Burning wood to keep warm: the facts and fiction

As we look for more ways to keep warm this winter, it might be tempting to switch to a log burner in an attempt to reduce your gas and electricity consumption at home. But though they might look cosy, log burners could be more harmful than you think – and not necessarily cheaper than paying energy bills. 

Here are some of the most common myths (and facts) around wood burning. 

Wood fire in a log burner

Although gas prices have gone up, gas central-heating is usually still the cheapest and most efficient form of heating.

A lot of heat from wood burning is lost up the flue/chimney, making it an inefficient method of heating a home. Log burners generally only heat one room so the rest of the property could remain cold.

Read more about the comparison in Global Action Plan’s report: ‘Relight my fire? Investigating the true cost of wood burning stoves.’

If you’re struggling to pay your energy bills, we may be able to help you apply for financial support or access a grant to insulate your property effectively.

In most instances, wood burning is not carbon neutral. It is sometimes described as “renewable” because trees can be replanted, however, when wood is burned, the carbon dioxide that was absorbed by the tree over the years is released back into the atmosphere all at once. It takes decades or even centuries for new trees to reabsorb the carbon that was emitted when their predecessors were burned.

Whilst the smoke from wood burning is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and those with existing health conditions, it is actually hazardous to everybody’s health. 

Studies have shown that even in healthy people, exposure to the particle pollution produced by wood burning causes inflammation and damage to the body. It is linked to an increased risk of many diseases including cancers, heart disease, stroke, dementia, asthma & reduced lung and brain function in children.

The basic rule of thumb is this: if you can smell wood smoke, you’re breathing pollution that is hazardous to your health.

Watch our webinar with Professor Stephen Holgate and Dr Malcolm White to hear their thoughts on air pollution.

Although smoke rises, the harmful pollutants can linger for many hours or days around homes. You can often smell it even though you can’t see it because wood smoke can be invisible.

On cold winter days (when people tend to burn wood) the problem is worse, because the weather conditions put a ‘lid’ over the lower atmosphere and traps the hazardous pollutants close to ground level.


The air pollution from your log burner will not only affect the air quality in and around your home, but also that of other homes in your neighbourhood.

This is because the fine particle pollutants from wood burning can infiltrate even the most well-insulated and weather-stripped homes. The wood smoke will enter properties via natural leakage points such as vents, letterboxes and window frames.

Householders of log burning neighbours report smelling wood smoke inside their homes which causes inconvenience and distress.

If you’re looking for environmentally-friendly ways to heat your home, or you’re struggling to pay energy bills, please phone us on 0800 804 8601 or email enquiries@environmentcentre.com for tailored advice.