A burning question

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I’m trying to buy a new woodburner and it’s so complicated it’s driving me nuts.

Alsace stoveLate on parade with this blog today.

The reason is, I’m trying to buy a new woodburner.

I recently had a small windfall when my pensions company demutualised and I found myself with shares I didn’t know I had. Since it was money I wasn’t expecting, spending it on a new woodburner seemed like a good idea. I don’t know how we’d ever afford one otherwise, and I want to do something to help my asthma. 

Our current woodburner is 11 years old, and it’s the wrong type. So naive were we when we bought this house that we didn’t know the difference between a freestanding stove and an ‘insert’, so we simply bought the latter because it was the most powerful we could find.

For those who don’t know, inserts are designed to fit inside a closed fireplace. Only the front of them is visible, so the top, sides and back are all insulated to keep the heat in, and you drive the heat out of vents in the front by using fans.

However, we have an open fireplace, so what we should have bought was a freestanding stove, where the heat radiates from all sides. These generally don’t have fans, though some of the newer varieties use turbo chargers that redirect the hot air so that it comes out of the bottom of the stove, reducing the ceiling temperature and increasing the floor temperature (see drawing at right).

Turbo chargeThis is the type we’ve opted for – the Alsace Turbo 2 from a firm called Supra. The Alsace without turbo is the best-selling stove in France and several of our friends have it, and the result is houses that are far warmer and cosier than ours. It is also double combustion and a third more efficient than our current stove, which will mean should pay for itself over the course of two to four years. 

Another mistake I made was that back when we bought this house, there wasn’t really an Internet, and I had a lot of trouble calculating how much kilowattage we would need (it was the kind of information heating engineers used to keep to themselves). Eventually Country Living magazine furnished some calculations, and I came up with a requirement of 12kw, so we bought a 12kw stove.

It’s never been anywhere near enough. Running both fans full pelt, we could just about cope, but our living room is 70sqm – the whole ground floor of the house – and it has quite a high ceiling. Recalculating recently on one of the many websites that now tell you how to do it comes up with a figure of 16kw – even more if you have an open staircase (which we do).  

The room is also not insulated – none of these stone houses are. Instead, it relies on something called thermal mass to stay warm. You basically heat up the stone, which radiates heat back out, and the best bet is to do it slowly and gradually. We usually light our first fire on September 1st, well before we really need it, and stoke up the house a bit at a time. This summer’s been so rubbish, though that we actually lit one a day or two ago, more for psychological reasons than anything else.  

Just to complicate matters, though possibly in a good way, the French are keen to push wood heating, so you’re entitled to a tax credit of 50 per cent of the cost of the stove if you install one of these whizzy new clean-burn jobs, which the Alsace Turbo is. The trouble is, we have no idea how to claim the tax credit, and I don’t know anyone who’s done it successfully. The criteria for obtaining it seem to vary wherever you look. One government site tells you that it doesn’t matter where you buy the stove, as long as you have it installed professionally. Another says you can only claim if both the supplier and the installer are professionals. Yet another tells you that the supplier and installer have to be the same person.

It is enough to make you tear your hair out, even if it wasn’t all in a foreign language. Though clearly, French people have no more of a clue than I do, as there are questions about it all over the French forums.  

I am very nervous about getting this thing wrong, because, you see, I don’t know if we will ever have this kind of money to spend again in one hit, and there are plenty of other things that we need. For instance, I could easily buy a second-hand, more basic version of this stove for half the price and we could install it ourselves. No tax credit, but it would work out about the same in terms of money – a temptation when I’m not absolutely sure we’re going to get this money back. And for the same cost as a new stove, I could refit the bathroom or buy a new floor for this office, plus replace both of our office windows with double-glazed ones. It is a decision I don’t want to get wrong.  

Oh la. Back to the drawing board. At least I’ve phoned the plumber already, and he will giving me a quote on installation. A lot depends on what he says, so wish me luck.  


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