Wood Burners Past And Present

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An Introduction To Wood Burning Stoves

The past few years have seen something of a Renaissance for wood burning stoves, so much so that manufacturers have struggled at times to keep pace with demand for this, perhaps surprising, must-have item of modern life.

But when you look at it, there are in fact quite a few very good reasons to consider installing a wood burner – assuming, that is, that you’re fortunate enough to be able to do so. These include in no particular order: aesthetic value; efficiency; money saving; green energy; low carbon and other environmental considerations; increase the value of your property even.

Not everyone is able to take advantage of a wood burning stove though. Common impediments are an unsuitable property, air pollution regulations, lack of access to or storage space for fuel (principally seasoned wood or specially manufactured pellets). And anyway, there isn’t at present the capacity or infrastructure to support everyone converting to wood burners.

But if, having weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of wood burning stoves, you find that you are one of those who can install a wood burner, then check this out…

The cost of running a boiler using electricity works out at 8.8 pence (UK data) per Kilowatt hour output, whereas a wood burning boiler comes in at 1p per kWh – nearly nine times cheaper!

To be fair, heating a boiler using electricity is not what most people do, but even gas and oil work out at over three times the cost of a wood burning boiler (figures taken from the UK Forestry Commission report A Woodfuel Strategy for England).

With gas and oil set to rise remorselessly in the years ahead, installing wood burners starts to look like a very cost effective move, especially when you also factor in the possibility of grants available for switching to bio-fuels (in the UK grants for installing a whole variety of renewable energy technologies are administered by the Low Carbon Buildings Programme).

Obviously, these figures vary according to your own location. The UK is a densely populated island with accordingly sparse areas of forest and other woodland suitable for sustaining bio-mass energy production. The USA on the other hand, although it has a larger population also has vastly more natural resources to sustain a greater bio-mass industry, and Canada even more so. By contrast, for those living in one of the Gulf States in the Middle East where oil is abundant but trees almost non-existent then buying into wood burners is clearly going to represent a lifestyle choice rather than a sound economic decision.

But whatever your take on it, wood burning (or to use modern parlance, biomass energy) has not only been with us in one form or another since we lived in caves, it’s not about to disappear any time soon either. Quite the opposite in fact; we are caught in a pincer movement between dwindling fossil fuel supplies and the effects on the climate likely brought about by burning all that fossil fuel in the first place.

So we find ourselves in urgent need of viable alternative energy sources that are also non-detrimental as regards carbon emissions. And you can gain a good understanding of the kinds of solutions that the UK government (and indeed most of continental Europe) have in mind when you consider statements such as this from the UK Biomass Strategy document: [from 2007 it became] “a requirement that biomass boilers are installed wherever appropriate in new school buildings and refurbishments.”

Biomass fuel is essentially any type of renewable biological material that combusts well. It obviously has the desirable characteristic that being renewable implies a life cycle, and hence a period of growth which typically ensures it is self-balancing as regards carbon output. The most commonly used biofuels are of course logs, wood pellets and other forms of reclaimed wood, but you can even burn husks from cereal crops and nuts (so long as your particular burner is capable of accepting it).

But before we go much further, let’s rewind and find out how we got here in the first place…

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