At Henley, we explore in depth how to make our stoves the most efficient for your home and the cleanest for the environment. Read our past blogs to learn more about stoves and climate change and what are ecodesign stoves. This week’s blog will on what is the best fuel for your stove to burn strong and clean.
Upcoming Stricter Emissions Regulations
You may have heard of the new regulations to be implemented in the European Union on January 1, 2022. These regulations are part of a program to reduce
emissions across Europe. As part of this plan, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) are imposing much stricter limits on emissions.
The new emission limits will be even lower than those already in place for smoke-controlled areas, by 55-88%. The ban on coal in Ireland has been pushed back until after the 2019-2020 heating season; but beyond this, coal as a fuel will not last much longer. As fossil fuels get more costly, more and more consumers find themselves burning only wood.
Wood as a fuel
Wood was our original fuel for fires until the industrial revolution introduced us to coal, oil, and gas. As we learn more about the climate and environment, we no longer see coal, oil, and gas as solutions but instead, as the source of the climate issues. The stove and heating industry is turning back to wood as the primary fuel because it has a low carbon output, a strong heat output, and it costs less.
Selecting the right wood for a clean burn
Not all wood will burn the same. The wood’s burn efficiency depends on the moisture content, type of wood, and potential contamination. Of all these factors, moisture content has the greatest effect on the quality of your fire. The wetter your wood is, the smokier and more harmful the fire will be. Comparatively, dry wood can have nearly twice the heating value of wet logs!
Figuring out the moisture content of wood is not as obvious as it may seem. Freshly cut wood, or “green logs”, can have a water content between 60-80%. Wood needs to be “seasoned” for a minimum of 12 months to reach ideal moisture content; this can be done by splitting logs and storing them in a dry, well-aired area. For those that do not have the time or area to season their own wood, there is the option of buying pre-seasoned or kiln dried wood. Look for the Woodsure seal of approval when buying wood. This seal makes it easy to identify clean, quality wood fuel, allowing you to make informed choices that will not only benefit your stove, but also wider air quality.
For the best fire and smallest carbon footprint, the moisture content should be under 20%. Whether you season your own wood, or buy it pre-seasoned, it is important to know the moisture content. To be confident you are burning the best wood, you can use a moisture meter. This is a device that measures the exact water content of a substance. They are small, relatively cheap, and widely available at hardware stores.
Another thing that affects the quality of the burn is the wood density. When you buy logs, the seller should advise whether they are from a hardwood or softwood tree species. Hardwoods (deciduous, broadleaved tree species) are the recommended fuel as they tend to be denser than softwoods (evergreen, coniferous species). Dense woods will take up less space and burn for longer than less dense woods. The best species of wood to burn are ash, beech, hawthorn, rowan, thorn and yew. These all burn slowly and have a good heat output. Two species to avoid are laburnum and poplar, as they both burn badly with a lot of smoke.
Other Wood Based Fuels
Wood briquettes are made from compressed sawdust collected from industrial manufacturing byproducts. The compression creates a dense product that requires less storage space. Wood briquettes are also clean to handle and easy to take home in “ready to burn” retail packs. To use them as an alternative to firewood, begin by using less briquette than you would timber as they can produce more heat. Because their heating characteristics are different than timber, wood briquettes won’t suit all stove models. Make sure to always check your stove’s manual to see what fuels are suitable.
What You Shouldn’t Burn
To cut down on the cost of fuel for their stove, some people collect wood from skips or use other waste wood, such as old pallets. However, it is difficult to tell if this wood has been treated with chemicals. Contaminated wood often leaves melted debris in the ash and can have serious health implications when burnt. You should avoid burning waste wood because the money you might save in the short run will affect you in the long run. Contamination increases the amount of tar and deposits building up in your chimney, increasing the chance of chimney fires, as well as corrode your flue linings and release noxious gas into your home.
Similarly to contaminated waste wood, burning household rubbish has negative effects on your chimney and air quality. Burning rubbish may seem convenient at the time—tossing in an empty wrapper milk jug here or there—but over time it will build up a toxic tar in your chimney. This results in a smelly noxious fire and a chimney that needs to be cleaned more often.
Coal and Peat
A lot of the bad press stoves get is due to carbon heavy fuels of coal and peat being used in older stoves. Stoves manufactured 10 years ago are extremely inefficient and poorly disperse the smoke and gases that cause respiratory problems into the air and your home. Not only do these fuels have negative effects on people’s health and the climate, but they can even damage your stove.
Stoves not designed to burn excessive solid carbon fuels are easily dirtied. Coal and peat create significantly more ashes than wood and quickly blacken your glass, requiring constant cleaning. If you have a multi-fuel stove or rely on coal for fuel, try to buy smokeless stove coal. Smokeless coal releases less emissions than coal and peat, making it easier on the environment and air quality. In addition, the less smoke flowing through your chimney, the less build up and sweeping required.
- January 1st, 2022 stricter new emissions regulations come into effect
- Ban on coal due in Ireland after 2019-2020 heating season
- Wood is the best fuel compared to coal, oil, and gas as it has the best carbon to heat output and costs less
- For the best heat output, burn hardwood logs with a moisture content under 20%
- Briquettes can be cleaner handle and easier alternatives to timber, but you must check your stove manual if they are an acceptable fuel
- Avoid burning waste wood; it releases toxic gas and damages your stove and chimney
- Burning coal and peat has extremely negative effects on people’s health, the climate, and even your stove. If you must use coal, buy smokeless instead.
- Always check the manufacturers guidelines on what to burn; some stoves like our Muckross and Castlecove are wood burning only