Wood burning stoves: what you need to know
Wood burning stoves vs multi-fuel stoves
By Liz Ransome-Croker
Article 3 of 7
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 burner, multi-fuel stove, wood pellet stove – 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 they have a wood-burning stove, and 54% have a multi-fuel stove.
46%of stove owners have a wood burning stove.
Click on the links below to head down to the type of stove you want to know more about and flick through our gallery for ideas.
Once you're ready to go ahead and 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 brands and ideas
There are a huge range of stove brands, such as Stovax, Clearview, Morso, Charnwood and Jotul, and a variety of and 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 are also called mineral-fuel stoves. They can burn wood, smokeless fuel and coal.
There are differences in the way these fuels burn, and 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, coal 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.
Because of these differences, a multi-fuel stove may not be optimised for burning both types of fuel. Ideally, it’s best to work out what type of fuel you want to burn and what you have access to first, and then base your buying decision on that.
The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) found that 77% of people who have a multi-fuel stove only burn wood. If you are planning on only ever burning wood, getting a dedicated log burner is advisable.
However, 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.
Multi-fuel stoves may not be optimised for burning both types of fuel
If this is the case, 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.
Also look for a stove that will allow you to either remove the grate, so wood can be burnt on the base of the stove instead of the grate, or to adjust it.
A lot of manufacturers have designed grates that can be altered to enable both types of fuels to burn efficiently. Our wood-burning stove review pages for each stove company details the options each company has.
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.
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.
Also called wood-fuel stoves, wood-burning stoves run solely on wood 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.
If you're buying a stove to be more eco-friendly, wood is a carbon-neutral fuel. Unlike coal, where the processing of it will have an impact on the environment.
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 to make it burn efficiently and safely, you will need to leave it to dry out - ideally for around one to two years. Which means you will also need the space. Alternatively, you can buy ready-dried wood, but this will cost a lot more.
If you live in a smoke-controlled area, you will need a Defra-exempt stove to burn wood.
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 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 like 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.
- Drier and denser than wood logs, making them more efficient
- Use materials that may otherwise go to landfill
- Requires less storage space for fuel
- Produce less ash than burning logs
- Making the pellets does have an environmental impact - they produce 3.5 times more carbon per kWh than wood logs
- 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. You can also use our handy tool to help you find out whether a stove might save you money on your heating bills.
It's also worth looking at our stove installation page, which includes a video guide to a typical installation, so you know what's involved. It also includes vital safety information and building regulations you need to be aware of before you go ahead and buy.
If you've read about the effects of stoves on air pollution and are concerned, take a look at our dedicated page to stoves and pollution. And 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.)