Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review of Cast Iron Stoves Some Pointers


What to Look for
and What to Avoid
in Cast Iron Stoves
Part 1

There has been such a massive increase in interest in solid-fuel stoves, that it is time for me to review the few pointers that I am aware of regarding what to look for, and what to avoid in a stove.

Most stoves sold in Ireland are made in cast iron. Only a very few are made in steel or in stainless steel, so I will not bother looking in this direction. So for a start let us take a look at the material of stoves itself, in this case Cast-Iron.


Above you see a small section of the external cast iron casing of a, three year in use, stove. The coin is only for perspective. Take a close look at the texture of the casting. What do you observe? It looks like a painted surface, but it isn't painted, it is naturally smooth and fine grained, and has not got major sandy texture or more importantly - little holes or pits.

By way of contrast, have a look at the above picture, and ask yourself which of the two examples do you think is the better quality of casting?

In the above very rough textured casting, you should be able to see some pitting. The grain itself is like the surface of a child's sand castle. This very rough grain and the associated pitting effect, are some of the factors that can lead to damage, such as cracking, distortion, and burning away, in a stove. Other factors that can affect the life of the metal of a stove, such as the actual basic material and chemical make-up of the cast iron, you will not be able to see. Regarding the composition of metal, the grates and the baffles should ideally have a chromium content upwards of 12%. Too much chromium will make the metal brittle but with the right amount, it will make it resistant to oxidising, that is distorting and slowly burning away.

Poor Quality Cast = Poor Quality Stove

The vast majority of the problems with stoves, excluding poor design, are associated with the quality of the cast iron that makes up most of the stove. This is especially true of the parts of a stove that come into direct contact with the fire.

Grates and baffles are the most obvious parts that are vulnerable to fire damage. However, some stoves of dubious manufacture, have been known to literally split at the seams. So be warned when shopping for a bargain stove. If you buy a trusted brand name from a trusted retailer, you have at least two lines of come-back in the event of failure.

Look for a good thick and smooth quality of cast iron. Very rough, pitted, or very thin castings are going to lead to problems.

This is part one. I will revisit the subject over the next couple of weeks.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012



How Will You Heat
This Winter? 

Winter is already making it's presence felt in Ireland,  it is therefore an appropriate time to re-assess the means of heating for the next seven months or so. To that end, I have already been taking a look at some multi-fuel stoves and central heating boilers, most of which can burn Various Woods, Coals, and Briquettes. These stoves and boilers are appearing in increasing numbers on the Irish market.

The dizzying rise in the price of heating oil, helped substantially in Ireland by heavy taxation, two doses of carbon tax and VAT on top for icing, has sent many of us looking in other directions for some form of affordable heat.


Fuel poverty is a very real, very large, and a still growing social problem in Ireland. Unfortunately, as far as the casual observer like myself can see, the Irish Government's published policy seems short on practical clear lines of action, nor is there too much visible by way of any noticeable remedial effects.

This line of thinking, regarding Ireland being a beggared nation with a massive fuel poverty problem, has taken me to again look at the alternatives to oil fired central heating.

Below is my stab at a basic comparative analysis of the relative costs of the more common forms of heating, with special emphasis on the forms being explored by those on or close to the fuel poverty line.


OIL HEATING - for the better off only
BALLPARK cost 12 cent per Kw/h

At the time of writing the cost of heating oil is hovering around €950 to €970 per 1000 litres. Most households require between 1500 and 2000 litres in a year. That works out at between €1455 and €1940 to heat the house for one year. Carbon taxes and 13.5% VAT adds a fair bit to the cost, and indeed puts oil out of reach of many users.

One litre of Kerosene heating oil costing 97cent, will give an total output 9.821 Kilowatts of heat for one hours duration. Or 1 Kw of heat for 9.821 hours if you like to put it the other way around. That gives you a GROSS heat output cost of 9.88 cent per Kw/h.

However, when calculating the actual heat that is delivered into a house, you have to allow for boiler efficiency losses, i.e. how much heat goes out the flue, and also allow for heat lost in the piping etc. A fair average efficiency for a modern boiler is 90% depending on the turning, cleaning. etc.. That 10% loss alone brings the cost figure up to 11 cent per Kw/h. Then additionally you have to add in the losses in the water and pipe system

At a rough guess, I would put the actual figure at around 11.75cent per Kw/h in a fairly efficient system,  and perhaps more like 13.00 cent per Kw/h in older or less well maintained systems. Let us take a ballpark figure of 12 Cent per Kw/h


COST is between 16 and 17.92 cent per Kw/h

Electricity is 100% efficient as a heating fuel. It can also be very exactly controlled and directed to where and when you need the heat without heating half the house and all the piping and the boiler itself.

Currently the standard electricity charge is 0.1792 per Kw/h but most suppliers offer discounts so you should not be paying much more than about 16.00cent per Kilowatt hour if you are savvy.

Even though electricity is a VERY expensive fuel for heating, it's ability to be precisely controlled and timed makes it a useful adjunct to other basic heat sources.


BULK PRICE Cost from 8.60 cent to 9.56 cent per Kw/h

Most of this stuff is un-seasoned and worthless

Don't even bother buying those wood blocks on the door step. Most of it is not seasoned and therefore gives so little heat output that it is not worth burning. The un-seasoned high-moisture wood generally sold in fertilizer bags gives no more than 2Kw/h per Kg. heat output, and in some cases as low as 1Kw/h per Kg.. That is between only 19% and 35% at best of the heat you can expect from the best quality wood briquettes. If you do the maths, it is really poor value for money.

Not only is green or damp wood useless for heating, the green wood of ash trees contains 35% moisture and green poplar timber contains 65% moisture, but it creates creosote which can cause many problem for you.  [I will be writing further, in a couple of weeks, on creosote and other matters pertaining to wood burning in stoves and boilers]

Unless wood has been properly seasoned for two years or is kiln dried, it is worthless as a serious fuel. That is why I am concentrating on manufactured wood fuels.

The heat output of the average eco-logs or wood briquettes is generally seen to be somewhere between 4.77 Kw/h per Kg and 5.72Kw/h per Kg. Bought by the metric tonne or 1000Kg lots, and the price delivered is only about 38 cent per Kg. or perhaps less.


ADDENDUM:   I am just looking at screw extruded non-expanding EcoBlaze Wood Briquettes, and the price including delivery anywhere in the Republic of Ireland is €325 for a pallet of 950Kgs. That gives us a price per Kilogram of 34.2 cent. If we take the mid figure of 5.30Kw/h per Kg gross heat output, and average stove efficiency of 75%,  that gives us an actual heat delivered price of only 8.60 cent per Kw/h. And if the Government did some "Joined-up-Thinking" and removed the 13.50% VAT you could be using quality wood briquettes at only 7.58 cent per Kw/h. That would challenge coal usage!!!!


Heat-logs, Eco-logs, or wood briquettes as they are variously known, vary a great deal in both quality and type. Some types, those made in a hammer mill, will have a rough texture - lokk a bit like chipboard and tend to break into sections. This type will expand in the fire bu up to 50% opening out like an accordion. This can present a VERY REAL DANGER.

This expanding effect has several possible negative outcomes, (1) Fuel expanding poses potential dangers, in an open fire it can spill out of the grate and possibly lead to an accident or fire. (2) In a stove filled up to burn over night, it can expand and partially block the flue outlet, which in turn could lead to the production of DEADLY carbon monoxide. (3) The expanded material can also come into contact with the glass and damage it. (4) Equally in a stove or fire expanded eco-logs will burn too quickly because of the open structure of the expanded material.

I have previously written a series of articles here on this type of fuel explaining in more depth.

There is very variable quality in these wood briquettes and it is worth your while to make an assessment before ordering bulk.

Extrusion type of heat logs are much better generally and tend not to expand by very much in a stove or fire. The types of briquette / heatlog with a hole in the middle burn much to quickly due to the hole.

There is only one type of heat log that can claim to compete with coal for long burning and in heat to size ratio. This type I have written about several times here. This type of formed wood log or briquette is so highly compressed with properly fused wood particles. It so hard that it is difficult to hammer a nail into it. I forms coals and is cappable of burning overnight.

However, this type is not available in Ireland as far as I know - please correct me if I am wrong - I would love to see this type of wood briquette on sale in these parts.


Cost 6.2 Cent to 7.5 Cent per Kw/h.

Dirty old coal for two hundred years was - and still is the poor mans fuel. Coal, because of taxes driving the daft price of oil totally insane, has now become the major viable option for an ever increasing number of households.

There is a massive trend towards solid fuel heating and a lot of it is coal fired. Manufactured wood fuels could, if the quality and price were right, take over a large chunk of the market. However, both the quality and the price is not optimum, and therefore wood briquettes are remaining only at a novelty level in the market place.

New high efficiency multi-fuel stoves and boilers can offer up to 90% efficiency or in other words, as good as most oil heating systems. Stoves can be bought for as little as €300 upwards, and can often be fitted DIY. The extra costs are for flue and bends. Good quality inset stoves like the Hi-Flam can be bought for €560 and need no extra flue or bends.

Smokeless coal can be bought for as cheaply as 35 cent per Kg, or €14 for a 40Kg bag, and maybe slightly cheaper in quantity. Petroleum coke smokeless mixes, such as Calco, are very efficient coals, and you could expect to get an average 7.50 kilowatts gross for an hour per kilogram. Allow for an average overall efficiency of say 75% much higher in really good stoves, and the cost is only 6.2 cents per kilowatt hour. That is less than half the current cost of oil heating. Other type of smokeless coals cost a little more.

Petro-coke mixes need special care with burning, as they are capable of overheating the stove and causing damage. Careful attention to the burn rate I have found results in no damage to grates or baffles

I personally have 100% heated my house the last season with smokeless coal and saved hundreds of Euro. I intend to do the same this coming winter.


Some of my eco-friendly readers are shocked at my decision, I make no apology for it. If the Irish Government only removed the 13.5% VAT on wood fuels, and did something to assess and standardise wood fuel quality, they would greatly help to promote an environmentally friendly - carbon neutral home heating alternative to coal. They won't most likely make that move - so people like myself, who have to very carefully balance our household accounts, are inclined to say - "let those that have the money worry about the planet, we're too darn busy just surviving" Shame it has to be that way don't you think?

You do pay a bit of a price for using coal though, coal takes a certain amount of tending and work, and it is dirty. It also creates a fair bit of ash that has to be got rid of.


If you need heat and you also need to save a lot of money, and you are willing to put some effort into it, solid-fuel is the way to go at the moment.  No doubt the Irish Minister for Hardship will be looking for ways to tax us some more and will probably hit coal. But then we will find some other ways around it. We are Irish after all.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Fire Front Doors Open Fires and Inset Stoves


Fire Front Doors
Inset Stoves

I have been receiving a lot of hits on posts about fire front doors. I have previously said that I believe a firefront door is only worth fitting if you already have an existing back boiler in place.

If you do not have a wrap-around back boiler, a fire front door is not the best solution. This is because (1) It can can lead to overheating of the chimney breast which, in turn, could lead to cracking of the masonry, and (2) A fire front door - while helpful in some ways, is not economical compared to an inset stove.

The Irish made Boru Doras fire front steel door has a price tag of €550, a very high price indeed for a simple steel door. For the same sort of money you can have a very nice quality inset stove.

In the course of doing a bit of research for blog articles for this coming winter, I visited some local dealers. I have been looking at two beautifully cast and well designed inset stoves at McElligotts in Castleisland County Kerry. Both stoves are by the same UK company called Hi-Flame.

As you can see from the above (not so great)  photo, McElligotts have this quality inset stove rated at 4.9 Kw on offer at €565. The top picture is from the brochure and shows the stove in a more elegant setting. I like the plain modern no fuss lines.

I cannot vouch for the heat output of these stoves, as I have not had the opportunity to examine working models, but having examined the stoves construction, I can say it follows good design guidelines, it has a very nice quality of materials especially of the cast iron, and it will give results that are way - way far beyond a Boru Doras door, or any other plain fire-front door, is capable of giving, and for much the same sort of money.

If you have an open fire without a wrap-round back boiler, this should be a very good choice at very reasonable money for a quality and guaranteed inset stove.

Fitting costs are generally quite small, as there is no need for flue pipes or for any building work as such.

The Hi-Flame insert come in two designs. Above is the second in the series, what you see is the more expensive enamel finish option. Both stoves have the same heat output rating, and both are the same reasonable price of €565 in plain cast.

Both designs are also available in a black enamel gloss finish for about €170 more. Frankly I don't see the advantage of the enamel other than aesthetics, but I'm sure the women will disagree!


Wood Briquettes and Eco Logs


The Hermanson Rock-hard Ecolog

An 8" test piece of the new similar shaped Eco Log

Looking at Wood Briquettes 
and Eco logs

As winter approaches, I thought it a good time to take a first look at some heating fuels. Recently I came upon yet another type of wood briquette, or eco log if you like, that looked a bit like the Hermanson briquette that I wrote about last March. I got a bit excited, hoping that maybe we would be able to avail of this type of quality briquette at last in Ireland.

Thing about the Hermanson log is this; it is a fused and rock hard log - so hard you could barely hammer a nail into one. The advantage of this is it will burn slowly and evenly and will not expand in the fire. It wont break and shatter if you drop one.

The moment I opened the pack of these new logs, I knew they were not what I had hoped. But let me go on and follow through the full story.

I knew that these new logs were a Hammer Mill type of log because they broke very easily into clear sections. Additionally, a lot of sawdust bits fell from the logs, showing the material was quite loose and certainly NOT fused together.

You can see in the above enlargement the sectioning, I have outlined it in blue. This sectioning is caused when a hammer mill adds a dose of wood chips and then belts them down. Then the next dose is added and so on. This type of log will break very easily. 

Another way of telling a Hammer Mill log is there is a sort of dimpled shape on the ends. whereas if you look at the photo of the Hermanson log, you will see that there is not this patterning on the ends.


The only way to properly access a wood briquette or eco log is to burn it and observe what happens - so we start above with the 8" piece you see in the first photo above.

40 minutes or so into the burn and you can clearly see that it has expanded to a little over 10". That is a bit of an improvement on some of the previous logs I tested.

1 Hour and 40 Minutes and the 8" piece has expanded a little more to just over 11" and that is where the expansion stayed. 

2 hours into the burn and the piece is still burning but there is not a lot left in it.

So while these new wood briquettes / logs are an improvement on the previous samples I have tested, they certainly are far from what I am looking for, and a mile off the Hermanson type fused and rock-hard eco log.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Irish Property Tax Properly Taxed


The Specter of Irish Taxation


Irish Property Tax 



The Irish government needs to be very careful in how it might apply the proposed Property Tax. If the tax is not PROPORTIONAL to income and assets, it will be yet another element that could well provoke revolt in Ireland.


During the recession the better-off have on average gained 4%, while those at the bottom of the income ladder saw their disposable incomes effectively fall by 19%. This situation cannot be allowed to continue or it will lead to very serious social and security problems and in that event everyone will lose.


Any property tax has to be directly linked to the ability of the owners to pay. A good approach might be to use a multiplier system. Start with a €100 tax and let that apply to all households with net incomes up to €30,000. Then between €30k and €50k add 2% of the nett income.

€50k to €100k add 3% and €100k upwards add 5%.

The Irish prime minister on a basic of €200,000, not counting the expenses, would pay as follows:

Base figure 1st €30k     ---------------------------  €100.00
2% of the €20k between €30 and 50k --------  €400.00
3% of the €50k between €50 and 100k ------- €1500.00
5% above i.e Prime Minister on €200k add -- €5000.00
The Prime Minister on €200,000 pa pays        €7000.00

While pensioners or those on a minimum wage would pay    €100.00


Now that would be perceived as being a fair and reasonable Property Tax. Failure to make the system proportional and balanced will drive the country one step closer to some form of social breakdown or revolution.


World Wind Energy


Enuf Puff

A recent report, based on some complex modelling and a bunch of surveys, suggests that in fact the Earth has indeed got more than enough puff to power all the current energy needs of the world and the increased needs of the immediate foreseeable future. 

Additionally, it indicates that by developing technology to utilise the higher atmospheric winds, there would be more than sufficient energy available to cover all future projected needs.

It addresses the wind drag effect and the possible effects on climate, and suggests here that at the current level of energy demands the effects would be insignificant. High concentrations of turbines in clusters may cause more localised atmospheric anomalies, but if attention was paid to more even distribution, there would not be any problems.

This report would seem to contradict some current thinking. However, the problems with a wind energy future may not be the lack of global kinetic wind energy, rather progress will be limited by human inertia, stagnating politics, and lack of investment, coupled with the slow development of technology and the lack of sufficient materials.

Humanity need to get it's collective act together - but that might be like saying we should call the fairy godmother.


Monday, September 03, 2012

Savings, economical Living, and Sustainability


Sustainability & Savings

Richard Doyle the owner on the left Arnold the "artist" on the right

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a great believer in living economically and saving both money and the environment at the same time.

One of the constant repeating costs for many people is car servicing. Not only is there the danger of being ripped-off, over charged, charged for parts not fitted or work not done, but there is the even more pressing danger of poor quality work which could lead to failure or accidents.

So why am I writing this post. Well simply to pass on a good thing. I have found a highly competent, honest, and very reasonably priced repair workshop in Tralee County Kerry. The man that runs it is Richard Doyle. Richard is a well experienced mechanic and has Arnold working with him. Arnold is an artist when it comes to body work and paint work.

The guys can do all the usual mechanical servicing, including clutches and gear boxes etc. In addition they can do craftsman level of body work and spraying. All at substantial saving over most of the main dealers. They will even seek out parts at cheaper prices and in some cases use second-hand parts with the owners approval to save money.

I like to give the small guy a leg up when I can, especially when they provide excellent value for money.

And, in case the cynical among you think there is some sort of deal or advertising going on here, I can assure you there is not. Richard has done some work for me and I was delighted with both the standard and the price, I am simply passing this on.

Richard can be contacted at his website below or on 086-3741393 or 087-1906887


Sunday, September 02, 2012

HSE Flushing Money Down Toilet


HSE Pays the New Boss
€3,750 per week
While Cutting €130million
of Vital Services
and Spending €37 for €3 worth
of Medicines

The newly appointed head of the HSE Health Service Executive has the neck to defend his €30,000 salary increase, while at the same time health services are being reduced. And money is being flushed down the toilet by paying €37 for €3 worth of medicines, among many other wasteful practices.

The new head of the HSE, one of the most disastrous public sector organisations, was previously earning no less than €165,000 as a public health official. Now he will be earning  €195,000 or €3,750 per week, every week including holiday weeks, wage packet.

Honestly I think this a a vicious kick in the face to those living on welfare, the sick, the disabled, the elderly.

Why doesn't the Health Minister just shoot the sick and elderly and thus save more money to pay these people even more ridiculous salaries.

A health service cutting vital services to the tune of €130million this year and perhaps €700million next year, services needed by the most venerable citizens in the land might be just a little ashamed at the salaries they pay themselves - you would think?  OH NO - Not in the least - they feel totally justified. That is perhaps because they live in a parallel universe.


Saturday, September 01, 2012

Poor Rich People Camels and Needles


"it is easier for a camel 
to go through the eye of a needle
than for a rich man 
to enter the kingdom of God"

I have been ranting on a fair bit recently about the imbalances between the haves and the have-nots in Ireland. The rich are getting richer by 4% to be accurate, while the poor are getting poorer by 19%.

It would seem that that those without money actually possess something much more valuable than mere money and property.

Rich Isolated by their Wealth

A study just published in Berkeley shows that the rich are much less likely to reach out to others in times of trouble.

It is generally accepted that in times of trouble people are drawn together.  The UC Berkeley study would suggest that while the less well off tend to reach out to one another in times of crisis, the fat cats are more apt to seek comfort in their money and material possessions. 

The Rich are Meaner and Addicted to their Money

The poor rich people - trapped in aloneness by their wealth and possessions! Additionally, they are addicted - like drug addicts - to their money. Another study shows that the rich are much more tight-fisted when it comes to giving to charities.

The study, conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy indicated that those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 year give 7.6% of their disposable income to charity.

Now compare that to the meaner 4.2% for people who make $100,000 or more. 

Then look at the lousy mean - wealthy people making $200,000+ their charity rate was a super mean and tight-fisted 2.8%.

The survey found that religion was the large factor in the exercise of giving and charity. Areas known to be more religious were more generous than those that are not. 

Somehow, I think these guys at Berkeley and the Chronicle of Philanthropy have not discovered anything new - all this behaviour was well documented more than 2000 years ago!!