Choosing a wood-burning stove: on 'efficiency'

 

 

Stoves, damned stoves and statistics: how to choose…

 

As with any commercial product, wood-burning stoves exist in a blizzard of competing statistics which can be deployed by the unscrupulous to bamboozle the unwitting.

When it comes to stoves, the metric that the measurers have primarily attempted to capture is efficiency, but between wood, stove and chimney, efficiency proves to be a mercurial, slippery beast, with a sting in its tail for the unwary.

While some stoves (no names mentioned) are simply functionally and ecologically catastrophic, many others, which populate websites up and down the virtual high street, are designed specifically with efficiency targets in mind, which is to say, to achieve a high efficiency over a narrow peak of output. If you plan to stoke your stove once every ten minutes, using kiln-dried wood chopped to European regulation dimensions, preferably with a dead-straight flue and a fan sucking air at a constant rate into the combustion chamber, then these types of stoves are just right for you. 

However, if you are not an automaton, if you prefer to buy wood green or just unfinished, if you chop, season or simply store it yourself, and if you like to put your feet up during extended stoking intervals (and read the paper/do the gardening/ cook the roast), then you might prefer to consider a stove that is designed for usability and permanence, which can tolerate large hunks of wood that are seasoned in a damp maritime climate, and can function happily with a chimney with more kinks than a corkscrew.

The first types of stove generally ‘stay with the house, the latter stays with the family’.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever believe the statistics. Many manufacturers are justifiably very proud of the outstanding efficiencies which they have managed to achieve with their stoves, often without significantly impinging on other aspects of performance. It just pays to take the numbers with a pinch of salt.

And, of course, to talk to the experts…

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