My wood-burning stove is expensive, trendy – and miserable

According to Radio 4, wood-burning stoves are a mark of wordly success. Mine is reducing me to a cold, tired, red-eyed wreck

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

28 February 2015

9:00 AM

One of my earliest memories is seeing my father in the early morning raking out the ashes of our coal fire. I was interested in the blue veins around his ankles and bare white heels as he strained forwards with his short shovel. After the ashes he carefully placed balls of newspaper, which he called ‘spills’, and built a tent of small kindling logs over them. I was careful not to speak as he was always in a furious temper while he was doing it. Fifty years on, I have discovered why.

I recently moved house and inherited from the previous owner a wood-burning stove, which takes up a large amount of space in my small living room, and a lot of time and energy from me. According to Radio 4, wood-burning stoves are now a mark of worldly success, having overtaken the Aga as a status symbol for the middle classes. Arbiters of taste such as Lily Allen and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rave about them, so I was lucky, I felt at first, to find one already installed. New they cost £2,000 or more, and 180,000 UK homes had a stove installed last year; sales were five times higher than in 2007. People are obviously desperate to go back in time.

It bothers me that since I moved in with this stove I am often cold, sometimes wet, tired and frequently covered in ash. My cat does not sit happily in front of it, yellow eyes gleaming, as she might before a real open fire. She is wise enough to stay in the bedroom submerged in the winter duvet.

I may have stumbled, thanks to the wood-burner, upon a major difference between the sexes: men are happy to forage for their fuel but most women are not. The friends who say they really love a good wood-burner are usually men. They enjoy discussing how to manage them, keep the fire going by using petrol-laced fire-lighters, pushing a lever to the right and releasing a valve at a particular moment. They seem primordially fascinated by pyrotechnics and see controlling fire as a real skill.

Perhaps my problem is that I live alone, and wood-burners are a two-person job; one to make the tea and rabbit stew, while the other goes out to get the wood every few hours. I used to enjoy westerns and tales of frontier life, fancying myself dressed in skins and snow-shoes, but as I get older I find I am not really a backwoods type. I don’t relish going out in the night when the fire starts going out unexpectedly — which it often does, as small logs burn too quickly while big logs refuse to light at all. I wish I had watched just how my father made his spills instead of looking at his feet. If I am tired I just let the thing go out and put on a jumper.

It’s not pleasant squatting down in the dark and wet, trying to find wood dry enough to burn, but neither is buying fuel any fun. If you get wood or smokeless coal delivered, it comes in very large amounts which will half-fill your living room or kitchen, so you have to take the car and drive off to find sacks of the right size. Like many women I do not like driving on motorways into industrial estates to find wholesalers. The first bag I bought was dry on top but mouldy and damp further down. A local workman suggested a different outlet where they sell smokeless coal, as it’s easier to manage and cheaper. I set off again, to find the place in a distant, decaying 1960s shopping arcade.

‘We ain’t got none. It’s not the season,’ an assistant told me as freezing rain lashed the roof. I suggested that winter might be a good time for mixed-fuel-burning stoves. She looked puzzled.

‘We only sell fuel for barbecues,’ she said. ‘If there’s any left it’ll be over there, in health and beauty.’ I couldn’t follow her logic. Even the most avid stove-fanciers don’t claim that owning one adds to your good looks. In my case it makes me look like a hermit with red eyes and a wheezy cough. I was relieved to find there was no coal among the false eyelashes and panty pads because I realised, rather late, that I couldn’t have carried it to the car, which was parked on a pavement somewhere round the back.

Instead I went yet further away to a better-known household store and bought four piles of expensive ‘high heat’ wood and lumbered that into my car boot. I never found out whether it gave a ‘high heat’ or not because back at home it refused to light.

A Spanish shop assistant later told me that at home they always use Doritos to get the fire going. Perhaps I’ll try them, or perhaps I’ll just join the cat under the duvet and eat the Doritos instead.

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  • gerontius redux

    Good grief – You cannot light a fire?

  • Phillip2

    My wood-burning stove is cheap to run and I don’t follow trends (I’ve had it for years). Mind you, I have lots of trees and therefore I source and dry all my own logs. It looks good, gives out plenty of heat and takes very little time to clean and re-light. And I’m not miserable either.

    • mumble

      If you are not miserable, I can’t imagine what you are doing in the Speccie comments section.

  • Donald

    At the risk of being trite, you’re doing it wrong.

    A wood burning stove should not lead to a smoky room, as they are meant to be run with the door closed and the gases going up the chimney. It is also crucial that you are burning dry fuel so some sort if reliable dry storage needs to be present.

    There are a number of informative websites to help anyone run a stove.

    • PetaJ

      I disagree. You should be able to leave the doors open on a wood-burning stove if you want to and the fire is going properly. It is not as heat-efficient as having the doors closed but prettier! I speak as a veteran of 18 years living with one in France where they are called ‘inserts’. And I am a woman. The secret is, though, in having the right wood which is easily available here and, if you have the space, will be delivered.

      • Go To Zero

        That’s inserts. Inserts do not radiate the heat as well as freestanding stoves. They are just a way to use the space of an old open fire, and if people don’t have the space, or don’t want to invest in the added benefit of putting a pot or kettle on top, that’s their lot and to get the heat out, they unfortunately need to open the door and turn it back into the less efficient open fire. If you are going to insert, you may as well have the natural gas option and a fan. In regards to the article in general, what is the motive to publish someone whinging about their wood stove. The ‘clean air’, ‘clean energy’ branded fuel/ electric transition – energy policy people forcing in their behavioural change influence upon us? As well as the particle miasmas estimated from population studies, the caveman references, all that extra effort when you can just push a button (even from your smart phone) and pay a conveniently arranged just for you monthly bill – and now, lets try the ‘women don’t want wood fuel’ angle.

        • PetaJ

          You are quite wrong about inserts.

          • Go To Zero

            Really? Well, by my experience and observation with enclosed wood stoves, freestanding stoves are still the better option if you have the option. For variances in makes and models there is always too much generalisation. In review I wouldn’t actually recommend a change to natural gas from wood for anyone. The PR I have viewed through health and environmental lobbies to scare/ convince people away from wood is sickening. It’s up to the consumer the choices they make. They should just eye up closely on those attempting to remove those choices.

          • PetaJ

            I don’t think anyone is suggesting removing choices are they? Inserts are indeed often used in large fire-places where it has proved impossible to stop them smoking. In many of them there is plenty of room for a wood stove as an alternative. My experience of inserts is 100% positive both aesthetically and in terms of heat generation. I’ve never had a wood stove but I’d like one 🙂

    • tenbelly

      The ideal is to run the unit completely sealed, only allowing air to enter the unit from a separate outside air source and not from the room that is being heated.

      Most British burners don’t do that and are very inefficient and dusty.

      Go Danish.


  • JabbaTheCat

    A testament of the author’s incompetence rather than an indictment of the humble wood burning stove…

    • John Hawkins Totnes

      But as she admits, she is a woman!

      • gerontius redux

        My wife would not forgive me if I failed to point out that she can run the wood stove as well as any man.

        • Chris Morriss

          The one thing you quickly learn is that the wood must be very, very dry, especially if it is very dense hardwood such as oak. The other thing is that wood you purchase will not be split into anything like small enough pieces for the average stove.
          I recommend buying one of the wonderful Scandinavian bright orange splitting and twisting wedges (*) from a well-known UK DIY chain, a 4lb lump hammer, and a decent leather glove to put on the hand holding the wedge.
          * After using one of these, you’ll never go back to a simple wedge again!

          Living in semi-rural Derbyshire, at the bottom of a small valley, I find that even in a large proper wood store, the wood will be too wet in a normal British winter. The real poseurs will find room to fit those ‘good life’ shelves each side of the chimney breast so that a weeks worth of wood can be transferred indoors to dry out properly.

          • gerontius redux

            I have a swedish splitting tool, which was I think marketed as the “Bomb”. It’s shaped like an ice cream cone and is very effective if used with a long handled hammer. You can tap it into place and then wield the hammer double handed.
            I store my wood under the eaves of the thatch

          • Chris Morriss

            That sounds like the expanding cruciform shape marketed as a ‘wood grenade’. The problem with them is that the start is a point, rather than a line, so if you want to neatly split a half-log into two or three pieces, you can’t be sure how it will open up.
            Your experience may differ!

          • Helen of Troy

            So glad to be living in the subtopics. My hearth is the sun: I do nothing!

          • Chris Morriss

            And I thought you lived in one of those parts of the US where it’s far too hot in the summer, and far too cold in the winter!

          • Helen of Troy

            No, that’s all behind me now! : )

          • mumble

            Alternatively, one might live in a decent climate.

          • Chris Morriss

            As is often written, the climate in the UK is excellent, but the weather is atrocious! (And in my part of the country this winter just ended seems to have been worse than in other parts).
            The South-West of France would be nice, but my French is execrable, so I’d have to find a fluent French-speaking wife for my old age, which I’m sure might be easier to say than to do!

      • Feminister

        Because women are incompetent?

        Or because you are a horrible sexist?

        • John Hawkins Totnes

          No women are not incompetent, just different. I guess I must be horribly sexy.

  • akrasia

    Well Jane if you will go looking for wood on Industrial Estates, at wholesalers or branded stores you are bound to overpay and get indifferent supply. Here’s a clue, go to the country. There you will find timber yards selling dry seasoned hardwood and softwood logs. You can buy the exact amount for your needs without resorting to a truck. But it means you’d have to stop whining and do some research. Or find a bloke to it for you!

  • Ed  

    Obviously, you should be burning coal. That’s the English way.

  • Achmad Osman

    Compressed wood blocks works best. They are the right size and are easy to handle. I have many trees on my property so wood as a fuel is not an issue – but I prefer compressed wood.

  • Damaris Tighe

    You’ve confirmed the decision I made when I moved into my new home. I took one look at the dual fuel burner in my living room & put an electric faux wood burner in front of it. Can’t see me returning to my parents’ day & scrabbling about with wood, coal & matches whenever I want to be warm. Having a real hearth is nice though.

    • gerontius redux

      Say it isn’t so Damaris!

      • Damaris Tighe

        I confess to an electric wood & coal burner with a long lead & a nice plug.

        • gerontius redux


    • akrasia

      Good luck with the probable brown and blackouts if the Green Blob has it’s way.
      “It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.”
      Elon Musk

  • salt_peter

    Perseverance is the key. Experience is a great teacher. I suggest you start by buying some books on the subject – stove and wood management – and reading them, along with the instruction manual for your stove.

    Because you say you bought coal I assume you have a dual-fuel stove. There may be an attachment you should add when burning only wood.

    A charge of anthracite will last four hours plus in our stove, while a log will only last about an hour. Unlike with coal, wood logs mostly gas out, and if you do not replenish them as soon as they burn down the embers disappear very fast and the stove goes out.

    If you want to burn wood then you will need a properly ventilated but waterproof wood store to store and season wood. We also dry out the logs from our wood store beside the stove the day before burning them. A wet log can be a real dampener, so to speak.

    If you are not ready to pick up a chainsaw and/or wood-splitting maul then you will need to buy seasoned hardwood (not conifers and their kind – wood like ash, beech or oak are best) already split and cut to size from a dealer (mostly located out in the country but they may deliver, but do it before there is snow on the ground). Use gardening gloves when handling logs.

    A coal merchant may deliver coal in 25kg strong plastic bags which are easier to handle if you don’t have a coal bunker.

    If burning coal and you have a stainless steel flue pipe then avoid the manufactured smokeless fuels, which can have extra sulphur added (they resemble barbecue briquettes). The flue gasses from these fuels can condense out as sulphuric acid at the cold top of the lining, especially if the stove is slumbering overnight, eating it away and ending its life in a very few years.

    Instead use ordinary coal such as anthracite or as recommended by the stove manufacturer and flue supplier, and roar up the fire in the morning to dry out the flue.

    You can buy a device that will test how much water a log contains, and I would also suggest a magnetic thermometer attached to the outside of the flue pipe above the stove, which would help with managing the air input controls.

    Lastly, imagine how you would be fixed without electric power on a cold winter’s night – ie no central heating, electric fires, telly or internet. Then you bear in mind that the energy policy of the clowns at DECC is apparently aimed at deliberately causing winter power cuts after the general election.

    Your stove could be a godsend. Good luck.

    • commenteer

      It’s actually fine to use pine as long as you run a really hot fire from time to time using, say, oak or sweet chestnut, which will burn off the resin.

    • The author has just written an article to explain that she DOESN’T want to turn fire-making into a hobby or worse, a part-time occupation. I’m sure you mean well but you seem to have missed a large part of the article, which is all the words included therein!

      • salt_peter

        I disagree. If she had given up she would have written a different article.

        • What would that article have looked like, then? I didn’t hear any cries for help, did you?

  • commenteer

    It sounds to me as though you need a proper service for your log-burner. It may need replacement door seals, as there should be no leakage from the door into the room. You should also have the chimney swept.
    Some tips. Use firelighters to start the fire. Make some loose rolls of newspaper, put on some split logs in a pyramid, preferably dry softwood as it can be quite difficult to get a fire going with hardwood; pine is very good for this purpose. Use split logs, not whole ones, as the split side will catch fire easily.
    For the rest, YouTube videos specific to your brand of fire are useful.
    Remember that what you are aiming at is to fill up the fire with logs, once it is burning well from softwood or very dry hardwood, get the room up to the temperature you want and then close the fire down low. From then on you will just have to chuck on a log every half hour or so to maintain the same warmth.
    Once the fire is well under way, you can use even quite wet wood, although you won’t get the same heat value out of it. Hardwood like oak or ash is best for heat.
    There are plenty of suppliers on-line who will deliver smaller loads. It is best to order in the summer and put somewhere under cover, stacked Swiss-chalet style; also, have a large log basket or create space for a log pile near the fire.
    It really isn’t difficult, once you have mastered the art of lighting the fire, and you will find that you can keep it ticking over all night, if you want to avoid the bother of lighting it again the next morning.
    There’s no doubt that some log-burners are easier to manage than others. The one in my hall lights almost instantly, whatever wood you chuck on it, with a couple of firelighters. The one in my study, on the other side of the house, and with a right angle bend in the pipe, is almost impossible to get going without a bit of kindling. But it’s worth the effort of learning to manage your fire.

  • Sandvik

    i love my woodburning stove. keeps the house so warm and costs nothing to run (we have our own supply of logs). very easy to get going and easy to use. i suspect the writer isn’t a very practical person….she certainly comes across as a bit useless!

  • styants64

    Wood burners give out noxious and poisonous fumes and should be banned.

    • littleted

      “Wood burners give out noxious and poisonous fumes and should be banned.”

      No, they don’t. However, noxious and poisonous describes your emissions rather well.

      • styants64

        Your right there especially after I’ve sunk a few pints of real ale and a few whiskeys still that gives me plenty of ammo to piss on your wood burner and put the dam thing out, they must put out 1000 times more poisons than your average cigarette haven’t they banned wood burners in some countries.

      • Dodgy Geezer

        …No, they don’t….

        Er..actually, they do. Quite a lot.

        The health implications of wood burning derive from the emissions which contain carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide methane and particulates, as well as many other noxious gases and heavy metals in trace quantities. In a rural situation, where the burning inside a building is clean and with a flue, the health effects will be minimal. In a situation in a village, town or city it is not so: ambient levels can rise severely (for example, in Christchurch, New Zealand, where wood burning is common, wintertime levels of particulates can become very high, causing an estimated 100 deaths a year and an increase in hospital admissions from respiritory complaints by 8%). An estimated 1.5 to 2 million people die per year worldwide from indoor smoke, mostly produced from open and unflued fires in the ‘developing’ world. Smoke particles in the EU (from wood and fossil fuel burning) reduce average life expectancy by 8.6 month.

        It would be wise to do a little research before shooting your mouth off…

        • salt_peter

          This is the wrong forum for green propaganda. However, waste your time if you want to

        • Max Permissible

          It would be wise to do a little research before shooting your mouth off…

          This is the wrong forum for “research” and “facts” – the commenters prefer their unsubstantiated opinions and pre-existing biases.

        • Chris Morriss

          I suggest you learn some basic Chemistry and Physics. Showing your ignorance in such a blatant way isn’t really ‘cool’ you know.
          Now if you were talking about burning coal, or if you are one of the deluded horde who drive a diesel car, then you might have a point.

    • Chris Morriss

      No. Burning coal gives off noxious fumes. Burning wood (if done under the right conditions) give low emissions of everything except CO2 (which is unavoidable and to be expected) and is of course, carbon neutral.

  • Rowland Nelken

    Glad I grew out of the labour intensive dreariness of ‘Good Old Days’ fantasies in my twenties. The most substantial thing that I learned from the ‘self sufficiency’ craze was how utterly dependent I was on the rest of the global community, past and present, who had selectively bred all the fruit and veg., and, largely anonymously, designed all the garden tools. We had, not a wood burner, but a Raeburn, which burned both coke and wood, to heat both water and room. It was time consuming, dirty and difficult, if not impossible to regulate. Having a ‘picturesque’ kitchen which could have been the model for Widow Twanky’s in Alladin, was about the only compensation.

    • commenteer

      How I agree. That’s why most people abandoned sold fuel stoves long ago. The latest electric Agas can be turned on and off via a mobile phone attachment.
      However, unless you have hot water underfloor heating installed, log burners are the easiest way to achieve real warmth in isolated country houses.

      • Chris Morriss

        The whole concept of an “electric Aga” is bizarre. Heating large old houses by electricity isn’t financially viable unless you’re the Barclay Brothers!

        • commenteer

          Nobody heats a house with an Aga anymore – even Aga engineers will tell you that a modern boiler is much better for hot water and central heating. It’s only for the kitchen. I was rather sceptical about electricity until I saw it demonstrated; actually, it’s very economical particularly if you aren’t in the house all the time. Luckily my own Aga runs on mains gas, but for anyone with oil or lpg starting from scratch it might well be a good idea.

  • You eat Doritos? Blimey. They’re a sort of chemical fakery with some carbohydrate thrown in.

    Wish I could send you my fatwood sticks. They burn like banjos and I have far too many of them as we hardly ever have a fire.

  • I think a mixed fuel burner one where you can boil a kettle on top, and a bunker full of fuel is ok to have incase there is a power cut in an emergency.

  • Terry Field

    My log stoves are great; as is the country where I live. A stupid article that could only come out of England.

  • Jas

    Trendy? We’ve had a wood stove in my familys home since it was built, over 200 years ago. No woman in this family has had any trouble getting a fire going and keeping it going. Im a woman and love our stove. This chick needs to educate herself on how to use a wood stove.

  • Blindsideflanker

    The author must be stupid if she doesn’t bother to bring in a basket of logs, instead going out in the night to find some logs.

    As for buying logs in plastic bags, like preprepared vegetables , well its not surprising she finds it expensive and they have sweated in them. It seems the author is not only incapable of managing a wood burning stove, she is also incapable of googling a local log supplier.

  • Open it up while you light it. When it’s going pile it up as much as you want and close it down.(I once melted the light bulbs in the inglenook) This, of course only if you have the chimney cleaned regularly.

  • Richard Poulter

    Installed correctly a wood burning stove is an absolute pleasure – installed incorrectly then the above description could be accurate.
    For a comprehensive guide to burning wood please see below link:

  • tenbelly

    What do you expect if you use cr*p like that.

    It’s very low tech.

    Get a wood burner from the people who know about wood burners….the Danish.


    • Chris Morriss

      Apart from the fact that the ones you link to don’t last too long in the real world. They’re the “Apple” of the wood-burner world. For those who value style over ability.

      • tenbelly

        Quite agree, these are not for hamfisted people who don’t know how to treat a precision piece of equipment with respect.
        Our two in France have been going strong for over a decade.
        The only things that need replacing occasionally are the door seals and the ceramic tiles (like the thermal tiles on the Space Shuttle) that do wear out over time.

        Otherwise these units are supremely efficient, good to look at and will burn for a whole evening on four or five pieces of well cured oak.

    • Hamburger

      The best come from South Tyrol.


    Our society riddled with superstore convenience is incapable of thinking ahead and stocking kindling or chopping up those otherwise useless euro-pallets? Your logs are not seasoned, you require low grade refined sugar foodstuffs to get a fire going?

    Woman, be guided by Baden Powell and the knowledge of knowing how to do useful things.

  • crazydave789

    I grew up with coal fires, keep it in overnight and keep it going all winter, you cant just let them go out as they need to warm, the fabric of the building which makes them pretty useless in modern houses with stud walls and pad and dab plasterwork.

  • Dogsnob

    My wood-burning stove is still in the showroom. One day perhaps.

  • karen richard

    Ah, I am clearly a man. When DH worked abroad when kids little, I kept the woodburning stove burning. And made the dinner. And did the baths. After work. Ah, no, clearly if I have been multi-tasking to that extent then according to the casual sexism that underpins articles like this, I AM a girl. Have loved our Morso for the past seventeen years.

  • Randy Bob

    Middle… class… problems.

  • Ambientereal

    For me it could work as a decoration but not as a heating device. It is expensive to run (firewood is expensive), it needs care (time and effort) and it contaminates a lot (inside and outside). Find a gas burner or an electrical heater that fits inside it, or put a light bulb to simulate fire.

    • Vince Vespa

      “…contaminates a lot…”

      Well stated, friend! And the others living nearby thank you for knowing this!

      • Ambientereal

        Yes, we are putting so many restrictions to the cars but none to heating systems. I woudn´t care much if it where in an isolated farm, but in a town or a city it brings horrendous contamination. People use the car in average one or two hours a day, but the fireplace is burning all day long.

  • Chris Amies

    I have to agree. Trying to get a wood burning fire to light and then dealing with the fug of noxious smoke and soot and ash it produces just ain’t worth it.

    • Vince Vespa

      Not to mention the health misery caused to all the people who live nearby!

  • UmUmUmUmUmUm

    We are funny aren’t we. Our grandparents embraced electric fires and gas fires. It was a release from the drudgery of getting up early on a cold winter morning to clear out yesterdays ash and coax a fire into life, which then took ages to warm up the room. Then they often only warmed your front while your back froze. Now real fires are a kind of status symbol. I observed a similar phenomenon a few years ago when I saw John Lewis in Oxford Street selling huge jars of Fizzers, Refreshers and Penny chews for an exorbitant price. Ghastly little tuck shops sweets that we bought after school when we couldn’t afford a bar of chocolate. Now being offered as trendy nostalgia conversation pieces.

    • Vince Vespa

      There are good reasons that life expectancy was much more brief when everybody was heating their homes with filthy wood burners. And those who would suggest COAL have a special place in hell.

  • Helen of Troy

    Cough. As an American, may I suggest… central heating? :^)

    • Damaris Tighe

      I couldn’t live without CH any more (having done so for several years) but the reason many people here are turning to wood & coal burners is the cost of gas. I think that’s why the previous owner of my home installed the stove despite having CH.

  • beenzrgud

    I’ve had a few stoves over the years and my recommendation would be one from Clearview. Built like the proverbial brick sh*thouse and it worked the best too. At the time I was living in a smokeless zone and it was only one approved for such an area because it burnt so efficiently it Spares easy to get as well.
    Now I’ve got a large boiler stove which powers a central heating system too, and since I have access to free timber I get most of my heating for free. Saying that, I also have a large oil fired boiler which was in the building when I bought it and is useful to warm the place up first thing in the morning.
    If you’re struggling with the stove then you’re doing something wrong. The whole process of cleaning it out and lighting it up should take just a few minutes. Make sure your wood is properly seasoned, it may be worth buying a cheap moisture meter to do this.

  • Freddythreepwood

    Your stove needs servicing and its seals replacing. Your chimney needs to be swept. Buy dry logs in bulk and keep them covered. Start the fire with kindling and bbq firelighters. Get the schoolgirl next door to show you how to operate the flue. Sorted.

  • The Elderking

    Looks like a Godin woodburner.

    They are great – give out lots of heat if set up correctly. They are a renewable source if you have the land/access to wood.

    This woman sounds as if she would struggle with the tea and rabbit stew – perhaps that’s why she lives alone?

  • St Ignatius

    You should also try burning coal on your stove, if it has a multi-fuel grate. Once up and running, you can leave it most of the day and night.

  • Rossminster

    Why did her dad call balls of paper “spills”? Surely “spills” are the long bits of stick that you light the paper with?

  • Airquality Australia

    Trends are often dangerous. One wood stove emitting more health-hazardous pollution per year than 1,000 passenger cars, the decent thing to do it use non-polluting heating – http://woodsmoke.3sc.net/cleancarbenefits

    Other cities such as Montreal consider them so polluting they do not allow them to be installed and all existing stoves have to removed by 2020 http://woodsmoke.3sc.net/policies-elsewhere

  • AlanFSmith

    It is incredible that wood stoves would return when there are centuries of data and reams of research dealing with the health impact of wood smoke on neighbours and to some extent, families with a wood burning appliance in their home. The idea that the new generation of wood stoves are clean burning is largely a myth. The cost in terms of increased health care facilities to handle those afflicted with smoke-related diseases will cripple any health care system.

  • woodpecker

    The 1952 London Smog which was caused by coal burning and which killed 12000 seems to have been forgotten in the headline rush to burn wood rather than gas. Even Sweden admits that in their small population, there are a 1000 deaths each year due to wood smoke. It would be best not to do it at all in any built up area.

  • AlanFSmith

    Burning wood is not greenhouse neutral. Wood is just as much a store of carbon as fossil fuels. The millions of acres of new mature trees to absorb this extra CO2 are a pipe dream and do not exist.

  • Vince Vespa

    wood burning stove problem is not really a cute matter of this woman’s
    inconvenience, but rather the serious public health matter of poisoning
    the air in the whole neighborhood with the stovepipe emissions so
    conveniently left out of the article. Poison yourself, that’s your
    choice. Poison me, I got a problem with that. It’s ridiculous to think
    of all the restrictions on cigarette smoking since the little air toxins
    problem became known. It can’t happen soon enough that public education
    gets to the point that wood burners are social pariahs to the Nth
    degree that they deserve, orders of magnitude worse than cigarette

  • uberwest

    There may be some sealing fireproof cord which goes round the door of the stove to stop fumes coming out. There is on my parent’s stove. If there is, it could need replacing. Otherwise maybe you’re just not shutting the door firmly enough.

  • Vince Vespa

    Well, here goes…
    tell you a few very hard truths that I’ve learned about wood burning in
    urban neighborhoods in recent years. My house was paid off but I was forced to
    move away to escape wood smoke from neighbors. Now, after having to take on
    another mortgage after retirement, I
    find that there is at least as much wood burning going on in the new
    neighborhood, despite my attempts to research this matter prior to

    So I got my sidewalks, driveway and car shoveled off of snow this
    evening so I could go out for some shopping. But while I’m outside huffing
    and puffing with the shovel the nasty wood smoke wasn’t bad enough –
    some moron started burning something else that was definitely not “clean
    dry wood.” It was obviously garbage or something, judging from how foul-smelling
    the stench turned. Yes, this disgusts me and gives me headaches, sore
    throat, plugged ears, sinus issues.

    But also be aware that during my
    process of abandoning my home of near twenty years due to wood burners,
    one of the properties I contracted to purchase turned out to be right
    next door to a PELLET burner. I had no idea. But the code enforcement
    officer just happened to be in the yard with me on the day of final
    walk-through inspection before closing, when my smoke-related symptoms
    got set off. I had no idea what the cause was. But said code enforcement
    officer informed me of the pellet stove and pointed out the stack,
    since he had done the inspection when the neighbor did the installation.

    No, wood burner industry, you will not ever convince me your products are
    acceptable in close urban settings. You are certainly well aware, as I
    am now, that even the wondrous pellet stove technology emits a hundred
    times more particulates than a natural gas furnace. Gas needs to used as
    the bridge fuel until the solar or wind or whatever cleaner technology is fully developed and widely available at reasonable price.

    And please don’t pretend that fire wood harvesting and
    transport isn’t adding to the fossil fuels burden in this equation, not
    to mention the loss of CO2 absorbing standing forests. The bottom line
    for me, however, is getting sick from wood smoke where I never even had
    to be subjected to it a decade ago. Wood burning is regression to filthy prehistoric technology and is simply intolerable for the 21st century.

  • CharlesInVermont

    I have a wood stove, AND central heat. I love my stove, and I would totally hate it if it was my sole source of heat. It would take me about 10 minutes to replace it with a pellet stove or a gas burning stove. The pellet stove burns constantly and has a hopper that will burn over night easily. Gas is even better, but of course, only if you have gas. Wood stoves were a wonderful thing in the 19th century, they are wonderful in the 21st as a conversation piece and making a room warm and cozy while entertaining. If you replace your wood stove with a pellet stove it will just fit in use the same chimney etc. Suddenly your wood stove will be so much better!

  • Rod Murdison


  • JD

    There is an new method to kindle a wood fire. (not for coal)

    Instead of kindling you use wood pellets.
    they have so much heat energy that the fire will surely bi lit every time.
    you just fill the pellets into a kindling cradle and add some fire gel on top (instead of newspaper)
    Then you stack the logs on top, light the gel and it is done.
    Best is to close the door of the stove immediately unless you want to smell the smoke.

    The only down side of this method is this: it is so easy and quick that some people may miss the playing with fire and the suspense of whether the fire will light or not. Too bad, now it will work everytime.
    Of course the ash container must be empty and the wood must be reasonably dry.


  • jeremy Morfey

    I find it bizarre that townies use such contraptions, a bit like driving SUVs that can ford rivers and never make it past the school run in Chelsea. Best place for these things in London is at the bottom of the Thames.

    I live in a cottage though with half an acre of land. When I moved in, every time I found a sapling growing where it shouldn’t, I transplanted it into a piece of ground between my two vegetable patches, and anywhere along the boundary hedge where Dutch Elm killed off the original trees. Most prolific was the ash tree by my front gate, crow-sown plums and mouse-sown hazel. Their progeny all went there into my plantation, and if they lived, then they lived. Over the years, I thin out anything that gets too shady or dies or gets in the way, leaving everything else to grow on and keep the birds and me happy. I have this thing going with a “wild plum” I planted in 1996 which grew into a monster, flowers in February, and is constantly shading my vegetables. Always good for a branch or two every other year. Anything thicker than my thumb is stacked up, and anything thinner piled up under the trees to rot down in its own time, making a splendid growing medium for the trees. My neighbour provides me with a £100 trailer load of logs from the woods where he works. Some palm me off with cheap and nasty softwood, but often I get birch, ash and oak off him which burn very well. I even get donations from townies with leylandii that quickly shut them in the gloom. I can always find room for leylandii cuttings after a bit of ground level topiary. While they are not brilliant firewood, they are excellent for making retaining walls, and after ten or fifteen years are seasoned enough to burn.

    It therefore makes sense for me to have a wood burner. It kept me going that hard winter in 2010 when my ageing boiler went down for three weeks in December. My old open fire used to send all the heat up the chimney and the smoke into the room. At least with a wood burner, it’s the other way round.

    • Mr B J Mann

      I don’t understand all this twitter about Chelsea tractors.

      I once worked on a tunnelling contract where the record for the shortest lived Land Rover was a fortnight.

      Nothing compared to the speed humps, foot high chicanes, pot holes and rough surfaces that would shake anything less to pieces in days, where I live now!

      • jeremy Morfey

        I often wonder why they like to put these things in towns, calling them “traffic calming”. I concluded that it’s probably something to do with improving NHS statistics by finishing off the patient in the ambulance before they can clutter up the hospital corridors.

        Personally, when I have to suffer London roads, I like to use my 2CV. It can tackle any such bumps and not even break any eggs. My favourite form of transport in London though must be the somewhat bashed-about unmarked white van. Never mind the eggs, it’s amazing how quickly I can get through the traffic when they see this coming at them.

        I’ve never seen even Jeremy Clarkson use a Land Rover for tunnelling, but I expect Amazon Prime will get him at it when he’s not shouting at Irishmen. I know Volvo drivers have long considered themselves invincible, because the always-on lights makes them so. There is a Volvo-driving judge in my village cemetery who used his to cross a river when it was raining. His last words were on his mobile to his wife “it’s a little deep, but I’m in the Volvo, so I’ll be fine”. They found him 300 yards downstream trying to get through the sunroof.

        My next door neighbour has a fleet of Land Rovers. He uses them to go hunting, and anything he runs into ends up hanging over his patio on the way to the freezer. They ought to try that in Chelsea. Fox hunting with dogs has been made illegal, but there are ways round this, and plenty of foxes in London.

        • Mr B J Mann

          Nope, the Land Rovers weren’t used FOR tunnelling:

          They were used for getting round the tunnels:

          Which were big enough for racing full sized “Tonka Toys” round (side by side):

          Now THAT would have made an impressive Top Gear!

      • Leon Wolfeson

        Good to know you’re so afraid of other people you’re hiding out in the wildlands.

        • Mr B J Mann

          Complete Nutter TrØll 8<——

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Yes, keep pointing at yourself.

          • Sue Smith

            Projections, yet again, from the super troll. These are the people who blame others in a pointless endeavour to relieve themselves of their own perfidy. Check out the DSM-V.

          • Leon Wolfeson

            Yes, Mr. Super Troll, you are. And I don’t pretend to do magical internet diagnoses, but your confession, Mr. Perfidy…

  • Mr B J Mann

    Spills……….. balls?!

  • James Flack

    Of course wood burners make no sense if you live in a town, have to buy wood in and have no space to store it. If you have a woodshed to dry it in, can cut you own wood, and have a decent size stove that will hold a nights worth of wood, then they look rather different, especially when the fuel bill is a petrol tin to run the chainsaw, and not 4 figures….

  • Tim Bucktoo

    Total moron. I’m 67, been living with wood heat for 67 years, my Gramps was 93, chopped wood for 93 years, great Gramps was 97, lived with wood heat. Uncle lived to 99, woodstove all the way.

    • Ray Noble

      How could he have chopped wood for 93 years? What age was he when he started?

      • Tim Bucktoo

        Born a logger, always a logger.

        • Ray Noble


  • London Lass Blog

    A little research beforehand about what you’re using always helps. But this has obviously escaped you, Ms Kelly.

    Get your wood/coal delivered. This would save you having to drive to the industrial estates/shopping arcades that cause you such offence. As for the fuel for the log burner taking up half your kitchen or living room – no wonder you gripe about how dirty the whole exercise is. I would have advised on the acquisition of an external log store or, failing that, keeping it in your garage or shed, but would have thought that should be an obvious solution to most people.

    Returning back to the topic of how dirty you find the whole exercise of keeping a log burner, Ms Kelly, I am somewhat surprised that you would go to such lengths to try to purchase coal. Most people would understand that wood is not only cleaner but cheaper too.

    In respect of lighting the stove, whilst I do not live alone, this has become a shared activity with my partner. There is a bit of a technique to master (although certainly nothing that would fox anyone with opposable thumbs) and I cannot guarantee that your nightly plate of simmering quinoa might not have dried up in the process – but perhaps put could be put on a little later after your `Finding Yourself Yoga Class’ in the evening?

    There are also such things as log baskets wherein you can keep your wood, kindling, cardboard and matches without having to leave your house. These would also look rather pretty next to your log burner but might hide part of the inspirational wording you have either side of your fireplace – a small word in the ear of Stefania, your interior designer, should overcome this issue. It is also possible to keep the stove continually burning without any effort (again a little light research will help with this).

    Gen up on your free stove, Ms Kelly, for there is one good reason why so many people have had to fork out good money to purchase theirs and which has been totally overlooked by your arrogant out-of-touch article. It is not to `go back in time’ but to save on their increasingly high fuel bills. The fact yours has left you wet, cold and miserable is less to do with the stove but more to do with its user.

  • John Kiloh

    I had failed to notice that a wood burner had become a middle class status symbol until I started having serious chest problems. There are at least four of the cursed things within a short radius of my house. Someones pollution invades the front of my house and the back, I have had to seal the windows to try and prevent this. I suspect that they are using the wrong burners and the wrong type of fuel.
    I never had chest problems like this before but now I just have to go into the street and my chest starts to close down. I seriously wonder how many other people are having the same problem but as yet haven’t realised the cause. I would love to know which moron in government thought it was a good idea to add more pollution to London on top of diesel, government sponsored, Tony Blair, and lord knows what other garbage in our atmosphere, thank you politicians.

  • Ray Noble

    We have both a wood-burning stove and a multi-fuel Rayburn that provides our central heating and cooking. It does take effort to keep it all going but it becomes a habit. Each Rayburn has its own character and you get to know how it responds. That takes time. For cooking you have to plan ahead. One key is keeping it ticking over so it doesn’t take much to increase the heat by adding a few logs or coal. Once the stove is very hot you can then control the heat. Trying to control it upwards from cold is hopeless and I suspect that is a mistake many make. Once hot they blast heat out. If you are used to instant heat with a switch of a button then it really isn’t for you. Whether it is a cheaper alternative depends on cost of crude oil and gas. I switched to the multi-fuel when oil prices were going through the roof. Wood can be costly depending on source. Wood chip nuggets are good for generating heat faster. I like to get a base of hot non-smoking coal to keep it ticking over and then adding a log can make a big difference.

    It isn’t for everyone. It can be difficult and takes effort and knack, but the effort is rewarded when it works.