By Christabel - posted on September 23, 2020

Wood Burning

This article explains the problems with wood burning and the solutions you can take to reduce the impact on air pollution and your health.

Get Help

If you have a complaint about nuisance wood burning and smoke, please contact your local council. If you or your loved ones are vulnerable to air pollution, you can follow air pollution forecasts, such as DEFRA-Air or try the AirVisual app.

The Problem

Many people aren’t aware that household burning, such as stoves, open fires and bonfires, is a significant contributor to small particulate matter pollution, and affects both outdoor and indoor air quality. Breathing in particulate matter pollution has health impacts and there is no safe level.

Professor Sir Stephen Holgate at Southampton General Hospital (also UK Research and Innovation Clean Air Champion and Special Advisor to the Royal College of Physicians on Air Quality) says:

Particulate air pollution is a leading cause of ill-health. These miniscule particles, (known as PM2.5), are invisible to the naked eye and are small enough to pass through the lungs, into the bloodstream and into your organs.  This can contribute to diseases such as asthma, coronary heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and COPD. 

One of the main sources of particulate air pollution is woodsmoke.  I would encourage anyone who is considering burning wood – either for home heating or on a bonfire – to think very carefully about what they are burning. In fact, choosing to stop burning wood  (and other solid fuels) is one of the best ways of improving local air quality and protecting your health.” 

Wood burning has been considered a low carbon or carbon neutral heating source, when in most cases it is not, due to the length of time trees take to re-grow, as well as transportation and drying processes. Removing trees and clearing wood from forests also reduces biodiversity, wildlife habitats and food sources. Read more.

The Solution

Stoves and open fires

We know that wood burners are cosy and nostalgic and that people have chosen them for environmental reasons, but we can all do our bit to reduce pollution in our home and neighbourhood. If you burn less, burn cleaner, burn better and burn different you’ll be reducing and avoiding outdoor and indoor air pollution and the associated health impacts for your family and community.

Burn less: Reduce burning of solid fuel where possible, keep the use of stoves and fires to particularly cold weather and choose other heating options if suitable or available. Consider the amount and type of fuel or wood you buy ahead of winter months.

We’re conscious there are households that burn wood to keep warm, and it’s important for your health and wellbeing to stay warm and well. If you do rely on solid fuel for heating, please use authorised fuels and exempt appliances, or consider switching fuels.

Burn cleaner: Use cleaner fuels on your stove and open fires, such as smokeless, authorised fuels or dry, well-seasoned ‘ready to burn’ wood with low moisture content. Read more here.

Burn better: Use efficient appliances, such as DEFRA exempt, EU Ecodesign 2022 or ClearSkies mark, and service and clean them regularly. ‘Burn Right‘ in your appliance, including not shutting off air or allowing the temperature to drop. Read more here.

Burn different: If possible, switch heating source to no or low emission fuels, such as renewable, electric or gas alternatives, which will reduce particulate pollution and can reduce carbon emissions. Reduce your need for heating through insulation and draught-proofing.

Ready to Burn regulations

The government are phasing out two of the most polluting fuels, traditional house coal and wet wood, to help improve air quality.  

The ‘Ready to Burn’ logo has been introduced to help customers choose less polluting alternatives, dry wood and manufactured solid fuels. Read more here.


Bonfires

Are you thinking of having a bonfire? Can you avoid burning, burn cleaner and burn safely to protect the health of your family and community? 

Avoid burning: Instead of having a bonfire, compost garden waste at home or through council garden waste collections and dispose of household waste safely through waste and recycling services. Read more here.  

Burn cleaner: If you do need to have a bonfire, only burn dry, untreated wood and don’t burn household or wet garden waste , including rubber tyres, plastics and wood with varnish or paint. Read more here.

Burn Safely: Follow fire safety advice, be aware of the impacts of air pollution and consider your neighbours, community and wildlife before building and lighting a fire. Read more here.

Other ways to reduce and avoid air pollution from wood burning and heating include:

  • regularly servicing your stove and boiler
  • using a carbon monoxide alarm
  • ventilating your home
  • reducing electricity and gas usage

Be aware of regulations in smoke control areas, nuisance bonfires and other relevant legislation around burning solid fuel.

What Next

Trees in park

Read our Breathe Easy article for more on reducing and avoiding air pollution.

Learn more about what air pollution is, how it affects your health, what you can do to protect yourself from it and the action you can take to tackle it from the Clean Air Hub.