View Full Version : Eco living 1: Woodburners

Dec 6th, 2008, 08:23 PM
We've just had woodburning central heating put in. The woodburner heats water and all the radiators in the house.

We thought it might help anyone considering being brave and getting rid of the gas to tell you about our woodburner trials and tribulations!

Not having had an open fire since the 1980's we had forgotten how to light the damn thing and one particularly cold afternoon I spent 2 hours totally frustrated not being able to light the burner.

Solution: a couple of firelighters crumbled, a couple of handfuls of dry kindling, a flame thrower (kitchen variety for fancy finishes on food).

Light firelighters with flame thrower - fire goes up like a rocket. Light the initial fire right in the middle of the woodburner right under the flue - once the flue is heated up it will help the air circulation in the burner and make the flames go higher and the wood catch quicker. Add more wood little and often until you have a decent hot bed and then stick a log on. leaving the door a cm or two ajar will fire the flames if the log won't catch.

Woodburning central heating system with thermal store requires an hour or so of fierce burning to heat up the water in the tank before putting on the radiators, once the water is hot so will the radiators be hot - makes sense really. the fiercer the flame, the hotter the radiators.

We had to order wood for our first winter as we hadn't started gathering it yet and didn't know which wood was best. Round here it costs around 70 a cubic meter for logs and another 50 for around 15 large bags of kindling, that's a lot of money because we can easily go through 70 of wood in a month if we have the burner and radiators going all day. Also as you can imagine log sellers do not necessarily give you good logs, you often get a batch of crappy burners that just don't produce enough heat to really get the radiators going well.

Our only solution was to start getting our own logs NOW in order to season them for a year in the garden (green wood ruins the woodburner). That is not allowed round here as all the forests in the area are owned by the forestry commision who like to sell their logs for top money and do not allow you to take any wood at all - even gleanings, nonetheless me and Corum would sneak in at night and run off with fallen branches and the like which was pretty exhausting and not to mention hernia making.

Well we have made an amazing discovery, a few minutes down the road is a hawthorn and blackthorn wood not managed by the forestry commision but common land and not only is the wood very easy to harvest as it is all small twiggy branches that are very easy to break into pieces or cut with a simple pair of loppers (loads of naturally fallen branches all over the ground) but the wood is incredible, even unseasoned it burns like the clappers and the house has NEVER been so incredibly hot. All we have to do is sling a load of windfalls in a small trailer of a weekend and we have enough wood for the entire week all totally free! Every hedgrow round here consists of blackthorn and hawthorne and there is a never ending free supply and no more lugging huge logs about, even the thickest blackthorn log is easily cut up with a handsaw.

Result! Top heat, easy gathering everywhere locally and totally free hot house :D No seasoning and even wet blackthorn and hawthorn burns like the clappers.

We'll do some big log gathering but to be honest there is no need. We found this little rhyme on the scout website which is a handy guide for what wood to look for:

"These hardwoods burn well and slowly,
Ash, beech, hawthorn, oak and holly,
Softwoods burn quick and fine,
Birch, fir, hazel. larch and pine,
Elm and willow you'll regret, Chesnut green and sycamore wet!

Happy and cheap burning:smile:

Dec 6th, 2008, 08:58 PM
LOL, kitchen flamethrower, I want one :D

I wonder if there might be people with logs that they want to get rid of that you could get through an ad on freecycle or free ad in your local paper.

I'm glad it's worked out for you but do you think in general it would be any cheaper (for those that couldn't get free wood locally) or more environmentally friendly than using the normal gas/electricity?

Dec 6th, 2008, 09:18 PM
Cheaper, yes! Even if we had to order all our logs in we would still be paying 70 for gas every month of the year even through summer by direct debit. At least with logs you only pay during the winter months.
The guy next door has befriended a couple of tree surgeons and they give him all their stuff that they would otherwise take to the dump. Another neighbour has offered us a massive truckload full of logs that will probably last 2 winters for 50.
Freecycle is poor for logs down here - everyone wants them. one guy even put a wanted ad in for a woodburner (I should coco):smile:. Wouldn't we all love a free woodburner.
I think it is environmentally friendly because me and Corum are only using local windfall logs now that would otherwise just rot away and are local - just 1 minutes drive or a few minutes walk with the wheelbarrow.
The theory is: as a tree grows, it sequesters carbon in the form of its wood structure, through its exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen with the atmosphere. When the tree dies and rots, the carbon is relased to the atmosphere and soil through decomposition. Similarly, in burning the trees wood, the carbon is returned to the atmosphere, largely through carbon dioxide and other gases, where it can then be re-absorbed by other trees (spot the cut and paste lol).
We're having our place massively insulated on 22nd Jan. Walls, roof, double thickness curtains with blanket lining and draught excluders + doors on all rooms so in theory we should be able to put the woodburner on for just 2 hours and the house will be hot all day so long as noone is born in a barn and leaves the front door open:D
P.S I am not safe with the kitchen flame thrower - I am far to volatile!

philthy builder
Dec 7th, 2008, 09:12 AM
I gave a trailer load of timber offcuts away recently to a guy with a woodburner so it may be worth asking local builders or skip operators for waste timber?

Big Good Wolf
Dec 7th, 2008, 10:12 AM
I've got an open fire and no other heating or hot water.
I haven't paid for firewood for years.
One guy I used to work with as a truck mechanic also works for the family tree surgery business. They tend to do small one off jobs in gardens rather than big forestry operations. There's so little money in firewood for the work involved that if he gets a job in my area he will phone me up and say "Come and get it". I turn up with my Land Rover and trailer and he helps me load it.
Another friend makes and repairs pallets. I go to see him occasionally and load up the Land Rover with pallet off cuts. First class kindling.
Once you've got a log fire it becomes second nature to look in every skip you pass. :)
It's always worth having a look for local businesses that might have scrap wood. I used to scavenge in the skip outside a local joinery business, although unless you've got contacts in there you will probably find someone else has beat you to it.

Dec 7th, 2008, 10:44 AM
LOL, kitchen flamethrower, I want one :D

I wonder if there might be people with logs that they want to get rid of that you could get through an ad on freecycle or free ad in your local paper.

I'm glad it's worked out for you but do you think in general it would be any cheaper (for those that couldn't get free wood locally) or more environmentally friendly than using the normal gas/electricity?

no, i can say categorically it is not cheaper unless you can get free burnables! :eek:

we had a multi fuel stove in our cottage which was pretty tiny, (the cottage was tiny, not the stove!) and all the radiators (all 6!) and the water ran off it. Now, we're at home all day so we did run the stove most of the time during winter (we also cooked potatoes in it and dried clothes in front of it), but it was very expensive. I did get free scrap wood from a local builder sometimes, but that meant hours in the garden with a mitre saw, and then you need very dry storage areas for it.

i ended up buying coal quite often because it burned more reliably, but it was 10.50 per bag and i suspect it's more than that now. If you burn crap stuff in the stove it buggers it up and also chokes up your chimney, so i bought premium coal, which burns hotter anyway. We also tried making paper briquettes but they were rubbish.

i was spending 70 per month (direct debit) on electricity for a one bedroomed cottage, + up to 60 a week on coal, + often having to buy decent kindling (makes a huge difference when lighting the fire) + firelighters. I have to say that i loved sitting by that fire, but it was a huge hassle. I recall all too well coming downstairs in the mornings, absolutely frozen (never did get the hang of keeping the thing glowing all night), and having to trail up to the end of the garden to fetch coal, and being covered in ash after cleaning out the stove and taking the ash pan out in the wind to out the debris in the garden :undecided:.

we now live in a small 3 bed bungalow and have an oil fired condensor boiler. I pay 75 on direct debit for my electricity, and it cost me 800 for oil last time i got 1200 litres :eek: (though it has recently gone down again :rolleyes:). Judging on what we're going through now that full tank of oil wil last us 10 months, so it's definitely cheaper than the fire we had. I don't like using oil but i'm also unconvinced that burning coal and wood is great for the environment, either.

The other thing is that if you are out all day you come home to a freezing cold house if you have a fire/stove, which isn't good for you or the house. We can just time our heating to come on of course (ahh, bliss!). The insulation in our roof is fantastically thick, and we bought the thickest warmest underlay we could get to go under our carpets, and really we don't have the heat on much atall (approximately 30 mins twice a day at the moment, and it's been 2 degrees outside recently).

Blimey, what a long reply :o. Having said all of that i totally commend and understand your efforts to live off grid, Hemlock and Corum :thumbsup:.

Dec 7th, 2008, 02:57 PM
Thanks Cobweb! :) I think our consumption is less because we have one of the new eco-boilers and a large thermal store.
We went off to the woods this morning and a leisurely hour gathering fallen hawthorn branches into our small trailer (around a meter square), branches which snap rather than have to be sawn will probably last us around three days and as hawthorne burns so intensly it heats the whole house up in around an hour then we can turn the stove right down.
Yes it's cold when we get home but that's what jumpers and socks are for and it takes me five minutes to fire it all up.
There is no WAY it costs us 60 a week, we'd die!!!:eek: If we had to we'd get up at 6 a.m three times a week and go foraging. Mind you it is 100 times colder where you live, down here it's reasonably mild and we're out all day.

Jan 6th, 2009, 05:21 PM
And so the story goes...

we've now got the hang of the woodburner. In addition to the hawthorn and blackthorn, we're also doing well courtesy of the local dump, where - every time I go at least - there's someone getting rid of loads of wood. We've got enough pallets, planks, old floorboards and general bits of wood to see us through at least a month or so, probably much more. Time to go scavenging methinks!! :D

Now I've got enough powertools to chop things up with - a chainsaw for the branches and a circular saw for the planks (plus a little chopsaw for the little stuff); spending two hours at the weekend cutting stuff down to size gives us enough for a week - more when we're all at work ;)

Keeping the stove lit is getting easier, even with folks having baths (got no shower yet), we're maintaining a temperature of about 17-19 C, which is definitely warm enough. Last night, after letting the stove go out - when I looked at the thermostat this morning - we didn't go below 14 C (and that was on one of the coldest nights).

The best way of keeping it lit, is to stoke it right up for an hour or so, then turn the thermostat right down to 0 and close the airwash (http://www.stovesonline.co.uk/airwash-stove.html) down. Wood burns for ages! The Centre for Alternative Technology (http://www.cat.org.uk/index.tmpl?refer=index&init=1) in Machynlleth reckons that the average wood consumption is 12 cubic metres of wood per year to adequately heat the house and provide hot water. In the summer, the Solar water heater kicks in!

All we need now is the way to provide free electricity; wind turbines that'll charge batteries are currently 1000 or so - we googled 'wind turbines for boats' and got some good results - not the ones you get down at B&Q that are about 2 grand dearer and you have to have an electricity supply (a bit pointless, I reckon) to run them.

If only we could remember who were talking to at VBB's place back in the summer about Truck Batteries...? She had 10 of them running in series to provide enough power.