SIA Ecodesign stoves: are they any good?

What is an Ecodesign stove and who are the SIA?

Update 4th sept: Woodford 5 tested and it performs beautifully. Very controllable, excellent heat output and extremely efficient with the wood!

So you keep seeing “SIA” or Ecodesign Ready” when browsing stoves and you’ve been wondering what it’s all about (secretly gnashing teeth – as if there is not enough to consider without worrying about further jargon).

In 2022 new rules come into force from Europe. Stove designs sold after this date will have to be tested to ensure they pass these new rules (stoves already sold prior to this date will not be seized by the Secret Stove Police as the rules are not retrospective). These tests measure flue gases (particle sizes in particular) to ensure only the very cleanest burning stoves will pass.

SIA stands for Stove Industry Alliance – a bunch of UK stove manufacturers who meet every now and then for coffee and chat about all things stoves. At their core they are a forum for ensuring the growth and security of the UK stove market. If there is bad news about wood burners in the press (here’s looking at you Sadiq) then the SIA are the most likely to get involved with positive PR.

Straight from the SIA’s website: ‘SIA Ecodesign Ready stoves are designed to reduce PM emissions by burning wood more efficiently and completely’. It should be noted at this point that a stove can be certified as Ecodesign Ready without having ever been near the SIA: there are testing centres in the Uk and Europe and they are independent of the SIA.

Are Ecodesign stoves any good?

So all good, right? Well generally yes. But take a little care when choosing a stove Why? Well the first Ecodesign stove I was aware of was the first modern stove I started hearing complaints about. ‘Not enough heat”, ‘Doesn’t draw like my last stove”, “Cannot get it roaring away nicely’ etc. At a dealer event I heard dealers talking about the stove saying there were complaints that the glass was sooting up in the corners. Shortly after this the stove went through a few changes. I spoke to somebody ‘in the know’ and he said “these tests are very stringent and it is very hard to meet the rules and retain the performance customers are used to”.

Now as a rule, here at Stovefitter’s we do not generally get any complaints about stove performance. Let’s face it they are black metal boxes with fire inside – there is not a lot to go wrong as there is not a lot of complicated technology. In the past the cheaper stoves with little control were often loved by customers: “We had a Chinese “Firewhippet” and it roared like a good ‘un”, “the draw on that stove would suck your grandmother’s slippers off” sort of thing. Customers did not realise that a roaring stove would usually mean a lot of wasted heat up the chimney – the noisiest cog getting all the attention sort of thing.

We tested our first 5kW Ecodesign stove in our office and my staff complained they were not happy. “Not enough heat” they said. Whatever I did with this stove I could not persuade myself that all was good – I could hold my hand 6” in front of the glass without flinching. With the DG Ivar 5 I would been screaming at 18”. So we put the DG Ivar 5 back in and they were happy again. So we don’t sell the other one.

During the last year we have had a few more complaints. Four customers said that they were unhappy with their stoves. Same complaints as previously mentioned – poor heat output, lazy flame some sooting on the glass. These are usually symptoms of poor air flow through the stove. These stoves were all from the same manufacturer – and all were newly designed “Ecodesign Ready”. We no longer sell this range.

I did speak to a few manufacturers about this “new generation of stoves”. They said the same. Essentially this is a new breed: one cannot roar them like the old stoves which is wasteful. They work best when not overloaded with fuel. They take a little more to get them going “crack the door open” whilst lighting as they’ll need the extra air. Once up and running they perform beautifully – a little more understated than the stereotypical roaring fire. One manufacturer admitted ‘we need to educate the users how to use these stoves but use them correctly and they will kick out great heat for less logs. Another said that they are “the thinking man’s stove”.

In my experience customers just want to throw some logs in and sit on the sofa and relax. Thinking is for when you are at work.

Saltfire seem to have got it all sorted

So when Saltfire said that all of their stoves were now Ecodesign Ready they probably wondered why I was apprehensive. These are great stoves and if it ‘aint broke and all that. The Saltfire stoves burn beautifully and can be set from “lazy flame” to ‘fully roaring” without any problem at all and I don’t really want that to change. Keeps everybody happy. So I rang Ross at Saltfire and asked him what changes were made to get them through the tests? “No changes” he said. “They all passed without modification”. “Well done”, I said, amazed. “But I thought it was supposed to be difficult?”. Ross said that the designs were designed with the new rules in mind and that it wasn’t a big problem. I do know that Saltfire test their new stoves to destruction and the directors are pretty switched on when it comes to stove design.

So I was a little confused. If Saltfire can do it and the stoves perform as one is used to why do some of the others seem to be talking about these new stoves as if they need an operator manual? And why was I feeling as I’m missing something?

My thoughts after further research

The most recent designs of stoves allow air into their chamber in three ways:

Primary air

Air into the bottom of the chamber at the base of the fuel that really gets a stove roaring. If this were the ONLY control then the design would not be very eco friendly as the nasty particles sizes would not be burned away and would float off up the chimney.

Tertiary air

Air into the middle of the chamber (often you can see air holes in the back wall of the stove) that provides more oxygen to the fire so it can attack those particles and zap them even smaller.

Secondary air

Directs air in from the top of the stove that washes downwards over the glass and keeps particles from landing on the glass

Stove designers use these three air inputs to create their masterpiece. Changing one affects the other two. If the tertiary is too powerful it can disrupt the airwash, too weak and the stove fails the tests. Move the tertiary lower in the stove and it starts to do the job of the Primary. And so on.

Now primary air is the one the customers love! Open this fully and the stove will roar and crackle and make a spectacle (men seem to find this particularly pleasing). Perfect for starting the stove up or when refuelling. If cranked open when a stove is up and running though it can be very wasteful, like a flamethrower sending heat skyward. Not only that but the nasty large sooty particles are sent skyward at speed, legging it past the tertiary air before it has chance to zap them. It also leads to inflated expectations. Wastefully roar a 5kW stove for ten minutes and then suddenly shut down the Primary air to under half speed and the heat output might leap to 8 or 10kW. The customer gets used to feeling this kind of heat output. Much better t0 have a steady 5kW with less logs being used – than ten minutes of useless roaring for five minutes of incinerator style output. Over-firing is bad for the stove (warps baffles, cracks firebricks etc.).

Turning the primary air down is less wasteful of heat and better for the environment.

So, in the spirit of the new Ecodesign regulations some manufacturers are reducing the power of the primary control with some removing the primary control altogether! It’s not needed they say! But what about getting the fire going? Or adding more logs? Customers of these “no primary air control” stoves have just one way of “revving things up” and that’s the old “crack open the door trick”.

Other manufacturers are keeping the primary air control but suggest it “only to be used for starting and refuelling”. In tests the primary control is closed or taped over. In this case the stoves are Ecodesign Ready but only whilst customers do not use them with the primary air open. It’s like introducing an Eco friendly car with a “Sport” mode that should be used sparingly.

Removing the primary air control altogether certainly stops a customer overriding Ecodesign Ready ambitions. But it is also a brave step – are customers ready for it? It can be seen that manufacturers are working hard to make their stoves as clean burning as possible but are also torn between this aim and keeping customers happy.

Rumour has it that some manufacturers have been struggling to keep customers happy and are re-introducing varying levels of primary air control.

Ecodesign Ready is a good scheme and soon all stoves on sale will be put through the scheme. Use an Ecodesign Ready stove as the manufacturer’s intend and you will have a stove that runs beautifully and consistently emits as much heat as the room requires. You will also be using less logs and looking after our planet.

So for now I’m going to test any stove we sell that is Ecodesign Ready. The Saltfires are all Ecodesign Ready and burn beautifully (we have tested the St1 Vision, ST2, St-X5 thoroughly and their other stoves are just size variations).

The Woodford 5 is being tested this coming week. Then it will be the Charnwood C4 BLU (ecodesign version of the standard C4).

Please note that there is a lot more to this subject than I have got involved with. I have kept it as basic as I possibly can (it’s about as much as my brain can handle to be honest). Anybody out there feel free to correct me if you feel I have said anything you disagree with.

 

Julian Patrick

 

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