Are there still concerns about wood burning stoves?
What a difference a year makes! Just over 12 months ago, there was still an element of negative press about wood burning although less intense than the previous two to three years, but the energy crisis has certainly massively changed the landscape for wood burning over the last year.
How much have wood burning stove sales risen in the last year?
In September the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) reported an increase in sales of wood burning stoves from its members of over 40%, and since then, this figure has increased again. The chair of the SIA, Andy Hill said:
“With the cost for heating our homes accounting for the biggest chunk of home energy bills this winter, it is little wonder consumers are looking for alternatives to supplement their gas or electric heating. Couple that with growing awareness of how stretched the grid is and the increased possibility of more power cuts this winter, the option to use a highly efficient, low carbon and low emission wood burning stove to heat your main living space makes good (common) sense.”
Has the war in Ukraine affected the prices of firewood?
Following this, there was a flurry of articles throughout the press, not only in Europe, but also around the world about the potential shortage of firewood as demand increases dramatically, but also as restrictions are placed on wood coming from Russia and Belarus whilst the war between Russian and Ukraine continues. In turn, and not surprisingly this has led to an increase in prices for kiln dried logs and particularly for those being imported from Latvia and Lithuania, (many of which originate from Russia) not only due to increasing demand, but also increased shipping costs. Over the last four to five years, imported kiln dried logs have been slightly cheaper than British firewood, but this year it has changed dramatically with imports far more expensive.
How does firewood compare in cost with other domestic heating fuels?However, even with firewood prices rising, wood logs are presently the cheapest form of domestic heating fuel costing households 74% less per kWh than electric heating and 21% less than gas heating according to the SIA in their press release on November 23rd.
Are firewood prices likely to rise further?
With the tightening of supplies over the last two months in the UK, raw material prices have now increased significantly which is likely to lead to further increases in firewood prices over the coming months. We have already seen prices for cordwood timber increasing by over 30% in the period, but if past trends are anything to go by, this is likely to be short-lived as winter comes to an end in the April/May. – We certainly hope this will be the case!
With the SIA working hard to ensure the real facts about wood burning are communicated to government, local authorities and the general public it can be hard work at times, but last year it was a little easier as wood burning became a more favourable topic as people either installed a wood burner for the first time, replaced their old stove, or as we frequently hear from busy chimney sweeps, opened up loads of old chimneys either for open fires or wood burning stoves. Any negative aspects of wood burning invariably got a mention at the end of the article rather than the headline. Let’s be realistic here, in anything we do, there will always be someone that can find a negative angle!
Is it true that all forms of domestic heating cause some pollution?
However, it was heartening to read the 2022 Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer which gives a balanced and far reaching commentary on the topic of air pollution and air quality. Professor Whitty’s report, which the SIA were pleased to be able to contribute to, recognises that all forms of domestic heating cause some pollution and recommends that for those that choose to burn solid fuel or wood that they must use dry ‘Ready to Burn’ certified fuel in a modern Ecodesign and Defra exempted stove. By doing so, any associated emissions can be reduced by a factor of 9 compared to an open fire.
How can we reduce air pollution in domestic wood burning?
To be specific the report states that air pollution emissions can be reduced by: “… using modern, less polluting stoves and burning wood that is dry”. It goes on to note that: “For air pollution emissions, there is substantial difference between the different open fire and stove designs, the age of the appliance and how well maintained it is, and the moisture content of the wood, for those who want to burn wood.”
Is wood burning in the home only about producing heat?
Also recognised in the report is the fact that the reasons for burning solid fuel in the home are varied with Professor Whitty noting that these include “aesthetic as well as practical, ecological or economic reasons”. Andy Hill (chair of the SIA) noted that: “Burning sustainably sourced wood fuel is currently the most cost-effective low carbon heating available*. With increasing electricity and gas prices and more power outages being experienced during extreme weather events, consumers are choosing to be able to guarantee that they can heat their homes without relying on electricity or gas. The comfort that a modern wood burning stove brings to owners is significant and multi-faceted; it provides a family focal point and primarily heats the space you need it to; you have the comfort of knowing that you can stay warm in the event of a power cut, and by burning sustainably sourced wood for heat you are displacing higher carbon intensive fuels such as oil, gas and electricity thus reducing your carbon footprint.
Are wood burning stoves becoming more efficient in terms of emissions?
The UK stove industry worked hard to ensure it met the European wide Ecodesign regulations way ahead of its implementation on Jan 1st 2022 and was indeed several years ahead. This gave the industry more time to drive standards even higher, setting up an independent verification scheme to allow consumers and legislators to easily identify the least emitting and most efficient stoves. The clearSkies Mark Certification Scheme was launched in 2020 and is administered by Kiwa Ltd, an accredited test laboratory, certification body and government appointed Conformity Assessment Body. Andy Hill went on to say about the scheme: “Already as an industry we have been looking at improving the emissions and efficiency performance of wood burning stoves beyond the requirements of Ecodesign. A clearSkies certified level 5 appliance offers almost a 30% reduction in emissions and higher efficiency than the minimum legal requirements set out within the Ecodesign Regulation. All clearSkies Level 3 and above appliances have also been verified as having Defra exemption for use in Smoke Control Areas."
What are the most important factors for efficient wood burning?
So, it would seem that government have listened and are being pretty realistic in their approach to wood burning and goes along with the SIA’s key messaging on right appliance, right fuel, right installation and right maintenance.
However, just as the tide seems to have turned and the media now focus on a different angle and the benefits of woodburning to reduce heating costs, The Guardian published an article on the 27th Dec 2022 by George Monbiot who is an environmental campaigner and author. The article was entitled ‘My burning shame: I fitted my house with three wood burning stoves’. This has certainly caused some conversations within the media and letters from readers have found themselves published across other newspapers too. Mainly, these were in frustration as to the content and with a response from the SIA, there was a brief follow up to the article on BBC4 You and Yours on Monday 9th Jan (19 mins 40 secs into programme) putting all sides of the argument. One could argue very easily that this is somewhat lazy journalism as not only has Mr Monbiot not discussed his concerns with the SIA to get their views, but he is clearly behind the times.
What are the affects of using old stoves and wood that is not properly dried?
Firstly, his three stoves were purchased in 2008, so now fifteen years old and certainly if he changed these to modern Ecodesign stoves he would see a massive increase in efficiency and he would need about 20-25% less logs. It is also interesting to note that he explained how his first load of logs was bought from a local contractor and he began even then to be concerned “It consisted of the knotty, lichen-encrusted branches of what must have been a venerable oak” and went on to say “I later heard that, as the price of firewood had risen, some contractors employed to keep the roads clear, had been widening their definition of unsafe trees”. It would not be unreasonable to assume that he was certainly not buying from a reputable firewood supplier and definitely not kiln dried logs, dried to below 20% moisture content! He almost certainly purchased his logs from a tree surgeon who would be selling the offcuts as ‘freshly cut firewood’ and very unlikely to be approved under the ‘Ready to Burn’ certification scheme. Since 2021 the government banned the sale of wet wood
Knowing the full background and facts to wood burning and what the industry is doing to ensure it is part of the solution and not the problem for domestic heating, it is extremely frustrating how some journalists can be so one-sided. It really goes to show that you really shouldn’t believe everything you read in the press. I am pleased to say the SIA, on behalf of the industry have written to George Monbiot to very politely provide him with the true facts – I wonder if he will write another article soon to put his article straight?
One thing however is quite heartening though, is all the comments made about these articles and how people are fed up with being told what they can and can’t do, by people who quite frankly, haven’t got a clue what they are talking about!
So, on the whole, last year was encouraging one for the wood burning industry and there is no doubt that there are very many newcomers to wood burning who are delighted to be able to sit in front of a lovely log fire, watching the dancing flames and being warmed by the wonderful glow of the fire, knowing that they are saving money on their heating bills. It will also be allowing them to forget about all the worries of everyday life and just relax as I am now about to do on this wet and soggy Sunday afternoon!
8th Jan 2023