Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Wood stoves are hot again

It has overtaken the Aga as the must-have lifestyle accessory – a wood-burning stove is becoming de rigueur in any stylish home, especially one that prides itself on its eco-credentials. Not only do they make a nice rustic detail in the corner of a room – or a contemporary, design-led centrepiece – they use a sustainable, nearly 100% carbon-neutral, source of fuel.

As energy bills soar and we enter a new age of frugality, overshadowed by concerns over the future supply of gas and electricity, wood is an increasingly attractive option: it costs about 1.6p per kilowatt hour, compared with 12p for electricity. David Knox, of Stovax, the UK’s largest manufacturer of wood-burning stoves, says demand was up by 50% in the last three months of 2008 compared with the same period the previous year.

“There has been a rise in demand countrywide, with a desire to return to organic living and to be independent of the grid,” he says. There are waiting lists for some of the company’s most popular models, which include the square, traditionally styled Stockton 5, which has a 4.9kW output and starts at £595 (01392 474056, www.stovax.com).

A secondhand stove can cost as little as £100, with prices rising to £5,000 for a brand-new, state-of-the-art model – Austroflamm’s slim, modern Glass Multi-Fuel Stove, also available from Stovax, starts at about £2,680. Although wood-burners work well when coupled with thermostatically controlled radiators, they are effective on their own: open fires may be romantic, but they waste up to 90% of the heat they produce. A stove in an enclosed unit, by contrast, “means that for every pound you spend on fuel, 88p of it is heating your home”, Knox estimates.Before ditching your energy supplier, however, there are a few things to consider. First, check if your home is in a “smoke control zone”; many UK cities and industrial areas restrict use of fires and stoves as a heating source. If you live in one (visit www.uksmokecontrolareas.co.uk to find out), make sure your stove is Defra-approved. All new models must be installed by an approved fitter from Hetas, the Heating Equipment Testing and Approval Scheme.

You must install a chimney, if you don’t already have one, line an existing one or have a flue pipe built for the gases to escape; this can cost several hundred pounds. And the gases need to be discharged above the roof line, so it’s not practical to have a stove if you live at basement level.

What about getting hold of the wood? With the increased demand for the dense, seasoned hardwood logs that emit the most heat, there are reports of a forthcoming shortage. And unless you own your own woodland, you can forget hunter-gathering, even for fallen logs: the Forestry Commission advises that most woodlands and commons will have restrictions.“If you don’t have a sawmill near you, or a friendly farmer, find a good local supplier,” says Stuart Burgess, of the commission. Based in Herefordshire, Certainly Wood sources wood from local estates and delivers nationally. A bag costs £180 for 1.4 cubic metres (01981 251796, www.certainlywood.co.uk); 4.5 cubic metres should run a stove for a year.

Britain grows up to 1m tons of domestic firewood per year, and the government recently announced its aim to bring another 2m tons to the market by 2020 – enough to heat 250,000 homes for a year. Welcome news for those homeowners about to make the switch.
full article

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