Many people are drawn to the idea of having a wood burning stove in their main living area, but don’t really understand the process for ensuring that the end result genuinely enhances their home and doesn’t fall short of their expectations.
The key of course is to properly appreciate their motivation to install a wood burner and to also set appropriate expectations, which means learning enough about what this technology is able to deliver.
Things You Will Need
To choose and successfully install a wood burning stove (or wood burner as they are often also described) requires that you become familiar with a certain amount of specific terminology and have a grasp of how wood burners function. You will also need to acquaint yourself with whatever regulations apply to your locality.
Most of the information you will need is easily found online, including access to information about suppliers, grants, restrictions and local approved installers.
Before you even think of busily sorting out “how” to install that wood burning stove you’ve set your heart on, stop and really consider “why” you want to do this.
If you’re like most people then it’s most probable that you’re instinctively attracted to the look and feel of a real fire, which is a perfectly good enough reason. But bear in mind that, as the name suggests, these things burn wood. Which means you are going to have to source, store and carry wood – a lot of it. You will also have to clean out ash from time to time.
Are you able to make provision for these requirements and are you prepared for the extra work involved (compared to just flicking a switch with gas and electric heating)?
Whilst you’re pondering these options you may as well also consider whether you want a simple system that can accept most types of wood or say a modern wood burning boiler with automatic controls and an automated fuel hopper designed for manufactured wood pellets.
Now we get to the real deal – heat output. A wood burner is after all a form of heating, so it’s vital to find out how much heat you need so you can get the right size unit.
Estimating how much heat you need from your wood burner is not as difficult as you might assume. Heat output is commonly defined using either Btu (British Thermal Units) or kWh (Kilowatt Hours). The ratio between the two is 1 kWh to 3,413 Btu. The calculation to find out how many Btu’s you need is simply (total square footage * 40).
So if your house covers say 1,000 square feet in total (measure each room separately then add it all up) you should look to install a wood burner with a nominal (not maximum) rated output of 40,000 Btu. Note that the constant value 40 applies to temperate latitudes such as Northern Europe; if you live somewhere much colder increase this to 50+ and for warmer climes reduce it to 30.
An important point to remember is that you should if possible install a unit that is only just capable of meeting your heating requirements. A common mistake is to think that a more powerful one would be better – after all, you can always turn it down can’t you?
Well, no, not really. Wood burners are most efficient when operating at full rate and combustion is optimal. When run below their rated nominal output they consume more fuel, deposit soot and condensation within the flue, and are less attractive because of the smaller flames and reduced airflow.
Finally then you can return to browsing glossy catalogues and searching the internet armed with enough information to know pretty much what you’re looking for. But you’re not done yet.
There’s a small matter of installation. Improperly installed heating systems are potentially lethal and in many localities you will find that you have to comply not only with smoke control regulations, but will also be subject to an inspection to ensure the burner has been competently installed and meets local building regulations.
The advice in almost all cases is to seek the services of an approved installer at an early stage. They should be able to offer additional guidance on specific types of wood burner to consider and provide an estimate of costs for installing a wood burning stove.
Installation costs obviously vary according to the scale of the system, but as a rule of thumb expect to pay as much to install your wood burning stove as you did to purchase it.
Tips & Warnings
Wood burning stoves are reasonably big ticket items for most people and also potentially dangerous if not installed properly. Don’t be tempted therefore to cut corners with “budget” burners or to bodge the installation process. Look for reputable suppliers and installers suitably qualified to perform this specialist work.