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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 stove, with advice from experts and wood-burning-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 - 43% of the stove owners we surveyed* said they believe getting a stove had saved them money.

Whatever your reasons for getting a wood burning stove, our expert guide will help you to choose whether a stove is right for you and what things you need to think about 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.

Which? members can log in to reveal their advice and insider knowledge at the bottom of this page. After logging in, you'll also get exclusive access to our expert stove-buying checklist. 

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 locked-up 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 getting a 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 a Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) exempt stove to burn wood (also called Defra-approved). If you don't want to buy a Defra-exempt 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.

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. 

We have a handy checklist you can download to help keep track of all the things to consider, from buying through to using your stove. Log in or sign up for a £1 trial subscription to Which? to unlock this page and reveal the checklist.

Stove efficiency

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 be at least 80% efficient.

80%The minimum efficiency level stoves will need to have by 2022.

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 this criteria from now (2017). 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 gasses - making these types of stove more efficient.

Buying a 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
  • if the room has insulation of any kind, such as wall or cavity insulation
  • the age of the property.

Approximately speaking, 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. 

It's also worth bearing in mind that some stove dealers have specific installers you are obliged to use when buying from them, so check before you buy. 

Stove buying: what stove owners' say

We asked 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 Which? member? Sign up to Which? to see what stove owners wish they had known before they bought a stove, and what stove features they have found invaluable.

Before you settle on a stove, we recommend going to a few showrooms in your area to get more of an idea of the size and style of the stoves available to you. It's worth taking to the showroom some pictures of the room you want to put the stove in, as this will help you to visualise the stoves in your home and give a clearer idea to any sales staff about what you need.

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 - some fans, particularly in wood-pellet stoves, can be noisy.

*(August 2017 survey of 237 stove owners and Which? members who have a stove as well as central heating.)