Clean Air Strategy Effects Wood Burning Stoves And Open Fires

John Thompson, CEO of the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC), looks at how the government’s Clean Air Strategy effects wood burning stoves and open fires.

The government has widened its focus on environmental pollutants with the publication of its Clean Air Strategy which focuses on reducing pollutants in agriculture and wood burning stoves in addition to their commitment to end the sale of conventional new diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040.

The strategy document, which was published on 14 January, sets out how England will reduce the prevalence of harmful air pollutants by partly focusing on domestic burning on stoves and open fires which the government states are now the single biggest source of particulate matter emissions.

The World Health Organization state that particulate matter is harmful to health as they claim it can penetrate deep into your lungs, pass into your bloodstream and get embedded in your bodily organs and your brain.

The government has highlighted that a wood burning stove emits more particles per hour than a diesel truck which is a major concern for them as about 1.5 million households burn wood on open fires and stoves across the UK.   A freshly cut log of wood contains about a pint of water, which means most of the heat is used to dry the water out which causes the wood to smoke and smoulder which releases air pollutants.

The key impact of the strategy on existing stove owners will be on the use fuels like wet wood, and traditional house coal, which are likely to be phased out.

The strategy also details that all new stoves sold from 2022 must comply with EU eco-design regulations, which many of the stoves on sale today already comply with.  These stoves allow combustion higher up in the fire chamber so that they re-ignite any particles of wood that are in the smoke so the emissions that come out the chimney are reduced by 80% compared to older non-compliant stoves.

The government also plans to give local authorities more powers over existing smoke control areas, where only the burning of smokeless fuel is permitted.  The document also suggests that the government is looking to help local authorities “to increase the rate of upgrades for inefficient and polluting heating devices”.

Time will tell what effect these regulations will have on the sales of wood burning stoves, which have experienced significant growth over the past five years.

I believe there is a case for a wider overarching governmental strategy to incorporate the work the government is implementing to improve air quality and the work they are undertaking to tackle climate change in order to achieve a sustainable energy strategy for properties, including those properties which are not connected to the gas network and rely upon the burning of other fuels such as oil.

The government will shortly bring forward an Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill which will include primary legislation on air quality, last updated in the Clean Air Act of 1993.