Maintenance is an important consideration in choosing a wood-burning stove, and one that you should always try to discuss with your stove dealer to ensure that you will enjoy hassle-free enjoyment of your stove for its expected ‘life’.
For the first few years, the only maintenance required should be chimney-sweeping, which should be carried out at least annually. We advise customers in the first instance, especially if they are new to woodburning, to have their flues swept by a competent chimney sweep at the end of the first burning season. They will be able to give you invaluable feedback on your operation of the stove, and advice on what you can do to improve your technique. In the longer term, they should also be able to carry out routine maintenance of the stove itself, replacing consumable parts as they wear out, as well as keeping your flue clean and condensate-free.
However, anyone who is prepared to do their research should be able to sweep their own flue and maintain their own stove should they so wish, although for certain customers, such as those with thatched properties, the advantage of having a sweeping certificate from a reputable sweep will be invaluable for insurance purposes and for peace of mind, and for the elderly, infirm or technically-challenged, it can prove much easier just to employ a professional to maintain the stove as well.
The cost of sweeping varies considerably (some sweeps will charge a flat rate, others will charge for their time – a filthy chimney can take 4 or 5 times as long to sweep as a well-maintained one!) but, as a rough heuristic, a basic maintenance sweep might typically cost about the same as a car MOT. As with most services, it is worth paying a little more for a really good chimney sweep who takes genuinely good care of her or his customers.
Every stove contains a number of ‘consumable’ components. While the stove body and door are usually covered by a lengthy warranty, the glass, baffle plate, door rope and fire bricks, as well as grates and log retainers are frequently exempted, but are all replaceable. In ordinary use, all of these components should last for many years, but replacement costs and availability can vary considerably. All in all, most stoves and their components are extremely robust, and unlike a car, there is no routine part replacement to be done on an annual basis. Exactly how long consumables will last will depend on frequency of use of the stove, whether or not it is run within the appropriate temperature range, and how gently or roughly they are treated, but it is perfectly possible to go five years to a decade without having to replace any parts at all.
Factors to consider are:
- Provenance: where are the stoves built? Where are spares shipped from?
- Generic parts: are the spares entirely specific to the stove, or can you deploy easily available materials?
- Ubiquity: some manufacturers with high turnover of models will stop producing spares after a number of years, and particularly with the budget end of the market, it might be impossible to track down a source for spares at all.
- Complexity: Some stove are more ‘engineered’ than others. The more complex the design, the greater a premium the parts will carry, and greater skill and familiarity will be required to fit them.
A good rule of thumb is to keep and file your paperwork relating to your stove purchase; some stove models have been through numerous iterations of the same design, and the parts are not common to all the evolutions. Knowing when your stove was built, or at least when you purchased it, can be an important guide to procuring the right parts when you eventually need them.
Some stoves are built with user-maintenance as a design principle. Clearview stoves have barely changed their product assembly and have maintained enviable discipline in their model range, which consists of only around a dozen stoves. As a result, as dealers, we are able to carry the full range of spares on our shelves and are enabled to usually supply customers from the last 30 years with exactly what they need, straight away.
Clearview spares are also regular in size and fairly generic: the glass panels are all square, which makes them easier to obtain, and only come in 3 sizes, and the fire bricks are regular shapes and can be easily cut from vermiculite board (which we also stock in sheets – many customers prefer to cut their own replacement bricks). At present, the smaller individual replacement Clearview bricks are around the £20 mark, with a full set costing around £60 to £80, depending on the model; most other manufacturers’ bricks are more expensive, some significantly more; it’s never a good sign when a manufacturer has you over a barrel and uses the leverage to charge eye-watering sums for pretty basic replacement parts.
All Clearviews, like many stoves, have just three fire bricks, but some stoves have six or even a dozen. Some are curved or precisely-machined; expect to pay more for these, and to endure a longer lead-time. They are also more likely to be damaged in transit, which is also why we prefer not to post them to customers. Vermiculite bricks are quite frangible, but once installed, if used carefully, should last for many years (throwing logs into a stove is a perfect way to wreck them quickly). Some manufacturers, like Barbas from the Netherlands, make ceramic fire bricks, which are considerably more durable and more resistant to abuse.
Door glass should last for a very long time too, but occasionally it cracks or discolours. Square replacement glass usually costs from £30 to £50, but a large curved piece of glass might cost £150 to £200. Another potential headache with door glass exists precisely because of the infrequency with which replacement is required; all too frequently, the retaining screws seize up over the course of several years and can be very resistant to removal; sometimes they respond to a good soaking with oil. A good prevention is to loosen the screws on a new stove and lube them with copper grease, but at the worst, if they jam completely, they can usually be drilled out and replacement holes drilled and tapped. This is easier on some stoves than on others; where such flexibility is possible, it is often by design and down to the foresight of the manufacturer.
Such resilience is built into the best stoves: for instance, baffle plates, which sit at the top of the stove, are another part that will eventually need replacing, and which are crucial to efficient stove performance. These should ideally sit on, and be supported solely by, the firebricks. On some stoves, the front of the baffle plate is supported by a screw or metal support fixed into the body of the stove. It might take a decade for this to burn out or collapse, but when it does, it is nigh-on impossible to set a new baffle plate in position, rendering the stove useless. Simple, thoughtful design is best, and allows for years of easy maintenance; ad hoc construction will eventually entail a headache.
Door rope comes in a variety of diameters; you can normally either buy replacement rope in pre-cut lengths with adhesive, or buy it off the reel from good stove shops. We carry most diameters of rope on the shelf, typically £5 or £6 per metre. Rope for a large door plus glue usually leaves change from £20; pre-cut packs cost a little more.
Spare parts for our European stoves – Contura & Barbas – take a little longer to arrive, often as quickly as a week, sometimes as long as three, but Contura guarantee to keep available spares for stove models that they retire for at least ten years; the excellent dealer portal at the Barbas website, which lists over 300 wood and gas appliances, carries individually listed spares even for models that have been unavailable for many years, allowing us to continue sourcing spares for stoves that we supplied decades ago. But again, it is crucial that customers either retain their original paperwork, or are at least able to identify their stove model, in order to find the appropriate parts.
In terms of surface damage to stoves, most stoves are re-paintable: faded or scratched paint can be given a fresh coat, rust marks can be rubbed down with wire wool and re-sprayed, and the stove will look like new. There are some important exceptions; some stoves, usually convection models with multiple panels, will have powder-coated components; often these cannot be re-sprayed, or if they can, the new paint may not key in with the other metal parts of the stove, and might necessitate the purchase of another complete replacement panel. A can of paint is usually about £15. A new side panel for a stove is more like £100+.
On the whole, stoves are eminently repairable: we have supplied replacement doors to customers who have shattered the hinges by hitting them with a hammer; new air-control rods for ones that have been damaged by being kicked, new lids for stoves that have been warped from over-firing. But there are limits, and prevention is the best cure; treat your stove like an old friend (i.e. no hammers, no kicking!) and it should give you many years of faithful service.
In brief, if you treat it with even moderate care, your stove should be inexpensive to maintain and you should be able to do it yourself; if your experience is otherwise, give us a call. We might be able to help.