Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Why wood burning stoves beat out open fires on chilly nights

Dogs enjoy the warmth of the stove
Dogs enjoy the warmth of the stove
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Winter is upon us so once again we have to contend with those long, cold, dark and damp nights that chill the bones unless we have a decent heating system installed to keep us warm.

Open fires are nice to sit by but, unfortunately, they eat fuel and send most of the heat up the chimney. Wood burning stoves are a far better option and since I first discovered them, I have been greatly impressed by their efficiency and economy.

This is especially so if, like me, you have a supply of good, properly seasoned timber available. The days of burning wet logs and turf are, thankfully, in the past and it is now easy to obtain quality wood fuel from reputable suppliers.

There are others, of course, who might not be quite so reputable, so always have one of those handy little moisture meters at the ready to test any wood you are thinking of buying.

Most meters are about the size of a cigarette packet and give a reasonably accurate digital reading when you press the two pins on the top of the meter in to the log you are testing. Prices start at around €20 and they are available in stores and on the internet.

Modern wood-burning stoves have improved greatly on their earlier counterparts and can be fitted easily in to an existing fireplace or, given the designs that are now available, as a striking ornamental feature in a room. They provide real fuel economy while retaining the cosy look of a flickering flame.

Some come fitted with a back boiler to allow for heating radiators but I feel that this is not a great system as any I have seen tend to use too much fuel, with most of the heat going in to the radiators. The stove itself gives out far less heat as a result.

Most people find that if they have radiators heated by their stove, the room in which it is located lacks that lovely controllable warmth that you get from a stand-alone unit. Some of the leading stove suppliers confirm this and I quote: "A boiler stove uses an awful lot more timber than a wood-heating dry stove and, unfortunately, people believe that they're going to get that additional heat for nothing.

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That is not the case. You draw more heat off; you use more fuel. With a boiler stove that's hooked up to radiators, there is a perception that it's cheap and that it's free fuel and free heat, but it isn't."

All homes are, of course, different and it is important to choose exactly the right stove for your needs. Buy the best you can possibly afford. This is the case with most things in life as you get what you pay for, and often the cheapest works out the dearest in the end. Cheap stoves are cheap for a reason and many lack the quality materials and design that will give decades of trouble-free heating.

Deal only with a reputable supplier who can also fit the stove and stand over its installation and performance. I heat my own house with two stoves, one in the central hallway and a small one in the sitting room. I also use a further small one to heat my office which is located in a separate building in the yard.

The stoves eliminate the need to ever turn on the oil-fired central heating system, which I would never have installed had I realised how efficient and economical wood-burning stoves are. According to SEAI, the energy cost per kWh is only 5.99c for wood in comparison with 7.6c for natural gas and 64.75c for electricity. That is a huge difference and confirms the savings that good stoves provide. I was recently shown what appears to be a very impressive stove that is new to Ireland but has been available in Britain for a few years.

The manufacturers claim that it can heat an entire house without radiators, thanks to its technologically advanced design delivering a different form of heat wave to conventional stoves that can reach the furthest points of a home. It can burn for 12 hours using no more than five or six logs and then retain the heat for a further half day.

It contains Silicon Carbide, a material that is almost as hard as diamonds, that stores the heat and then gently diffuses it in to every room. Check it out on or email

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Make sure your timber is fully dry

Twenty years ago when I first installed a wood-burning stove, I hadn't realised the necessity to only use properly dried timber for fuel.

The result was that the flue became heavily encrusted with a tar-like substance that was extremely difficult to remove and could have created a fire hazard. Stoves just won't work efficiently when burning damp logs, and this is also wasteful as too much of the heat from the combustion process goes in to drying the log until it will burn correctly. Why try and burn water?

The problem was solved once I began to air-dry the timber for at least two years, and later on my son installed a kiln for his wood fuel business to further speed up the process.

Just because logs are marketed as "kiln dried" is not, however, a guarantee that they will have been adequately dried, as dense hardwoods such as beech and oak require far longer drying time than say, ash or sycamore.

This just reaffirms my earlier advice to use a small moisture meter that enables you to check that the logs you are purchasing are properly dried.

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