Guidance for wood burning stoves in London

Air pollution affects the health of everyone in London. Along with emissions from transport and construction, burning wood and other solid fuels can contribute to this air pollution problem.

Why is wood burning a problem?

The main pollutant emitted by solid fuel burning is ultra-fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5. This pollutant is not visible to the naked eye, so even “smokeless” fuels and appliances may be causing pollution.

PM2.5 is widely acknowledged as being the air pollutant which has the greatest impact on human health. Both short and long-term exposure to PM2.5 increase the risk of early deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as increased hospital admissions. 

Children growing up exposed to PM2.5 are more likely to have reduced lung function and can develop asthma. Current evidence suggests there is no safe level of PM2.5.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set a guideline limit at which exposure to PM2.5 is more likely to increase risk of mortality. This recommended guideline limit is an annual mean concentration of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3). 

The vast majority of  Londoners live in an area at least 50 percent higher than the WHO guideline limit. 7.9 million Londoners (nearly 95 percent of the capital’s population) live in areas of London that exceed the guideline limit by 50 percent or more.

How much of this PM2.5 is due to wood burning?

Wood burning is mostly seasonal so the contribution changes across the year. In summer months the amount of pollution caused by solid fuel burning can be very low, but in winter wood burning can contribute up to 10 per cent of local emissions in London.

In January 2017 pollution from wood burning was a major contributor to the highest levels of pollution recorded in London since 2011, resulting in a winter smog episode lasting for nine days.

What should I do about it?:

If you need to burn solid fuels to heat your home, choosing what you burn and how you burn it can make a big difference to the pollution it creates.  

Stoves and fireplaces:
Open fireplaces are the most polluting way to burn solid fuels. Using a well-designed, properly installed stove or appliance can make a big difference.

As a minimum you should make sure that your stove meets the legal requirements, but even Defra approved stoves can emit high levels of pollution. The Stove Industry Alliance has recently introduced the “Ecodesign Ready” label.

An EcoDesign Ready stove can emit up to 80 per cent less pollution than a normal Defra approved appliance. An up to date list of these stoves can be found on the HETAS website

Any stove or fireplace should also be properly maintained, and your chimney should be swept regularly.

If you are using an open fireplace you should only burn smokeless fuels. Not all fuels sold in London are smokeless; if in doubt ask your supplier.

If you are using a stove or other appliance you can usually use normal wood as well as smokeless fuels. Usually wood that has been kiln dried or seasoned to have a lower moisture content will be much less polluting, as much as 50 per cent less pollution than emitted from burning fresh logs. Drier wood is also more efficient, producing more heat per log.

Wood that has the Woodsure Ready to Burn label is certified to have a low moisture content, for a full list of suppliers see the list on the Woodsure website.

You should not burn old pallets, furniture or scrap wood as it may contain contaminants that can be harmful to your health and the environment.

It is important to store your fuels correctly to make sure your wood does not get damp from the rain or damp in the ground. 

What does the law say?

The Clean Air Act says that you must not emit “dark smoke” from your chimney if you live in a smoke control area. The Clean Air Act applies to canal boats and house boats in the same way as to properties on land.

The law also allows the Government to certify smokeless fuels and “authorised appliances”, which are expected not to emit dark smoke and can be used in smoke control areas.

For more details about smoke control areas, smokeless fuels and authorised appliances please check the Government website

The majority of London is covered by smoke control areas, but if you are not sure check with your local borough.

Bonfires and barbecues

Bonfires and barbecues are not banned by the Clean Air Act, but if you create a lot of smoke you may be causing a statutory nuisance.

Burning garden waste on a bonfire is  unnecessary and unpleasant for your neighbours. Many boroughs operate garden waste collection schemes, access to home composting or provide facilities to drop off waste. To find out how to dispose of your garden waste responsibly contact your local borough.

Barbecues can also be unpleasant for other people. If you regularly have a barbecue in your garden you should think about using a gas alternative. 

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