/ Home & Energy

Confused between wood burning stoves & underfloor heating?

Feet in front of fire

Wood burning stoves or underfloor heating? To solve this mystery I waded through reams of information and spoke to tons of installers. But, does it need to be so confusing, and can it save you money?

The idea of having a wood burning stove is idyllic: the warmth from the stove, the glow of the flames, the crackling of the fire and the earthy smell.

Likewise with underfloor heating – just image getting out of bed or stepping from the shower to a toasty warm floor. Both sound almost impossible to live without.

Added to that, everyone talks about the savings you could make on your energy bills – 25% of the Which? members we surveyed last year bought a stove because they believed it would be cost effective. But is that true considering all the costs?

Is it really that easy?

The truth of the matter is that it’s complicated. Both are dependent on so many factors, which have a knock-on affect on the cost and how much you could save.

Let’s take underfloor heating as the first example. The type of underfloor heating you get – it can either be electric or water – and how much it will cost to install and run depends largely on where you are having it installed.

The size of the room, type of floor, whether it’ll be multi-zoned, how well the room is insulated and how far the room is from your main heating system are all factors.

As for wood burning stoves, the size of stove you get, and therefore how expensive it is, depends on your room size and current level of insulation.

With installation, factors such as whether you already have a chimney or whether your current one is in good condition, can bump up the cost. And the way you use it, including the type of fuel you use and the cost of it, will impact how much you might be able to save.

No one-size-fits-all

Sadly neither is a one-size-fits-all scenario. Which is why we recommend getting at least three installers to visit your home to give advice and a quote – and this should be free.

It’s also worth knowing the things to look out for, and having an idea of the costs and savings you could make with both wood burning stoves and underfloor heating, before you commit to one or the other.

So have you been tempted to go for a wood burning stove or underfloor heating? Did you find the process of choosing them confusing? And, most importantly, has it lowered your bills?

What type of heating do you have in addition to, or instead of, your boiler?

None of the above (64%, 384 Votes)

Wood burning stove (18%, 110 Votes)

Underfloor heating (10%, 60 Votes)

Solar panels (6%, 34 Votes)

Heating oil (3%, 16 Votes)

Total Voters: 604

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We once had a wood-burning stove in a holiday rental.

It was freezing as all the heat went up the chimney. The only way to get some heat was to have the door open which meant it could not be left unattended in case burning wood fell out.

The research you have done – I have only read the wood-burniing articles so far – is excellent. This synthesis of your reading and research is really pitched at an excellent level.

The discussion on costs was very thought provoking. My gold star for the year.

Which brings me to the general comment about Which? not dating its reference articles, putting a date when last reviewed for accuracy, or a future date for review. I believe Consumer Reports does do this on parts of its site

This Conversation and its linked area was such a relief from the parts of Which? that are unfortunately light on research and high on hyperbole.

Marion says:
4 December 2014

I do not have any experience of wood burning stoves but for the last 10 years I have lived with underfloor heating and ceiling heating. The underfloor only applies to downstairs. The only draw back is the fact that nothing can be attached to the floor and lights etc cannot be moved in the ceiling.

I have had a woodburning stove for fifteen or sixteen years now which I feed with wood that is given to me. It has a back boiler and in the winter months when it is fired all day I make an actual saving as the hot water system is already full of hot water by the time the Economy 7 comes on and the immersion heater would, otherwise, be used.

There is probably a limit to the amount of free wood going spare in most inner city locations, however, as the only user of the stuff in my neighbourhood I’m generally offered far more than I can use. As tradespeople have to pay to ‘dump’ joists, beams, rafters, tree loppings etc., I don’t find it difficult to persuade them to simply saw it into useable lengths and drop it off at my gate.

I use a closed burner designed to burn at high temperatures without smoke, the ash I give to nearby allotment holders as fertiliser. With clean burning my chimney is checked every couple of years but has only needed sweeping once.

For people who can’t get free or reasonably priced wood I’d recommend a wood pellet burner. These also have the advantage of automatic controls so they can be left running when you go away whereas my fire goes out without attention every few hours.

+ = Very good points about :
** ‘Free’ wood, and what to do with the small amounts of ash produced – tho’ wood burns best on a bed of wood ash
** Feeding times for the fire – at least one doesn’t have to change its nappies.
** Overnight – best to bank up with smokeless (coal type) fuel – so buy a multi-fuel stove, NOT one dedicated to just wood burning
** Make sure that you check if you’re in a Smoke free zone -Env Health @ your Local Council will tell you. If you are, you MUST have an ‘SE’ stove, or you’ll end up with a hefty fine, and a pile of expensive scrap metal.
Wood is NOT a smokeless fuel.
There are lots of outlets which will sell you a non-SE stove, and then shout ”Caveat emptor” ** when you complain after the Stop notice arrives from the Local Council ** Or more probably ”Tough luck, mate. Now **** off.”

? = One difficulty is finding a back boiler stove which is powerful enough to generate the amount of hot water needed, without pumping so much heat out into the room where it’s installed that you have to sit in another room – or open all the windows. Max 4.5 – 5.0 kW into the room, unless you live in a barn.
? = Dry pallet, and joiners’ , wood – that burns very hot and very fast.
? = ”As tradespeople have to pay to ‘dump’ joists, beams, rafters, ”
True, but watch out for contaminants including : paint, preservatives, electric wires …
? = ” I don’t find it difficult to persuade them to simply saw it into useable lengths and drop it off at my gate.”
I don’t know where you live – but you lead a charmed life if you can get that done for nothing.
? = ” … tree loppings … ”
On NO account try to burn wet wood, buy a moisture meter, and check that the water / sap content has dropped from ~ 50% to near 20 – 25 % . If you don’t, you may very well end up with a very nasty chimney fire, and Insurance Coys do not look kindly on such conflagrations and their consequences – nor will the Fire Brigade and your nextdoor neighbours if their house burns down too.

— = ”For people who can’t get free or reasonably priced wood I’d recommend a wood pellet burner.”
And a VERY large :
Bank loan to buy it and its feeder.
Shed to house the beast, the pellet store and the auto-feeder

Also a local supplier of pellets

**** Stick to logs / split logs, clean waste wood plus smokeless ”coal” for overnighting.
**** If you run with the stove doors open – always put a fireguard in front – even when you’re in the room with it.
**** Have a fire extinguisher near to hand.
I’m off to listen to Arthur Brown’s ”Fire”, yet again ! I remember when I saw him ……..

Rusty nail says:
5 December 2014

I have a log burner which was initially bought to heat my conservatory which is 12×4 metres. After a lot of research I chose a Burley stove, it has been outstanding and is one of the most efficient in the marketplace.
As always, do your homework and you will get exactly what you pay for.

Well from the studies I’ve done I think the most economical system is a mains gas normal central heating system with radiators. Cheaper to run than oil, certainly cheaper than electric and even in most cases cheaper than a heat pump. Although a heat pump will be better than oil, LPG and conventional electric heating.
The key to all this is the cost per Kwh of the fuel you chose. Mains gas is about 4p electricity about 12p and oil I think somewhere in between. Heat pumps can produce as much as 3 Kwh of heat for every 1 Kwh of fuel but not always and that works out really no better than mains gas, and then there is the very large installation cost for a heat pump system to consider.

Underfloor cost effectiveness, whatever fuel source, is dependant upon a goodly level of underfloor insulation and again there is a higher installation cost.

Wood burning stoves are great provided you don’t have to buy the wood. If you do they are quite expensive to both install and run, you’re better off using mains gas. However if you’ve got a chainsaw and a ready source of wood heating from them is almost free.

Things like open fires and living flame gas fires are very inefficient with as much as 70% of the heat going straight up the flue. Only any good if the fuel is free, like your own logs but still a very inefficient way to use those logs you had to chop up. You only lose about 35% to 40% with a stove, and only about 10% with a condensing gas boiler.

Flueless gas fires are pretty efficient and good for heating say just one room but they are no substitute for a good gas central heating system and quite expensive to buy. Only practical as secondary heating

All in all your best bet is a modern conventional mains gas central heating system, well controlled with a programmer, a room thermostat and radiator thermostats. To this add copious amounts of insulation to your home, loft, walls and if practical floors, and decent double even triple glazing.
And that’s just about as good as it gets before you start with other long payback things like waste water heat recovery or flue gas heat recovery. Solar hot water is a complete waste of money unless you build a DIY system. Commercially installed systems have a payback of about 50 years.

Anyway this little lot is what I think based on the experience in my own home and is my confirmed conclusion based on the results I see from the surveys I do as an energy assessor.

About 80% to 90% of homes I see could save significantly on heating costs just by upgrading fairly cheap and simple things like loft insulation top ups and better heating controls like thermostats. Do that before exploring the more exotic measures, and do your sums too.

A SUPERB summation of the situation.
I’d like to print out a copy and hand it to the people who call on me thinking that by installing a wood burner, and buying packs of logs from nearby petrol Stations, or Supermarkets, they’re going to cut their heating bills by 90% .

It doesn’t disturb the overall balance of advantage between different fuel types much but there is an additional servicing cost for any heating system other than electricity.

Most new-build flats still seem to have electric convector heaters installed and no gas supplies. Urban areas are seeing large incresases in the number of new apartment developments so the percentage of households having to use electricity for space and water heating and for cooking is rising. It is vital to keep bearing down on the price of electricity and not bask under the impression that the whole country is on gas or oil.

JW – “bearing down on the price of electricity”

With all the goodwill in the world the concept you can “bear down” seems to fly in the face of reason. There are more people using more electricity than ever before and the generating and transmission infrastructure has to be built to service the demand.

You are wise to point out that for most flats there is only electricity. For builders, providing only electricity, is a wonderful and cheap option – particularly if they sell off the supply rights.

I do believe that the UK needs a charity to take the issue by the scruff of the neck and come up with a report on what is acceptable to build. I am aware that Building Regs exist, and that builders do have to meet the rquirements however it does seem haphazard if one looks at a total package.

For instance window trickle vents are a requirement. Why are not heat exchanging air vents designed-in which pre-heat the incoming air with the vented air. I have seen claims of up to 84% heat gain.

Heating water is an expensive use of energy but how do heat pumps compare to immersion heaters in this respect? Are direct instant heaters more suitable.?

Double-glazed windows can have near triple glazing performance so has this been incorporated in new builds.

Should windows open inwards to allow shutters to be fitted giving additional insulation at night and allowing for much better ventilation on hot days and nights with security.

As you can see my thrust is to the long term running cost rather than than the immediate build cost which seems to pervade the industry.

Anotherwords perhaps consumers need a champion to press for effective designs to counteract the cheapest easiest build approach.

|||…Should windows open inwards to allow shutters to be fitted giving additional insulation at night and allowing for much better ventilation on hot days and nights with security…|||
Only on reading this sentence some many months later have I noticed this difference between UK provisions and many places in Europe and further away.
Also noticeable is how in so many very old houses in UK there were neat folded doors / shutters, on windows that would presumably add insulation in the days well before double / triple / … , glazing.

I agree with all that Chris Gloucestershire has written above. Our experience with a wood burning stove in a previous property in the Cotswolds was that the biggest problem was obtaining properly dried wood. Local traders were observed to be storing wood in the open in the winter! Wood needs to be kept for at least 1 year under cover but with wind blowing through it to reduce water content to less than 20%. Damp wood heats only itself and not the room. The best wood we had was kiln dried. It burned extremely well but it was expensive. ( It was unclear whether the wood had been dried in an electric kiln or a kiln heated with waste wood).The other problem with the stove was that it needed topping up with a log on an hourly basis to keep up the 5kw output. This is a bother if one is busy with other work. Don’t bother with a wood burner if you have to buy wood and have access to mains gas.

Good information from Chris. The position when you are off mains gas is very relevant to this discussion.

I do also have a belt and braces approach to heating and cooking AND if I had the money and lived in an area where I could lose electricity – and consequently any device that requires electricity – I would have an alternative heating and cooking system.

Previously gas stoves could run without electricity though I would not like to bet on that now. Perhaps Whch? or a reader knows. In any event if you are off-gas grid perhaps LPG provides the safety net.

Further to my previous comment yesterday, another problem with purchasing wood for a stove is that it is sold” by the load” or by volume i.e. cubic metres. Either way you are purchasing a lot of air in between the logs! The” load” varies according to the size of the trader’s wagon. One trader indicated the top of his load was level with the top of his truck’s carrying space. Another trader told us he would deliver 3 cubic metres of wood which however turned out to be 1.3 cubic metres when the logs were carefully stacked in parallel. Trading standards took an interest in this and asked if we wished to proceed to court. We asked trading standards to give the trader a warning. Unless I am out of date the rules on the sale of logs for wood burners need updating. One possible solution may be that logs should be sold by weight and that the percentage water content must not exceed a certain value. Trading standards told us that at present it is only illegal to sell “wet” wood and current rules go back to the 1960s. Perhaps Which can look into this issue.

Maybe someone would like to comment also on the stench of wood smoke inflicted on the neigbours?
It is little better than the coal fumes of the fifties.

Yes Brian, I do have some concerns about wood burner fume. .Creasote compounds, which are phenols, are probably present in wood burner smoke as they are deposited in the chimney if the wood is damp. Some wood burners are eligible to be used in smokeless zone areas but I do wonder if wood burner fume may, in due coarse, be linked to lung disease as was the case with coal.

This may highlight the inadequacies of the current wood burning stoves [ and why were they not included in the article?]

“Environmentally, masonry heaters evidently outshine all other wood burners and, perhaps every other heating system, save solar.” (Dirk Thomas, The Harrowsmith Country Life Guide to Wood Heat)

Masonry heaters as a group have been shown in field tests to emit an average of 2.8 gm/kg of emissions. ( Barnett, S.G., “Summary Report of the In-Home Emissions and Efficiency Performance of Five Commercially Available Masonry Heaters”, the Masonry Heater Association)

“Masonry heaters use the latest burn technologies which incorporate modern innovations ensuring that the vast majority of environmentally harmful gases, compounds and tars are burned in the firebox, creating heat, not pollution. Masonry stoves have been tested for emissions, demonstrating that they are the cleanest burning wood stoves in existence.

“A new, super low emissions category is now being implemented to cover appliances with emissions in the 1 to 2 gram per hour range. The masonry heaters tested fall into this category, which makes them belong to that rare class of wood heating systems that are acceptable for use even in the most polluted areas.” ( Paul E. Tiegs, Omni Environmental Services, reported by Masonry Heater News, Vol. 5)

And for the history of them Wikipedia provides:

“Cronstedt showed how in a ceramic designed wood burning stove that much more additional heat could be captured in a heavily tiled system of five long internal flues.[1][4] The innovation of his masonry stove system captured the heat from only periodic burning of wood. It would then spread out that heat over a longer period for a fairly constant temperature.[1][4] Because of this it only needed to be lit in the mornings and in the evenings.[1][4] This type of residential (or interior space) heating system is sometimes referred to as a kakelugn in a Swedish stove.[1][4] In England and America it is called a “tile stove” or masonry stove.[4] It is a type of “contra-flow stove” which the Chinese have made into a Kang bed-stove.[1]”

That is a revelation to me – please may I / we, have the URLs ?
Or does one just ‘Google” using ”Hi-light and Search” on parts of the texts?

Answering my own question, here’s one of the suppliers in UK – possibly the only one in UK?


I had a most interesting discussion with members of the Tulikivi (UK) team who really knew their ‘stuff’.
However there seems to be a mismatch between the UK’s criteria for Defra SE designation, and what could be the more stringent tests for much of the rest of the EU, especially the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, and Germany.
This means that tho’ UK’s criteria are seen as LESS stringent, the Tulikivi stoves don’t comply with UK requirements – but satisfy the EU’s HIGHER standards with as suggested by dieseltaylor (above).

Incidentally I find that links need moderation so I tend not to use them too often. The search term:
“Environmentally, masonry heaters evidently outshine all other wood burners and, perhaps every other heating system, save solar” is usefully so specific it takes you to the site. : )

It is curious that we apparently have tougher regulations than the EU on this and perhaps it would be worth adopting their standards if the differnce is marginal.

The UK regs and mode of data gathering are not tougher than those of the EU’s ?
Tho’ they are ‘different’ .
My understanding is that somewhat in line with Cerney Stove Man’s ”mpg’ analogy((Below) the UK measurements of emissions are made when the burner is running at optimum temperature.
The EU’s system measures emissions from start up, via optimum temperature, to closedown.
Hence, whilst the ‘average’ levels of emission may be closely aligned, the high levels experienced in the early burn stages will necessitate a level lower than acceptable in UK being attained during optimum operating temperatures to compensate.

I use a ‘real flame’ gas fire to supplement my gas boiler fired central heating. I had the fire installed five years ago when I had my boiler changed. To date, I have only used it at Christmas time. I would love a real fire but it is not practical where I live. I have stayed in holiday cottages where the main heating was supplemented with wood burning stoves and they were lovely to sit beside in the evening but not so nice in the morning when you have to empty the ashes.

What sort of wood were you burning that produced that amount of ash EVERY day?

John F. Marcham says:
4 January 2015

We have LPG for heating which is very expensive so 5 years (or more) ago we bought a woodturning stove. We bought a “Clearview” and the company asked us to bring a plan of the house and they worked out what size stove we would need – 8 kw – this heats only part of the house as it is rather a large house. The total cost of the stove, approved installation, removal of old fireplace and new marble hearth came to about £3k. I reckon that has now been well repaid on the LPG we would have used. I do not keep it in overnight, central heating using LPG, comes on for a couple of hours in the morning and then occasionally in the evening.
I have invested in a proper wood store and buy my whole year’s supply in May – part seasoned and at a reduced price – from a reputable supplier called Logs2Yourdoor (delivery free) at a cost of £400. By October it burns very well. The main windows of the rooms face south so it depends on the sun’s strength and warmth as to when I light it each day. It is very efficient.
I live in a small rural village and it is amazing just how many houses have invested in a good quality woodburner, many of them from “Clearview”.
It is one of the best investments we have made to the house for many years and we would not be without it.

John F. Marcham says:
4 January 2015

Further to my last comment and having read again some of the others and their concerns I would make the following additional points:
1. I only burn hardwood.
2 Burning temperature at 500F or above.
3 Creates very little ash.
4 Have chimney sweep every year but there is very little “soot” – chimney liner properly installed and lined + cowl on the top.

Cerney Stove Man says:
7 January 2015

I agree with John F that a wood stove will save the owner lots of money if selected and used wisely. One point though is that the Clearview stove is almost the only make which is sold without a CE label, in the trade this is widely understood to be due to their inability to reach the necessary efficiency standards. As all stoves can heat a room wonderfully the efficiency is not easily compared and is impossible for an Owner to compare, The Clearview has successfully traded on the ability of the glass to stay clean, this is achieved using an excess of air when the stove is burning and hence a lower efficiency. Most stoves now have a clear view of the fire when used properly with dry wood.
Diesel Taylor is also correct when he talks about Masonry stoves, these are much more efficient when measured on a “whole day of use” basis. This is due to the test methods which distort the real world results, rather like car mpg figures

Before anyone buys a wood burning stove I would suggest you google “wood smoke death”.

Look at the extensive academic papers on the effects of wood burning stoves on adult and children’s health in the US, Canada and Australia.
Look at the legislation being introduced there preventing wood burning stoves within 100yds of another house.

I have a neighbour who has bought an expensive and highly regarded system (he is an environmental engineer).
When the wind drops, my internal smoke alarms go off despite sealing every window and door.
We can never open a window in the summer (he uses wood for heating his water)
My other neighbours have similar problems.

On environmental grounds, google “wood-burning stove pollution” diesel – see that having a wood-burning stove is equivalent to running a diesel engine continually outside your house.

Please have some thought for your neighbours.

”When the wind drops, my internal smoke alarms go off despite sealing every window and door.
On environmental grounds, google “wood-burning stove pollution” diesel – see that having a wood-burning stove is equivalent to running a diesel engine continually outside your house.
Please have some thought for your neighbours.”

Please have some thought for my ability to suspend my disbelief.

I can understand restrictions on stoves [and open fireplaces] that do not meet modern regulations but from my Google search the articles did not seem unduly relevant. Perhaps I need to read further.

However one did mention very small particles and research released last week indicates that there is a much more immediate danger from nanoparticles which are so much flavour of the month and being commercially pushed.

” “The number of nano-based consumer products has risen a thousand fold in recent years, with an estimated world market of $3 trillion by the year 2020,” conclude the researchers. “This reality leads to increased human exposure and interaction of silica-based nanoparticles with biological systems. Because our research demonstrates a clear cardiovascular health risk associated with this trend, steps need to be taken to help ensure that potential health and environmental hazards are being addressed at the same time as the nanotechnology is being developed.”
from website

I too searched “wood-burning stove pollution” , and used as a Gateway to a wide range of seemingly well researched articles and accompanying data’
Nowhere did I
” …see that having a wood-burning stove is equivalent to running a diesel engine continually outside your house.”
What I did see was lots of research on the effects of using open log fires, stoves not being anywhere near complying with UK’s SE standards, installing stoves unnecessarily large, and problems caused by not running sub standard stove at a high temperature with vigerous flaming.
Much reference WAS made to plumes of smoke issuing from the chimneys of dwellings housing a wood fire of some sort. A phenomenon in my neighbourhood which would result in calls to the Fire Brigade, Environmental Health and most probably the Police.
A certain amount of my time in Chemistry lessons at school was spent, using Log Tables, in calculating what volume at STP, an amount of gas produced at another temperature and pressure, would occupy. The object of the exercise was not only about ‘sums’, but a realization that comparisons are only valid if they are of like with like.
Assertions that running an SE wood burner, using matured wood and in accordance with accepted
procedures is akin to running a ” … diesel engine continually outside your house.”. And claiming to rely on results NOT ”at STP” to prove the point, could be at least called Wood ash, and have as much calorific value when exposed to the cold light of day.

Well said JK

Actually overall this is an excellent Conversation and shows the depth of knowledge and experience that is sometimes harnessed. I hope the excellent Which? articles will refer to this conversation to flesh out the subject.

Secondly, given the small difference in the EU and UK regulations can [via Which?] DEFRA be encouraged to seek a common agreement for that type of stove. The masonry stove presumably should be assessed also on the basis of wood burnt to heat uplift by time to establish the efficiency levels of the various stoves.

In the UK we do not use wood as a fuel generally but it makes enormous sense that as consumers when we do buy then we can be sure EU standard meeting stoves will not be penalised.


Para 1 – AGREE
Paras 2 & 3 – AGREE

Para 4 = Over to you, Wonderful Which?

Dave Thompson says:
6 August 2015

I’ve thought about getting a heated floor for my new home. Like you mention the thought of stepping out of the shower onto a water floor in the mornings just sounds amazing. It actually surprises me that more people would want a wood burning stove in their home as opposed to a under the floor heating system. Thank you for posting this great article.

Why do you consider these to be mutually exclusive, please?

1.0….. IFF (sic) your ”underfloor” is going to be an electric system, then your point is completely valid

2.0….. If the system is going to be ‘wet’ and part of your ‘wet’ C H system, then it is possible to use a solid fuel burner to input energy.
2.1….. Yes, I do recognize that since you would probably have to marry a vented system with pressurized one, the plumbing can get complicated / expensive, even for the skilled DIY-er.
2.2…. ALL comments on this ”barrier” on incorporation, or alternative strategies would be MOST welcome:
2.2.1.. Separate wet system run from the Solid Fuel Burner back boiler?
2.2.2.. Heat exchanger to heat the (low temperature) return feed to the main C H system?
2.2.3.. What have I missed, please?

I’ve recently done extensive research on ‘Wet’ underfloor heating, both ab initio / newbuild, and retro-fitted.
The range of styles and products is increasing by the month, and most look well suited to D I Y installation, as well as by the supplier.
Even more reasons to consider incorporating a wood burning boiler stove into a full house system.


GREAT new posting from WHICH? about the hot subject of Solid fuel burners – may we either have an update of this tread, or a NEW thread, please?

There’s a GREAT update about Solid fuel stoves very recently added to WHICH?


Please may we either have a new thread on this increasing area of interest to many, or an update to this one?

Kind regards