Seeing the wood for the trees

When installing a woodburner it’s important to consider what you’re going to burn in it, especially given the Government’s increased determination to clamp down on the use of ‘unsuitable’ fuel. Stephen Talbot of Logs Direct explains further.

According to research conducted by Logs Direct, 79 per cent of Brits believe there’s “nothing like a real fire to come home to,” and this shows why including a woodburner, a multi-fuel appliance, or an open fire in your self-build is a massively popular option. Experts even suggest that a woodburner adds 5 per cent to the value of a home. But what do you need to know, if you want to live a lifestyle that includes curling up in front of real flames with a glass of red or a good book?

One of the key things to note, as of last autumn, is that politicians are closely monitoring the environmental impacts of woodburners. This may seem strange when a woodburner, burning sustainably sourced wood, is considered an environmentally friendly appliance – providing heat from a carbon-neutral fuel. Woodburners and multi-fuel appliances are also around 80 per cent efficient, so where does the problem lie?

The answer to that is often, lack of knowledge. Those fitting or inheriting woodburning appliances do not always understand how to operate them correctly. Logs Direct’s survey found 77 per cent of people admit to having “no idea how to light a fire in a woodburning stove.” While the practicalities often fox homeowners, buying the wrong wood also leads them astray.

There has been too much temptation to buy ‘dry logs’, ‘seasoned logs’ and ‘cheap logs’ from farm gates and local stores, not to mention using wood chopped up in our own gardens. The terminology surrounding logs has been too vague and confusing, resulting in many homes burning the wrong sort of wood – wood that is freshly cut, not fully ‘seasoned’ and wet.

Burning moisture-laden logs leads to many problems, including the ‘smog’ that Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has highlighted. A seasoned log should have spent at least one summer and a spring, or much longer for hardwood, drying out, off the ground and facing the prevailing wind. Few buyers can have the peace of mind of knowing this has been the case. Many of those burning freshly-cut wood are using logs with a moisture content of 80-90 per cent.

The result is an inefficient burn, spitting, acrid smoke and the release of tar vapour into the flue or chimney, where it condenses and forms highly combustible creosote deposits, or causes acidic corrosion on stainless steel flue liners. Harmful emissions, chimney fires and the invalidation of appliance warranties can be the hard lessons to be learned by those not burning kiln-dried wood, in which the moisture content is a safe 20-25 per cent, or less.

It also means more logs having to be bought. The heat output of an ‘unseasoned’ log is only a third of that of a kiln-dried alternative, emitting 1 kWh per kilogram of heat, rather than 4.5 kWh. Buying unseasoned wood is a false economy, and it also increases the storage space required.


The Government has tackled the wet wood issue, after consultation with experts like Logs Direct, HETAS and the Stove Industry Alliance. A new certification mark – Woodsure – has been launched, and new ‘ready to burn’ terminology introduced, to quickly direct consumers to the correct wood to buy. Wood suppliers using the new Woodsure mark have their wood regularly tested and audited and homeowners should focus hard on checking for this mark, as Environmental Health Officers will now be keenly monitoring emissions.

Burning wood ripped out from a property under renovation could also land you in hot water. Much of the wood used in properties built before 2004 is painted and varnished MDF, treated with Chromated Copper Arsenic (CCA) preservative, which releases harmful pollutants when burnt. Again, this can damage your appliance and could result in you incurring a big fine.

At the safety level, having a chimney swept by a member of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps, or the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, is a good idea, and you can make their life easier by burning a chimney-sweeping log first. This product cleans your chimney as it burns, making any creosote deposits more brittle and easier to remove.

If installing a woodburner, multi-fuel appliance or open fire in your property, make sure you check whether your home is in a smoke control zone. While using Woodsure ready-to-burn wood will keep you on the right side of environmental legislation, your choice of other solid fuel needs to be equally well-informed. Smokeless coal options are available for both multi-fuel appliances and open fires.

But choosing fuel isn’t all about staying safe, keeping your warranty intact and caring about the environment; you can also choose some products to suit your lifestyle. For instance, if you have no time to light a fire in your thermostat- controlled appliance in the morning, use a smokeless fuel such as Blaze and leave it to slumber overnight, so you are nice and warm when you get up.

Similarly, decide what suits you most – a woodburner or a multi-fuel appliance. Woodburners have no grate, so you have to empty the firebox manually, leaving a layer of ash on which the wood can sit, to help it burn better. In a multi-fuel appliance, there is an ashpan to pull out and empty, which you could find less messy.

Exciting alternatives to wood are also available, such as eco-friendly Brackenburn ‘brackettes’, formed from harvested dead bracken and emitting an autumnal aroma when burnt, and bio- bean coffee logs, created from recycled coffee grounds, collected from offices and cafes.

Logs are not all about burning however, with many homeowners now using kiln-dried, clean decorative logs to create talking points, or feature walls, while also benefitting from the amazing scent that alder emits, or the stunning sight of split or whole silver birch. If what you’re seeking is the romance of flickering flames, rather than a bright glow, silver birch logs will keep you mesmerised for hours.

Stephen Talbot is sales director of wood and coal fuel specialist Logs Direct