retailer to do a survey on your home before buying.
You can use Which? Trusted Traders to find a recommended stove installer near you. All our traders are extensively vetted by us, taking the hard work out of choosing someone you can trust.
Our guide to getting your stove installed explains all you need to know and what you should ask the installer before buying, so you can make sure you’re getting the best, and safest, stove for your money. It also includes a video showing a typical stove installation, so you can see what's involved.
Keep track of all the things you need to consider - from buying, through to using your stove - by using our handy stove checklist, exclusively for members.
You can also visit our guide to the best wood-burning stove brands to find out how stove owners rated popular brands.
Getting the right wood burner or multi-fuel stove for your home
A key part of choosing the right stove for your home is getting the right size and heat output, which is measured in kilowatts (kW) and ranges from 3kW to more than 15kW.
If you get a stove that has too high an output for your home, you may end up having the windows open all the time to cool it down – or running the stove at a lower temperature, which will create more tar and smoke, and be less efficient.
The size you need can be affected by:
- the size of the room (you’ll need to measure the height, width and length)
- the layout of the room and your house (for example, if the room you want the stove in is open plan)
- the size of the windows and whether you have double glazing
- if the room has insulation of any kind, such as wall or cavity
- the age of the property.
It might even be that you don't need a stove. One stove owner we spoke to said:
Approximately speaking, to make your room 21°C when it’s 1°C outside, you'll need 1kW of heat output for every 14 cubic metres of space.
As a rough guide, multiply the height, width and length of the room in metres, then divide this by 14. This will give you gauge of what size stove you need in kW. You can use our tool below to do this.
You can also use our stove costs tool to calculate this, as well as whether you might be able to save on your heating bills by using a stove.
However, we strongly recommend that you only use these as a guide and don’t buy a stove online based on this calculation or our tools alone.
In the UK, building regulations state that new heating appliances must meet a minimum gross efficiency rating. This is currently 65% for a standalone stove when operating at normal output and 70% for pellet stoves. The higher the percentage, the more efficient it will be.
However, new EU laws coming into force in 2022 mean that stoves will need to meet more stringent efficiency levels, called ‘seasonal efficiency’.
These relate to the amount of heat the appliance needs to produce to meet average energy consumption based on the stove’s design. Although the minimum is still 65%, these should be more accurate figures.
New maximum emission limits will also be introduced. This will reduce the amount of harmful gases, such as particulate emissions (smoke) and carbon, stoves produce.
Any new appliances made and sold in Europe after 1 January 2022 will have to be independently tested to verify that they meet the criteria.
Although this isn't a legal requirement until 2022, trade body the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) is working with manufacturers to produce stoves that meet the five emission criteria from the Ecodesign legislation now, although not all other areas. These stoves will be labelled Ecodesign Ready.
Hetas - a government-backed organisation that approves stoves, fuel and heating engineers - has also introduced its own Ecodesign scheme for stoves and boilers. You can visit the Hetas website to find out more about it about Ecodesign and stove efficiency.
Some stoves also come with cleanburn or cleanheat technology, which essentially means that air is introduced to the stove, helping to burn off more of the smoke and gases – making these types of stove more efficient.
If you're concerned about stoves and pollution, you might want to head to our guide to gas and electric stoves to see the pros and cons of these alternatives.
Are wood-burning stoves going to become illegal?
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about whether the government is going to ban stoves because of their effect on the environment. Defra has released a new Clean Air Strategy in 2019, which contains recommendations and advice on the future of stoves.
The government has said that it isn't looking to ban stoves, although it does want to ensure that all new stoves sold are more efficient by 2022. It's also planning on educating consumers on how to use a stove to minimise any pollution caused and to ban the sale of the most-polluting fuels.
Visit our page on stoves and pollution to learn more about the government's plans, as well as information on whether stoves are pollutants and how you can use your stove efficiently.
Some 81% of the stove owners we surveyed in 2019 purchased their stove in a physical store, while 15% bought online. We wouldn't recommend buying online unless you have done extensive research beforehand and sought advice from an expert. All homes are different and there are a lot of factors that will affect the stove you buy.
Going to a store also means that you can you can get more of an idea of the size and style of the stoves available to you. There are lots of independent stove dealers across the UK stocking a range of different brands. One stove owner said:
It might be worth taking along pictures to the showroom of the room you want to put the stove in. Try to ‘test’ the stove you’re interested in as much as possible without turning it on, seeing how easy it might be to use the controls, fill, clear the ash and light.
If you can, check how loud it is before you buy as some fans, particularly in wood-pellet stoves, can be noisy.
Also, always look out for the CE mark to show that it meets the right European safety and efficiency standards for stoves in the UK. At the moment, manufacturers can self-certify, so it's worth checking this has been verified by an independent body, such as Hetas.
In order of popularity, stove owners value:
- 77% Removable ash pan An ash pan that can be taken out, or one that swings out, will make cleaning easier.
- 71% Controllable vents or fans These (which you can see in the image above) allow you to regulate the amount of air in the stove to control the heat output and size of flames.
- 65% Large window A big window at the front will help you keep an eye on the fire and help you make the most of the cosy feeling a stove creates.
- 62% Airwash systems help to keep the glass cleaner by drawing cool air through the system and over the glass. Most stove users have commented that you'll still need to clean the glass yourself, but less frequently. The way you burn your fuel is also likely to have an impact on how dirty the glass gets.
- 42% Riddling plate This allows you to break the ash off, so will help you clean more easily.
- 28% Large ash pan The size of the ash pan can impact how easy it is to clean, so look for a larger one.
- 24% Stove thermometer These are really useful as they help you to keep the stove at a constant temperature.
- 21% Stove fan This sits on top of the stove and circulates the heat around the room.
- 9% Automatic damper This adjusts the burn rate of the fuel to ensure the stove operates as efficiently as it can.
- 8% Cool-touch exterior doesn’t get hot and remains cool to touch.
- 3% Side windows aren't that common, but one owner commented on how it's a great way to check how the fire is burning from all angles. It also lets out more light into the room.
Last, find out which are the best wood-burning stove brands as rated by thousands of stove owners. It includes ratings for Jotul, Woodwarm, Aga and Esse having asked about important factors, such as ease of use, value for money and durability.
*January 2019 survey of 1,434 Which? members who have bought a stove in the past 10 years.