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Against the grain… Design services for wood heaters in Canberra?

By miz - 6 February 2012 24

I want to install a free-standing wood heater and flue in my house. However, I need some prior advice about the ideal place to put it.

I live in a small 3 bedroom (govvie) house in Tuggers, circa mid 1980s. This means that it has those strange antiquated things, ‘walls’, which divide the lounge, kitchen/dining areas and hall leading to the bedrooms. It has pretty decent roof insulation but no wall insulation.

My lounge is already a difficult room to furnish, as it is both small and an L-shape, with the longest side being a glass sliding door. You also have to walk through the room to get to the rest of the house, which makes the long bit of the ‘L’ very narrow.

Does anyone know if there is some kind of design consultancy service (given that wood heaters are kind of out of fashion with the green police) that could help me on the ideal place to put a wood heater? Internet sites of shops selling wood heaters seem to provide info on how big a heater to get, but not where to put it. I guess that’s because newer homes are more open plan and would have greater design flexibility.

Thanks in advance guys.

PS. Before anyone gets cranky about the fact that I want a wood heater in the (gasp!) Tuggeranong valley, I hasten to add that having a wood heater is going to be a significant heating improvement on the (two) IXL electric wall heaters I have at present. There is no gas line in my street so gas heating is not an option. Further, I understand that wood heaters are now very efficient and that practically all dodgy emissions are burned up before going up the flue, which is a plus for air quality and means you save on wood. I also understand that burning wood is a sustainable and green form of heating, and I believe that you can also burn wood pellets. Yes, I am probably a hippy at heart. (Just saying.)

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24 Responses to
Against the grain… Design services for wood heaters in Canberra?
housebound 8:35 am 07 Feb 12

Just to go against the flow here…

Wood heaters are great if operated properly and if you have a good source of wood. You do need to be home all day to make them worth it, though. And you should do some research to make sure you get something efficient.

Finally, wood heaters warm you up three times: when you collect the wood, when you stack and chop it, and when you burn it. If you can’t or won’t do the first two, then a wood heater may not be for you.

creative_canberran 2:15 am 07 Feb 12

The OP is a tool, plain and simple. No one in their right mind is having those things installed anymore.

Install electric heating and sign up to Greenchoice or some other Greenhouse offset scheme. Or have gas installed, they now make concealed cylinder systems.

I for one think they that if they go ahead with having a wood heater installed, that they and their family should be barred from having any access to ACT Health facilities and hospitals. After all the emissions they will cause will help add to the burden of people seeking medical aid for Asthma in Winter.

There is nothing sustainable about burning wood. If you are a hippie at heart, then your one of those self proclaimed ones who drives a beat up old car puffing black smoke with a “Save the Franklin” sticker on it.

Wood heater… don’t even think it.

spinact 11:15 pm 06 Feb 12

Most installers should be able to give you at least basic advice on the best place to put a fire place.

miz 8:57 pm 06 Feb 12

Thanks all for your interesting and helpful insights!

johny 8:21 pm 06 Feb 12

Another thing to keep in mind is wood fire heaters generally require a Building approval to install. That will more than likely cost you a couple of thousand by the time you get a builder and a certifier in to do the job. Keep in mind if you don’t get a building approval and your house catches on fire your insurances more than likely will not pay out.

arescarti42 5:37 pm 06 Feb 12

Grail said :

Burning wood is not sustainable.

To be fair, most active heating and cooling systems are not, including your AC and column heater.

FWIW I’ve heated the main living areas of my house with a wood heater for about the last 7 years from a source a few hundred metres from my house, and I’ve never had to cut down a tree for fuel. Obviously most people aren’t going to be able to do that though.

Grail said :

But if you absolutely must get a wood burner, make sure you properly insulate the house first, and seal the draughty parts.

Not enough can be said for properly insulating houses. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries they build houses with enough insulation that they don’t need any heating at all. Putting half decent insulation in houses in a place with mildish winters like Canberra should result in very minimal heating requirements.

sepi said :

If your electric heaters are old you might find that newer versions are much better – or a gas heater using bottled gas.

New electric heaters might distribute heat better or heat faster, but per unit of heat, they wont be any cheaper to run than old heaters (pretty much all electric resistance heaters are 100% efficient, or close to it).

Using a reverse cycle air conditioner for heat will be much cheaper than electric heating, IIRC reverse cycle air conditioners are something like 300% efficient for heating (they produce 3 units of energy for every unit of energy they use).

Alderney 4:32 pm 06 Feb 12

madamcholet said :

ARticle in SMH – older than the one a few weeks ago, but nevertheless…

I think this is the link for which you were looking madamcholet

If you do insist on installing a wood heater to poison us all, I may insist you pay any medical bills for my family’s lung damage. I’ll let you off last winter’s health costs because you didn’t cointribute, but this winter…better get your hand in your pocket.

+1 to the gas bottle suggestions.

The sooner these things are banned the better.

thatsnotme 4:24 pm 06 Feb 12

Firstly, I doubt anyone here is going to be able to give you useful advice on this, without having your house plans. I’d say that your best bet would be to take a copy of your plans when you’re shopping for a heater, and let them give you some advice about where you could situate it. There’s the advice for your original question.

Secondly, for all the reasons mentioned already, I’d be reconsidering wood heating, and looking at a good reverse cycle air-conditioning option. You’ll have the benefit of cooling in summer when you need it (not that this summer has been a good advertisement for cooling in Canberra!) and much more efficient heating than your existing electric heaters provide.

sepi 3:51 pm 06 Feb 12

If your electric heaters are old you might find that newer versions are much better – or a gas heater using bottled gas.

Wood heaters are a pain in the neck – we got rid of ours. They are only good if you are home all day, or for long chunks of time – it isn’t worth it in the morning before work to light it – by the time you get the fire going and any heat, it is time for everyone to leave the house. it smoulders all morning and is finally out by the time you come home at night to a pile of ash.

You also have to chop wood – the stuff you get delivered is too big to just burn straight away and needs splitting. And wood is fairly expensive too.

Wood heaters do heat the whole house at night, but they take up heaps of room in the lounge as well and to heat the house means the area right near the wood stove is unbearably hot.

They are nice once in a while, but for those frosty canberra mornings they are next to useless unless you enjoy foraging round the yard for kindling in the frost, then faffing around with the fire before breakfast, then leaving the toasty warm fire blazing away while you go off to work.

Sorry to be unhelpful, but we haven’t missed ours one bit!

Grail 3:06 pm 06 Feb 12

Burning wood is not sustainable. Below a certain population of wood burners in the country, we might have a hope of growing new hardwood fast enough to feed those burners. Above a certain population of wood burners, there is no hope. You need a copse of about 100 yellow box trees to provide a sustainable source of fuel for 1 stove. Those trees will take about 30 years to reach the stage at which they will provide decent fuel, then you need to chop them down, cut the timber into usable size, then let it sit in a shed for a year or two to dry (two years is far better than one year). So you also need a wood shed or two that will hold two years worth of fuel (about two trailer-loads per year). Your wood shed will need to be separated from the house, and have a decent fire break around it lest a passing grass fire sets light to your fuel store.

Then there’s carriage of the fuel to your burner. Ideally the copse of trees will be walking distance from the wood shed, and the wood shed will be walking distance from the house. If you have to use motorised transport to haul the wood back to your stove, you’ve just gone and wasted good transport fuel to provide you with your “cheap” heating fuel.

Don’t burn softwood, you’ll get far too much soot and smoke from the sap. Hardwood burns hotter and thus cleaner (and longer).

Other alternatives to wood burning include solar air heating, or simply insulating your house correctly, sealing draughty doors, windows and walls, and putting on a jumper when it gets cold. Put pelmets over curtains and blinds. Reverse cycle is useful if you can afford it: we used our air conditioner twice this Summer (about half a day each time), and it was well worth having. During Winter we use an electric column heater and close the doors to the rooms we’re not using.

The body heat from a bunch of people should be enough to keep your house warm if you’re spending time in the same room together. Move the computers to the living room, and you’ll have the benefit of the computers and screens warming up your living space at the same time as all that human body heat.

But if you absolutely must get a wood burner, make sure you properly insulate the house first, and seal the draughty parts. And make sure you invest in a tree farm: 100 trees to support your household needs, and look for hardwood plantations of such things as yellow box which also support apiarists.

00davist 2:58 pm 06 Feb 12

I would second the mention of bottled gas, I have lived on this, and it really is not that much more expensive than line gas, and very convenient.

I would look into putting the heater somewhere central, say the lounge, and considering one with a booster fan for really could nights.

I used to live in a large house with a wood heater in a central location, it had a booster, but we also had a ceiling fan in the lounge, and one in each bedroom (all off the lounge via a hall)

On really cold nights, we would pop the 4 fans on (winter direction) and really fire up the heater, we found doing this, with all but the bedroom doors closed, meant that the heat filled the lounge, and warmed the bedrooms well too.

Now that we are looking to buy a place in the next few years, we have been looking into wood heating, and we are considering most options (even looked at the logistics of a year old grate type flue) if you have the money, and are after something really nice, look into Jotul, if you want something more conventional, or were looking for a cheaper unit, masport are quite good.

AG Canberra 2:50 pm 06 Feb 12

Put it in the biggest room in the house. To heat the bedrooms – as it probably won’t without mechanical assistance – install a simple exhaust fan in the ceiling above it and duct the warm air to the bedroom area. A simjple set up has one outlet in the hall near the bedrooms. A more complex one will have an outlet in each bedroom (this requires a bit more work but either can be done by a decent handy person and a licenced electrician to wire up the fan and switch).

We did this with a Turbo 10 (one of the original slow combustion heaters) and it heated the bedroom ‘wing’ a treat.

arescarti42 2:49 pm 06 Feb 12

For operational considerations, I would have thought the manufacturer would be the best people to speak to. For aesthetic considerations, you probably want to speak to an architect or interior decorator or something.

Common sense says put it in the room where you spend the most time, and preferably a room that is central within the house.

That’s interesting that your street doesn’t have a gas line. Have you ever considered getting bottled LPG from Elgas or something similar? It’d be more expensive than piped natural gas, but anything is going to be cheaper than running a simple electric heater. It’d also be far more convenient than wood, and you can have a gas fire if the fireplace ambiance is what you want.

Modern wood heaters produce very little air pollution if good quality fuel is used and they are operated correctly. I suspect problems with those last two factors is what causes horrible smog in Tuggeranong.

madamcholet 1:30 pm 06 Feb 12

ARticle in SMH – older than the one a few weeks ago, but nevertheless…

madamcholet 1:28 pm 06 Feb 12

As a Tuggeranong resident, I think the sale of wood heaters should be banned or the sale of them taxed so highly that no one bothers. Good article in the SMH a few weeks ago about the amount of money that these things will cost health depts in the coming years due to their effects. There are no good emissions – it’s a valley – the smoke just sits there and slowly posions everyone.

But please, if you are going down that path, please try to be considerate and only light it when it’s actually COLD. Not only when you could put a jumper and a pair of socks on to be warm enough. We have neighbours with one and we still have windows and doors open in our house when they are lighting their fire.

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