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Stocks of wood burning stoves run low as gas prices soar and war rages

Julian Patrick, blogger and author of The Stovefitter's Manual hates paying for gas and often manages to heat his home for free.

A perfect storm

During the pandemic families were at home for long periods and energy usage increased. Many people were forced to work from home and spare rooms, sheds and garages around the country were converted into home-offices. These rooms all needed heating and sales of the very latest Ecodesign wood burners boomed.

This year sales continue to climb and the wood burning stove industry has just had its busiest ever February on record. Retailers are running out of many popular models. This is not surprising, wood burner sales tend to rise alongside energy costs and gas and oil are experiencing record price increases with more to come.

Sales of wood stoves also rise with political insecurity and the present events in the Ukraine are a perfect example. For sellers of wood burning stoves this is a perfect storm.

So is now the time to get an eco-friendly wood burner in your home? Can you DIY a logburner? What does it cost to run, to buy and install?

Why install a logburner?

My wife and I have a small cottage - open plan downstairs with a couple of bedrooms upstairs. We have gas central heating but never use it. I honestly mean it when I say we never use it. We have a wood burning stove downstairs, a DG Ivar 5 (the finest wood burning stove on the planet as far as I am concerned). We tend to light it in the evenings through Spring, Summer and Autumn with sporadic lightings at the weekend should we need it. We buy logs (30 bags at a time, each bag about the size of a small travel cabin bag). But I prefer to use these as a last resort. I like to scavenge for free wood.

This morning on my daily dog walk I found free wood within 100 metres of my home. In two places.

The first find was on somebody's drive. Builder's throwing out a load of wood. I shall be back later in the day to ask if I can take it away for them - rarely is this offer not accepted unless they also have a wood burner of course. The pile of wood on the right is enough to last me a couple of weeks and this sort of wood can go straight onto the stove with no seasoning required. That is a couple of weeks of free heating. Free wood is everywhere - you just have to be on the lookout.

The second find was a small fallen down tree in the lane by my house. Enough wood for a week or two. No use to me today as I need to slice it up and chuck it in the log store to dry out for next year but it adds to next years free fuel supplies.

What do I use to saw this wood into manageable lengths or logs? A Stihl mini-cordless garden pruner. This is a lovely tool - easy to use and cuts through wood like butter as they say. Get yourself a spare battery though so one can charge whilst you use the other.

You can also use a reciprocating saw. I much prefer the Stihl as the thickness of the cut means much less chance of the saw snagging if the cut becomes pinched.

I actually enjoy chopping up wood with the Stihl - is quick and easy and there are no cables to mess with. Half an hour of work and I have enough wood for 3-4 days.

Pallets are perfect for wood burners as long as they are not heavily treated with chemicals and nowadays most are not. They can also be burned immediately - no seasoning required. Stray pallets can be found all over the place - you'll get good at spotting them. A heavy pallet can keep a wood stove going for at least two evenings.

When it comes to heating the home it is, I admit, easier for me than some. My wife and I have a dog, cat and no kids. If you have a large house with kids in different rooms then you may need to use the central heating whether you like it or not. But a log burner will likely help.

If you are all watching a movie one evening then why not switch the central heating off and just heat the room where the tv lives? Or keep your main living area toasty warm and the rest of the house turn the heating down to a minimum?

I do remember reading that "central heating was the end of the family". A bit extreme maybe but many years ago the whole family would reside in the one room (or freeze). I am not suggesting we go back to this but if you are struggling to heat the whole house maybe there is some merit in creating one warm zone. This could be a life saver for some.

 

For those in real poverty it is those with wood burning stoves that are the fortunate ones. As long as they can find wood they can stay warm. Many do find wood as well - they are canny and they succeed in their search.

I met a single parent in North Wales who mentioned to a local farmer in the local pub that she was struggling to pay the gas bills. The farmer said to take any branches and fallen trees off his land as "there was loads of it". Her house has been warm ever since. Another person I know has local builders dump their "rubbish" wood on his drive and he saws it up at weekends.

It is not just about the potential savings. A wood burner adds ambience to a room and the room comes to life. Once you have lived with a wood stove you will likely always have a wood burner.

A last, and very good reason to install a wood burning stove is as a failsafe. Recent storms showed that power can be cut off for days or even weeks. No heating, no hot water, no cooking. How miserable must that be?

If you have a wood burning stove you have warmth. You can put a pan on the top and boil water. You can heat soup, make porridge, baked potatoes and so much more. The last power cut I experienced we lit a few candles, added a few logs to the stove and cracked open a bottle of Rioja. No drama.

For all the folks who admonished me for missing out a few key issues:

Please do not steal wood - ask permission, even if the wood is in a skip.
Do not burn wood with varnish, paint or preservatives on.
Please do not poke a stick in your own eyeballs.

So how much is it going to cost me?

Approx. costs if you have a brick or stone chimney: £750-£1,000 (you can save £500 from this by self-installing).

Approx. costs if you have a chimney but need the fireplace "opening up": £1,600-£2,000 (you can save £1200 from thisby self-installing).

Approx. costs if you do not have a chimney and need a flue: Shed £425-£600. Bungalow £1500. 2-storey house £2500. Save £1,000-£1400 from this by self-installing.

Above figures include labour and materials but no appliance.

We, of course, advise you to purchase your stove and materials from Stovefitter's to ensure quality goods are installed (some installers use budget materials to increase margin).

Can I self-install?

Yes, you can legally self install. Many people fit woodburners and do not obtain the necessary permisons and they are of course very naughty. When I was installing full-time in the hills of North Wales I met a woman who said "All my friends have woodburners and we are the first to get an installer to do it and sign it off".

But, officially, installation of stoves and flue is notifiable and does need signing off by your local council's Building Control Department. With regard to the latter some councils are really helpful and do this all the time, whilst others are a pain.

Do it yourself and get a qualified installer to sign it off at the end? Some will but many will not. What they will usually do is let you do some of the work (e.g. do all the fireplace and hearth work and just leave them the actual stove-install). We advise you to purchase appliances and materials from us to ensure a high-quality product is installed (some installers use budget materials to increase profit margins).

If you are thinking of self-installing your wood burner then you will find our Stovefitter's Manual site very useful, with a wealth of helpful 'How To' articles.

 

How do I find an installer?

When you purchase your wood burning stove or clip-together twin wall chimney system from Stovefitter's we can send you a list of fully trained and registered installers in your area.

Julian Patrick, author of the Stovefitter's Manual

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 wood burning stove manual and open a small shop in North Wales (the Wood Stove Hut, soon to grow into The Stovefitter's Warehouse).

More info about the company and Julian's team here