By Julian Patrick
By Julian Patrick
If you follow our site you will know we test lots of stoves. There has been a lot of changes in the stove industry this last year so we have been kept on our toes.
Our list of the top ten Eco Design stoves:
Pictured is the Hamlet 5.
It is worth remembering that wood is a renewable resource and much better for our planet than gas or oil (or electricity when it is created by a coal-fuelled power station).
Eco Design is a new standard of stove design that substantially reduces the particulates added to our atmosphere by the burning of wood. This is 80%+ less so than an open fire (open fires and vehicles are the biggest polluters in cities and NOT modern wood stoves read my article about recent press nonsense around wood stoves: are wood burning stoves being banned?).
From 2022 wood burning stoves not approved as “Ecodesign” will not be able to be sold. The law is not retrospective so all stoves sold before this date are still legal.
The latest eco stoves really are more efficient and better for our planet than previous designs and that, for many, is all they desire to know.
Need to know more about what Eco Design is then feel free to read on. This article is a tad long though and you might think me a bit of a dullard afterwards.. Also note that some of this article was written in the early days of Eco Design stove development and any early design hiccups have long since been ironed out.
IMPORTANT NOTE: STOVEFITTER'S DO NOT RECOMMEND CONNECTING TO THE REAR OF MODERN ECO DESIGN STOVES. Much better for performance to go off the top as this avoids puffs of smoke in room when refuelling. Stoves with a proprietary 45 degree rear attachment are exempt from this recommendation (e.g. Ekol ApplePie).
So you keep seeing “SIA” or "Eco Design” or "eco wood burning stoves" when browsing wood burning stoves and you’ve been wondering what it’s all about (secretly gnashing teeth – as if there is not enough to consider without worrying about further jargon).
In 2022 new rules come into force from Europe. Eco Design is the name of the new scheme for the very best eco stoves. Stove designs sold after this date will have to be tested to ensure they pass these new rules (stoves already sold prior to this date will not be seized by the Secret Stove Police as the rules are not retrospective). These tests measure flue gases (particle sizes in particular) to ensure only the very cleanest burning stoves will pass.
The SIA administer the UK's Eco Design compliance on behalf of the European Union.
SIA stands for Stove Industry Alliance – a bunch of UK stove manufacturers who meet every now and then for coffee and chat about all things stoves. At their core, they are a forum for ensuring the growth and security of the UK stove market. If there is bad news about wood burners in the press (here’s looking at you Sadiq and Gove) then the SIA is the most likely to get involved with positive PR.
Straight from the SIA’s website: "SIA Eco Design Ready stoves are designed to reduce PM emissions by burning wood more efficiently and completely".
It should be noted at this point that a stove can be certified as Eco Design without having ever been near the SIA: there are testing centres in the UK and Europe and that are independent of the SIA.
In the early days one had to take a little care when choosing a stove Why? Well the first eco stove I was aware of was the first modern stove I started hearing complaints about. "Not enough heat”, "Doesn’t draw like my last stove”, “Cannot get it roaring away nicely" etc. At a dealer event I heard dealers talking about the stove saying there were complaints that the glass was sooting up in the corners. Shortly after this the stove went through a few changes. I spoke to somebody ‘in the know’ and he said “these tests are very stringent and it is not easy to meet the rules and retain the performance customers are used to”.
Now as a rule, here at Stovefitter’s we do not generally get any complaints about stove performance. Let’s face it they are black metal boxes with fire inside – there is not a lot to go wrong as there is not a lot of complicated technology. In the past the cheaper stoves with little control were often loved by customers: “We had a Chinese “Firewhippet” and it roared like a good ‘un”, “the draw on that stove would suck your grandmother’s slippers off” sort of thing. Customers did not realise that a roaring stove would usually mean a lot of wasted heat up the chimney – the noisiest cog getting all the attention sort of thing (might as well just have an open fire).
We tested our first 5kW Ecodesign stove in our office during 2017 and my staff complained they were not happy. “Not enough heat” they said. Whatever I did with this stove I could not persuade myself that all was good – I could hold my hand 6” in front of the glass without flinching. With the DG Ivar 5 I would be screaming at 18”. So we put the DG Ivar 5 back in and they were happy again. So we don’t sell the other one (Update: DG ivar 5 is now Ecodesign and I would still be screaming).
During 2017 we had a few more complaints. Four customers said that they were unhappy with their stoves. They had the same complaints as previously mentioned: poor heat output, lazy-flame, some sooting on the glass. These are usually symptoms of poor air flow through the stove. The stoves were all from the same manufacturer and all were newly designed “Ecodesign Ready” (the term used by the early Ecodesign models). We no longer sell this range.
So I spoke at length to a few manufacturers about this “new generation of stoves”. They said the same. Essentially this is a new breed: one cannot roar them like the old stoves which is wasteful. They work best when not overloaded with fuel. They take a little more to get them going “crack the door open” whilst lighting as they’ll need the extra air. Once up and running they perform beautifully – a little more understated than the stereotypical roaring fire. One manufacturer admitted: "we need to educate the users how to use these stoves but use them correctly and they will kick out great heat for less logs". Another said "they are the thinking man’s stove” (or thinking woman of course ;-).
In my experience customers just want to throw some logs in and sit on the sofa and relax. Thinking is for when you are at work.
So when Saltfire said that all of their stoves were now updated to Ecodesign standard they probably wondered why I was apprehensive. These are great stoves and if it ‘aint broke and all that. The Saltfire stoves burn beautifully and can be set from “lazy flame” to ‘fully roaring” without any problem at all and I don’t really want that to change. Keeps everybody happy. So I rang Ross at Saltfire and asked him what changes were made to get them through the tests? “No changes” he said. “They all passed without modification”. “Well done”, I said, amazed. “But I thought it was supposed to be difficult?”. Ross said that the designs were designed with the new rules in mind and that it wasn’t a big problem. I do know that Saltfire test their new stoves to destruction and the Directors are pretty switched on when it comes to stove design.
So I was a little confused. If Saltfire can do it and the stoves perform as one is used to why do some of the others seem to be talking about these new stoves as if they need an operator manual? And why was I feeling as I’m missing something?
Ross also mentioned their new range: Peanut. Well there’s an interesting name for a range of stoves.
The most recent designs of stoves allow air into their chamber in three ways:
Primary air: Air into the bottom of the chamber at the base of the fuel that really gets a stove roaring. If this were the ONLY control then the design would not be very eco friendly as the nasty particles sizes would not be burned away and would float off up the chimney.
Tertiary air: Air into the middle of the chamber (often you can see air holes in the back wall of the stove) that provides more oxygen to the fire, giving more heat so it can attack those particles and zap them even smaller.
Secondary air: Directs air in from the top of the stove that washes downwards over the glass and keeps particles from landing on the glass
Stove designers use these three air inputs to create their masterpiece. Changing one affects the other two. If the tertiary is too powerful it can disrupt the airwash, too weak and the stove fails the tests. Move the tertiary lower in the stove and it starts to do the job of the primary air. And so on.
Now primary air is the one the customers love! Open this fully and the stove will roar and crackle and make a spectacle (men seem to find this particularly pleasing). Perfect for starting the stove up or when refuelling. If cranked open when a stove is up and running though it can be very wasteful, like a flamethrower sending heat skyward. Not only that but the nasty large sooty particles are sent skyward at speed, legging it past the tertiary air before it has chance to zap them. It also leads to inflated expectations. Wastefully roar a 5kW stove for ten minutes and then suddenly shut down the primary air to under half speed and the heat output might leap to 8 or 10kW. The customer gets used to feeling this kind of heat output. But it is much better to have a steady 5kW with less logs being used – than ten minutes of useless roaring for five minutes of incinerator style output. Over-firing is bad for the stove (warps baffles, cracks firebricks etc.).
Turning the primary-air down a notch (or having a stove that will not let you roar away) is less wasteful of heat and better for the environment.
So, in the spirit of the new Ecodesign regulations some manufacturers are reducing the power of the primary control with some removing the primary control altogether! It’s not needed they say! But what about getting the fire going? Or adding more logs? Customers of these “no primary air control” stoves have just one way of “revving things up” and that’s the old “crack open the door trick”.
Other manufacturers are keeping the primary air control but suggest it “only to be used for starting and refuelling”. In tests the primary control is closed or taped over. In this case the stoves are Ecodesign Ready but only whilst customers do not use them with the primary air open. It’s like introducing an eco -riendly car with a “Sport” mode that should be used sparingly.
Removing the primary air control altogether certainly stops a customer overriding Ecodesign Ready ambitions. But it is also a brave step – are customers ready for it? It can be seen that manufacturers are working hard to make their stoves as clean burning as possible but are also torn between this aim and keeping customers happy.
Rumour has it that some manufacturers have been struggling to keep customers happy and are re-introducing varying levels of primary air control.
Ecodesign is a good scheme and soon all stoves on sale will be put through the scheme. Use an Ecodesign stove as the manufacturer’s intend and you will have a stove that runs beautifully and consistently emits as much heat as the room requires. You will also be using less logs and looking after our planet.
So for now we are going to test any stove we sell that is Ecodesign Ready. DG (Dik Guerts stoves are all Ecodesign Ready and the DG Ivar 5 is one of the finest stoves on the market – I have one!). The Saltfires are all Ecodesign Ready and burn beautifully (we have tested the St-X5 and Peanut Bignut thoroughly and the other ST-X and Peanut stoves are just size variations). Ekols are also working beautifully. Hamlets and Firewire we are also happy with.
Please note that there is a lot more to this subject than I have got involved with. I have kept it as basic as I possibly can (it’s about as much as my brain can handle to be honest). Anybody out there feel free to correct me if you feel I have said anything you disagree with.
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Julian Patrick is the author of The Stovefitter's Manual and an experienced wood burning stove installer (including solid fuel heating systems).
Laid down tools in 2013 to write The Stove Fitter's Manual and open a small shop in North Wales (the Wood Stove Hut). Launched Stovefitter's Warehouse soon after due to fast growth of sales.
Own stove is a DG Ivar 5.
Stovefitter's Warehouse is owned and managed by Julian Patrick, blogger and author of The Stove Fitter's Manual. Julian was previously a full-time installer of wood-burning stoves (including solid fuel heating systems). He laid down the tools in 2013 to write his stove manual and open a small shop in North Wales (the Wood Stove Hut, soon to grow into The Stovefitter's Warehouse).