Wood burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheaper?

Wood burning stove with cat

With households trying to spend less on energy, we compare a wood burning stove vs central heating to find out what’s cheaper for your energy bills. 

Energy prices rose by 5% on 1 January 2024, with even more people now thinking about traditional alternatives to heating homes to save on energy bills.

The energy crisis has led to an increase in demand for wood burning stoves, according to the Stove Industry Association. But how does a wood burning stove compare to central heating?

We’ve already compared electric heater vs central heating and fan vs oil heater. Now we look at the cost of a wood burning stove vs central heating to find out what’s cheaper for your home. 

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for cheaper gas and electricity, we’ve full info on how to do an energy comparison to find the best deals. 

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Wood burning stove

Wood burning stove

How much does it cost to run a wood burning stove?

According to clean fuel organisation Hetas, using a wood burning stove can cost homeowners 10.37p per kWh to run. You also need to factor in installation costs as wood burners are not cheap to buy. 

A wood burner can cost anywhere between £700 to £5,000 depending on design and style. Installation can cost an extra £2,000, and chimney sweeping would be between £50 to £80 depending on where you live. 

According to the Stove Industry Alliance, the average cost for one cubic metre of kiln-dried wood logs is between £120-£140. It also suggests that a wood burner will use about 3.5 cubic metres of wood in a typical heating season (October-April). This would cost you anywhere between £420-£490 annually, so you’ll need to factor that in too. 

On top of this, the type of wood you use, the size of your stove, whether it heats water, the whole house or just a room also affects the price you pay for a wood-burning stove. Depending on how cold it gets, your cost could change.

Though these prices might seem high, the Energy Saving Trust says that a wood-burning stove can cut a home’s heating bill by 10%. Plus, it’s more of a long-term investment that could potentially save you money in the long run. 

Pros and cons of a wood burning stove

Wood burning stove behind glass door at modern interior

Pros

  • Good aesthetics. It’s the closest thing to a traditional open fire that you can get.
  • Slashes your energy bills. Energy Saving Trust says that a wood-burning stove can cut a home’s heating bill by 10%. 
  • Plenty of options. You can choose from a variety of wood burners for your home. Some can connect to a thermal store and heat your hot water tank, while some incorporate top ovens so that food can be cooked slowly above the burner.
  • Cheap wood. If you’re lucky enough to get off cuts of wood from a local wood yard you won’t pay anything for logs.
  • Back-up plan for power cuts. If your area is hit by a power cut, owning a wood burner could be the ultimate back-up plan.

Cons

  • High initial costs. The initial expense of a wood burner can range from £500 to over £5,000 for fancier designs. Installation costs about £2,000 on average – and it can be more expensive if you need to add a fireplace or a flue.
  • Not right for every home. Even if you can afford to install a wood burning stove, many modern properties aren’t designed to accommodate one.
  • Extra costs. There are safety risks and extra costs that come with open fires. You need to take up the added costs of a chimney sweep. Prices can vary between £50 and £80 in most parts of the UK and around £90 in London.
  • Need more space. You need space to store wood carefully so that logs get plenty of air, with a roof to keep them dry. 
  • It can’t heat your entire home. While burning wood will heat up the main room you depend on residual heat to spread to other rooms.
  • Health hazards. Wood burning in homes produces more dangerous tiny particle pollution, called PM2.5 than all road traffic in the UK. It can damage health and cause early death. 
  • Potential fines. You can be fined by your council if your chimney releases too much smoke or if you burn unauthorised fuel without an exempt appliance. 

How to efficiently use a wood burning stove

To make the most of your wood burning stove, here are a few measures you can take:

  • Maintain the right temperature: Having an extremely strong fire isn’t always the best choice for heating your home. Your ideal wood burning temperature should be between 260-460°C.
  • Regulate air flow: To control the amount of heat coming out of your wood burner, you need to find the right middle ground level for your primary and secondary vents. Do this by using a stove pipe thermometer and adjusting the air/wood flow.
  • Use the right fuel: Always use properly dried seasoned wood as produces less smoke and pollution and heats more efficiently. 
  • Heat your entire house efficiently: You don’t want just one room to be heated up by a wood burner. To make sure that it works in all rooms, you can install a boiler stove, stove fan or vents to circulate the heat around your entire house. 

Central heating

Central heating

How much does it cost to run central heating?

Setting your central heating to come on at regular intervals so your house is toasty warm when you get up in the morning or come home is a luxury – compared with having to crawl out of a warm bed to switch on an electric heater or come home to a cold house. 

If you’ve got radiators in every room, there’s no need to worry about some rooms being left cold as every room in your house should be evenly heated. But how much is it costing you?  

We spoke to expert Jo Alsop from The Heating Hub, which advises households on heating systems, to work out how much central heating costs to run.

Actual costs will vary depending on many factors, including how cold it is and the type of boiler you have. But as a rough guide, based on the January price cap gas rate of 7.42p per kWh, it costs an average of about 34p per kWh to run your central heating. 

According to the Heating Hub, the average UK household uses 9,000kWh of gas for heating across six months, amounting to 49kWh per day on average, which might rise to 70kWh for heating on colder days.

So it would be a total cost of £102 per month based on the price cap, or £3.40 a day. 

This is if you use the heating for 10 hours every day, say between 5am to 9am and 4pm to 10pm.

Pros and cons of central heating

Young woman switching on heating and will send new energy bill to energy supplier after moving house

Pros

  • 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. You can install new components and heat sources such as underfloor heating pipes as and when required
  • Generally very safe. Gas boilers are tested and strictly legislated to make sure they conform to safety standards.

Cons

  • High initial costs. Most homes will already have central heating systems. But if not, then the initial cost of a central heating system can be expensive, especially in older homes. This includes the cost of the boiler, radiators, pipes and labour costs. 
  • Expensive to run. The energy crisis means we’re all having to pay more to turn the heating on

How to efficiently use central heating

Here’s what you can do to slash gas and electricity  costs when using your radiator: 

  • Keep your curtains and doors shut: Closed curtains and doors help insulate your home and prevent any heat from escaping. 
  • Turn down your thermostat by a degree. The World Health Organisation says 18°C is enough for healthy adults, but many of us have it above that. So try to turn the heating down by a single degree and you could save up to £100 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
  • Reduce your combi boiler’s flow temperature. The flow temperature on most combi boilers is set well above the boiler’s optimum level. By reducing the flow temperature from 75°C to 60°C – a level that’s more efficient – you should be able to cut your gas usage by 8%, according to innovation charity Nesta.
  • Invest in smart heating controls: You can tailor your heating and adjust your heating times to use minimal energy. 
  • Bleed your radiators to boost the efficiency of your heating. Bleeding your radiators can make a difference to your energy bills. If they contain bubbles of air, not only will they be cold in some places, but it’s also likely that your boiler will be having to work harder to heat the room. Energy supplier E.on has a handy video on how to do this.
  • Leaving your heating on low all day is an energy saving myth. Some believe keeping your heating on at a low temperature all day is  more energy efficient than reheating your home at certain times of the day. But the Energy Saving Trust says it’s more cost effective to reheat your home at certain times of the day, to avoid heat loss.
  • Move large furniture items away from radiators, Look at where your radiators are in relation to big items of furniture. If you have a bed or a sofa blocking one, the chances are that the heat it’s generating is being absorbed into your furniture rather than the air. British Gas says that even if you can only move these big items away from the radiator by an inch, you will improve the heater’s efficiency.

Learn more about economical ways to use central heating at home in our guide. 

Wood burners vs central heating – which is cheaper?

House model wrapped in scarf on radiator winter energy, heating and insulation background

Leaving out the huge expense it takes to install a wood-burning stove, based on current prices, a wood burner works out to be cheaper to run than central heating on average.  

It costs 10.37p per kWh to run a wood burning stove, according to Hetas. In contrast, it costs about 34p per kWh to run gas central heating systems, according to The Heating Hub

Exactly what’s best for you will depend on how much heat you need, the size of your home, and how many people live in your household. 

It’s important to note that what wood-burning stoves do is different to central heating. A wood burner will only ever heat just one room in your whole property – 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. So for many, central heating will work out as the overall winner. be cheaper, and it also circulates heat better in your house. 

Have a look at our energy saving tips guide to save money on your heating home this winter. If you want to see how much your household appliances add up to your energy bill, use our appliance cost calculator to see where you can cut back. 

Also check our help with energy bills article if you’re struggling to pay for your  gas and electricity. 

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