I just had a lively discussion with the office cleaner about home heating solutions and why it’s so terrible here in New Zealand. Like most Christchurch people we’ve got our theories and they centre (no pun intended) on central heating (or in these Antipodean isles, the sad lack of it). Go to just about any cold country in the world and you’ll find houses warmed in a pleasant, even fashion throughout – sadly back here in the wintry South Island we generally don’t use central heating – we use good old-fashioned spot heating.
Spot heating is apparently an acceptable form of heating here in NZ because, well that’s how we were all raised. We just got used to crowding around a 3-bar heater in the lounge in front of the TV, and when the urge was overwhelming we’d mad-dash to the icebox, aka the toilet (no, not a literal fridge my American readers!). If you were a particularly spoiled child, you may have had the luxury of a fan heater in your bedroom, but for the rest of us we’d soak up as much heat in the living room and that would last us until morning. Come morning, we would peer out from under the covers, see our breath quickly turning to ice particles and dive back under the blankets, hoping someone would take pity on us and activate a fan heater in the room.
Fast forward a few years and New Zealanders are becoming a little more savvy when it comes to heating options. No longer content with only being warm in one or two spots in the house, they’ve decided they would like to be warm everywhere in the home. Greedy and entitled, I know, but others would say we’re only just catching up with the rest of the developed world (well the developed world that endures sub-15 degree temperatures…).
So while we’re on the subject of heating, one thing that a lot of Christchurch people are thinking about is woodburners, particularly with the Ecan ruling that older style burners (older than 15 years) will be banned from 31 October 2017. How exactly that will be enforced is anybody’s guess.
With the deadline looming, existing homeowners are wondering if they should replace the fire with a new Ultra Low Emission Burner (ULEB) fire, one of the authorised low emission burners, or switch to another form of heating such as heat pumps, radiators or a type of central heating.
Does this affect you?
The change being discussed here only affects homeowners in Clean Air Zone 1 (see map on this page) – essentially the Christchurch city area. For those homeowners with an existing fireplace that is older than 15 years they will be able to choose between an ULEB or just a low emission burner.
If you don’t currently have a fire (i.e. your house plans with the CCC show no existing fireplace) then you can only install an approved ULEB.
Should you get an ULEB fire?
Good question. The reality is that you have a lot of different home heating options. Some of them sound like they tick all the boxes but under real-world conditions (i.e. after you’re committed and it’s too late to back out!) they under-perform – they’re expensive, difficult to maintain, inconvenient, don’t match your lifestyle or simply don’t keep your house warm through the tough months of winter.
Many of us have experimented with a lot of different home heating options – we’ve had open fires, gas fires, column oil heaters, fan heaters, night stores, heat pumps and now we’ve got an ULEB. We got a really nice looking Xeoos X8 Twinfire Pur, with the brushed stainless steel front. We imported ours and (even with shipping) saved thousands on the local distributor’s price. The distributor (who apparently tracked every consent application) then made it her mission in life to make the process as difficult as possible, interfering at every turn and then trying (unsuccessfully) to sue us. A very unpleasant individual and for this reason alone I would say don’t buy a Xeoos – besides there are now other ULEBs, which are just as good and considerably cheaper. I don’t even know if she is still in business but it wouldn’t surprise me if she wasn’t as she had a history of failed enterprises.
Long story short we have had our Xeoos ULEB for two winters now and compared to every other form of heating we’ve tried (which feels like all of them!) nothing beats a fire! We also have free access to a lot of firewood so it’s quite a bit cheaper than using our heat pumps. One word of caution – there are drawbacks to having a fire. These include the mess of cleaning out ash, time taken to stack wood and costs in collecting firewood, whether it’s a chainsaw, trailer hire or buying firewood – sometimes these details get overlooked until the everyday reality sets in.
So if the ambience and warmth of a real fire is the only option for you, what next?
How do I get an ULEB fire installed in Christchurch?
First of all, count yourself lucky. These days there is a much wider selection of ULEBs available and prices have dropped a little (although they’re still quite a bit more expensive than regular woodburners). When we got ours there were about three to choose from – now there are 8.
Any of the ULEBs listed on Ecans website are fine to install in any home in Christchurch city (they meet the CM1 requirements).
Personally, I really like the look of Tropicair’s Duo, which gives you some colour choices as well. The team down at Tropicair are really helpful and know their stuff.
When comparing prices make sure you get all the relevant costs, including flue and installation. For most standard installations (including CCC consent fees) it’s probably going to cost around $10k all up.
Your installer will come out and do a site visit to check what will be involved. Ideally the flue (chimney) should be as straight as possible, and will need to clear the top roof line by at least 60cm. If you want to buy your own flue parts you can try any of the local manufacturers like Davins.
ULEB home heating tips
ULEBs burn differently from regular logburners so it might take a little getting used to. In our experience, they start much easier, just a single firelighter and a few pieces of wood, leave the door slightly ajar and in no time the fire’s underway. They’re easier to load due to the higher position of the firebox, burn hotter and produce less ash (which drops down to a removable tray below for easy cleaning).
One of the key differences is the downdraft mode these ULEBs have. This is the reason they burn cleaner than regular fires because smoke, which would normally just exit through the flue is forced down through a super-heated grate and combusts. You can see it in action here.
The trick is to wait until the fire is hot enough before changing the fire from warm-up mode to downdraft. A lot of ULEBs will have a gauge or light system that shows when the fire is ready. If the down flame is not consistent then switch it back to heat-up mode until it’s hot enough.
They work best with smaller loads of wood and obviously, like other fires, prefer dry wood – pine, gum, macrocarpa.
If the glass smokes up it’s easy to clean with some wet newspaper and a little bit of ash.
Like regular fires you’ll also need to clean the flue, normally once a year before you start using it for winter – and worth checking birds haven’t nested in the flue (maybe invest in a cap cover or some chicken wire if that could be a problem in your area). Chimney logs from Bunnings can also be used to clear the flue lining.
Tropicair also answer some common questions that many new fire owners have.
Is having an ULEB worth it?
Yes, ULEBs are expensive and if you were doing a straight cost-benefit analysis you might well realise that you could run your heat pump 24/7 and it might take several years to outweigh the cost of an ULEB fire. They’re definitely a long-term investment, so if you’re planning on moving or selling soon it may well not be worth it.
Also it depends if you have an existing home, or are building new – if it’s the latter then you should really look at total home heating solutions (central heating).
All said and done, fires are awesome and we love ours! And, on a cold Christchurch night, blowing a harsh southerly, rain lashing against the window and you’re tucked up inside with a good book and a raging fire, you’ll know you’ve made the right choice.