Wood and Multi-fuel Stoves.
Long before ‘houses’ came to be built, the ‘Hall’ was the main type of dwelling for all but the lowest levels of society in this part of Europe. Constructed mainly of wood, the hall was simply one large room open right up to the pitched roof, with a hearth in the middle for warmth and cooking. Chambers or ‘bowers’ were added according to the wealth of the owner, and this style of living was commonplace by the late fourteenth century, at least according to Chaucer;-
A poore widwe, somdel stape in age,
Was whylom dwelling in a narwe cottage,
Bisyde a grove, stonding in a dale….
Full sooty was hir bower, and eek hir halle,
In which she eet ful many a sclendre meel.
Dormer Cottage at Petham (just south of Canterbury) probably dates from the 13th Century and would fill this description well, whilst chimneys and ceiling have been added, one can see from the framing how the end rooms or bowers, were open to the roof and would fill with smoke and soot from the only heat source, the open fire in the middle of the hall.
Dormer Cottage, Petham.
It is difficult to date the first chimney stack or where this innovative idea came from, but it started to appear during the Tudor period. Apart from reducing the smoke and dirt in the ‘Hall’ the increased safety of confining the sparks to a brick or stone chimney must be the reason why over 3,000 hall houses survive in Kent alone.
There are added advantages of placing stacks centrally to the building:-
- They can act as supports for ceiling joists.
- They can serve more than one room.
- The massive warm stack serves as a ‘Storage heater’ for the whole building when the fire is not alight.
- These facts are often overlooked by today’s architects with most new houses having chimneys on gable ends.
These early simple fire places were large brick or stone openings, with timber or stone lintels, which could be plain, chamfered, moulded or carved. Hearths were of stone or brick which had to be regularly re-laid as did the fire back if it was not protected by a cast or wrought iron fireback.
The UK has always been blessed with a good energy supply, and coal gradually replaced wood as the main source of heat in British towns from the end of the 16th Century onwards. Wood is best burnt on a flat bed but it was soon realised that to burn coal efficiently, a smaller grate than that for wood was required, and it must be raised to cool the grate and allow for the collection & removal of ashes.
The dogs used to hold the logs up were at first replaced with ‘coal baskets’, often these are unnecessarily used for logs today. Later with the advent of cheaper cast iron the ‘cast iron insert grate’ became the norm.
Georgian hob grate C 1700 Horse shoe grate C1800 Victorian tiled grate C 1896
WOOD BURNING, SOLID & MULTIFUEL STOVES
In Europe there was less coal and greater distances and it is here that the wood burning stove has its origins. The British were introduced to the ideas in the 17th Cent. where they saw them in the Dutch & German communities in the ‘New World’ where coal had not yet been discovered.
In much of England, coal remained cheap, with female and child labour used in the mines. The British continue wastefully to burn coal in open fires, with the exception of their kitchen ranges, to the present day.
With an open fire, the air has to travel towards the fire and up the chimney, otherwise the room would fill with smoke. But this means they are notoriously inefficient, as they give off no hot air, only radiated heat. Your face feels hot but the back of your neck is cold. The maximum efficiency of an open fire with the best design is about 25%, but a large opening (greater than 18 inches) reduces this to 20% or less, whilst an inglenook can be as low as 5% or, with central heating, actually negative heat. Things improved vastly with the concept of the convector box, used extensively in Europe. It only caught on in the UK after the second world war. Here a double skin fire box is used so that convected hot air can be taken off the back of the fire thus doubling the heat output for the same amount of fuel, & halving the fuel bill. But there is still little control of the air flow which drags the heat out of the room as it roars up the chimney.
A stove on the other hand, only allows the air that is required for combustion to be wasted up the chimney. Air is conducted around the stove and warms as it passes, as well as the radiated heat leaving via the glass door. Efficiency ratings are usually well over 80%, quartering the fuel bill.
NEW - Super efficient stove
An exciting new development from the Thornhill Eco Design Ltd design house.
A radically new combustion system for wood stoves that increases the efficiency of the appliance from around a typical 50-70% to 85-90% -that's a fuel consumption reduction from between 30-50% depending on which stove you have or are thinking of buying.
See the Efficient Wood Stove page