Following the introduction of DEFRA's Clean Air Strategy, there has been a lot of confusion about whether wood burning stoves would be banned in the UK. We've broken down what the latest legislation says and what has changed.
With people becoming increasingly environmentally aware, many are looking for carbon neutral and sustainable ways to heat their homes.
Wood burning or multi fuel stoves can be as much as three times more efficient than an open fire and have therefore grown in popularity but there have been questions about how harmful they are for the environment.
Who are DEFRA?
DEFRA stands for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. DEFRA is a UK government department - it is responsible for the safeguarding of the nation’s natural environment. In 2019 they published the Clean Air Strategy.
What is the Clean Air Strategy?
The Clean Air Strategy outlines the government’s plan for dealing with all sources of air pollution which the World Health Organisation (WHO) say is the top environmental risk to human health.
The Clean Air Strategy states that extensive changes are required by government and society to improve the quality of our air by reducing emissions of PM2.5 alongside four other air pollutants, including ammonia and nitrogen oxides.
Particulate matter (PM) are small particles of air pollution which find their way into the body's lungs and blood which in turn can cause health problems like asthma and heart disease so it’s important to keep levels low.
The government is aiming to reduce emissions of PM2.5 by 46% by 2030.
A part of the Clean Air Strategy places further restrictions on wood burning stoves and open fires because research has found that wood burning stoves and coal fires are the largest source of particulate matter.
Latest government figures suggest that as much as 38% of the particulate matter in our atmosphere is from domestic wood burning. The more smoke a fire emits, the higher the levels of PM. For example, an old fashioned wood burning stove emits more particles per hour than a diesel truck.
There has been a gradual phasing out of the use of certain fuels to meet targets:
The sale of loose house coal direct to customers will end by 2023.
Makers of solid fuels will need to show they have a very low sulphur content and only emit a small amount of smoke.
Sales of bagged traditional house coal and wet wood in small units (less than 2m cube) were phased out in 2021.
Wet vs Dry Firewood
The main difference between wet and dry firewood lies in their moisture content.
Dry or ‘seasoned’ wood, as it sometimes known, has a moisture content 20% or less because it has been dried out (this can be done in a kiln or via air drying). Not only is dry wood safer for you but it is also more efficient, producing twice as much heat as wet wood because it doesn’t waste the energy needed to burn off moisture and can instead give off that energy as heat.
Wet firewood (sometimes called ‘green’ or ‘unseasoned’ wood) was commonly sold in garden centres in bags or nets. Wet wood has a very high moisture content of around 40%-60%. It was popular because it was cheaper to buy than dry wood but was meant to be seasoned before use which many people didn’t do because it can take as long as 2 years of air drying to season hardwood properly.
Why is wet wood bad?
The problem with wet wood is that it doesn’t burn well, as it still contains a high proportion of the trees natural oils and sap, as well as water, so when the wood is burnt this sap is released as thick black smoke and releases more harmful particles of PM2.5.
Wet wood can also damage chimneys much more, by allowing tar and soot to build up which increases the risk of fire in your chimney. The black smoke produced will also ruin the look of your stove by blackening the inside of the stove and glass.
It can be very difficult to tell if a piece of wood is sufficiently dry enough to burn so it’s important to either purchase ‘Ready to Burn’ logs or invest in a moisture meter if you are seasoning wood yourself.
*You should never burn treated waste wood or household rubbish because it can emit harmful fumes and toxic pollutants into your home when burnt.
Ready to Burn
DEFRA has appointed Woodsure, the non-profit organisation striving to raise the quality of wood fuel in the industry, to run the Ready to Burn certification scheme.
The Woodsure Ready to Burn scheme was launched in 2017 in response to the increased use of wood burning stoves within homes in the UK. It was noticed that a considerable amount of firewood that was being sold was wet wood and unsuitable for immediate use.
In February 2021, the sale of wet wood was banned. Since May 2021, UK law states that wood sold in volumes under 2 cubic meters for combustion in domestic properties must have packaging that includes the supplier’s name, the certification number and the Ready to Burn logo as identified in the regulations.
Firewood labelled as Ready to Burn has a moisture content of 20% or less so you can be confident that it is safe to burn.
*Wood products sold in volumes over 2 cubic meters do not need to be certified as Ready to Burn but they must be sold with advice on drying and an explanation of the issues of burning wet wood.
Smoke Controlled Areas
There are many areas in the UK where only Defra approved solid fuels or exempted appliances can be used within buildings including some boilers, cookers and wood burning stoves.
If you are in a smoke control area you will need to look for a clearSkies Level 3 or above appliance as these have been verified as Defra Exempt, as well as meeting the requirements for Eco Design.
It is illegal to use a non-exempt appliance in a Smoke Control Area and you can be fined up to £1,000 if you break the law.
You can check with your local council to find out if you live in a smoke controlled area or ask your local fireplace retailer.
Do I have to get rid of my old wood burning stove?
Despite all of the changes to the law and new emissions restrictions, you will be relieved to learn that if you have an existing wood burner or open fireplace, not much will actually change for you.
As long as you buy dry “Ready to Burn” wood or quality smokeless fuels and get your chimney swept regularly, you can continue to enjoy your existing stove.
Wood burning and multi fuel stoves are not illegal and are not going to be banned.
Although there are no current plans to force people to upgrade or replace their existing stoves or open fireplaces, we think it is still a good idea to make the switch. Not only are you doing your part in helping to reduce carbon emissions but there is the added benefit that comes with a more efficient appliance - less fuel means more savings. What's not to love?
An Eco Design stove is more efficient and emits up to 90% fewer emissions than an open fire and up to 80% less than a stove that is 10 or more years old. You can find out more about Eco Design stoves here.