First things first, the house or cottage in which we live was built in the late 19th century mainly of stone construction, for farm workers to live in close to their work on the farm ( normally called a tied cottage) and had been occupied by a family working on the farm prior to our move into the property in 1987, since when a certain amount of modernisation had been done by ourselves over the years, new bathroom, showers and kitchen etc.
At the end of July this year we had the chimney sweep in to clean the soot from our two chimneys.
The one that had been used non stop over last winter as our main heating was the worst as it had a Parkray multi fuel heater fitted into the wall with a surround of tiles and tiled hearth; this fire had been there since before we moved in and although pretty ugly had given good service over the years by heating four radiators and the hot water in the winter.
We had it fuelled by anthracite eggs or ovals, which gave plenty of heat but this fuel is getting very expensive, it also comes with certain ecological issues attached being a fossil fuel, which spoils our carbon footprint. We had occasionally burnt wood in it but it was not an ideal wood burning stove due to the grate being built for a coal based fuel.
“BAD NEWS” said the sweep when he had finished the job, “your back boiler is leaking into the grate and there is a lot of wet in the bottom of the grate”.
So, we had to bite the bullet and replace the fire with a new one of some sort, we had looked at all the different options over the years and decided against oil because we have access to plenty of wood from the farm. Also most of the modern systems depend on having electricity to ignite and control their burners, and because we are subject to power cuts in the winter, just when one is most vulnerable to the cold; it was important for us that we had a system that will work on its own, we wanted it to continue to heat the water and the radiators upstairs by convection to keep the house warm until the power supply returns.
Off we went to StoveTec in Hereford UK to look at what was available to us and just how much it would cost, we looked at all the models in the showroom and chose a Hunter multi fuel with internal boiler (Hunter are a part of the Parkray Group apparently), with single door with one clear pain of glass in the front, which I liked because it had none of the fiddly bits just clean lines and simple design.
Steve the owner of StoveTec then arranged to come out to do a site survey on the next Wednesday; whereupon the measurements for the base and the layout of all the pipe work was checked, and the chimney stack was inspected from the garden.
The quote, which was very reasonable and included the fitting of a new stainless steel chimney liner, was accepted and it was arranged for the men to start work the next week.
The team duly arrived and proceeded to start with the removal of the original fireplace, in preparation, I had already turned off the water and drained the system with the garden hose prior to their arrival.
As with all building workers, we made sure that copious amounts of tea, instant coffee and biscuits were available throughout the day in large mugs with a good quality tea bag per mug with various spoon-fulls of sugar and whole milk according to taste, which after the first day we learnt off by heart.
The removal of the old fire place created a large amount of dust and noise from the hammer drill and chisel, and a large quantity of waste rubble and a pile of bricks that I decided to save for any small garden project which may require a few bricks, a barbecue comes to mind, which is not a high priority for us but may come in handy in the future .
Once the old tiled hearth and surround had been broken up, the feed pipes to the boiler were now exposed enough to be able to get a hack saw in to cut the pipes and free up the stove for removal. It was very heavy and had to be manoeuvred onto a sack trolley to be wheeled out of the house and lifted in to the truck for scrap.
It was then that we were able to see what we thought was the full extent of the space available at the back of the fire, we could see a large amount of brick and stone infill, for what we thought must have been the original cast iron black grate; complete with an oven on the side, which looked so pretty in pictures but were extremely difficult to get the oven up to temperature and were dirty as the fire was open and not enclosed; but they normally had a trivet to hang or place a pan or kettle over the fire for cooking soups and stews.
But No, they had to remove two more courses of brick before the final aperture was revealed in all its glory, it really made the room look so much bigger, once all the rubble had been removed and a bit of tidy up had been done.
Meanwhile the men had placed the climbing frame and ladders up onto the roof and around the chimney stack so that the new stainless steel liner could be lowered into the chimney stack, once it was in place a plate was cemented in and a new chimney pot and cowl fitted to top out the flu.
Where the liner came down into the fireplace it was fitted into an enamelled stove pipe via a socket fitting on the end of the cut flu liner, and then into the socket on top of the new Hunter Stove.
Before the new stove can be placed into position there had to be a new base fitted on the floor of the cavity, we finally decided on large pieces of slate, which is more in keeping with an old cottage than the polished granite that we thought about first, this is fixed in place on the floor of the base level with a coat of cement and tapped level.
The next job was to fit a metal plate to the inside of the fire place above the new stove, where the new flu came through a hole cut in the middle to block out the rest of the chimney and stop any of the soot from the old fire falling down into the room in the future; this was sealed around all the edges to finish the lower part of the chimney off (this was later sprayed with black enamel paint).
With the hot water pipes connected to the boiler (the out flow hot to the top, and the inflow connected to the bottom on the opposite side of the boiler cold), the water was then turned back on and the system filled to check for leaks and and test under pressure with the pump running.
Then it was all systems go for ignition to see how it all worked with a fire burning in the grate. It was simply amazing just how fast the boiler heated up and hot water started to move up the pipes to the hot water cistern. It is now a week since we have had it up and running and we have now got the hang of it managing to keep it in over night with the aid of some very dry seasoned oak blocks.
There is no doubt in my mind that the main thing with running a wood burning stove is to have dry seasoned wood at all times otherwise it will not burn correctly and it willl not get hot enough, plus it will clog up the chimney with tar and get the glass front of the door all covered in a dirty black coating of soot and tar. I always think that if the wood burns slowly down like a cigarette glowing across its length the stove is working correctly and that the wood is dry.
The best types of wood to burn locally around us is oak or ash if you can get it, but I also have access to plenty of willow, which is OK if very dry, I occasionally get a bit of pine, which burns very fast and noisily spitting and popping away in the grate.
I can thoroughly recommend our wood burning stove and I look forward to many years of warm winters by the fire in the future.