Wood-burning stoves are a popular choice, but, with no legal requirement to hold a specific qualification to install a stove, anyone can effectively buy a stove and put it in. Simon Holden – co-founder of Euroheat – explains the pitfalls of proceeding without proper knowledge.
Problems arising from badly-installed gas heating systems are well documented, with the majority of people aware of the risks as well as the fact that they need a Gas Safe registered engineer to fit the boiler.
When it comes to wood-burning stoves, consumers are not so savvy – in some instances even trying to do the work themselves.
Badly-installed wood-burning stoves pose a fire hazard as well as putting occupants at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Unfortunately, it is not just DIYers that make errors of judgement – supposed trusted tradespeople are also risking customers’ lives if they don’t arm themselves with the correct knowledge and, importantly, appropriate training.
The installation of wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves (or any solid fuel appliance) is ‘controlled’ under Building Regulations – as is the relining or installation of flues and chimneys associated with such heat-producing appliances.
While this should mean that stove installation work is being carried out by a HETAS installer or an official sign-off certificate is provided by building control, the reality is that many stoves get put in un-checked.
Although qualifications are not mandatory, any person fitting a solid-fuel stove must be competent to do so – i.e. familiar with the correct procedures and associated regulatory requirements. It is recommended that stove fitters always undertake HETAS-approved training to ensure they have the correct skills and understand best practice for safe installation.
Choosing a stove
In the UK, all wood-burning appliances must be CE-marked under the Construction Products Directive. CE marking is selfcertified, however, and some manufacturers misinterpret the criteria. To be really sure a stove is up to standard, it is best to choose a HETAS-approved one, which will be safe and come from a good manufacturer who should be able to offer proper instruction and, in some cases, training.
HETAS also works in conjunction with Trading Standards to shut down/improve unscrupulous or ignorant sellers. On the one hand, the rise of online shopping has made products more readily available and cost-effective, but it is essential to must make sure that any website being used is legitimate and stocks reputable products. A good supplier with the right technical background should be able to provide proper manufacturers’ instructions, warranties as well as technical advice and installation support.
In addition to the safety element, what wood-burning stoves can offer has also noticeably improved. Modern stoves boast efficiencies of up to 80%, some can be controlled via apps, include cooking options, are automatically lit, and have ultramodern designs to suit even the most contemporary homes.
All this choice means that installers and customers have a lot more to think about when making a purchase. Installers need to find out about an enduser’s lifestyle and requirements as well as consider the type of property they live in. For example, an open-plan, well-insulated home can use a stove to cut down fuel bills.
A stove is not a ‘fit-and-forget’ product. While the burner itself may need little maintenance, it is imperative that chimneys are swept at least twice per season. Approximately five or six deaths are reported to HETAS every year due to poorly-maintained appliances. Without cleaning, soot builds up in the flue and this can cause chimney fires. Soot build-up can restrict the flueway and will significantly reduce effective combustion. Like any job, both the right tools and the right person are needed to do the installation.
Any home appliance can be dangerous if installed and maintained incorrectly. Any installer who is planning to start fitting stoves, must get the right level of training first.
Safe Stove Installation Checklist:
- Is the property in a smoke-controlled area? If so, the wood burning stove will need to be one approved by DEFRA
- Is the chimney lined? We always advocate lining chimneys because no matter how thick and intact the chimney breast appears, there may be cracks that could cause smoke and CO leaks into a room
- Carbon Monoxide Detection. Building Regulations specify that a CO detector is installed with a stove, a crucial piece of equipment when it comes to ensuring customer safety
- Make sure there are no combustible materials near the recess and de-connect any gas or electric fires
- Is a hearth needed? If the stove doesn’t heat the material underneath it to over 100°C, it may not need a constructional hearth – as is the case with modern, free-standing stoves. If a hearth is required, a suitable non-combustible material should be used of at least 12mm thick and capable of supporting the weight of the stove
- Smoke tests. Smoke testing is commonly used in stove installations. There are two main types of tests: the flue draw and testing the integrity of the flueway. A spillage test may also be used if there is another appliance using the same air space.