The idea of providing a large proportion of your heating with a cosy wood burning stove may also seem like an attractive idea but when it comes to the bottom line, are you likely to save money and how soon can you expect to claw back the cost of your new stove and its installation?
Doing your Homework
The first thing to do, before starting to look at specific stoves and getting quotes for the work, is to do some more basic homework. A good place to start is to look at your bills for oil, gas, and electricity, as they apply to you, and see how much you have spent each quarter. This should reveal how much more you spend in the winter months compared to the summer months, and will give you an idea of the extra cost of heating and lighting your home when the weather is cold and the days are shorter.
You then need to work out the volume of the space that will be heated by the wood burning stove. Locating the stove is very important but will be limited by where the available chimney is, or whether you are able to have a stove on an outside wall. The feasibility of the position of the stove can only really be assessed by getting in a specialist or a surveyor who is aware of all the fire, safety and building regulations that apply.
What Size of Stove?
The volume of the room you want to heat will, however, give you a rough idea of the size of stove that you need. You are not going to save money if you buy a stove that only puts out half the heat you need, and you will be spending Christmas in shorts and a tee-shirt if you opt for a stove that is too powerful for your room.
Online calculators will tell you the optimum size of stove you need in kilowatt output per hour. As a rough guide, an open plan area could need a stove that is 12 kW or more, whereas a small living room in a cottage may only need a stove that is less than 5kW.
How Much Will a Stove Cost?
At this point, it is probably wise to have an expert survey to confirm that you are able to have a wood burning stove, to tell you what work needs to be done to your chimney and then to look at the price range of the size of stove you will need. This, plus the installation costs provided by the surveyor or an installer, will give you the total outlay for your project.
If you simply want to replace your central heating for one room with a wood burning stove in winter, you then need calculate how much wood you are likely to use. This is difficult to estimate, and perhaps the best way of doing so is to talk to as many people as possible who have a wood burning stove to find out what their level of wood consumption is. You then need to find out about the cost of wood in your local area. This varies greatly, and you are likely to be able to source cheaper wood if you live in a rural area rather than in the centre of London.
You also need to bear in mind that you can’t use any old wood. Wood for burning really needs to be hardwood that has been chopped and correctly seasoned. This usually means that the tree has been felled 18 months to 2 years previously, and then the wood has been stored outside but in a relatively dry place and has a moisture content of less than 20%. Burn freshly cut or wet wood, or cheap wood such as pine, and the efficiency of your stove will be reduced substantially and you could have problems with soot and tar-like deposits in the stove and in the chimney.
Just a Stove, or More?
For people who live in a large, open-plan space, such as a barn conversion of large farmhouse, a wood burning stove can be a very practical solution. But why stop there? Farmhouse kitchens typically have a range cooker, often powered by oil, but range cookers are now available that are multi-fuel or purely wood-burning. There are even a few models that represent a hybrid between a wood burning stove and a cooker, as they have a glass-fronted compartment for the wood-burning and an oven and hotplates.
Heating your kitchen and providing heat for cooking casseroles, baked potatoes, and for stove top cooking could allow you to avoid turning on your conventional gas or electric cooker during the winter months and so could increase the amount of money you could save.
It is also possible to get both a wood burning stove and a wood-burning range cooker that has a back boiler option. This can be connected to a variable number of radiators (depending on the size of the boiler) to heat other parts of the house, all from burning your wood.
Making Your Decision
Having done all your research, you should now be in a position to choose the best option for you. A huge range cooker with back boiler, which requires a chimney liner and installation of new radiators and water tanks would be more expensive to install, but you would then have more capacity to save more on electricity, gas or oil costs. If you have a large rural house, and your boiler needs an update, this could be a cost effective new system, particularly if you can find a good, reliable and cheap source of wood fuel. Making friends with a tree surgeon can be a very good move.
At the other end of the scale, having a smaller wood burning stove to heat your main room so that you can reduce your central heating can also save money and is likely to pay back the lesser cost of the installation.
In real terms, using wood as an alternative source of fuel may save money, but, like all other commodoties, it does not have a fixed price. With more people opting for woodburning stoves and cookers, the demand for wood may well rise, causing a future hike in prices. Probably the ideal situation is to go for a stove that will enhance your quality of life, and the saleability of your house, rather than just installing it in the hope of slashing your bills. It is likely to make some savings, but even if you save £50 per month, it would still take 5 years to earn back the cost of a £3000 stove installation.