Rise of the wood stove

Few things are as pleas­ing as the ra­di­ant heat em­a­nat­ing from a wood stove or tra­di­tional cooker.

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Nana tech­nol­ogy; it’s the quirky term en­com­pass­ing all those things your granny does – pre­serv­ing fruit, darn­ing socks, knit­ting jumpers and mak­ing jams and chut­neys.

Now there’s another Nana tech­nol­ogy on the come­back – the cooker, or tra­di­tional wood­burn­ing stove.

Most cook­ers in New Zealand from 1872 on­wards bore the name of Shack­lock, and came from the Dunedin work­shop of Henry Shack­lock, who de­signed them to run on cheap lig­nite coal. With a per­for­mance su­pe­rior to im­ported mod­els, Shack­lock’s ranges were hugely suc­cess­ful.

These days the more eco-friendly – and coun­cil com­pli­ant – cook­ers and stoves run on wood fuel. It has a net zero CO2 emis­sions pro­file and, pro­vided the wood is well sea­soned, emits very lit­tle smoke at all (see fuel).

A tra­di­tional cooker may seem like a quaint no­tion, but it’s im­pos­si­ble to ar­gue with low heat­ing bills (the cost of your fire­wood), free hot wa­ter and din­ner at the same time.

Some mod­els have up two ovens – which work at dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures – gen­er­ally one for stan­dard cook­ing, the other a cooler op­tion for slow cook­ing or sim­mer­ing stews. It’s pos­si­ble to get a glass door in con­tem­po­rary mod­els, but it doesn’t af­fect cook­ing per­for­mance. Un­like the days of old, ovens these days are self-clean­ing mod­els. On top of the cook­ers is a large hot­plate which will boil or sim­mer, and you’ll prob­a­bly dis­pense with the elec­tric ket­tle through the win­ter while you use the plate to heat wa­ter for your cup of tea.

Free hot wa­ter is pro­vided by way of a wet­back – a sys­tem whereby wa­ter pipes flow through the rear of the cooker and can pro­vide up to 400 litres of steam­ing hot wa­ter. It will re­quire a dual plumb­ing sys­tem, but the cost of that is quickly paid off when you con­sider that hot wa­ter makes up a third of your power bill. It’s im­por­tant to choose a cooker which is 3kW or more and keep in mind for ef­fi­ciency the closer the cooker is to the hot wa­ter cylin­der, the bet­ter. A 5kW model can pro­vide all the hot wa­ter you’ll ever need.

“Pro­vided your fire­wood comes from a re­new­able source, it has a net zero car­bon emis­sions pro­file.”

Hot wa­ter can also be pro­vided by a wet­back from a wood­burn­ing stove, but again, the same rules ap­ply – you’ll need a de­cent-sized unit, and have a hot wa­ter cylin­der close by.

Some cook­ers and stoves can be used to heat wa­ter for un­der­floor heat­ing as well as your hot wa­ter needs. For this you’ll be look­ing at 5kW plus mod­els.


Cook­ers are made ei­ther from cast iron, welded steel plate, or a com­bi­na­tion of both.

Cast iron is the tra­di­tion ma­te­rial for stoves, hav­ing been used for hun­dreds of years. It’s a ro­bust, at­trac­tive ma­te­rial which will give years of ser­vice, but must be treated cor­rectly. Mois­ture is the en­emy, which can cause rust dam­age. Its ben­e­fits also in­clude ex­cel­lent, even heat dis­tri­bu­tion.

Plate steel con­struc­tion is also grow­ing in pop­u­lar­ity and of­fers a less tra­di­tional, more con­tem­po­rary look. The steel can ei­ther be plate steel, or light­weight sheet metal. The for­mer of­fers a more ro­bust op­tion. Again, mois­ture should be avoided at all costs.


Pro­vided your fire­wood comes from a re­new­able source, it has a net zero car­bon emis­sions pro­file. This is be­cause CO2 is se­questered into the tree dur­ing the grow­ing process and re­leased again when you burn it. If that tree is re­planted that CO2 will be se­questered again, and so on.

It’s im­por­tant to ‘sea­son’ wood well – it should have had at least a year out of the rain to en­sure it is com­pletely dry. The re­sult is smoke-free, hot-burn­ing wood. Black marks ap­pear­ing on the fire­box glass door or ex­ces­sive smoke can mean your wood is not prop­erly sea­soned.

Drift­wood should never be burned in a cooker or wood stove – it has a high salt con­tent which causes cor­ro­sion.


There are safety is­sues as­so­ci­ated with any ap­pli­ance that con­tains fire, so you will need to ap­ply for a build­ing con­sent be­fore in­stalling, re­lo­cat­ing or sub­stan­tially re­plac­ing a solid fuel heat­ing de­vice.

You will also need to ap­ply for a Code Com­pli­ance Cer­tifi­cate af­ter the work is com­pleted to con­firm it has been car­ried out in ac­cor­dance with the de­scrip­tion in the build­ing con­sent. Fur­ther, all ap­pli­ances must meet a par­ti­cle emis­sions rate if they are in­stalled in ur­ban or coastal ar­eas. Find out more at auck­land­coun­cil.govt.nz

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