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Wood burning stoves: what you need to know

Wood burning stoves vs multi-fuel stoves

By Liz Ransome-Croker

Article 3 of 7

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Wood burning stoves vs multi-fuel stoves

Want to know whether you should get a log burner, multi-fuel stove or a wood pellet stove? Our guide to stoves will help you decide

Log burners, multi-fuel stoves and wood pellet stoves – we talk you through the differences between the three main types of stove to help you to choose the right one for your home.

Most people think of burning wood in a stove, but if you have a multi-fuel stove you can also burn other fuels such as coal. When we surveyed Which? members who own a stove*, 46% said that they have a wood-burning stove and 54% have a multi-fuel stove. 

46%of stove owners have a wood burning stove.

Once you're ready to buy, visit our page on buying a stove to see our full advice guide and to download our handy checklist. It includes information on the key factors you need to consider when buying a stove, important installation advice and tips on using it.

You can also visit our wood-burning stove reviews to find out how stove owners rated big-name brands on key factors, such as quality and value for money. Two brands got a maximum of five stars for all but one area and fantastic customer scores of 94% and 90%.

Wood-burning and multi-fuel stove ideas and brands

There are a huge range of stove brands, such as ClearviewCharnwood, Hunter, Morso and Stovax, and a variety of designs. Here are some of the types, styles and brands of stoves available, from modern pellet stoves to traditional wood-burning stoves.

Multi-fuel stoves 

Multi-fuel stoves are also called mineral-fuel stoves. They can burn wood, smokeless fuel and coal. The government is going to ban house coal and any fuels that have more than 2% sulphur content as these are the most polluting.

There are lots of smokeless fuel alternatives, although many of which are based on naturally occurring anthracite.

Because there are differences in the way these fuels burn, not all multi-fuel stoves are optimised for burning all compatible fuels with equal efficiency.

How different fuels burn on a multi-fuel stove

To burn efficiently, smokeless coal or mineral fuels needs air to reach it from below. Multi-fuel stoves have a grate for the fuel to sit on, making them ideal for coal. Some also have a riddling plate that allows you to remove any ash that's built up, letting more air through from underneath.  

Wood, on the other hand, burns best when sitting on a bed of ash (also called a firebox, which is where the fuel burns), with air circulating from the top.

Therefore, a multi-fuel stove may not be optimised for burning both types of fuel. However, some manufacturers are introducing innovations to their stoves that allow you to change how you burn fuel, for example having a removable or adjustable grate.

But this doesn't guarantee efficiency for all fuels. You'll need to make sure you use the stove correctly and follow the manufacturers' instructions. It's also worth checking that the stove has been independently tested and verified to burn all types of fuels efficiently, and to current standards, including the CE mark. 

If you want to burn both types of fuel, and especially if you think you may not have regular access to one, then go for a multi-fuel stove with this new technology.

Multi-fuel stoves may not be optimised for burning both types of fuel

Also look out for a multi-fuel stove that has primary and secondary (sometimes called airwash) air vents. These allow you to control whether more air circulates from above or below, depending on the type of fuel. 

If you know you'll only burn wood then opt for a wood stove.

If you have a multi-fuel stove and live in a smoke-controlled area, you will only be able to burn smokeless fuel - such as anthracite coal. If you want to burn wood, you'll need a Defra-exempt stove (more on this below).

For more information on what you need to consider when buying a stove, take a look at our expert advice on how to buy a stove.

Wood-burning stoves

Also called wood-fuel stoves, wood-burning stoves run solely on logs, pellets or chips (although chips are really only used for large buildings, such as community centres).

There are two types of wood-burning stoves: log burners and pellet stoves. Log burners (or wood burners) are the most popular, and usually used as stand-alone room heaters for one room. 

Pellet stoves are more commonly used to heat entire houses. They're also usually larger and more modern looking.

Log burners 

If you're buying a stove to be more eco-friendly, wood could be considered a low-carbon fuel, depending on where it's sourced from and how it's processed. 

There's also a lot less manufacturing involved in logs than there is with pellets and chips - or indeed none if you collect already fallen wood yourself.

However, you'll need to factor in either drying time or cost. The cheapest fuel for your log burner is wood that you have collected or bought that still has a high moisture content. But you will have to dry this out first to ensure it burns efficiently and safely, without being excessively polluting.

This can take up to two years, which means you'll also need the space for it. Alternatively, you can buy ready-dried wood. This will cost more, but is likely to have a lower moisture content - burning logs with less than 20% moisture is recommended. Visit our page on using a stove for more information.

If you live in a smoke-controlled area, you'll need a Defra-exempt stove to burn wood. You can find out whether you live in one of these areas by contacting your local council and use the Defra website to see a list of all the exempt stoves on sale.

For more information on sourcing wood, drying it yourself and prices, as well as our videos on lighting wood and multi-fuel stoves, see our guide to using a stove

Wood pellet stoves 

Wood pellet stoves can look quite different to log burners and tend to cost a lot more. They use pellets made from wood by-products, such as sawdust or other organic materials such as corn, which are tightly compacted together. Check which type of pellets the stove can burn before you buy.

Many wood pellet stoves have a ‘hopper’, which feeds the pellets into the stove so it needs filling less frequently. Many also have an automatic ignition to light the pellets electronically, a timer for turning the stove on and off, and a back-up power supply in case there is a power failure - something worth looking out for. 

Pros

  • Drier and denser than logs, making them more efficient and cleaner
  • Use materials that may otherwise go to landfill
  • Requires less storage space for fuel
  • Produce less ash than burning logs

Cons

  • Making the pellets does have an environmental impact
  • Wood pellets can be harder to come by than logs
  • They rely on electricity so will make impact your electricity bill
  • Need to be maintained more regularly than a log stove - wood pellet stoves need to be serviced as well as having twice yearly chimney sweeps.

Find out more about the installation and running costs of stoves by taking a look at our guide to stove costs and savings. Or if you're wondering whether a gas or electric stove would be a better choice for you, visit our guide to understand the pros and cons.

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

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