Mrs BattyMilk and I are moving house in a few weeks into a house that's been empty for a while (at least 6 months that we know for certain but judging by the state of it, I'd guess a couple of years) - it has single glazed windows and we don't know the state of the oil powered heating, or if there will be any oil in the tank when we move in - it does have a log burner though that I'll be keen to get going regardless. I've never had a log burner before so know nothing about them.
Is there anything I should check before indiscriminately throwing logs in and setting fire to them? Do we need to get anyone in to check its safety (if so, who) or get it swept? Anything else worth knowing?
Get the chimney swept before you do anything if you don't have a recent certificate showing it has been done in the last year. Also might be worth getting a HETAS registered sweep to check the installation. Then, burn dry wood and avoid larch, leyllandaiiiii, tanalised wood, paint, creosote, bitumen and varnish treated wood. Also check a CO detector is fitted & working.
I also recently acquired a draughty old house with a log burner.
They do need to be swept to prevent chimney fires, plus things can go wrong with the flue etc that could potentially cause dangerous gasses to leak in to the house, so it would be a good idea to get it checked out.
Try and book someone in now, as we had a surprisingly long wait for a sweeping appointment when we moved in. I guess winter is a busy time in that industry..
Oh, and secondary tips:
Dicking about with paper to light fires gets boring quickly. You can get natural shredded wood and wax firelighters for not much money that are way easier and very effective.
Read about top down fires if you're not already familiar with them. Much better than the (British) traditional bottom-up method.
Definitely worth having the chimney swept, particularly if you don't know how long since it was last lit.
Burn good quality dry logs for the best efficiency. Also avoid burning soft wood and old pallets/construction timber. As these cause a build up of oily soot and just mean you'll have to clean the stove more often and sweep the chimney more often.
Other than that ours seems quite idiot proof. Enjoy!
Flue thermometer is really useful to know you're running above creosote-forming temperatures and below 'burning the paint off' temperatures. Don't burn yourself on the edges of the doorhole when feeding it.
If it has a grate/riddle then it's set up for burning coal, wood should be burnt on a flat bottom with a bed of ash.
Thanks all. To err on the side of caution I think we'll get the installation checked too. Would be a lot colder in a tent in the garden next to a burnt out house.
Also... If anyone knows any decent providers of firewood in north Dorset fire away.
Loads of ash logs going cheap everywhere these days :-/
Keep some kindling either on top of the burner (if it doesn’t get too hot), or beside it so you have really dry wood to get it going.
Buy wood in as big a quantity as you have space for as it’ll be cheaper.
Along with the other good advice have a look at getting the chimney lined. It means if there are any breaks in the mortar inside the chimney, fumes won't leak through into the rooms the chimney passes through.
I think installers often(perhaps always) fill the gap between the liner and the chimney with fire proof insulating material which helps to maintain a higher temperature in the flue and lessen the chance of substances being deposited on the inside.
Storing timber near a stove is probably the biggest cause of fire, after that not being careful with hot ash disposal .
There should be 150mm clear at the sides and rear and 225mm in front with no combustible material, either firewood, kindling or wall/ floor material.
Get it swept - the sweep will check the seals etc at the same time.
Get a CO detector/alarm - preferably a battery powered one rather than the cheap colour change things.
If you can smell smoke in other (upstairs) rooms you need to have the chimney lined. You might think a little smoke doesn't matter but it's unpleasant and you should worry about the carbon monoxide (especially in bedrooms).
Use dry seasoned logs. If you're new to this then it means logs that have been cut, stacked and stored in dry conditions for ~2 or more years or until the moisture content is below 20%. Wood contains a lot of water locked into its cells so unseasoned wood might feel dry to the touch but still contains a lot of water. This moisture means the heat output is poor, the burning is poor, it makes a lot more smoke and it coats the inside of your chimney with tar .
I find a stove pipe thermometer handy.
> If it has a grate/riddle then it's set up for burning coal, wood should be burnt on a flat bottom with a bed of ash.
Lot of woodburning stove manufacturers going to be suprised to read this
> In reply to Toerag
> Lot of woodburning stove manufacturers going to be suprised to read this
Really? I thought Toerag's comment was accurate - that's what we were told anyway.
Back to the OP. on top of all the good advice given so far, get a copy of Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting - the logburning equivalent of zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
> Back to the OP. on top of all the good advice given so far, get a copy of Norwegian Wood by Lars Mytting - the logburning equivalent of zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
I'll second that, its an excellent book
Nice one - although you could have picked a better time to move into a cold house, with no oil, single glazing and a log burner with no wood!
If you can get the chimney checked, if, in the interim, you just need a heat then stick any old wood in it to burn, sounds like the room will be well ventilated through single glazed windows anyway - once you settle in you are likely to get the chimney swept and checked, and probably replace the log burner with one of your won taste anyway - just buy seasoned wood, dont burn pallets/construction timbers.
Good luck with the new money pit, sorry, house.
> Dicking about with paper to light fires gets boring quickly. You can get natural shredded wood and wax firelighters for not much money that are way easier and very effective.
Better still, get a good short-handled axe, keep it sharp and spend half an hour or every few weeks just shaving bits off a few of your logs in the log-pile. A handful of shavings made in this way chucked on half an egg carton works a treat.
> Read about top down fires if you're not already familiar with them. Much better than the (British) traditional bottom-up method.
Totally agree - everything I was taught about lighting fires as a kid in the UK was rubbish and the top down method is miles better
My stove, which is definitely a woodburner, has a grate/riddle.
> Really? I thought Toerag's comment was accurate - that's what we were told anyway.
Depends on what the manufacturer is trying to achieve, two of mine have grates, two don't. Ones without grates still need some air from underneath (about 5% of max) to prevent the fire and flue filling with unburnt gas and exploding but this is normally achieved by gaps somewhere. If you want a lot of heat from a relatively small firebox say for a water-jacket then a grate is probably unavoidable.
> My stove, which is definitely a woodburner, has a grate/riddle.
Mine has a flexigrate that can be coal or wood. Also allows it to be riddled in use. My old wood only had no grate.
I think you have wood-only or wood/coal.
I've burnt dozens, most probably 100 plus, over the last seven years and I haven't had any of the problems mentioned above.
I sweep the flue every other year myself, stiff brush on drain rods.
> Depends on what the manufacturer is trying to achieve, two of mine have grates, two don't. Ones without grates still need some air from underneath (about 5% of max) to prevent the fire and flue filling with unburnt gas and exploding but this is normally achieved by gaps somewhere. If you want a lot of heat from a relatively small firebox say for a water-jacket then a grate is probably unavoidable.
I though most modern stoves are now multi fuel?
To the OP. Having the chimney swept ASAP is probably the most important thing.
I think some people can be a bit overcautious when it comes to wood. Theres no problem burning softwood or unpainted pallets providing you don't leave it smouldering away, which is where the problems start.
My hope is that stoves/open fires will go the way of smoking in restaurants and cinemas. Unless you live rurally, it's massively anti-social and selfish. Where I live is like being on the edge of a forest fire, the air's rank with smoke from these "cosy" fires. But PM 2.5's far from cosy. From a local hill you can see a layer of smoke that looks like those particularly noxious low-lying clouds of toxic air such as you see hanging over London, Beijing or LA. Should be banned in all towns and cities. Not going to be a popular view here, I guess.
Don't really have anything to add that hasn't been said already about the wood burner.
With the oil central heating look at getting that replaced with an air source heat pump or another green heating system. The air source unit will be about the same size as the oil boiler unit, but you won't have the tank or the bother of having to get it filled.
Trust me running out of oil in the middle of winter is by far one of the worst things that can happen
> With the oil central heating look at getting that replaced with an air source heat pump or another green heating system. The air source unit will be about the same size as the oil boiler unit, but you won't have the tank or the bother of having to get it filled.
It's a much bigger job than simply swapping the boiler. It's a total overhaul of the house in terms of insulation, insulating the floor slab, putting in underfloor heating or low temperature radiators. Given the OPs description of the house it's an expensive job. Worth doing in the long run, but a big outlay.
> It's a much bigger job than simply swapping the boiler. It's a total overhaul of the house in terms of insulation, insulating the floor slab, putting in underfloor heating or low temperature radiators. Given the OPs description of the house it's an expensive job. Worth doing in the long run, but a big outlay.
Totally agree with this, something the government and their environmental schemes seem to totally ignore.
And when you consider that most home builders won't even extend the budget to decent sized windows for the mandated quota of affordable houses they have to build, which are also barely affordable, it's going to take a lot to really increase the use of things like air source heat pumps.
My Stovax 'multifuel' stove came with a grate/riddle that was only to be fitted if burning coal, otherwise the flat bottom and bed of ash method is to be used. It has 'bypass vents' which inject air into the back of the stove just above halfway up which can't be closed (obviously to stop the unburnt gas bombs), and a 'glass wash' downdraft vent top front and vent in the bottom of the door which should be closed most of the time. Coal needs lots of air to burn properly, hence the need for a grate.
As I said it depends on how the stove was designed and how much output is required from the firebox, two of mine are specifically only for wood and have grates with the airfeed from underneath. You just couldn't get the required heat output (they are both 25kW) without a huge firebox otherwise.
I've another which might have been for wood or coal briquettes, it's over 100 years old so who knows. The firebox takes 600mm long firewood and that's how long the grate is, it's an end feeder which is typical for wood though.
> Read about top down fires if you're not already familiar with them. Much better than the (British) traditional bottom-up method.
Bit of a thread resurrection, but thanks for this. It sounds counter-intuitive, but have made top down fires in the wood burner for the past few days and it's a really good method. Also cuts down massively on visible smoke from the chimney.
A billhook makes sorting kindling much easier & safer than using hatchet.
However, as much as it’s romanticised, splitting firewood with an axe is a pain in the arse and nowhere near as satisfying as letting the processor take the strain!
An old woodburning/multifuel stove that has lain unused for months in a cold house can quickly turn into a cube of rusted scrap. Inspect well before use.
Burning old pallets and other softwoods is fine as long as they are thoroughly dried/seasoned. Freshly cut pine will take 2+ years to dry properly though. I use pallets to store other wood on for a year or two, then swap those for newer pallets and use the old ones for kindling
Haven’t read the rest of the thread so this might have been covered. Depends on your home insurer, but it’s likely to be invalid without regular sweep and safety inspection by a qualified sweep.
Best to look at real causes of urban air pollution, even though log burning fires are seemingly popular in London and surrounding area there contribution of PM2.5 is at most 10% in winter, and little the rest of the year, with traffic emissions being biggest source at over 60% so probably best to ban cars first. With new eco designed stoves the particulate emmisons are cut considerably, problem can be old open fires not being as efficient.
Wood burning to heat homes seems to be a good solution to tackling climate change, especially if we are able to expand UK forest cover.
Solution in areas of high pollution might be to encourage people to switch from open fires to modern eco stoves, or ban burning temporarily at times when weather conditions will make effects of air pollution worse.
Get it swept. Get a CO alarm for the room it's in and the rooms the chimney passes through. If it's not lined and is on a party wall I'd consider getting it lined just to be safe.
> Keep some kindling either on top of the burner (if it doesn’t get too hot), or beside it so you have really dry wood to get it going.
Be really, really, really careful if you do this.
Damn near burnt my house down doing just that - luckily my other half went back into the room (we were just heading off to bed). I had one leg already under the duvet when he shouted “FIRE”.
I bought a f***ing cold Cob house in the arse end of now where in Devon, which has a wood warm log burner installed,
and I must admit they’re we’re (and still is( bloody brilliant! I would recommend getting a flu thermometer like a couple people have suggested, as well as making sure your stove is on stilts! And at least 200mm from the back wall, get a little fan aswell.
All of which makes a massive difference for ours.
hope that’s helps!
> Best to look at real causes of urban air pollution, even though log burning fires are seemingly popular in London and surrounding area there contribution of PM2.5 is at most 10% in winter, and little the rest of the year, with traffic emissions being biggest source at over 60% so probably best to ban cars first.
My link above claims: "Wood burners have become increasingly popular in recent years and, together with coal fires, are estimated to cause almost 40% of outdoor tiny particle pollution as well as creating toxic air inside the home."
Check out this photo of Kendal taken the other day. Note it's from about 11am, before many people have lit their fires.
How can you tell it's smoke and not fog?
It was a bright sunny day, crystal clear, if you can believe that, and no fog anywhere else! Then there's the smell and the smoke coming out of the chimney pots.
> My link above claims: "Wood burners have become increasingly popular in recent years and, together with coal fires, are estimated to cause almost 40% of outdoor tiny particle pollution as well as creating toxic air inside the home."
But most of that percentage could be from open/coal fires rather than woodburning stoves couldn't it? You can see smoke coming from my chimney when my woodburner has just been lit, but not when it's going properly
> You can see smoke coming from my chimney when my woodburner has just been lit, but not when it's going properly
Isn't the point about tiny particles, the nasty stuff that gets into your tissue, suggested by their name?
Point taken 😊
I accept it is only one household, but if the meter wasn't faulty, it seems to warrant further investigation?
That's reassuring, possibly, but it only relates to the inside of the house. As I see it, if you want to slowly poison yourself inside your house, whether it's fags, booze or a cosy fire, please go ahead, as long as you don't have kids etc. What the guy tellingly doesn't measure -- I guess he can't -- is his fire's effect on the outside air, although to be fair he does live rurally.
Looks a beautiful photo, but also sad at same time. Though less extreme than say Chamonix I am guessing Kendal has similar problem, based in valley with high ground around it, hard for pollution to disperse in winter due to combination of topography and cold high pressure, air colder at low levels than above thus harder for pollution to disperse, so builds up over days of prolonged cold weather and not helped by near by main roads. Does Kendal has access to mains gas? I know alot of Highland Scotland properties rely on oil heating which further would increase local air pollution.
I guess a solution again would be a requirement to replace open fires with modern eco stoves.
> What the guy tellingly doesn't measure -- I guess he can't -- is his fire's effect on the outside air
I agree, that's why i would like to see some proper research, rather than the "made up" figure of 40% that was quoted in the guardian article.
I'm not sure how "made up" it is. The Guardian cite this as the source for the figure.
Who has their wood burner on for 20 hours a week in the summer? How many actually run theirs for 40 hours a week in the winter? I'm not trying to say there is no problem, but I think that 40% figure is misleading
Summer, you're right. Winter, here, easy. Chimneys operating all day, many still with coal. Maybe it's different in NW Lakes?
We probably do, next door only use their about 10 times a year. I re-listened to my link to make sure I wasn't making it up. Looks like they are doing a new survey, I'm betting the 40% will be out by a factor of 10 (especially now we have left the EU??)
Some great advice. Couple from me.
Get on a local FB Group. I ask periodically for dry pallets and I get load from folks wanting to get rid. Whilst not to be used exclusively they are super when dry to be cut up and used sparingly as kindling.
Don't ever just chuck everything in on a cold, still day. You'll find your home filled with stench. You'll need to 'prime' your flue i.e. replace the dense air trapped by warm air, which then creates the draw. Sometimes you can get away with just scrunched up paper but, as was the case here yesterday with zero wind all day and minus2, that will blow back too. I have a plumbers propane burner to help that along.
P.s. if you have storage, try to get friendly with a local tree surgeon so you can build up a seasoning rotation. Much cheaper than buying shed or, kiln dried. I haven't purchased wood for years as my local guy just wants to clear it out. Its becoming less regular though.
> Be really, really, really careful if you do this.
> Damn near burnt my house down doing just that - luckily my other half went back into the room (we were just heading off to bed). I had one leg already under the duvet when he shouted “FIRE”.
Totally. My mate put some logs between the fire and the cove wall. The logs started smouldering with embers and cracked the plaster.
This article from the BMJ claims “2.4 times more PM2.5 pollution from domestic wood burning than traffic”.
“The disproportionate amount of PM2.5 pollution from domestic wood burning continues to escape attention. Few people who install wood stoves are likely to understand that a single log-burning stove permitted in smokeless zones emits more PM2.5 per year than 1,000 petrol cars and has estimated health costs in urban areas of thousands of pounds per year.”
Following the links (in reference ) brings you to this chart:
Woodburning stoves contribute to PM2.5 concentrations. Of that there is no doubt.
However, we need to drill down into the data a little bit. The headline figure is that 38% of PM2.5 comes from open fires and stoves burning coal and wood. But this is a mix of the very bad - open fires with a mixture of damp wood and coal smouldering away - to the very good - efficient closed stoves burning properly dried wood at high temp.
The document does not give any actual data on the impact of different fuels, beyond saying that coal is the worst and dry wood the best. But it does give figures for the methods of burning which show that a good stove releases about 11% of the emissions of an open fire and 13% of a poor stove.
From here we're into educated guesswork because we have no way of knowing if the 38% of all emissions are because lots of people are using good stoves and dry wood, or because a few people are using wet wood and coal on open fires.
On the type of appliance: a 2016 survey suggests that 40% of all domestic combustion was open fire (and 50% stoves, and presumably the remaining 10% pellet boilers, ranges, or other systems).
On the fuel source: of all the people I know who have woodburners, some are fastidious about using properly dried wood. Some are less fastidious. Some use whatever they can get their hands on, up to and including damp pallets and painted wood. I'd say less than half use coal.
So I would suggest that, of the headline 38%, a vast majority of the PM2.5 contribution is coming from people using inappropriate fuels on inappropriate devices. If everyone switched to a modern stove burning clean dry wood, I would guess that figure is going to drop by more than a factor of ten.
Is that acceptable? I'd say sometimes. I don't think I would put even the cleanest woodburner in, if I lived in a city centre, and I even think I would support legislation preventing any more installations in heavily urban areas. Cities tend to be clustered around rivers and in bowls with surrounding countryside rising up, so air pollution gets caught in the bowl. OTOH I can't see much a of a problem with a good clean burning stove in less densely populated areas.
TL:DR What we need to do is get rid of all the open fires, and stop people burning crap.
Wow, that is worrying. I live semi-rurally with, to my knowledge, only half a dozen wood burners in my 1/4 mike radius. Do I simply brick it up?
My bro lives in Wirksworth. Similar sized village but in a valley with significantly increased housing density and a massive increase in the proportion of homes with some type of burner, many with several. He does comment that many cold winter mornings smell like the day after bonfire night.
I'm not convinced wet wood cannot burn cleanly if the stove is hot enough.
In addition to Jamie's points I would add that this report is still using data from the (flawed in my opinion) 2015 report. I'm not trying to say there isn't an issue, just that is not on the scale that this report implies.
> a single log-burning stove permitted in smokeless zones emits more PM2.5 per year than 1,000 petrol cars
That's a pointless statistic to highlight. Petrol cars don't really produce any PM2.5 particles; they are specifically a problem with diesel engines. It's a bit like saying that stoves are better than polyester jumpers because they don't give off microplastics.
It can. But in all but very rare cases, they aren't. If I got my stove up to heart-of-the-sun temps and threw a damp log on, I daresay all the water would boil off and I'd still get pretty clean burning of the wood itself. But the problem here is people using damp wood all the time, so the stove never really gets up to temperature and all the wood is burned poorly.
Yes I agree.
I bought a green plastic garden store/bunker to house a generator, which I have since given to a friend. So I used it as a log store. Apparently it is leaking and many logs are soaked through like they came from the Mary Rose. Once up to temperature, I was able to maintain it with just the 'waterlogs'. Chimney smoke was minimal. I don't think pollution was worse.
My chimney has a liner. Without it, the water condensing there might drive tar into the brickwork, to catch fire later.
People often have a blazing fire, with too much airflow and a low temperature. They heat the sky.
> Petrol cars exhausts don't really produce any PM2.5 particles; they are specifically a problem with diesel engines.
Fixed that for you.
What about tyres and brakes?
“It is estimated that exhaust and non-exhaust sources contribute almost equally to total traffic-related PM10 emissions.However, as exhaust emissions control become stricter, relative contributions of non-exhaust sources to traffic related emissions will increasingly become more significant.”
Your JRC link is about PM10s, not PM2.5s. The latter are rather worse for your health.
You do have a point, as very recent studies are showing that brake and tyre dust do increase both PM10 and PM2.5 levels (incidentally, this is another good reason to switch to EVs as they hardly ever use their brakes).
But look: your original BMJ link claimed that a single woodburner emits as much PM2.5 as 1000 petrol cars - only looking at their tiny tailpipe emissions, not their brake/tyre dust. You then link to new studies showing that this is a huge underestimate of petrol car emissions, because brake/tyre dust is very significant. This doesn't make the woodburners any worse, it just means that the original claim of 1 woodburner = 1000 petrol cars is incorrect.
After doing a bit of research maybe we should ban open fires (in cities at least).
"A ten-year-old wood stove has 80% fewer PM emissions than an open fire and the new Ecodesign stoves are even better at 90%. In London, 69% of solid fuel installations are inefficient open-fires (40% for the UK as a whole)."
If people are really worried about PM 2.5 levels they are breathing in, perhaps they should stop cooking. Outside levels (2016) are 2-4 Cockermouth, 8-10 London
Toast caused the PM 2.5 level to shoot up to 92 and well-done sausages peaked at 218. One thing is worth mentioning. When the level does rise it takes quite a while (an hour or two) to fall, unless multiple windows are opening to allow through-air (so post-sausage cooking you will be breathing in very high levels of PM 2.5 for an hour or two).
> I'm not convinced wet wood cannot burn cleanly if the stove is hot enough.
It can but the only kind of stove that achieves high enough temperatures is a wood-gasification plant and even then the proportion of wet wood to dry is fairly limited. You need 2200°C to split the water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen otherwise the water is preventing oxygen mixing with the wood gases and burning properly.
As well as the environmental impact, burning wood that isn't dry wastes energy, heat is lost just boiling off water which reduces the heat output. (Probably rots the stove too).
> As well as the environmental impact, burning wood that isn't dry wastes energy, heat is lost just boiling off water which reduces the heat output. (Probably rots the stove too).
It also creates creosote and excess soot, which will keep your house nice and warm when the chimney goes up in flames.
> It also creates creosote and excess soot, which will keep your house nice and warm when the chimney goes up in flames.
The problem being when wood burns it first turns into gases, the lighter ones burn around 230° (the fire burns) but to burn the heavier ones you need over 1000° and unless you get that hot they just go up the chimney and condense somewhere as tars.
> It also creates creosote and excess soot, which will keep your house nice and warm when the chimney goes up in flames.
Not all bad then...
15-year-old French climber Oriane Bertone has climbed Super Tanker (Font 8B+) at Cuvier Rempart in Fontainebleau, France.