Wood-burning FAQ

There’s nothing quite like a real fire – but for many people there are a one or two questions about it’s suitability, benefits and costs to be considered first. Below are some answers to a few of the most commonly asked ones, to help you decide.

What Kinds of Wood Burning Systems are Available?

The simplest kind is a stand-alone wood burning stove – typically burning logs – which provides space heating for a single room or area; some kinds also have back boilers to provide hot water.

More complicated versions make use of automatic feeds to keep the boiler supplied with wood pellets and can supply the central heating and hot water needs of the whole house.

Is My Home Suitable for Wood Burning?

Most homes – flats and houseboats as well as traditional houses – satisfy the basic requirements for fitting a wood burning stove; there simply needs to be either an external wall or the roof through which the flue can be routed to the outside.

Homes without access to mains gas – or where there is a ready supply of cheap, locally available wood – are particularly ideal.

How Much Will it Cost?

The overall cost is largely dictated by the size and type of system you install – and who does the installation. However, as a general guide, according to government figures, installing a stand-alone wood burning stove typically costs around £2,000 or £3,000, while the sort of automatic pellet-fired boiler necessary for an average house could cost up to £12,000 or more.

Fuel costs vary with the distance from your supplier since transport costs are relatively high, but as a rule they are around £70 per tonne for wood chips and £160 a tonne for pellets.

How Much Wood Will I Need to Heat My House?

According to the Energy Savings Trust, a 20kW boiler – suitable for the average home – typically needs about 14 tonnes of wood chips (or seven tonnes of wood pellets) annually.

How Much Will it Save Me?

Wood burning is a very energy-efficient way to heat your home, but how much it will save you really depends on what fuel you are currently using. Economically, wood burning performs best in areas where there is no access to mains gas, with cost savings of around 50 per cent being possible compared with oil or LPG.

Where Will I Get the Wood From?

It’s usually fairly easy to find logs, but chips or pellets can be more difficult to source in some parts of the country, especially if there aren’t any obvious leads in the phone book. Your equipment supplier can often point you in the right direction, as can the Forestry Commission’s local Wood Fuel Development Office – but it’s obviously important to sort out a regular supply before you go too far in your plans.

Which is Best – Logs, Chips or Pellets?

There isn’t a single “best” – it really depends on what sort of a system you are going to fit and local availability. The biggest difference between them all is the amount of storage space you’ll have to allow for each, with pellets demanding the least space, being the most compact of the three fuels, while logs need the most.

Do I Need Planning Permission?

In April 2008, the rules changed in England so that most micro-generation technologies can now be installed under the General Permitted Development provisions. As a result, you generally don’t need planning permission unless the flue extends more than a metre above your roof height or you live in a Conservation Area and it’s going to be visible from the road. A quick call to your local council should keep you on the right side of the law.

Planning is a devolved responsibility in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Although broadly similar legislation is due to come into force, it’s important to check with the relevant authority to make sure you meet the appropriate requirements.

What About Emissions?

There have been some worries expressed about emissions from wood burning stoves; although they are generally much cleaner than conventional open fires, particulate emissions could potentially become a problem under certain circumstances, especially in urban areas.

To address these concerns, a number of models have been specifically designed for use in smoke control areas, so no matter where you live, you should still be able to enjoy the economic and environmental benefits of a real fire.