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Home & garden.

19 July 2021

Using a log burner or multi-fuel stove

Our guide to using a multi-fuel or wood-burning stove takes you through how to light your stove, how to maintain it, and how to use it efficiently.
Liz Ransome-Croker
SI
Sarah Ingrams
Lighting a wood burner 451098

Whether you’ve just bought a stove, are thinking of getting one, or have inherited one with a home you’ve moved into, follow our tips to make the most of your log burner or multi-fuel stove. 

If you're considering getting a stove or replacing an old one, use our wood-burning stove reviews to see how owners rated popular brands, including Charnwood, Clearview, Morso and Stovax

One of the 12 brands got an impressive customer score of 94%.

Video: lighting your wood-burning stove

Everyone's homes and stoves are different, so there are a lot of different factors - including air pressure and the type of flue you have - that can change the way you light and use your stove. 

Follow our video and step-by-step tips to get started.

Whatever your circumstances, it's important to do the following to minimise levels of potentially harmful emissions:

  • keep your fire burning
  • keep your flue hot
  • stop your stove from smoking (sometimes called slumbering).

Always use the right fuel too - never 'wet' wood or house coal - read more about coal vs smokeless fuel and wood and sourcing wood.

Finding the most effective way to ignite your stove and keep it burning at the right temperature will take a bit of practice. Follow our video and step-by-step tips to get started.

Seven steps to lighting and controlling your wood-burning stove

  1. Fully open the air vents. There will be a primary air vent at the bottom and sometimes a secondary (also called an airwash) vent at the top.
  2. Create a base for the fire. Put a firelighter – or to be more eco-friendly, paper or beeswax – with dry kindling wood and scrunched-up paper onto the grate. Make a teepee shape with the wood and paper to help direct the heat up and warm the flue more quickly.
  3. Light the firelighter or paper/beeswax and leave the door slightly ajar. This helps the heat travel up the flue and minimise condensation on the glass.
  4. Once the fire is going, add larger pieces of wood. Be careful not to add too many logs, as they could smother the fire.
  5. When the logs have caught and the fire is fully established, close the door and the vent at the bottom of the stove. You can use the secondary vent to control how the fire burns. Opening it increases the heat output and should help a dying fire re-establish.
  6. When the logs have burnt down and the embers are glowing red, use a poker to spread them evenly. Then add more logs on top, leaving space for air to circulate.
  7. Close the door and open the vents until the logs are burning well. Then close the primary vent and use the secondary one as before.

If you're getting a new stove installed, ask the company you buy it from and your installer to tell you how to light it. Preferably ask for a demonstration too. 

It's worth buying a stove thermometer to monitor the temperature; it will go on the side of the stove. Most stoves should stay between 200°C and 250°C. This can vary for each stove, so check with the manufacturer.

Thanks to Pinkerbell Stoves for allowing us to film these videos in its store.

Coal vs smokeless fuel and wood

There are clear benefits to burning dry wood or smokeless coal instead of house coal. 

House coal produces much more CO2 so is less environmentally friendly. That's why the government is phasing out the most-polluting fuels - read our stoves and pollution page for more details. 

Smokeless coal is a manufactured fuel that produces less smoke.

seasoned wood and smokeless coal

When we asked 1,434 Which? members*, wood was the most commonly used fuel, followed by smokeless coal.

A wood-burning stove can only burn wood, whereas a multi-fuel stove can also burn coal. If you think you're only going to burn wood, you might want to get a dedicated log burner. 

This is because fuels burn differently, so a multi-fuel stove might not be optimised for both types - find out more about wood burning stoves vs multi-fuel stoves.

Sourcing wood for your wood-burning stove

To make sure you get the most out of your wood-burning stove and don't create additional pollution, it’s important to use the right kind of wood. 

Modern stoves are designed to be more efficient, but you should use the right fuel so they work well and stay in good condition.

A third of the people we spoke to weren’t told the best fuel to use on their stove when they bought it, and nearly half didn't get advice on which ones to avoid – leaving them potentially using the most-polluting fuels.

First and foremost, you need to burn wood that is as dry as possible – it should only contain less than 20% moisture. 

Using fresh logs with a high moisture content of around 50% to 60% or more will reduce your stove’s heat output, leave more build-up in your chimney, and create more smoke and potentially harmful air pollutants. 

Some 5% of the people we spoke to use 'wet logs'. 

You can reduce the moisture content of freshly cut wood by drying or seasoning it. It’s best to store the wood in a dry place for at least a year, but preferably two. You can use a moisture meter to check how dry your wood is – these cost around £20.

For the best results, put the wood on a dry surface protected from rain. Leave the sides exposed to air and wind to speed up the drying process. 

You can buy dedicated wood stores to help with this - visit our guide on garden storage for more on these.

Chopping the wood down to size before storing it will also help it to dry more quickly. Alternatively, you can buy ready-seasoned wood at a little extra cost - see more about fuel prices below.

wood store

When we asked stove owners about the types of fuel they use most often, seasoned logs were most popular (81% use them), followed by kiln-dried logs (used by 35%). 

Some logs state the estimated heat output when burnt (in kWh) – the higher this is, the more heat it will produce. 

For example, fresh or wet logs will have an output of just 1 to 2kWh, partially dried wood 3.4kWh, and fully dried logs 4kWh.

You can only buy wood in small bundles with less than 20% moisture from May 2021 (unless it's to be seasoned at home). Look out for the Ready to Burn logo, which shows fuel that meets this requirement. 

The Ready to Burn scheme is government-backed and run by wood-assurance organisation Woodsure, which tests and verifies wood for use of the logo.

Our guide to stoves and pollution has more information on the types of pollutants stoves can create and how to minimise them, as well as the government's new rules.

Ready to Burn logo

Cost of wood fuel

The price of wood varies depending on where you live and the type of wood. 

Wood is often sold in big bags by the cubic metre, or in smaller bags and nets in kilograms. It's sometimes also sold by the pallet. 

To give you a rough idea of the cost of wood, we looked at prices across a number of online suppliers (in autumn 2019). 

The prices for the logs are for a mix of softwoods (pine and fir, for example) and hardwoods, such as oak, ash, beech and birch.

All sites deliver across the UK. Prices for seasoned and kiln-dried logs don't include delivery, but the price for the wood pellets and briquettes do.

  • Partially dried/seasoned wood has around 25% to 35% moisture content. It usually costs around £116 per cubic metre and has a heat output of around 3.4kWh. You should season it at home until the moisture content is below 20%.
  • Kiln-dried wood is more expensive, about £135 per cubic metre, but it's more efficient and can be used immediately. On average, it contains less than 20% moisture and has a heat output of around 4.5kWh per kg.
  • Briquettes, made from crushed recycled wood or paper, have a low moisture content - as little as 10%. So they burn efficiently with a heat output of around 5kWh. They are sold by the kg, and usually cost around £300 for 1,000kg. 
  • If you have a specialised wood pellet stove, you can usually buy wood pellets online or from a local supplier. They are sold by the kg and cost around £290 per 500kg. The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) recommends that you buy ENplus standard pellets, which have roughly 10% moisture content and a heat output of around 5kWh per kg.

Because 500kg equates to around one cubic metre, working out how much wood will cost for the amount you'll use is a little tricky. 

Find out how to calculate this, as well as the costs of buying, installing and using a stove, in our expert guide to how much log burners and multi-fuel stoves cost.

It's sometimes possible to collect wood fuel free of charge from building sites, skips or local woods – a number of stove owners we asked do this.

But legally you don’t have a right to it, so it’s 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.

pile of logs

You can also buy freshly cut or 'wet' wood for around £100 per cubic metre, but you'll need to season this at home.

Many people also said they use wood from their own gardens, or those of friends and family, to burn on their stove, so it's free. It must still be dried out as much as possible first.

How much wood will I need for my log burner?

As a rough guide, an average-sized house that uses an average stove will use around 1 to 1.25 tonnes of wood a year.

Find out more about stove costs and savings, including our stove costs tool to help you work out whether you'll save on your heating bill, and a downloadable checklist on buying, installing and using a stove.

Cost of smokeless coal/fuel for your multi-fuel stove

There are a number of different types of coal, all made in different ways. Smokeless coal the the most popular (used by 22% in our survey) and house coal (used by 4%) are the main types.

House coal is banned from sale from May 2021. This is because it produces more emissions than smokeless coal, especially if the sulphur content is above 2%. 

Smokeless fuel is an umbrella term for a few different types of fuel that often look like coal but produce less smoke as they burn. It includes anthracite coal, which occurs naturally, but can also be manufactured. 

This means that smokeless coals can be made from a combination of elements, including anthracite coal, peat and other renewable materials, making them more eco-friendly and less polluting than house coal.

Looking at online suppliers (in autumn 2019), we checked for the average price of anthracite coal – which is naturally formed – and manufactured smokeless fuel.

  • Anthracite coal – around £422 for 40 25kg bags of large anthracite nuts, and £415 for the same amount of small nuts.
  • Smokeless fuel – from around £285 to £580 (£440 on average) for 40 25kg bags.

For both types, you can buy 25kg bags individually, or in 10s and 20s, but they will be a little more expensive. These prices exclude delivery charges, which may vary depending on where you live.

How to maintain your log burner or multi-fuel stove safety

chimneysweep

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, safe and producing less-harmful pollutants (our guide to stoves and pollution explains more on this).

If you burn wood or smokeless fuel, you should get your stove swept twice a year, at the beginning and end of the burning season. This ensures your stove will stay in good working order and avoids a build-up of tar and soot in your chimney, which could be a fire hazard. Blocked chimneys can also cause deadly carbon monoxide.

Make sure you use a qualified stove installer or chimney sweep to service your stove. One sweep should cost £50-£90.

You should also have your stove serviced annually. Pellet stoves have electrical working parts that need checking. This can cost around £200.

Use Which? Trusted Traders, Hetas or the National Association of Chimney Sweeps to find an approved chimney sweep in your area. Use Which? Trusted Traders or Hetas to find a qualified stove installer to service your appliance too.

cleaning the glass front of a wood burner

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 can help to start a wood 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.

Our wood-burning reviews detail the various features and systems that the different stove companies use in their stoves.

When cleaning out the stove, keep an eye out for:

  • cracks
  • distortions
  • breaks in the seals
  • holes
  • rust. 

These can all affect the stove’s performance and safety.

Depending on for 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 (see  below). For more information on warranties for stove installation, 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.

You'll need to get a carbon monoxide detector to fit in the room where the stove will be - this is a legal requirement. 

carbon monoxide alarm

This must be on the ceiling at least 30cm away from any wall. If it's on a wall, it must be as high up as possible (above any doors and windows) but not within 15cm of the ceiling. It must also be located between 1 and 3 metres horizontally from the stove.

Carbon monoxide detectors only cost around £15 and monitor whether any carbon monoxide, which is tasteless, odourless and highly poisonous, is being expelled. Unfortunately, our rigorous tests have found models that won't protect you. See the best carbon monoxide monitors

It’s also worth installing a smoke alarm in the room where the stove will be fitted. Take a look at our smoke alarm reviews - there are two you should avoid because they failed our safety tests.

What to do if you have a problem with your stove

Most stove makers offer extended warranties or guarantees on their stoves. Some of these are around three to 10 years, but we have seen 25 years and even a lifetime guarantee. Each brand page within our wood-burning reviews details this.

Some only apply if you buy through a certain dealer or register the stove on the manufacturer's website. Registering any safety appliance with the manufacturer is also useful if there is ever a recall or issue identified with the model.

Usually, if you get a repair or replace a part of a stove via a third party and not the official channel, it will invalidate any guarantee or warranty. For many of the brands we looked at, you can buy spares through their websites.

Warranties or guarantees may also only be valid if you get your stove serviced regularly, which we recommend anyway. Check the terms and conditions to confirm this. 

putting a log into a wood burning stove

However, your consumer rights under the Consumer Rights Act mean that if you have a problem within the first year, you're covered anyway. 

If a fault develops after that, you can still claim, but it will be down to you to prove the fault was present at the time of purchase. Read our full guide to warranties and guarantees to learn more and to use our template letters.

If you have faulty goods, you should always complain to the retailer you bought it from - your contract is with the retailer. Your consumer rights always sit with the retailer, and the warranty/guarantee is with the manufacturer. 

To find out which brand topped our table with an excellent 95% when we asked stove owners to rate theirs, visit our wood-burning stove reviews.

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