Common Problems and Questions
I have been asked the following questions many times, so I thought I would share the knowledge, and hope it helps. If you have any other questions, please contact me!
Jeff in Brighton asked: “I need some information on an installation of a cast iron stove.”
When purchasing a cast iron stove, it is important that it is installed in the correct manner for reasons of safety and efficiency.
When purchasing a stove for the first time, it is important to take certain factors into consideration such as: the output required from the stove; that the opening size of your chimney breast to the stove will fit; the types of fuel you may wish to burn on your stove; wood-only or a multifuel stove, which can burn wood and smokeless fuel.
The kind of material your stove will be made from is also important. Will it be a traditional cast iron stove or maybe a modern looking steel stove? Are there any restrictions in your area, such as smoke control areas in Brighton (See the Brighton and Hove council website to see if your house is in the smoke control area)? Before your stove is installed with a liner, the chimney will need to be swept. Gary the Chimney Sweep can help you with answers to all of these questions, ensuring that when you purchase your stove, it will be the right one for you.
Other related and useful information on chimney care
Most installations of solid fuel and wood biomass appliances and systems are subject to the requirements of Building Regulations and when installing, you should notify your Local Authority by law. Or HETAS registered installers can self-certificate their work, thus avoiding the need for costly and time consuming Building Notice applications to the local Building Control Department.
HETAS registered businesses leave the customer with a Compliance Certificate and send a copy to HETAS for onward notification to the Local Authority.
The certificates issued by HETAS and the notifications to the Local Authority are important records; demonstrating that work was done legally, by registered competent businesses and individuals, and records that the registered business carried out the work in accordance with Building Regulations.
When people sell their houses – the information about work carried out under the Building Regulations in England & Wales is used by solicitors on their inquiry forms and failure to demonstrate compliant work, where applicable, can adversely affect the sale of properties. The information gathered in this way may be used in any future home information pack (HIP) requirement; and Local Authorities are already required by law to hold such information.
If you intend to install your own appliance, it will need to be in accordance with local building regulations. To view part ‘J’ of the current building regulations, visit: www.planningportal.gov.uk
Jill from Hove asked: “How do I look after my cast iron stove?”
Look after your cast iron stove and it will look after you. Sweep the chimney once a year to maintain the liner and prevent a chimney fire. If you use a professional chimney sweep, they will check the stove is working correctly when smoke testing the chimney after the sweep.
- When not in use: If your cast iron stove is not in use for a period of time (for example: through the summer), it is important to leave a vent or a door open to avoid condensation build up inside the stove or chimney.
- Expand the castings: When first firing a cast iron stove, it is advisable to expand the castings as these will be cold. An easy way to do this is to put a small fire into the stove for the first few days, with just kindling only. It is also a good idea to follow this practice if your stove is stood cold for a long period of time, e.g. summertime.
- Grate: Check the grate is in good condition, and free from any cracks as this can cause the riddling mechanism to jam.
- Firebricks: If your cast iron stove has firebricks, it is important to check they are free from cracks or damage. If a piece of firebrick was to fall out, this could cause a stove to crack or distort, especially if you burn smokeless coal, as it burns so hot.
- Ash pan: Check your ash pan for holes. Hot ash falling through could be dangerous when emptying and burn your floor.
- Fire rope seals: Most cast iron stoves are sealed with fire rope around the glass and door to get a good seal when the stove is shut. Replace frayed or missing fire rope, this will keep the stove working as it should.
- Glass: Keep glass clean and free from tar. Special stove glass cleaner is available to buy and removes deposits with ease.
- Appearance: Keep your cast iron stove free from rust by rubbing with a wire brush or steel wool to remove, and then re-spray with a heat resistant paint.
Jane from Portslade asked: “I smell smoke in my bedroom, when the fire is on in the living room downstairs, what does this mean?”
Unfortunately, this means your chimney is ready for a type of lining system, as the smoke is leaking from the downstairs flue into the upstairs flue and coming out in the bedroom. Even if the fireplace upstairs has been removed and shut down, smoke can leak through floor boards or air vents. This fault generally means the mid feathers in the chimney (the row of bricks, which separate each chimney) have failed, and lining the chimney is the only way to fix this. Rebuilding the chimney stack will do nothing to help this problem. Please see my Useful flue facts section about lining products on the market.
Luke from Eastbourne asked: “What is downdraft?”
Downdraft is when a chimney blows smoke back into the room, either from an open fire or a stove. This can be caused from high winds or the incorrect cowl for the external environment. Get a professional chimney sweep to advise you on cowls.
There can be other reasons for a smoking chimney, which may be confused with downdraft. Smoking caused by downdraft will not be continuous. Downdraft is often caused when a chimney is not high enough or when the chimney is shadowed by high buildings or trees, which will affect the wind flow (the external environment). Wind can travel from all directions, so downdraft may only occur for you on certain days when the wind blows in a particular direction.
Check that the chimney has a clear passage of air over it. If it does not terminate high enough or becomes covered by trees etc. – this can cause downdraft. Sometimes raising the height of the chimney can help or adding a taller chimney pot with an anti-down draft cowl, allowing more air flow across the chimney and creating a better draw.
Dave from Lancing asked: “How do I know what KW woodburner I should buy?”
Many stoves are chosen on their physical size to match an existing hearth or opening but this has little relationship to the heat requirement of the room.
Not withstanding variations in heat loss in individual properties. As a general rule, you will need 1KW of heat for every cubic metre. This is based on a room temperature of 21 degrees Celsius at an ambient of -1 degree Celsius.
For example, an average living room measuring 2.3m(H) x 4.9m(L) x 4.7m(W) divided by 14 would require a stove with a nominal output of 4KW.
To work out the required output for your stove use the following method.
Measuring in metres: Height x Length x Width divided by 14 = output KW.
This method is a guide only. Remember that other factors will affect this such as draughts, doors, staircases, and insulation in the property.
It is also important to remember that when stoves are tested for their output, they are generally tested using the hottest fuel possible to burn on them. For example: anthracite. This fuel will give more heat than say wood or coal, so if you intend to burn wood only you may need a slightly higher output from your stove. Speak to your local HETAS engineer for advice on stove sizes and KW needed.
Emma from Shoreham asked: “Why should I get my wood burner lined?”
All woodburner manufacturers will test the output or KW off a stove with a liner attached. In order to make your stove work efficiently, a liner should always be installed. This will stop heat loss from the stove, up the chimney, as the chimney will pull the heat from the stove, not allowing the stove to get to temperature. As a result, your stove will use more fuel and give less heat output. If a liner is attached, the draw will reduce, allowing the heat to stay in the stove for longer, meaning more radiated heat output into the room. Also, there is less air flow going through the stove, slowing the rate at which the stove will burn the logs, making your stove more efficient and creating a more controllable fire when using the temperature controls.
Lorna from Brighton asked online: “What kind of wood should I burn?”
Here is a list of the types of wood you can burn on your stove. Just remember that 20% moisture is the maximum you can have before they are used on the fire:-
- Low in heat and does not burn for long.
- Great! It bums slowly and steadily when dry, with little flame, but good for heat.
- The best wood for burning; has both flame and heat, and will bum when green, but burns best when dry.
- Nearly as good as ash, and only fair when green. If it has a fault, it will shoot embers a long way.
- Great for heat but it burns quickly. A nice smell.
- Good when dry. It gives little flame but lots of heat, a lovely scent.
- Burns slowly, with good heat. Another wood with the advantage of a nice scent.
- OK. Will spark. Small flame and heating power.
- Douglas Fir
- Poor. Little flame or heat.
- Average. Very smoky. Quick burner, with not much heat.
- Commonly sold for fuel. To bum well, it needs to be dried for two years. Even then it will smoke.
- Good, will burn when green, but best when dried for a season.
- A rival to beech.
- A poisonous tree, foul smoke, taints food, best never used.
- Crackles, nice scent, and fairly good for heat.
- Gives a brilliant flame.
- Poor. Burns with dull flame.
- New oak gives a poor flame and the smoke is foul, but dry old oak is excellent for heat, burning slowly and steadily until the whole log collapses into cigar-like ash.
- Good heat and a good scent.
- Burns with a wonderful flame, but often spits. The Resinous Weymouth Pine has a lovely scent and a cheerful blue flame.
- Burns nicely, but will spark if very dry.
- Good heat and smell.
- Very bad.
- The thick old stems burn well.
- Robinia (Acacia)
- Burns slowly, with good heat, but with foul smoke.
- Burns very quickly and with lots of sparks.
- Burns with a good flame, with medium heat. But do not use green.
- Very good. Slow burning, with good heat and little smoke.
- Good, and so is the scent.
- Poor. It must be dry to use, and then it burns slowly, with little flame. Will spark.
- Among the best. Burns slowly, with strong heat, and the scent is nice.