Getting the best from wood-burning stoves

Logswood briquettes

The overall consensus on wood burning stoves seems to be that they are a good option for heating your home in an environmentally friendly way, and so it’s no surprise that their popularity is on the increase.

As with many alternative options though, the devil is in the detail; how you feed and use the stove could have a big effect on how clean your chimney smoke will be.

On the woodburner’s side is the fact that they are over 3 times more efficient at converting the fuel into heat when compared to an open fire. Another argument in favour is that the trees have acted to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while growing. Burning in a stove should then emit less than that which would otherwise be released when decomposing (if burned properly).

Acting against the wood stove are the particulate emissions (sometimes called black carbon) released, which are exarcebated if poorly seasoned wood and coal are used in the stove.

Wood burners also rarely provide enough heat to entirely replace conventional central heating. Indeed we have a small wood burning stove in our front room ourselves and, while it quickly makes the room toasty warm, we always need the heating on to supplement the other rooms in the winter.

So how can you ensure you get the best out of your stove and use it in the best way for the environment? An alternative to locally sourced, well seasoned wood are processed briquettes or pellets, such as those from Verdo. Verdo manufacturers their briquettes (along with pellets for larger biomass heaters etc.) at two plants in the UK, so transport emissions are lower than treated logs supplied from abroad – those typically available on the garage forecourt. All wood used in Verdo’s process is FSC certified, so you can also be sure it is from well-managed sources.

I should disclose I’ve been trying their briquettes over the winter and have found them an excellent source when a longer-burning fire is required. The bricks are somewhat harder to get going than conventional logs, however once on their way the briquettes lasted well over an hour without any intervention – not something that happens with real logs.

So how do the costs compare?

Product Seasoned Logs Verdo Briquettes
Price c.£125 inc. delivery
(based on 1 cubic metre of soft-wood, e.g. Online Firewood)
c.£289 inc. delivery per pallet
Burning Time 384 hours
Assuming around 520 logs per cubic metre, 45 mins burning each
864 hours
Based on 576 briquettes per pallet, 90 mins burning each
Cost per hour heating 33 pence an hour 33 pence an hour
Other Factors Origin might vary – but locally sourced needed to minimise transport costs. Compact, low ash burning. Transport emissions within the UK. FSC CertifiedHigher heat-output

Although obviously a quick and dirty comparison, based purely on the cost per burning time, the briquettes cot almost exactly the same as conventional logs. What this doesn’t take into account however is the higher heat output from the densely packed briquettes and the lower level of ash produced.

It’s also great to have the reassurance of FSC certified wood, although to help complete the sound credentials, I would have liked to see a little less plastic packaging around the briquettes. It’s obviously important that they are protected from moisture during storage, but I’m sure there might be other alternatives out there. A final consideration might be that the briquettes are currently only supplied by the pallet, which might be more suited for households that burn relatively large quantities of wood or premises with a some good storage space.


February 4, 2012 at 12:28 pm 2 comments

Bye-Bye Standby

Standby OnStandby eliminator

A little device that came free when we bought our first house has been a surprise hit in providing a truly non-intrusive and transparent way of eliminating wasted standby energy.

Shortly after moving in late last year, a box arrived with cleaning products, tea bags, loo roll and lots of advertising – courtesy of our estate agent of course. Buried in the bottom was a ‘TV-Standby eliminator’, provided by E.ON Energy which is designed to cut power to a TV as an alternative option to leaving it on standby.

So how does it work?

The unit is plugged directly into the wall socket, and has two plug sockets available to use – one is a socket that switches off completely after it detects the TV is no longer turned on, eliminating any wasted power from standby. The second is effectively on all the time, as if it were just the wall socket itself which can be used for other appliances you don’t want switched off completely.

But how does it know when I want it back on?

The clever bit is the connected infra-red detector which picks up your TV remote control signal and recognises when you are trying to turn the TV back on and restores power to the socket.

What’s the big deal?

I think it’s a great example of a simple piece of technology that allows energy consumption to be reduced with minimal consumer intervention.

Whilst the quantities of energy involved are not huge, across many households in aggregate this wasted energy is not insignificant and has been estimated at £740m of electricity a year!

Once we got around to installing it, we plugged a 4-way strip socket into the controllable socket and connected our TV, Sky-box and even a lamp to the socket. The only difference we now notice is that switching the TV on takes two presses of the remote control; (one to switch on the power socket, one to turn the TV on) (Ed – this is due to our TV always starting in ‘standby’ mode – if your TV switches on fully when you turn it off and on at the wall you would only need to press once!)

When we’re done with TV, one press on the remote puts it into standby. Then 20 seconds later, the lamp, Sky-box and TV all power down completely. Simples.

Is it really worth it?

Although I’m impressed with the simplicity of the TV-Standby eliminator, I was curious actually how much energy it saves. So let’s take a look using some simple assumptions…

Hours on Stand-By 7300 per year Assuming around 4 hours watching per day
TV Standby Consumption around 1W Very modern TV’s might improve on this a little
Average Electricity Cost 11 pence per kWh Based on our standard tariff
Power wasted on standby (TV only) 7.3 kW per year (= 7300 x 1/1000)
Cost of Wasted Energy (TV Only) £0.80 per year (= 7.3 x 11)
Other appliances standby consumption 13 – 20W Modern PVRs and HD set-top boxes can be hungry!
Power wasted  by peripherals 146kW per year (= 7300 x 20/1000)
Cost per year of wasted energy (TV + peripherals)
£16.06 (= 146 x 11)

Assuming that the ‘standby-eliminator can reduce standby-time to a negligible amount of time per year, the savings for a TV alone stack up to around 7W. Hmmm, so about £1 per year – I know it’s a time for austerity but that’s not going to break the bank.

However, once you consider other peripherals can consume in the region of 1320W on standby (like that HD Set-top box of yours) the savings slowly start to stack up – with a 20W device also powered down by the standby-eliminator, savings jump to around £16 a year.

Although we got ours free, the devices themselves cost only in the region of £10-£15, such as these from Energy Monitors Direct or NoMoreStandby, making the payback less than a year.

Consider also that the cost of electricity is likely to increase significantly over the medium term, making the savings still more attractive.

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March 16, 2011 at 10:19 am 2 comments

Green Finance

An email I got about National Ethical Investment Week (NEIW) 2010 is a good reminder that there are better options when it comes to sorting your finances as well as choosing consumer and household goods.

National Ethical Investment Week is next week (7-13 November) and aims to spread information about green and ethical options when it comes to finance and investment decisions, and the site has a wealth (no pun intended) of more comprehensive information than I could possibly provide here.

I’d encourage anyone to have a dig around the site, but particularly useful links are the comparison of ethical funds and high street banks from How does your current bank rate?

November 4, 2010 at 6:39 pm Leave a comment

A Green Christmas – Presents

Car PresentHome Knit

Ahh Christmas time, the season of goodwill and giving! It’s also a time when we seem to generate a bit more waste than usual as we go about the usual rituals of shopping, eating, drinking and family time!

So in this consumer-driven time of year, how can we go about making our Christmas a bit more generous to the environment? Here I’ll look at some alternative options when thinking about presents..There’s loads of ways to be smarter about your present giving this year that can help both your pocket & the planet.

If like me, the thought of shopping on Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon typically sends you into a cold sweat, you’ll be pleased to hear that new research has shown that shopping online results in much lower emissions than heading out to the shops.
So you’re already in the right place to do your pressie shopping – why not give someone a gift from one of the many green stores now online, such as Green Shop, Nigel’s or Ecotopia for an even more planet-friendly present. Check out the links below for some more ideas.

If you have a little more time, why not create some gifts for your nearest & dearest? For example, food or clothing are ideal home-made gifts. has a large list of ideas and recipes for hampers and foodie-gifts, especially if you source the ingredients locally.

Home-made scarves & hats are also great ideas if you want to learn a new skill (but perhaps plan to give them next year!) – just search YouTube for videos on knitting or other techniques to learn how to get going.

Don’t forget to make the effort with your wrapping paper & packaging too – metallic paper and non-recycled gift wrap will just be torn off and end up in land-fill.
Instead, look for recycled & recyclable paper such as these from or Oxfam.
Although it might sound dull, un-bleached brown paper can also look really attractive, as shown by eHow, and is a great alternative.
This year’s cards can easily be turned into gift tags for next year too, so remember to keep the suitable ones!

Next stop – Summary of links:

What? Where to look
Craft Resources
Cooking Links
Packaging & Paper

December 15, 2009 at 5:09 pm Leave a comment

Efficient Home Lighting – CFL versus Incandescent

This month the humble lightbulb has been put in the (energy saving) spotlight as the EU’s phase out of the traditional incandescent begins, and so it seems like a good time to review some of the alternatives on the market and where you can find them.

Incandescant bulbs – “The Heater that emits a bit of light”
These are the ‘old’ school bulbs that are being phased out due to new EU regulations on performance requirements of energy-using products.
Only around 5-10% of the energy used by these bulbs actually goes to generating any light, with the rest being wasted as heat so it’s clear why it’s time for the newer CFL technology to take their place.

LED Lamps
LED lamps are typically made by grouping a number of individual LEDs together and are currently one of the most efficient lighting technologies. LEDs come in a range of colours, allowing for coloured lighting solutions, and even packages where the mix of colour can be controlled.
As LED lamps remain a relatively new addition to the residential lighting market the initial costs are high. So, in purely monetary terms, LED lamps seem to be not quite cost effective just yet.
However, the cost is bound to fall as more get manufactured and so are definitely ones to watch in the future.

Energy Saving bulbs
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are the most common energy saving lightbulbs and are similar to the fluorescent tubes traditionally installed in commercial buildings.

There have been criticisms that energy saving lightbulbs take too long to turn on, or can’t be used with dimmers but most of these isses have been resolved in newer versions.
There is some evidence that equivalent rated bulbs aren’t quite as bright as their traditional counterparts, but I’ve found the light from CFLs to be perfectly good and in my opinion the reduced energy use more than makes up for any other limitations.

Importantly, while traditional incandescant bulbs can be disposed of in your household rubbish, energy saving bulbs (CFL’s) contain small amounts of mercury and so need to be recycled properly (although the longer lifespan of these bulbs mean it shouldn’t be necessary too often) – For advice on where to dispose of energy saving lightbulbs, see the Recolight guidance here.

So what’s the best option?
A very quick cost comparison of a typical year of operation shows that replacing 60W incandescants with 11W energy saving bulbs is over 5 times more cost effective – obviously there are some big assumptions here, such as ignoring the heating effect that a lot of old bulbs might give, but even replacing each 60W with two energy saving bulbs still looks better for your pocket and the environment (if disposed of correctly!)

Power Used (Watts)
(Light output might not be exactly equal, but these have been sufficient for my needs)
11W 60W
Lifetime (Hours)
(Average lifetime as from the EnergyStar website)
10500 875
Cost each
(Based on prices from British Gas and Staples)
£1.49 £0.75
Hours in operation
(Assuming 6hrs / day for a year)
2190 2190
Bulbs Needed 0.2 2.5
Total Cost of Bulbs £0.31 £1.87
Energy Used (kwH) 24.1 131.4
Energy Tariff (£ per kWh)
(This is the average tariff prce as used by the Energy Saving Trust)
0.1296 0.1296
Energy Cost £3.12 £17.03
Total cost over year £3.43 £18.90
Where to buy? CFLs are widely available for example from British Gas, Lightbulbs direct or most hardware stores. For dimmable versions, check Just in the name of being fair, Incandescent bulbs can still be purchased from Staples, but hopefully after reading you might consider the alternative option!
Other considerations Contain small amounts of mercury – needs proper disposal.
Price continuing to fall
Can be disposed of easily, but price likely to increase now phase-out begins

September 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm 3 comments

Home Composting for dummies

compost baghome composting
Why wouldn’t you want to turn your free kitchen waste into good quality compost you can use on your plants!?

For those with private gardens or a bit of outdoor space*, composting certainly seems to make a whole lot of sense. However, for me it’s not always gone in one end and come out of the other as a nice dark, crumbly compost like the stuff you buy from the garden centre.

Newly discovered to me, the RecycleNow website however has had a fantastic makeover with some good advice on home composting answering the most common queries such as (I apparently wasn’t aerating enough!):

Also check out the Royal Horticultural Society’s guide to home composting and the How To Videos from

* There are some options for those with little or no outdoor space, such as the NatureMill. However the fairly steep price tag might put most off, and for those in rental accomodation a simple counter-top solution (with filters to prevent smells) might be more suitable. Councils will often provide a similar tub to you for free, so it’s worth checking with your local office.

July 21, 2009 at 8:44 pm 3 comments

Sleeping Soundly – Environmentally Friendly Mattresses

old mattressesorganic mattress

An old dig through the archives at Springwise reminded me of how companies can not only reduce environmental impact through products themsleves, but also by designing and developing alternative ways of actually delivering products to your door.

Keetsa, for example, who were featured in April last year produce mattresses and bedding from sustainable and recyclable components such as unbleached cotton, bamboo fabrics and recycled steel. But the company also have found ways to safely compress the matresses down into smaller recycled card boxes that make it easier and greener to transport them around to shops and distributors.

Bio-Posture also compress their memory foam mattresses before shipping, and even run a longer day but a shorter working week at factories, so employees commuting emissions are reduced! The foam is plant-based, making it more eco-friendly and breathable than those of TempurPedic, for example.

From the looks of things Keetsa nd Bio-Posture are only available outside the UK, but there are some other options if you are looking for a new mattress that minimses environmental impact:

Manchester-based Dojo hand-make a range of mattresses with organic materials such a wool and natural latex. Materials are sourced with sustainability and locality in mind, and the local business is even “fuelled by Ecotricity and Fairtrade coffee” demonstrating the owners and employees all really buy in to the ethos of what they are creating.

Ecocentric also supply a sprung mattress in the UK made from organic Welsh wool and which is free from toxins. The materials are certified to the Soil Association organic standard and also provide either a standard or firm option.

How do these compare with a standard mattress?

Product Standard Double Mattress Dojo Firm/Springy Double Mattress EcoCentric Double Organic Pocket-Srung Mattress
Price c.£406 inc. delivery
(based on mid-range pocket-sprung mattress from Additions)
c.£525 inc. delivery c.£850 inc. delivery
Materials Visco-elastic polyurethane foam – polyurethane with additional chemicals that increase its viscosity Organic cotton fabric, wool, coconut fibre and natural latex (94+ per cent). Organic cotton and wool. (Springs unknown)
Other Factors Delivery via usual means, with mattress at full size Delivery via biodiesel van in the Manchester area, or via TNT for all other areas Delivery via usual means, with mattress at full size

Do you know any another options for environmentally friendly mattresses? Perhaps you’ve slept on one of those mentioned above? Let us know!

June 11, 2009 at 5:21 pm 1 comment

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