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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

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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

A wood-burning stove can be a great focal point in your living room, creating a warm, cosy feel. It can also be a practical way to cut or avoid rising heating bills – 52% of the 1,434 Which? stove owners we surveyed* said they believe getting a stove had saved them money.

Whatever your reasons for getting a stove, our guide will walk you through the things you should consider before spending your money – stoves can range in price from £400 to well over £2,000, depending on the type.

Our video below will give you a summary of the key things you need to think about when buying one.

We have also asked stove owners what they wish they had known before they bought a stove, and what features are worth spending more money on.

Lastly, we asked stove owners how satisfied they are with their stove and whether they would recommend it. This has enabled us to rate popular stove brands, including Clearview, Stovax, Morso and Charnwood. The best got a phenomenal customer score of 94%.

Which? members can log in to reveal stove owners advice and insider knowledge at the bottom of this page, our expert stove-buying checklist, as well as our wood-burning stove reviews

If you're not already a member, you can gain access to our expert advice and all of our online reviews if you join Which?

This will also give you access to our research on stove costs and savings, where we discuss the factors that can affect the cost of buying, installing and using your stove. 

It includes our stove-costs tool, to help you work out whether buying a stove could save you money on your heating bills.

In addition, you'll get full access to our guide to installing a stove, which reveals everything you need to know about stove installation and features our video of a typical installation.

What to consider when choosing a log burner or multi-fuel stove

There are a few key things you should think about before you buy a stove. Read on to make sure you get the right stove to suit your lifestyle, and to potentially save you money.

What type of fuel do you want to burn?

Wood is a carbon-neutral fuel as the carbon it gives off is counteracted by the carbon it takes in while growing. Coal, on the other hand, is far less eco-friendly. But your choice about which fuel to burn may depend on what supply you have locally. Take a look at our guide to multi-fuel vs wood-burning stoves to help you decide.

How much space do you have to store fuel?

You’ll need plenty of room to store fuel, especially if you will be burning logs – based on the average amount people use per year, you need about three to four cubic metres of space. It will need to be a dry area that is easily accessible for deliveries.

If you do decide to get a wood burner, keep in mind that the cheapest way to buy fuel is to get fresh logs that are still moist and dry them yourself to use the next autumn. This means you'll need around two year's worth of space.

Do you have a reliable fuel supply close to your home?

There are a number of websites that list local fuel suppliers, or you could check what free fuel there is near you, such as a nearby factory that would be happy for you to take items being thrown out. Find out more about sourcing and storing fuel in our guide to using a stove.

Do 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 guide to wood heating systems to find out more.

Do 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, such as anthracite, on a multi-fuel stove, but you won't be able to burn wood.

Visit the Defra website to find out more, including an approved list of smokeless fuels. You can also find out more about the potential effects of pollution from stoves on our dedicated page.

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.

How often will you be home, able to light the fire and clean the ash away?

Keep in mind that stoves can take time to light and some need the ash cleaned out every time you start the fire. However, you can get stoves that will light automatically, usually pellet stoves, although these are more expensive. 

Some multi-fuel stoves can be run on 'slumber' overnight, but wood-burning stoves can't. 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.

Will 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. These can all affect the type of stove you can have, so make sure you speak to an installer before buying. If you live in a listed building, this may affect your options. 

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.

We also have a handy checklist you can download to help keep track of all the things to consider, from buying through to using your stove, and what to ask your installer. Log in or join Which? to unlock this page and reveal the checklist.

This will also give you access to our wood-burning stove reviews where you can find out how stove owners rated their stove for important factors including durability, ease of use and value for money. 

Why stove efficiency is important

In the UK, building regulations state that new heating appliances must meet a minimum efficiency rating. This is currently 65% for a stove, and 67% for one that incorporates a boiler. The higher the percentage, the more efficient it will be, and therefore the less fuel you’ll need to heat your home.

At the moment, most stoves have an efficiency rating of between 60% and 80%, and boilers between 80% and 90%. However, new EU laws coming into force in 2022 mean that stoves will need to meet higher efficiency levels. 

You can visit the Hetas website - a government-backed organisation that approves stoves, fuel and heating engineers - to find out more about it. 

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 emission criteria from the legislation now. These stoves will be labelled Ecodesign Ready.  

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.

Are wood-burning stoves going to become illegal?

There has been a lot of talk in recent months about whether the government is going to ban stoves because of their effect on the environment. Defra has released a new Clean Air Strategy for 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 is also planning on educating consumers on how to use a stove to minimise any pollution caused.

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.

Buying a wood burner or multi-fuel stove

Always make sure you buy a stove with the CE mark so you're assured that it meets the right European safety and efficiency standards for stoves in the UK.

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 over 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 home (for example, if the room you want the stove in is open plan)
  • the size of the windows and whether you have double glazing
  • whether the room has insulation of any kind, such as wall or cavity insulation
  • the age of the property.

Approximately, to make your room 21°C when it’s 1°C outside, you will 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. You can use our tool below to do this. This will give you gauge of what size stove you need in kW. 

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 tool alone. 

Every home and installation is different, and there are a number of other factors that affect what stove you need and how much you could save, from the size of your home to what chimney you have. We therefore advise you to get an approved installer and/or retailer to do a survey on your home before buying.

Our guide to getting your stove installed explains all you need to know and what you should ask the installer before buying. This way, you can make sure you're getting the best, and safest, stove for your money. 

Some stove dealers have specific installers you are obliged to use when buying from them, so check before you buy. 

Use Which? Trusted Traders to find a recommended stove installer or retailer in your area. Anyone that uses our logo has been rigorously vetted by us, so you can rest assured that they're trustworthy.

Don't buy your wood-burning or multi-fuel stove online

81% of the stove owners we surveyed 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. 

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.

Stove features: what stove owners say

We asked 1,434 stove owners what advice they would give someone thinking of buying a stove, and what features they have found really useful. Which? members can log in to reveal our exclusive advice.

Not yet a member? Join Which? to see what stove owners wish they had known before they bought a stove, and what stove features they have found invaluable. 

This will also give you access to our wood-burning stove reviews, handy stoves buying checklist, stoves installation page and stove costs information, including details on how much they cost to buy and install, and whether getting one could save you money on your heating bills.

(*January 2019 survey of 1,434 Which? members who have bought a stove in the last 10 years.)