So, what is really happening in terms of wood burning stoves and wood burning in general? There has been a lot of negative press over the last 18 months and there is no doubt that consumer confidence has been knocked and this is shown in a drop in stove sales. Should you be concerned? Should you take action? What is all the fuss about?
Well, it all stems from pressure to improve our air quality and whilst this is a global challenge the UK needs to focus its attention on addressing the problem. In Jan 2019 the government launched their Clean Air Strategy and this includes plans to address the issue of domestic wood burning.
It is, however, as usual, the media that really has got a hold of the topic and there have been some very damaging headlines such as this one in September 2017 when the Mayor of London supposedly said he wanted to ban wood burning in London. This really did set the hare running and environmentalists and lobbyists saw this as a great opportunity to attack wood burning.
The problem is that wood-burning produces fine particulates which can get into the body and be harmful, but how big is the problem in the UK? Well, firstly the problem is greater in major cities where there are obviously an abundance of different polluters affecting our air quality, but is the problem of wood burning really as big as suggested? The media have been using the figure of 38% of particulate emissions come from wood burning and these figures come from government information, but this supposed fact, when one really starts to look at the make-up of this statistic one sees how totally unrealistic it is. It is partly based on a small survey that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) undertook in 2015 and this enabled them to work out the volume of firewood burnt annually. They produced a significantly large estimate of approx. 6 million tonnes annually and when they extrapolated this figure along with other particulate emission figures, they arrived at the figure of 38%.
There is now a considerable amount of work being done by the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) and other industry bodies such as HETAS to find out the true facts, but suffice to say at this stage that the annual volume of firewood is more likely to be nearer 2 million tonnes!
In terms of what the government are likely to do, there will be changes to wood burning, but all to the good and certainly nothing much to be majorly concerned about. Stoves are now being manufactured to much higher standards and the new Ecodesign stoves will reduce particulate emissions by 90% compared with an open fire and 80% compared to an old stove (>10 yrs), and these improvements will get even better over time. The other major change will be a much tighter control on firewood quality and kiln dried logs will finally get the recognition they deserve. A new scheme called Ready to Burn was launched last year and many suppliers now work to these new standards which fundamentally guarantees that the wood you buy is dried to below 20% moisture content. In turn, this also ensures that particulate emissions are kept to an absolute minimum.
Here are Certainly Wood we are very focused on the environment and keen to promote anything that helps to reduce emissions and to reduce our reliability on fossil fuels.
We therefore fully support these proposed changes as there is potential for us all to benefit from them, but there is a word of caution for those who have an open fire at home, particularly if being used in cities. Whilst open fires are wonderful, we have all known for many years that they are somewhat inefficient with most of the heat going up the chimney. It might soon be time to spare a thought for the environmental impact and perhaps look to a new Eco-design wood burning stove instead. To many traditionalists, this may sound like the end to wood burning at home, but believe me, you need to see it as the beginning of a new wood burning revolution. I was bought up in a house with an open fire, but when I was forced to install a wood burning stove, I never looked back and now burn wood far more often to help heat my home and no longer rely on our oil-fired heating!