18 November 2013

Could you save with a wood-burner?

This article in the Saturday Telegraph earlier this month investigates the claim that a wood-burning stove could save the average household £300 a year.

Can a wood-burning stove cut the average household's heating bill by £300 or more per year?  This was the controversial claim made this week by wood-burning stove manufacturer Chesney's.  
The claim was based on the calculation that burning wood pellets costs 4p per kWh, while using gas will cost 6p per kWh - after the recently announced price increases take effect from mid-November.

The comparison covers pellets rather than logs.  The cost for logs can vary from nothing - if you have your own supply - to more than £100 per cubic metre of seasoned hardwood logs.  It costs less if you have the space to store logs that need drying for a year or two. 

Using that £300 claim on the figures for wood pellets, it is possible to draw on industry data.

The average household gas consumption was guessed to be 16,500 kWh a year, which would cost £990, based on the price of 6p per kWh.  It calculated the equivalent cost to generate the same heat from wood pellets would be £660.

In reality the differences are less clear-cut - and there is debate either way, with a recent poll showing that only 45% saying they believed a wood-burner would save money.  Many said they wanted a stove primarily for the look and comfort feel.

Ofgem recently revised down its estimates of how much energy an average domestic consumer uses, which means average annual gas consumption now stands at 15,300 kWh, according to official figures.  Worked on this basis, the savings would be lower than the claims given above.  And gas, even after price increases, might be cheaper than the 6p figure.  Apparently the average cost of gas after this autumns round of price rises, is more like 5p per kWh.

These figures would result in a saving of more like £95 per year, which ties in with figures from the Energy Saving Trust. 

However, the 3.6 million households in Britain that are not connected to the gas grid would be likely to save far more than these figures.  The savings for those in electric-heated homes would be something over £600 per year.

Homes off the gas grid can apply for a £2,000 grant to install biomass boilers, which burn wood, under the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme*.

How much does a wood-burner cost?  The installation cost of wood-fuelled heating starts at around £2,000 for a log stove, while a pellet stove typically costs around £4,300. Models that burn more efficiently - producing more heat and less smoke and ash - are dearer.  Installation costs can be significantly higher where chimneys need clearing or lining.

But the main consideration for many households considering wood-fuelled heating is the space to store the material.  Often people who have the space to store wood are in rural areas, which are off the gas grid anyway.  

Urban houses and flats are usually ruled out for this reason.

* Wood-fuelled heating systems, technically known as biomass systems,a re eligible for support under the Renewable Heat Premium Payment (RHPP), which offers a one-off grant towards the costs of installing renewable technologies until the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is introduced for households next year.  Biomass boilers qualify for a £2,00 payment.

The RHI will launch in spring 2014 and will pay households for the renewable heat their system generates.

The scheme applies to air-source heat pumps, biomass systems, ground source heat pumps and solar thermal technologies, with tariffs varying according to the technology used.
The Energy Saving Trust calculates homes that install a biomass boiler could earn £1,600 a year through the scheme and the tariff is paid for seven years.

It is open to households that installed eligible renewable heat technology since 15 July 2009 (new build properties other than self-build do not qualify).

Further information can be found on the Energy Saving Trust website (http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/est/search?SearchText=rhi)and details on how to apply will be provided by energy watchdog Ofgem.

On a personal note: we've had a wood-burner for the past seven years.  We find it very useful especially at this time of year, when we need heat in the living room but not necessarily anywhere else in the house.  

Although it takes a while to warm up our big room it produces a different sort of heat compared with central heating radiators.  The heat seems to be absorbed into all the fabric of the building and the furniture, so the heat is very even throughout the room. 

However, the cost doesn't enter this equation as we have never had to resort to actually paying for any wood and the stove was here when we moved in.  

We've burned our old window frames, small trees cut down in the garden, our old fences, bread board, and any offcuts of wood we see lying around.  We stack the wood underneath the decking for a year or so, before chopping it into suitable sized pieces and storing it in our (large) workshop.

What hasn't been mentioned here is the work involved in getting the fire going and keeping it fed.  On a quiet day it's quite cathartic but on a busy day we often forget about the poor stove and come across it later with a small amount of cooling ash residing in the bottom of the stove.

However, we enjoyed the fire when we had visitors as it looks and feels rather cosy.  Perhaps it's part of the appeal of anything retro, harking back to a less complicated time when people sat in the front of the fire 'of an evening' to wind down.

And here are some comments from other users:

  • As they say here in France: using wood for heating actually warms you three times - cutting down the trees, moving the wood to the house, and cutting and stacking the logs.  Keeps you fit and active into old age.
  • I sell wood burners.  The cost of wood has gone up in the UK and the cost of installation can be a lot, if you have access to free wood and can swallow the initial investment, they are worth it ... if not, the economic benefits are fairly marginal to be  honest.
  • It can be done, it is MUCH cheaper than oil or electricity.
  • Wood stoves look lovely on 'Escape to the Country' but they're messy and hard work, although wood pellets help a good deal with the work and mess.
  • One point that has been made repeatedly is about using the right type of wood (hardwood) and making sure it is properly seasoned.  This is where wood burning stoves are getting a bad name.  Many people, particularly if they are doing it on the basis of trying to save money, will burn anything, and are not prepared to pay the cost of properly seasoned, or kiln dried wood, and do not store it properly.
  • I have had great experience of wood-burning stoves and can tell you that if you don't have access to your own supply you will end of paying through the nose.
  • The best thing we ever did was put a log burner in the snug area of our large kitchen.  It gives out far more heat and warmth than the radiators ever could.  We do get through some logs (about 4 tons/year), but what we spend on logs is a lot less than the equivalent in an oil tank fill.

What about one of these?!: 

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