With households trying to spend less on energy, we compare a wood-burning stove vs central heating.
Wood burning stove or central heating? We ask which is cheaper. Energy prices may be dropping with the new energy price cap coming into effect from 1 July 2023, but energy costs still aren’t cheap. Average household energy bills have more than doubled, since the cap was introduced back in 2019.
Demand for log-burning stoves increased significantly last year with specialist firms that install and clean log stoves reporting dramatic sales figures and in some cases even having to suspend orders.
We’ve looked into whether a wood-burning stove can cut your bills or if you should stick to central heating.
The pros and cons of a wood burning stove
- A wood-burning stove can offer you the closest experience you’ll get to a traditional open fire and they can cut a home’s heating bill by 10%, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
- Provided you already have a wood burner installed, wood is one of the cheapest ways to heat your home, costing 72% less than electric heating and 13% less than gas central heating. This is based on the current price per kilowatt hour (kWh) of kiln dried logs compared to the current electricity and mains gas standard rate, according to the Stove Industry Association (SIA).
- The SIA says the age and type of wood burning appliance you opt for will have a significant impact on how much fuel you use. Because they are so much more efficient, a modern, Ecodesign-compliant stove will use approximately one-third of the logs needed for an open fire to get the same amount of heat. They also help to significantly reduce particulate emissions; by up to 90% compared to an open fire and up to 80% compared to many older, basic stove models. The SIA recommends choosing a clearSkies certified stove to ensure minimum emissions and maximum efficiency.
- The choice of wood burner available is immense: some can connect to a thermal store so they can heat your hot water tank, while some incorporate top ovens so that food can be cooked slowly above the burner.
- If you’re lucky enough to get off cuts of wood from a local wood yard you won’t pay anything for logs.
- If you live in rural parts of the UK that regularly experience power cuts, you may find a wood-burning stove a godsend.
- The initial expense of a wood burner can range from £950 to £2,500 according to Bonfire however you can pay around £5,000 for fancier designs.
- Many modern properties aren’t designed to accommodate a wood-burning stove, even if you can afford to install one.
- There are safety risks and extra costs that come with open fires: households need to ensure their chimneys are clean and have to take on the added expense of a chimney sweep if necessary (between £50 and £80 in most parts of the UK, rising to around £90 in London).
- The price of wood varies widely: A one cubic metre bag of hardwood logs from FFT Lumber costs £120 while in the countryside there is a vast supply of potential free firewood such as fallen timber, dead trees and offcuts from forestry yards.
- You need to have space to store wood carefully so that logs get plenty of air. That means raising them off the ground on a pallet or keeping them in a rack or wood store outside, with a roof to keep them dry.
- A wood-burning stove can’t heat your entire home. While burning wood will heat up the main room, you will depend on residual heat to spread to other rooms.
- Wood burning in homes produces more dangerous tiny particle pollution, called PM2.5 than road traffic in the UK, something that is known to seriously damage health and cause early deaths. Emissions of toxic air pollution from wood burning in UK homes has more than doubled in the past decade, according to official government statistics.
- Air pollution in London reached the top score of 10 on the UK government’s index in one weekend in January 2023, with home wood-burning playing a majority role in this according to research from Imperial College London. If the soot particles were averaged out over the whole year, these home fires produce more particle pollution than the exhaust of all traffic on our roads.
- Get it wrong and you could face hefty penalties. It means in England you can be fined up to £300 if your local council decides your chimney releases too much smoke or fined up to £1,000 if you burn unauthorised fuel without an exempt appliance.
The pros and cons of central heating
- The biggest advantage of central heating is the comfort it provides. It is the only form of heating that will heat your entire home evenly and let you make full use of every room in your home. That all-round warmth from central heating is just not possible from other forms of heating.
- Convenience. You can usually ‘set and forget’ an automated heating system or enjoy flexibility with app-based control systems.
- Flexibility to install new components and heat sources like underfloor pipes as and when required.
- Generally very safe: Gas boilers are tested and strictly legislated to make sure they conform to safety standards.
- As a very rough guide, the cost of installing central heating can be between £2,000 and £5,000 according to Household Quotes. However, prices can vary according to where you live and the size of your home.
Once the huge initial expense of installing a wood-burning stove is paid, the cost of running it is cheaper than gas and electric systems.
But the way wood-burning stoves heat your home is different to the way central heating works. Remember, a stove or open fire will only ever heat just one room in your home properly – possibly a couple of rooms depending on its position and other factors.
If a wood-burning stove is suitable for your home the initial upfront investment will take several years to pay off as energy costs are still at record highs.
But you may feel it is worth it: If you take your personal circumstances into consideration (the size of your home, your needs, whether you work from home or in an office, your access to woodland to get cheap or free wood) and have a preference for a cosy-looking wood-burning stove, the log burner may be the better option.
It’s likely you’ll get some good returns by focusing your efforts on getting your home properly insulated, managing your boiler temperature carefully and focusing on more environmentally friendly energy efficiency measures.
For those who are really struggling, remember that energy suppliers have hardships funds that you can apply to. In some cases, as with British Gas, you don’t even need to be a customer to apply. However some funds may only be available for a limited time.