Energy costs have rocketed up just in time for winter, with the average energy bill rising by £90, according to uSwitch. But could a wood-burning stove be a cheaper way to heat your home?
DIY chain B&Q certainly thinks so, revealing a 200% increase in sales for solid fuel burners over the last few months.
You can see why – the idea of escaping the clutches of the energy providers and being able to literally grow your own fuel would appeal to most of us.
But how realistic a plan is it in reality? Would you really save money with a wood burner and even if you did, how long would it take to pay off your initial investment?
How much does a solid fuel stove cost?
A standard 5kW stove sells for well over £500, although it can be far higher depending on the model. And the stove itself is just a fraction of the cost, you need to have it installed and the chimney needs to be specially lined. This installation alone can cost more than £1,500.
The consumer champion Which? reports that the total cost, including installation, of a log stove is usually around £2,000, while a pellet stove can cost around £4,300 all in.
So this isn’t a cheap way to heat one room - you’ll need to save a lot on your heating bills before that becomes economical.
The cost of the fuel
For a lucky few, fuel for a wood-burning stove is free, because they can gather it from nearby woodlands. However, there’s no legal right to gather wood, so if that’s your plan you’ll need permission from the woods’ owner.
If you have to buy fuel, then that’s an additional cost you need to factor in. Prices vary depending on whether you need to buy seasoned wood or if you have space to store and season the fuel yourself.
Prices also vary depending on where you are in the UK – city prices are unsurprisingly higher – but you can expect to pay around £100 for a cubic metre of seasoned hardwood, which would last a typical wood burner for a good eight weeks of winter.
You can also buy a log maker for around £20 that turns your household paper waste into denser logs for your stove, with a burn time of as long as an hour.
In effect, that’s free fuel and you’re recycling but cutting out the middle man. It’s also a good way to destroy confidential documents.
How much could you save?
A standard wood-burning stove is only going to heat the room that it’s in, making it hard to estimate the potential savings. After all, the height of the ceiling, the room’s insulation and the current heating arrangements are all factors in determining savings.
Some stove retailers suggest you will save an average of 10% on your current heating bills, but that’s not a widely accepted figure and for individual homes the savings could be far lower.
But with an average dual fuel energy bill of £1,336 a year, according to uSwitch, that means potential savings of more than £130 a year.
If you paid £2,000 for a log stove, it would take more than 15 years to claw back the cost of the installation.
Installing a biomass boiler
A better option could be to install a biomass or wood-burning boiler. Instead of simply warming one room, these connect to a back boiler and heat water for your home.
The price for installing this kind of heating system can be substantial; Which? researched prices and reported that an automatically-fed pellet boiler will cost around £11,500 including installation, while a manually-fed log boiler is only slightly cheaper.
If you’re replacing a gas heating system with a wood-burning boiler, you’re only likely to save around £100 a year. However, if you’re replacing an electric heating system, it’s much more worthwhile as you’ll save around £580 a year – as well as 7.5 tonnes of Co2.
You may also qualify for a grant of £950 to help with the installation of a biomass boiler, under the Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme. The Energy Saving Trust has a useful guide to applying.
There’s a really thorough buyer’s guide to arranging and paying for the installation of a biomass boiler available from the Energy Saving Trust.
Have you done everything else first?
I suspect that most people buying log-burning stoves are doing so for aesthetic reasons and not to save cash. If you want to reduce your energy bills or your environmental impact then it’s worth considering but there are other steps you should take first.
Changing the way you heat your home is a major and expensive undertaking. It doesn’t make any sense to start looking at what technology you can retrofit your home with until you’ve done what you can to make your home more efficient first.
So, have you insulated your loft space? Changed your habits so you use less energy? Switched all your light bulbs to energy savers?
And, of course, if you are on your provider’s standard energy tariff then you are almost certainly paying more than you need to, so it’s worth comparing energy suppliers and switching.
These basic steps are far cheaper and should be your first line of defence against high energy bills.
Have you installed a wood-burning stove? Did you do so to save money? Has it worked out cheaper? Share your experiences with other readers in the comments below.