The first decision when choosing an Aga range cooker or similar British iron cooker should probably be the fuel type: oil, natural or LPG gas, wood, solid fuel, pellet or electric. Of course, most people will be restricted as to what fuel type they can choose.
Oil will either require a conventional (vertical) lined chimney or a balanced flue (horizontal out of an external wall), and since it is generally more expensive than Natural gas at around 5.5p/Kw, won’t be worth considering if you’re on mains gas. If you don’t have a chimney, and there’s no suitable external wall, then a chimney may be created using a stainless steel kit known as a twin wall system.
Natural gas is the cheapest fossil fuel at around 4p/Kw. Ranges can either be run from a conventional, balanced flue and there is also the small but pretty ESSE Cat which does not even require a flue.
Gas and oil ranges cannot usually be used in the event of a power cut as they require electricity for the control and lighting.
If you are not on main gas there is LPG, this costs around 40% more than oil though and even more when bought in the red bottles.
Wood fired ranges are obviously not automatic, so you will need to be around to re-fuel and control the air supply. While the fire boxes are generously sized and the cookers hold their heat very well, if you expect to come home from a full day at work and immediately be able to cook dinner you may be disappointed. You will also probably want an alternative source of cooking for the summer. If you’d like a boiler model, then installing a hybrid system with a gas or oil source of heating and hot water is usually wise too. Do you really want to be going out to the wood pile in the depths of winter with flu? Or coming back from holiday to find that the pipes have frozen because the central heating hasn’t been on? The cheapest way to run a wood cooker is to buy in a load of green or semi-seasoned wood and leave it yourself to dry out for a couple of years, so you may need to think about where you would store this. Solid fuel, or coal, is considered a severe pollutant, as well as being non-renewable. There’s also more work involved day to day in clearing out the ash produced, whereas wood burns best on a good bed of ash. Both wood and solid fuel ranges will require a conventional, lined chimney. If you don’t have one, a chimney can be created, usually by installing a stainless steel twin wall system.
Wood pellets cost around 5p/kW and so are a viable alternative to oil or LPG. The only pellet fired British style range cooker available is made by Eco Range. Unlike log wood fired cookers, the pellet model is automatic and can be fitted with a programmer. There is very little ash produced so it should only need cleaning out about once a month. A conventional lined chimney or twin wall system is needed. There is no boiler model available.
Electricity cost around 12p/kW. Electric Aga’s and other makes of British style ranges can be either standard on/off cookers which use an element to heat the ovens, or heat storage models that are on at a certain temperature all the time providing heat to the kitchen, and heating the whole oven evenly. Esse make a couple of on/off electric cookers that are enamelled cast iron to look like a traditional range, as well as a new model which can be left on slumber mode and then boosted up to cooking temperature. The new Esse 13AMP also provides an even heat to the ovens, giving the same sort of cooking experience as a traditional range.
There are also programmable, heat storage electric ranges available, such as Everhot, so that you can plan for the cooker to be on at a certain temperature for a set time, either for cooking or to heat the kitchen. The ovens and hot plates can be turned on and off independently of each other, so if you want more control over how much heat is given to the kitchen, and how much energy is used, this might be the cooker for you. Since electric ranges generally require only one or two 13amp sockets, the installation costs will be low compared to other fuel types. There are no electric boiler models and care should be taken with electric cookers due to there high running costs.
Stored heat v single or twin burner ranges.
Not every range cooker works in the same way, some are stored heat cookers, others have single pressure jet burners and some are twin burner cookers which are able to run a boiler. Below is a guide to the advantages and disadvantages of all three …
Stored Heat Cookers ( Aga, Dunsley & Redfyre)
Dr Gustave Dalen, a Swede, invented this concept in the 1920s. Hitherto, ranges had been open fires where the heat could be diverted around various ovens and griddles, giving a “range” of different cooking choices.
The stored heat concept is similar to the ‘hot box’ principle. A small heat source, 2-3kW, is constantly kept on, heating a massive griddle and the top of a heavy, well insulated oven. The temperature rises slowly but stays relatively constant. There is a large temperature gradient in the ovens and the cook moves items up and down to control the cooking rate. For cakes a ‘cake box’ can be used inside the oven to give even heat. Because the heat up time is about 6 hours, the cooker has to be on 24hrs a day, 365 days of the year. Domestic hot water can be heated off a small boiler, but the burner has to be increased in power to do this.
The only sop to modernisation from the original design concept is the change of fuel from coal to oil, gas or electricity. A chimney is required for all oil models.
MAIN POINTS TO CONSIDER
- They give off a steady heat to the kitchen, which is very nice in winter and damp autumn days. An existing kitchen radiator can be removed with commensurate fuel saving. A very expensive luxury, heating a room 24/7, costing about £800 a year extra.
- Oven temperature is steady and constant, as is the temperature of the hot plates.
- Due to the small power source they cannot run central heating, but some can be used for very inefficient domestic hot water.
- The heat up time is at least 6-8hrs from cold.
- Care has to be taken when doing large amounts of cooking as, if a lot of heat is taken from the oven or hot plates, it takes a relatively long time to build back up again.
- In the summer the kitchen can be much too hot if the cooker is left on all year for cooking. For this reason most traditional Aga owners usually have a second cooker for summer use.
The running cost of these cookers is about £1,000 – £1,200 per annum (oil at 55p/litre) about three times the cost of running a single or twin burner cooker.
Single Burner Ranges. Cooking only, no heating or hot water. Oil, gas, wood, pellet or coal fired by Esse, Eco Range, Stanley, Heritage & Rayburn.
Efficient cookers and room heaters, running costs are low and there is little difference in the efficiency of the cooker as a room heater compared to using central heating from the boiler.
At the end of the 1970s one company, Stanley, from Waterford in Ireland took the concept of the stored heat cooker and redesigned the inside to take a pressure jet burner, sealed doors, and a passageway between the ovens.
A pressure jet burner using a fan can give accurate air/fuel ratios, this means greater efficiency, lower emissions and instant large amounts of heat (5-10 minutes for hot plate cooking). The passageway between ovens means a beautifully even heat and a total heat up time of just 20-40 minutes from cold.
MAIN POINTS TO CONSIDER
- Pressure jet oil burners & premixed gas burners are always more efficient than atmospheric burners.
- Some models have a balanced flue, which means that you don’t need to have a chimney, just an outside wall.
- The rapid heat up times mean you do not need to have another cooker, nor does the kitchen become unbearably hot in summer, as you only turn the cooker on when you need to.
- The running cost will depend on the amount of heat you ask from it. If you already have a central heating system the running costs will be the same, or lower:
- You will not have an additional gas or electricity bill for your existing cooker.
- The kitchen will be heated by the cooker in winter, saving a radiator in the kitchen (increased wall space, cheaper fuel bill).
- Oil, gas and pellet fired cookers can be run on a timer and are just as efficient at heating the kitchen as a boiler and radiator.
- The fact that it does not have to be on 24 hrs./day can lead to fuel savings of up to 1,000/annum over a stored heat cooker running on oil @55p/litre
Twin Burner Ranges (ESSE, Eco Range, Heritage, Stanley, Rayburn 400s & 800s, Redfyre Central Heating)
To make a range cooker even more in tune with today’s cooks, and to get higher boiler outputs for larger houses in a smaller unit, some manufacturers developed a range of twin burner cookers. One burner runs the boiler and the other the oven. You get timed warmth for your kitchen, instant cooking, a cooler room in the summer and efficient burners. When the water/central heating burner is on, the cooker does not have to heat up, so in effect it is a cooker and boiler in the same cabinet. The disadvantage of this is the cost, the plumbing and servicing of these units with so much in such a small space. Some manufacturers are discontinuing making these as they are not really viable and ,ore unless you are very tight for room.
MAIN POINTS TO CONSIDER
- Boiler independent of cooker, so hot water, central heating and cooker all timed separately.
- The top oven’s temperature can be varied to suit what you are cooking, and the bottom oven’s heat is proportionate to that of the top oven. This is very different to using an Aga / stored heat range, where the oven temperatures are set, and the heat recovery is slow. Using the hot plate is easy too, as the thermostat will ensure the plate is always hot even if you are cooking marmalade or simmering a delicious soup. The oven temperature will not be affected by using the hot plate, again unlike the Aga.
- An efficient ‘S’ plan system of heating can be used, controlling domestic hot water, central heating individually.
- The fact that it does not have to be on 24 hrs/day gives a large fuel saving over a stored heat cooker running on oil @55p/litre.
- Gas wall hung boilers are now so cheap and efficient we have made it our policy to only sell dry non-boiler, gas cookers and a separate standard boiler. Even with oil, the cost of a single burner cooker and a new boiler will be about the same or less than a twin burner and 10% more efficient. The cooker will also be easier to service and you can then have 3 ovens.
- If you can’t fit a condensing cooker/boiler on an outside wall and want an oil cooker running up an internal chimney, consider a separate oil boiler, they can sit outside now, and the cost is little more.