Multi fuel stoves and woodburners are becoming increasingly popular, and as a chimney sweep, I can understand why.
Years ago, before televisions, real fires were the focal point of the family home. These days, with Wi-fi, iPads and TVs in each room, many families are scattered. A real fire though can still bring everyone together (even the family pet!)
However, there are a number of considerations you need to take into account before you launch into buying a stove.
Here’s my step by step guide on ensuring you get the right installation for your property.
Step One: Get Your Chimney Swept
This is the first step towards getting a stove installed into a current chimney. It serves a number of purposes; primarily to ensure that all the old soot deposits have been removed and that the flue is ready to be used again.
Sweeping also enables helps determine the length of the flue (which is needed for Step Three). Many flues have more than one bend and these can add a couple of metres to the overall length.
It also ensures that the flue is free from any blockages, such as bird nests. I recently swept a flue in readiness for a stove to be fitted and, although the chimney pot had been capped off, a nest was inside the flue (another reason why, if you are closing off a chimney, it should be swept beforehand!)
Other issues can also be checked out For instance, is there any pipework in the flue (most commonly from old back boilers)? Are the midfeathers – brickwork which separates one flue from another in a chimney stack – missing? If so, there could be a load of fallen bricks blocking the flue.
All of these things can be checked by your local, professional chimney sweep.
Step Two: Deciding What Fuel You Want To Burn
This often gets overlooked but it is actually a very important issue. For instance, if you are only wanting to burn wood, then a stainless steel flexible liner, attached to a woodburner, could fit the bill. If, however, you are wanting to burn smokeless fuel 24/7. then you might want to look at a concrete-based lining system, such as Eldfast, and you will need a multi fuel stove.
If you live in a smokeless zone (check with your local council), then it is an offence to burn household, bituminous coal.
If you aren’t in a smokeless zone and want to use it, you’ll need to get your chimney swept regularly (once a quarter when in use) as it creates a large amount of soot deposits in the flue.
It’s worth pointing out here that stoves and woodburners should NEVER be used for burning household rubbish, offcuts, old fence panelling etc. These are full of toxins which not only pollute the environment, but can wreck your flue and cause a chimney fire. It may seem like a cheap way to heat your home but, trust me, it will cause problems and be an expensive way of doing it in the long term.
Step Three: The ‘To Line Or Not To Line’ Question
Assuming you’ve had your flue swept and all is fine, you now need to think about getting it lined. I’m asked at least four or five times a week whether a stove actually needs a liner. ”
The chimney’s worked fine for the last 100 years, hasn’t it?” is one of the typical phrases I hear.
The simple answer is that an existing flue does not need to be lined, provided the flue is fit for purpose. That last bit is very important. How do you find out whether it’s fit for purpose? Well, this means doing a smoke pressure test. However, the truth is that most older flues are very leaky so will fail a test, meaning they need to be lined.
I generally do not recommend reusing an old flue, and it’s for a number of reasons. Remember, most flues were built for open fires. Putting a stove into an old flue can in some cases, cause tar to form in the flue (causing a chimney fire) and reduce the efficiency of the appliance. And then there is also the very possible risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from leaky flues.
Many installers won’t fit a stove without a liner. These are mostly stainless steel flexible liners which are classed as a ‘temporary repair’ (i.e. – it’s a way of allowing you to re-use your chimney again). Every chimney/flue lining will fail eventually, and its lifespan can depend on a number of things such as construction methods used, type of fuel burnt, how the fuel is burnt and even the geographical location of the property.
My advice is don’t skimp on this – choose the right liner and it will make your installation better all round.
Step Four: Choosing The Right Stove
Now you’ve considered the above, you can look at what type of stove you may want fitted (most people just jump to this straight away so, by having read this far, you will understand why problems can and do start to arise!)
There are a number of factors which need to be considered here, such as whether you are indeed in a Smoke Control Area, the size of your room and your own personal preferences towards style/look of the stove.
Please, please, please don’t just go ahead and buy a stove from anywhere (particularly the internet) without getting an expert in to talk you through these steps.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen oversized appliances in rooms. Not only are they unusable because they are too hot, but they can also have operational difficulties, such as smoking back into the room, due to lack of ventilation.
Like most things, you pay for what you get. A cheap stove won’t last long. Buy quality, look after it and it will pay dividends.
For most, normal sized living rooms, a 5kw stove is perfectly adequate – but this should always be checked with a professional before you put your hand in your pocket.
Step Five: Fitting Your Solid Fuel Stove
This is definitely not a quick, Bank Holiday DIY job and I could spend all day telling you stories about the number of dangerous installs I’ve seen from enthusiastic amateurs.
It’s a serious business and should be treated as such. The installation of a solid fuel appliance is a controlled service and is subject to Building Regulations.
The easiest way of getting Building Regulations ‘Sign Off’ is to have it installed by someone who is a member of a solid fuel Competent Persons Scheme (CPS). The best known is HETAS, but there are others such as (at the time of writing) OFTEC, APHC, BESCA, Certsure, NAPIT and Stroma.
Always ensure that your chosen installer issues you with appropriate paperwork on the type of installation and gives you a Data Plate, which specifies the type of liner used, dimensions of the liner and so on.
If you don’t use someone who is a member of the above schemes, then be aware that getting ‘sign off’ for an installation can be tricky/impossible, depending on what area of the country you are in. Council building control departments can be very reluctant to sign off an install, regardless of who did it.
Save yourself a load of hassle and get a professional in.
As you can see from the above, there are a number of things which need to be factored in when getting a stove; it’s not simply a case of choosing something which looks the part like perhaps a settee or set of wardrobes. That’s precisely why it pays to approach it all with an open mind.
If installed correctly, solid fuel appliances can give years of pleasure to a family home. On the other hand, if installed incorrectly, they can be deadly.
Safety should always be paramount – get a Carbon Monoxide alarm and install it in the correct place.
Once installed, understand how your stove works. I helped launch a campaign called Burn Right, which talks about fuel usage in more detail. Visit www.burnright.co.uk for more information.
By following a few simple rules, and getting expert advice advice along the way, you can get that ‘real’ fireplace you’ve always dreamed of.