An often unremarked feature of owning a woodburner is the low cost and ease of maintenance. As a rule of thumb, wood burning stoves are designed to be owner-operated and -maintained. As a result, it is definitely good to consider the lead times, cost and long-term availability of parts for any stove you might have you eye on.
As with owning a car, you can expect your stove just to do its job from day 1 with little interference. But that’s largely where the equivalence ends.
Your main running cost will be fuel, but this can be a highly variable expense, one which is probably worthy of a whole blog post in itself. It will depend on where you live (in the New Forest is always good, because trees), who you know, who you buy from and whether you’re going to season your own firewood or buy it ready-to-burn. The basic play-off is between cost and convenience. Go on any online discussion board and you’re bound to come across individuals sourcing firewood for free and others who buy kiln-dried bulk bags of logs for top dollar.
Your only annual service should be chimney-sweeping. Again, this is something you can technically do yourself – a good-quality brush head shouldn’t set you back more than £20 to £30, and a set of drain rods will set you back about the same again.
Nonetheless, for peace of mind, and certainly for wood-burning novices, we would definitely recommend having your flue professionally swept, at least to start with. It’s usually inexpensive (costs vary nationally, and by how filthy a chimney is – a dirty chimney can take 4 or 5 times as long to sweep as a well-maintained one!) and you’ll get a certificate out of it that you can wave at your house insurer. Be sure to use a well-established sweep with a good reputation, though – it’s a largely unregulated market, and there are plenty of cowboys.
Get the flue swept at the end of the first burning season. Your sweep will be able to give you invaluable feedback on your operation of the stove, and advice on what you can do to improve your technique. In the longer term, they should also, should you prefer not to get your hands dirty, be able to carry out routine maintenance of the stove itself, replacing consumable parts as they wear out, as well as keeping your flue clean and condensate-free.
Maintenance of the stove itself is an important consideration in choosing a wood-burning stove, and one that you should always try to discuss with your stove dealer to ensure that you will enjoy hassle-free enjoyment of your stove for its expected life. If you maintain a good stove from a good manufacturer, it might well outlast you (we frequently come across lively and daily-used stoves from venerable old brands 30 or 40 years old), so this is not a matter to treat lightly.
Every stove contains a number of ‘consumable’ components. While the stove body and door are usually covered by a lengthy warranty, the glass, baffle plate, door rope and fire bricks, as well as grates and log retainers are frequently exempted. All, however, should be replaceable. In treated well, all of these components should last for many years, but replacement costs and availability can vary considerably.
Factors to consider are:
A good rule of thumb is to keep and file your paperwork relating to your stove purchase. It’s surprising how many owners shop for spares after ten years, but have no idea what the make or model of their stove is.
Some stove models have been through numerous iterations of the same design, and the parts are not necessarily common to all the evolutions. Knowing when your stove was built, or at least when you purchased it, can be an important guide to procuring the right parts when you eventually need them.
Most fire bricks these days are made from vermiculite. Vermiculite bricks are quite frangible, but once installed, if used carefully, should last for many years (throwing logs into a stove is a perfect way to wreck them quickly). A full replacement set can cost from £50 to well over £100. Many stoves have just three bricks, others have up to a dozen. Scandinavian barrel-shaped stoves may well have curved bricks that you will only be able to source from the manufacturer. Complex shapes will always be trickier to replace. Some manufacturers, like Barbas from the Netherlands, make ceramic fire bricks, which are considerably more durable and more resistant to abuse, but are also slightly more expensive.
Door glass should last for a very long time too, but occasionally it cracks or discolours. Square replacement glass usually costs from £30 to £60 per sheet, depending on size, but a large curved piece of glass might cost £150 to £200. Another potential headache with door glass exists precisely because of the infrequency with which replacement is required; all too frequently, the retaining screws seize up over the course of several years and can be very resistant to removal; sometimes they respond to a good soaking with oil. A good prevention is to loosen the screws on a new stove and lube them with copper grease, but at the worst, if they jam completely, they can usually be drilled out and replacement holes can be drilled and tapped. This is easier on some stoves than on others; where such flexibility is possible, it is often by design and usually down to the foresight of the manufacturer.
Such resilience is built into the best stoves: for instance, baffle plates, which sit at the top of the stove, are another part that will eventually need replacing. These should ideally sit on, and be supported by, the firebricks. On some stoves, the front of the baffle plate is supported by a screw or metal support fixed into the body of the stove. It might take a decade for this to burn out or collapse, but when it does, it is nigh-on impossible to set a new baffle plate in position, rendering the stove useless.
Simple, thoughtful design is best, and allows for years of easy maintenance; ad hoc, convenient construction will eventually entail a headache.
Door rope comes in a variety of diameters; you can normally either buy replacement rope in pre-cut lengths with adhesive, supplied by the manufacturer, or buy it off the reel with generic rope glue from good stove shops.
We can usually get spares from our UK suppliers in a matter of days. Spare parts for our European stoves often take a little longer to arrive.
In terms of surface damage to stoves, most stoves are re-paintable. Faded or scratched paint can be given a fresh coat, rust marks can be rubbed down with wire wool and re-sprayed, and the stove will look like new. There are some important exceptions; some stoves, usually convection models with multiple panels, will have powder-coated components; often these cannot be re-sprayed, or if they can, the new paint may not key in with the other metal parts of the stove, and might necessitate the purchase of another complete replacement panel. A can of paint is usually about £15. A new side panel for a convention stove is more likely to set you back a hundred or so.
On the whole, stoves are eminently repairable: we have supplied replacement doors to customers who have shattered the hinges by hitting them with a hammer; new air-control rods for kicked-and-bent ones, new lids for stoves that have been warped from over-firing. But there are limits, and prevention is the best cure; treat your stove like an old friend (i.e. no hammers, no kicking!) and it should give you many years of faithful service.
In brief, if you treat it with even moderate care, your stove should be inexpensive to maintain and you should be able to do it yourself; if your experience is otherwise, give us a call. We might be able to help.