Despite recent media hype, air quality has actually been an ongoing issue for many years. With the car industry having largely been addressed by new emission standards, the spotlight has now shifted to other sources of urban air pollution, of which the burning of solid fuels has been identified as a contributing factor. With many facts and statements being published with various degrees of truth, this article aims to clear up a few things whilst giving you some tips on how to burn clean.
Recent studies have shown that air quality, particularly in urban areas, requires even greater improvement. This is due to a number of factors with key contributors to particulates, which affect air quality, identified as vehicle exhaust and brake-dust emissions, industrial processes, household solvents and the burning of solid fuels for heating. It’s worth bearing in mind that pollution attributed to the burning of solid fuels for heating is taking into account open fires, which are far more polluting than stoves or glass fronted solid fuel appliances.
In 2017 London suffered from a number of smoggy days that had a significant impact on air quality in the capital. Various sources of the pollution were identified, in particular people using solid fuels to heat their homes. The independent, not-for-profit body HETAS, which approves solid fuel heating appliances, believes that the majority of particulates were caused by inefficient solid fuel heating with households burning the wrong types of fuel such as poor quality wet wood and highly polluting bituminous house coal, on open fires and old inefficient stoves.
The amount of particulates caused by burning solid fuels varies dramatically depending on what and how it is burnt. It is crucial that only good quality solid fuels such as dry logs or authorised smokeless mineral fuels are burnt.
Poor quality logs, usually found for sale in petrol stations, have often been recently felled. Although they might appear dry, they are usually wet on the inside with each log containing up to a pint of water. They are highly polluting when burnt, releasing dark, black smoke and only yielding about a quarter of the heat you get from dry logs, meaning far more are required to heat your home.
Pallet, painted wood or timber that has been in any way chemically treated (such as decking, fences etc.) must never be burnt on a wood burning stove or fire. Not only can the chemicals damage the appliance and chimney, harmful fumes will be emitted that can dramatically reduce air quality in the local area.
In addition to poor quality wood, bituminous mineral fuels and those with over a 2% sulphur content such as house coal are also highly polluting, and whilst these can readily be bought in towns and cities, are not actually permitted in urban areas due to the dirty black smoke they produce.
The first thing to consider is your appliance and where you live. If you live in a town or city, the chances are that you live in a smoke control area. Smoke control areas were created under the Clean Air Act in 1956 to prevent pollution and keep air clean. To burn logs in a smoke control area you must have a DEFRA smoke control exempt stove; a list of these appliances can be found on the government’s website. If your stove is not exempt, or you have an open fire, you cannot burn logs and are limited to authorised smokeless mineral fuels only.
Buying wood that has the Woodsure Ready To Burn label is certified to have a low moisture content, so you can be sure you are burning the right wood on your DEFRA exempt stove, and taking full advantage of this environmentally friendly, carbon neutral heat source. Burning wood that you source yourself is also fine; however, logs must be seasoned to less than 20% moisture content. Typically, wood needs to be seasoned for around two years to achieve this. Moisture content can be easily checked with a moisture meter to give you an accurate idea of when your wood is ready. Watch the video on how to identify good firewoord.
DEFRA exempt stoves are clean burning, modern appliances that are very different to older stoves or open fires. They are airtight for precisely controlled airflow and usually feature triple airflow systems that provide secondary burning of gas and smoke particles before these can go up the chimney. The result is not only a cleaner burn with clearer, barely visible smoke, but also much higher heating efficiency – requiring far less logs to heat the room. All DEFRA exempt stoves are independently verified by HETAS to ensure they meet these strict requirements.
As a responsible manufacturer of wood burning stoves, we have been manufacturing clean burning, smoke control zone exempt stoves for many years. We distribute these through independent expert local retailers who help customers choose the right stove for their home, taking things like smoke control zones into account.
Regrettably, Smoke Control Areas have not been enforced or policed, meaning that the burning of solid fuels on open fires and older stoves is still wide spread and the major source of wood burning particulates in London. A survey of domestic wood burning conducted by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) identified that in 2016, 70% of wood burnt in London was on an open fire. It is difficult to know exactly what the difference would be if everyone burning wood in London did so on an clean burning DEFRA exempt stove. However, we and other manufacturers, alongside BEIS, DEFRA, the Mayor’s Office, think it would be a big one.
You may be aware of new air quality standards for wood burning products manufactured after 2022. These standards will be applied in both Europe and the UK and aim to reduce the emissions from wood burning stoves.
Working with the Stove Industry Alliance, Stovax helped to create and introduce the SIA Ecodesign Ready label initiative for the Stove and Fireplace Industry. Supported by the Mayor of London, the SIA Ecodesign Ready scheme helps you easily tell which stoves meet these forthcoming standards for ultra-low emissions. Stoves that bear this label have been independently tested by HETAS to verify they meet these stringent standards.
Ecodesign stoves feature next generation combustion technology and advanced engineering that reduces smoke emissions to 80% less than appliances even 10 years old. They are a natural progression from the clean burning stoves designed for smoke control zones, producing even less emissions. We began working on Ecodesign Ready stoves many years ago, and launched our first Ecodesign range, the Elise, in 2015. Since then we have launched three more complete stove ranges, the Vogue , Vision, and Sheraton offering a total of 26 Ecodesign Ready models. We also offer a huge range of other Ecodesign stoves from our Lotus, Dovre, Nordpeis and Varde brands.
Ecodesign Air Quality standards only apply to manufacturers, and there has been no indication that you will not be able to use a non-Ecodesign stove after 2022. However, if you are using an open fire or older stove to heat your home, you may wish to consider replacing it with a clean burning, high efficiency model that produces less emissions.
The government has at no point suggested that any woodburning stove will be banned. They may, however, look at creating zero emission zones in London’s most polluted areas, which would be enforced at certain times of the year.