Wood Burning Stoves

Many people across the district use a wood burning stove to keep their homes warm during the cooler winter months. However recent research has identified that they are a large contributor to air pollution with some reports stating that wood burning accounts for up to 31% of PM2.5* in some urban areas (39% if you include coal).

While domestic burning and other emissions have reduced significantly since the 1950s, the evidence on the adverse health impacts from air pollution has also grown during that time, showing that even at today’s lower levels significant harm can be caused. Since 2005, there has been an increase in the emissions from the domestic sector. DEFRA believe this is largely due to an increase in the popularity of open fires and wood-burning stoves.

Inhalation of particulate pollution can have adverse health impacts, and there is understood to be no safe threshold below which no adverse effects would be anticipated. The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health is understood to be from long-term exposure to PM2.5, which leads to high plaque deposits in arteries, which contribute to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems. Exposure to high concentrations of particulate matter (e.g. during short-term pollution episodes) can also exacerbate lung and heart conditions, significantly affecting quality of life, and increase deaths and hospital admissions.

*PM2.5 is particulate matter or small particles that are 2.5 µm (microns) and smaller, for comparison the average human hair is 70 µm in diameter. They are of particular concern as they can be inhaled deep into the lungs and from there can migrate around the body.

How can we help reduce exposure to fine particulate matter?

Operating your domestic wood burner correctly and ensuring that it is regularly maintained including having the chimney swept at least annually can make a huge difference to the efficiency of the burner, saving you money, improving performance and greatly reducing emissions. DEFRA have produced a Practical Guide to Open Fires and Wood Burning Stoves which contains guidance on what you should be doing to get the best out of your burner whilst also reducing emissions from it. 

Burning wet wood in your burner produces double the emissions than that of burning dry or seasoned wood. Wet wood also produces less heat as the heat that is produced is used to burn off the water contained within the wood. When buying wood for your burner look for the Ready to Burn label which means that the supplier is certified with Woodsure and the wood is guaranteed to be less than 20% moisture level. Alternatively you can use seasoned wood that has been left for at least 2 years to naturally air dry undercover.

DEFRA have recently introduced the eco-design scheme for wood burning stoves which means that stoves manufactured after 2022 will have to comply with much more strict emissions requirements. However some manufacturers have already signed up to the schemes so if you are looking for a new wood burner, look for one that is the eco-design ready. You should also ensure that the stove is correctly installed by a competent installer that is HETAS registered.

If you live in a smoke control area your burner has to be an exempt appliance, meaning that the emissions have been tested and approved by DEFRA and it is exempt from most of the smoke control area restrictions. If you do not have an exempt appliance and live in a smoke control area, you can only burn authorised fuel such as anthracite or manufactured solid smokeless fuels in your wood burner.

You should not burn wood that has been treated, painted or coated (such as old fence panels or coated kitchen units made of chipboard) or anything containing plastic. These will not burn well in your burner and will emit dark smoke which is toxic. Furthermore if Environmental Health becomes aware you will be investigated and could risk prosecution.

Smoke control areas in NSDC are available on our website.

The burnright website which has been set up by chimney sweeps provides helpful advice and includes YouTube videos which provide instructions on the best way to operate your burner.

Find Woodsure Ready to Burn information here.

The DEFRA Practical Guide to Open Fires and Wood Burning Stoves.

How to get the most from your stove or open fire.

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