Making our homes more inviting is all about harnessing the *hygge* (clear your throat and say heurgha at the same time), or, in English, the Danish concept of sheer, unadulterated cosiness. From an interior design perspective, hygge is candlelight, natural materials, cashmere throws and cats on laps, though it can also be epitomised by a warming hot chocolate, a meal with friends or an act of kindness. You get the concept, it’s ethereal but always warms the soul, essential in long Danish winters but also attractive to us Brits. Our version of hygge is a huge Sunday afternoon roast with pals in a country pub in front of, yep you guessed it, a roaring open fire.As life becomes faster and more techy, it’s little wonder there’s an increasing desire to nest and escape from the world. Couple that with growing energy bills and fabulous new fire technology and say hello to the wood burning stove phenomenon.
Sales in the UK have rocketed, with over a million now estimated to be flickering the flames for us Brits, plus thousands more bought and fitted every month. Persuaded by all of the above and by spending time in the homes of friends who have ’em, we bought one a few weeks ago for installation at Moregeous Mansions in the living room and I’m also going super luxe and having a teeny one in the bedroom too. Having read up religiously on these stoves, then researched and cogitated, then ummed and ahhed, I figured all this brain work is better shared with you lot than stored.
CAN YOU ACTUALLY FIT A WOOD BURNER?
- Have you got a suitable chimney stack, fireplace opening or enough room for a wood burning stove, including somewhere to store the timber you’ll burn. If you’re not sure, ask your local HETAS engineer to visit and assess your home for suitability.
- Most older homes have fireplaces that once featured ‘real’ fires which were covered over in the 50’s / 60’s for gas fires, then often boarded over entirely once central heating was fitted. These hidden openings are often perfect for wood burners, though will need practical attention & preparation.
- Some areas of the UK are smoke free zones, like Manchester where I live. We’ve had to buy something called a DEFRA approved stove, designed to burn solid fuel without creating smoke. I learned something new, which helped me pick the Jotul model I did…. apparently the best Defra stoves are the ones with which you can still control the heat. Burning dry wood at an optimum high temperatures creates very little smoke, but a DEFRA approved stove needs to be able to burn any wood at any temperature without creating smoke. Some lower quality stoves achieve DEFRA approval because they’re either on full or totally off, they can’t manage the in-between bits. The better DEFRA stoves, like the one I chose, still has controllability on output without producing smoke, so I can turn the heat up and down more manageably. Cool. Or not 😉
- Of course, some modern stoves are designed to sit within the room itself, even hang from the ceiling, so design wise there’s something for everyone. Again, your engineer will be able to help ascertain the best type for you, or your designer / architect on larger renovations or new-builds.
WHY DO YOU WANT ONE?
Does this sound like a silly question? But think about it, if the only reason is that you like the one in your friends house, but you have full central heating, a tiny terrace and a warm South facing property…. will you ever use it? You won’t get much change from £1500 for purchase and installation, plus on-going costs for wood – work out your figures before you buy.
WHAT HEATING & INSULATION DO YOU CURRENTLY HAVE?
- The reason we’ve chosen a wood burner is that we live in a south facing Edwardian home with high ceilings, a house which is boiling hot in summer but freezing in winter. We’re in the middle of a back to brick renovation and are busy super insulating plus installing underfloor heating (UFH), but we need a booster for those cooler evenings when the UFH might not be on but extra comfort heating is required.
- Scandi homes feature these fires for a reason, they throw out an amazing amount of heat from just a few logs and change the whole feel of a property. Instead of putting the central heating on everywhere, they’re fab for just taking ‘the edge off’ in transitional seasonal evenings, saving you money.
- If you currently have a gas fire in the main living area, a wood burning stove will be more beautiful and more efficient.
- Don’t simply buy a wood burner because your home is cold, but consider / get advice on why your house is cold. There’s always a reason and it’s better to get that sorted first. Eg, your boiler might be old and inefficient, or your radiators might be single fin and need updating, or might all need bleeding. Sometimes it’s better to address, rectify and upgrade what you have rather than just get something new.
- Think long and hard about properly insulating your home before you splash out on a wood burner. Ensure there’s no heat loss through the loft space and on a full renovation use insulated plasterboard instead of regular 12.5mm board, proper rigid insulation like Kingspan where possible, pack every gap with something like EarthWool and even consider insulating under & between floors. All money excellently spent to keep any created heat inside your hygge home 🙂
TO LINE OR NOT TO LINE
- Not all chimneys need to be lined before a wood burning stove is fitted. Some brick built chimneys are fully intact and without gaps, so the gases, CO2 and any smoke from the stove rise safely up and out of the property through the chimney. A HETAS engineer will assess for you, it’s not really something you should decide for yourself.
- Bear in mind that going forward your chimney will deteriorate and also that a reduced volume sealed lining from stove to chimney pot will increase the efficiency of your new stove.
- A specialist can assess the condition of your existing chimney flue by setting a smoke bomb in the opening where you’d like the stove, then checking for any escaping smoke through gaps in brickwork in rooms and the loft space. The gaps in our chimney flues were unreal! These gases are dangerous, it’s a no brainer that if there’s any doubt, it’s better to line the chimney with a good quality steel liner, at approx £200 for a 10m height.
- This is where installing a wood burner can get expensive. Say you’ve bought a stove at £500-£1000, it can cost you the same again to have a chimney lined, if not even more should your installer have no head for heights or if your chimney is hard to access and scaffolding is needed. Sometimes the installation costs will rule out the installation, unless money is no object, so check this before you buy.
- It’s possible to get a roofer to drop the liner down the chimney or do it yourself if you’re a competent DIYer. Speak with your installer about all options, and remember that different installers have different working methods and some are more flexible than others on what they will and won’t do.
- Our roof is, surprise surprise, complicated and inaccessible with super high chimneys. Life’s never easy is it?! Friendly roofers are helping us get the liners in for the heating engineer, showing is that no problem is unsurmountable and keeping crazy costs down to affordable levels.
- If you have a fireplace and have opened it up, get it swept. No two ways about it, get it swept. Contact the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps and don’t be tempted to sing ChimChimeney Chim Chim Cherooo down the phone or they’ll cut you off.
- A final note about the pots which sit atop your house. For more modern property installations this isn’t really an issue as a modern cowl will be fitted by your installer to a relatively modern pot. However on a period property like mine, the tall ornate original pots are an issue. We’ve to have the top chess like points ground off, which I’m quite sad about, but it’s only one on each stack so all is not lost. Talk to your installer about any concerns you might have on this score before it happens.
PREPPING YOUR FIREPLACE OPENING
Getting the smoke & gases out of the property is covered above but there’s also more prep involved.
- Ensure your woodburning stove will be sat not only level but also on non-combustible material – ever wondered why most sit on tiles…?
- If your hearth has a plywood base rather than cement or stone, you’ll need to buy a type of stove which gives out a restricted amount of heat. Check with your supplier and know the regs before you start.
- If the fire is being set in a brick fireplace then you can leave the rear and side bricks & mortar exposed if your installer has said they’re good enough quality. Check they’re not single skin walls going through to other rooms! If the brick sides aren’y acceptable and you want a clean lined finish, don’t just use normal plasterboard as it isn’t heat resistant. Even pink fire board, which many people have used in the past, isn’t really up to the task and often cracks. I’ve taken good advice and specified a totally fire resistant British Gypsum 15mm Glasroc to the rear and sides, then a 6mm Glasroc to follow the arched header brickwork.
- Make sure to use the sharp uncut edged at the front and bring them forward of the front face brickwork, creating a crisp edge which won’t crack in the heat like the skim coat around metal stop beading has a tendency to. Here’s mine below, well, one of them.
Wow, that’s a lot of info right, and we haven’t even chatted about actually choosing which stove, what they look like, and all the gorgeous interior design stuff! But you know me, the practicals always come first 😉
Image credit Chimney diagram: Glowing Embers HERE