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Wood Burning Stoves and Clean Air

By: Dr Gareth Evans - Updated: 16 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Wood Burning Stoves And Clean Air

Wood burning stoves are enjoying a huge surge in popularity of late as more and more householders seek out eco-friendly heating options – and with the price of gas, oil and electricity increasing, the growing interest seems unlikely to be about to end anytime soon.

For all their advantages – and there are many – getting the best out of them often calls for a little bit of an understanding of the way they work and making sure you get the right one for the job.

Clean, Efficient and Carbon Neutral

There’s nothing quite like a real fire – either to warm yourself by, or simply to sit gazing at – but traditional open fires have their problems.

For one thing they can be fairly dirty things to have in your living room, but with wood burning stoves, although you will have to clean them out ever week or so, gone are the days of cleaning and relaying the fire anew each morning.

Having a layer of ash gradually building up on the base actually helps the logs to burn and with their enclosed design, today’s wood burning stoves can burn round the clock, without the ever-present danger of falling logs setting fire to your house. Although soot accumulation on the glass used to be a problem, many of the modern designs also have an air-wash which cleans it for you – so you never need lose the sight of dancing flames.

Wood burning stoves are also much more efficient than an open grate fire; most of the draughts in houses with fires are caused as hot air – that you’ve paid to heat – shoots up the chimney and sucks in cold air from outside to replace it. While an open fire has been estimated to be only around 20 or 25 per cent efficient, wood burning stoves manage over 80 per cent – an instant and massive saving in energy.

For the eco-conscious, the carbon neutral nature of wood is a big bonus too. Logs are a sustainable fuel – just as long as we keep planting trees – and since they only release the “modern” carbon they took up when they were growing, unlike fossil fuels that contribute ancient carbon to the air – their net effect on the atmosphere is zero.

Pick a model with a “clean-burn” or “clean-heat" system and your heating becomes even greener. These wood burning stoves re-circulate the combustible gases given off as the wood burns, increasing the heating benefit and reducing emissions.

Practical Considerations

To get the best out of wood burning stoves, there are a few practical considerations to take into account.

  • Chimney - the chimney needs to have a sufficiently large flue to accommodate the necessary air flow. Some old chimneys may need to be lined – your supplier should be able to advise.
  • Wind - the direction of the prevailing wind is important; a vent or cowl may be necessary if there is a tendency for the smoke to be blown back down the chimney.
  • Heat Output - you need to make sure that you have sufficient output to heat the space.
  • Insulation - a 1kW output will heat 25 cubic metres in a well insulated home, but only 10 cubic metres in a poorly insulated one.
  • Fuel - wood burning stoves can burn wood pellets and compressed sawdust blocks as well as the traditional log. Burning waste wood offers a good way of making energy savings – but avoid painted timber or anything which has been treated for exterior use as the coatings can cause problems.

Clean Air

As interest in wood burning stoves has grown, there has been some concern expressed about their particulate emissions. Although this may have the potential to become a problem in built-up areas, especially as their popularity grows, it’s worth remembering that they routinely release less than a third of the particulates of a traditional open fire.

To avoid possible air pollution, the Clean Air Act 1993 enables local authorities to declare all or a part of the authority region a “smoke control area” – making having a smoking chimney or using an “unauthorised fuel” an offence.

However, the good news is that there are models of wood burning stoves which are approved for use in smoke control area – “exempt” appliances that can legally be used without fear of incurring the £1,000 maximum fine for each offence.

Even for places which are not actually designated as smoke control areas, burning logs which have been allowed to dry fully will help avoid creating too much smoke.

Whether you choose a straight-forward model, or one of the many kinds with back-boilers to provide hot water and run central heating systems, if you’re looking for an efficient, eco-friendly and good-looking way to heat your home, wood burning stoves clearly have a lot to offer.

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