Over the last couple of decades, wood burning stoves have increased in popularity, being the sole means of heating and hot water supply for many homes across the UK. This is no surprise, as they are vastly more efficient than open fires and come in a wide range of styles to suit all manner of interior designs. They also offer significant savings on energy bills.
But this increased use has highlighted a problem, which is why DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) began to undertake research a couple of years ago. Their findings have prompted the government to introduce new stove regulations, some of which have been misreported or misunderstood. So what exactly is happening, when, and why?
The problem of PM2.5
Firstly, DEFRA discovered that people tend not to be too fussy about what they burn. Some of these fuels produce pollution in the form of particulate matter. Pollution from wood burning stoves (and coal fires) contributes up to three times as much pollution as road transport. And within this pollution is PM2.5, a particle that can cause serious damage to our bodies when it enters the lungs and bloodstream.
Although pollution from coal fires has been drastically reduced since the 1950s, successive governments are keen to continue to reduce pollution further, committing to ever more stringent policies in an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change. And this is what these new stove regulations aim to tackle, as part of the Clean Air Strategy.
Are stoves being banned?
Attention-grabbing headlines are nothing new. When DEFRA announced the phasing-in of new regulations, some of the less reliable media sources claimed that wood-burning stoves were being banned. This is not true. However, some particular types of log-burner will be phased out by 2022. The aim is to ensure that only the cleanest models are available, reducing the amount of ‘smoky particulates’ produced.
To help consumers in this matter, DEFRA has compiled a list of approved wood-burners. By 2022, all wood-burning stoves should meet the standards set by DEFRA, and the industry has already started to introduce features that will ensure that they comply. Many models now have a quality assurance mark, known as the ‘Ecodesign Ready Stove’ system, approved by the Stove Industry Alliance.
The main thrust of these stove regulations, however, is focused on the type of fuel being burned, rather than the actual burner. – Says Dean Signori from Stoves N Fitting UK
What am I allowed to burn?
The biggest cause of PM2.5 and other pollutants is coal and wet wood. Because of this, the government is phasing out the sale of ‘traditional’ bagged coal to households from May 2021. Loose coal, however, will be available until 2023.
The ban on ‘wet’ wood also comes into effect in May 2021, though will clearly be more difficult to police. Sales of wet wood in volumes of less than 2 cubic metres will be banned by May 2021, while larger volumes will have to be sold with clear instructions on high to dry it before burning.
Ideally, you should be burning good-quality, well-seasoned wood or smokeless solid fuel alternative wood types with low sulphur content.
While this all might seem to be an inconvenience, it makes perfect sense. Aside from contributing to pollution, burning wet wood is very inefficient and will increase the amount of tar in your chimney flue. This will not only damage it long-term but could also lead to the risk of chimney fires.
What action should I take?
Firstly, if you are looking to install a new wood-burning stove, check the list of DEFRA-approved models before buying. However, if you already have one installed then you have a number of options, including the purchase of a newer, cleaner model. Obviously, this isn’t a practical or achievable option for some people, but there are ways to ensure that you meet the new guidelines:
- Only use solid, smokeless fuel or well-seasoned (preferably kiln-dried) wood from a reputable supplier
- Avoid burning ‘wet’ wood (this means wood with a more than 20% moisture content)
- Store wood in a dry place
- Maintain the stove regularly and have the chimney cleaned at least twice a year
- Consider having an electrostatic filter fitted to your old burner to reduce the particle emissions