Heating with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces

In the past Wood has been the traditional heating energy-source for thousands of years. In the past, air pollution was one of the most severe problems associated with wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. The house was often filled with smoke, and everything reeked of smoke. Older stoves were not very fuel-efficient, and the fire had to be continuously fed, and someone had to watch the fire and put out the coals before going to bed. Most of the heat escaped through the chimney and the walls. Heating with fire was also associated with a lot of work to store and chop the wood, to make the fire and clean up afterwards.

Technological development this century

Over the past 25 years, and more particularly over the past five to ten years, the top stove and fireplace manufacturers like Chesney’s, Morso, Rocal and Stovax have made enormous advances to render wood-burning stoves and fireplaces safer, more convenient, more fuel-efficient, cleaner and much more effective in retaining the heat generated by the stove or fireplace.

Until a few years ago, fires were stoked in open fireplaces or simple black cast-iron stoves that bellowed smoke in the kitchen. Attractive modern stoves and fireplaces now adorn the most elegant living rooms and create just the right atmosphere for a quiet family evening or a roaring party. Modern closed-combustion stoves have made it a pleasure to watch the fire burning brightly behind newly developed fireproof glass that is self-cleaning and requires very little clean-up and maintenance. All the joy, with none of the old drawbacks!

To name only a few of the latest developments in closed-combustion stoves and fireplaces:

  • Modern fireboxes have been designed to burn the wood almost completely, more slowly but at higher temperatures and more cleanly. The same heat can be generated in a closed combustion stove, with only a third of the wood used in an open fireplace.
  • Whereas open fireplaces lose as much as 90% of its heat and only retains 10% in the home, modern wood-burning stoves have reversed the figures and retain as much as 90% of the heat, losing only 10%.
  • Multi-fuel stoves and fireplaces can use logs, coal or wood pellets and other biomass fuels that are capable of burning for up to 24 hours unattended.
  • Advanced-technology flue systems used in conjunction with the stoves and fireplaces, maintain the oxygen levels in the room, with external air intake.
  • The cold air from outside does not enter the room to cool it down. A modern flue system has been designed with multiple walls, to expel smoke, regulate the flow of fresh air into the fireplace and warm the external air that flows into the fireplace to feed the fire. The design also avoids a downdraft that carries toxic gases back into the room.
  • Combustion gases and smoke are kept to an absolute minimum, to keep the air in the house fresh and all but eliminate air pollution. An advanced-technology stove or fireplace emits less than 10% of the smoke and gases found in older stoves, and secondary combustion in the top-end products further burns off the smoke before it leaves the firebox.
  • Advanced-technology fireplaces and stoves are certified and therefore easily identifiable to ensure you buy the best product that meets stringent new legislation to protect the environment and to combat pollution and damage.
  • Advanced-technology flue systems require much less cleaning and maintenance.

As always, however, the key to safe, efficient and pleasurable wood burning, is proper planning, selecting the right product, professional installation and proper operation and maintenance.

Three main types of wood-burning fireplaces

In essence, there are three types of wood-burning fireplaces, each with its particular purpose and advantages:

Space heaters

The largest and most popular category of wood-burning fireplaces is for heating. This category can include fireplace inserts, wall-mounted fireplaces, suspended fireplaces and free-standing fireplaces. Attractive heating stoves come in an equally vast array of free-standing stoves, insert stoves and boiler stoves.

Firehouse offers an exceptionally broad range of heating fireplaces and stoves of all designs, shapes, sizes and even colours by all the leading manufacturers.

In the past, fireplaces and heating stoves could be expected to heat only a single room in which it was situated. To make things worse, houses were poorly insulated and draughty. Modern homes are better insulated and sealed with better materials, double-glazing and better fitting doors and windows.

Modern advanced-technology fireplaces and heating stoves can warm the entire house, with perhaps supplementary heating in outlying rooms or bathrooms. These fireplaces and stoves are much more attractive, offer much more pleasure, heat more efficiently and as a bonus not to be sneered at, consume much less fuel, making it much more economical to heat the entire house if planned properly.

A modern wood-burning stove or fireplace is the most versatile, flexible and inexpensive option to heat individual rooms, entertainment areas, or the entire house.


Multiple purpose wood-burning stoves can be put to great effect for both surface cooking, oven baking, pizzas, barbeques and space heaters. Boiler stoves can likewise serve more than one purpose for heating and cooking.


A large variety of fireplaces and heating stoves have been developed for both indoor and outdoor uses. Some of the top brands develop parallel models for indoor and outdoor use.

Advanced Wood-Burning Technology

Three of the major wood-burning technologies that increase heat efficiency and reduce air pollution are catalytic burners, non-catalytic burners and burners using densified wood pellets.

Catalytic Combustion

A catalyst is a substance that changes the chemical reaction of the burning fuel, without itself being consumed in the process. The most common catalytic burners in fireplaces and stoves are manufactured from specially coated ceramic honeycomb elements. The combustion gases and smoke are routed through these elements and are then forced to flow through a secondary combustion chamber to be burnt for a second time.

When the fire is started, a bypass damper is opened until a hot fire has been achieved and then closed to force the combustion gases through the secondary combustion chamber for complete combustion and to provide more heat.

Catalytic elements usually have to be replaced every six years or so.

Non-Catalytic Combustion

Non-catalytic combustion systems have three main characteristics to perform clean-burning, without the aid of catalysts.

  • Fireboxes are insulated to keep the burning temperatures very high
  • Baffle plates are installed that reflects the heat into the firebox, to create turbulence for complete combustion and burning off all the gases
  • The heated secondary external air supply is forced through ducts with small holes, working almost like a furnace. The warmed fresh air mixes with the gases to create extra flames and increase the combustion heat.

Densified Pellet Technology

Dried, natural wood, or other solid biomass waste, is ground down and then compressed under high pressure into dense cylindrical pellets, without any harmful additives. These pellets burn cleanly and at high heat, giving off very little smoke.

Pellet-burning fireplaces or stoves can be fitted with a hopper to contain about 20kg of pellets. The pellets are then fed into the combustion chamber using a screw auger at a controlled rate and matched with the correct amount of air needed for the right combustion temperatures.

Make the right choices

By selecting the advanced-technology fireplace that best suits your needs, installing the correct size fireplace and placing it correctly in your home, you can regulate and enjoy exactly the right amount of heat and eliminate air pollution.

Ask the experts at Firehouse to advise you on whether a catalytic, non-catalytic, or pellet-burning fireplace is the best choice for you. It will not only lead to the best economy, and it will ensure you have the most efficient heating system that generates precisely the temperatures that you are most comfortable with.

The professionals at Firehouse will help you calculate the right size stove or fireplace to heat up your home efficiently. A fireplace that is too small will fail to heat your home or room properly.  Conversely, a stove that is too large will be uneconomical, and it will be difficult to control the exact heat output required.

Positioning the fireplace correctly in your home, and in the room in which it is installed, will give you the benefit of efficiently heating the rest of the house economically. The fireplace should be located in the part of the house used most often and which you want to be the warmest. Centrally located living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms or kitchens are usually where families gather for most of the time and heat can easily be distributed from there to the rest of the home.

Carefully consider whether the fireplace should be against an exterior or interior wall, or even between adjacent rooms or in the centre of a large area.