On 1st May 2021, the Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuel Standards) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force as part of the government’s Clean Air Strategy. As a consequence, the rules in England on burning ‘wet’ wood and house coal have changed, in a move that will affect home owners using log burners and multifuel stoves. Similar restrictions are being considered in Wales and Scotland.
Air pollution is thought to be one of the biggest dangers to public health in the UK yet these are the first restrictions to what can be used to heat homes since 1956, when the Clean Air Act came into force. The Act was a consequence of the 1952 London smog which claimed as many as 12,000 lives. It was the first time domestic and industrial smoke emissions were regulated. It took nearly three decades and a further Clean Air Act in 1968 for local authorities to full introduce smoke control programmes.
Wet wood is often cheaper to buy than dry wood and is also known as green or unseasoned wood. Wet wood contains between 20% and 60% moisture, far more than dry wood, and produces more smoke and harmful pollutants when burned.
Wet wood and house coal produce significant amounts of tar when burned, which will clog up the chimney flue and greatly reduce the efficiency of the appliance. Dry wood is beneficial from an energy efficiency perspective and also leads to less wear and tear to your log burner and chimney.
Dry, or seasoned, wood has been dried out over a period of time or kiln dried and has a moisture content of below 20%.
It is now illegal to sell bagged traditional house coal and wet wood in units below two cubic metres. Wet wood sold in greater volumes must be sold with advice on drying it before use, and makers of solid fuel must show it has low sulphur levels and will emit only a small amount of smoke when burned.
The sale of wet wood will be phased out by 2022 and the sale of house coal by 2023.
Home owners will still be able to use log burners, open fires and stoves, but will have to find alternative fuels that are cleaner for the environment. Alternative fuels include dry wood and manufactured solid fuels, both of which create less smoke. According to DEFRA, dry wood products even produce more heat and emit as much as 50% less damaging emissions.
In recent years, pollution from log burners has increased in the UK and despite being used by just 8% of households they are the biggest source of ‘tiny’ pollution particles under 2.5 microns in size. Stoves and open forms are responsible for 38% of these pollution particles, three times higher than road traffic and a significant environmental risk to human health.
Naturally seasoned wood is exposed to the sun’s warmth and air is circulated around it prior to splitting. It can take up to three years to fully season fresh wood. It is generally ready to burn when radial cracks form and bark easily comes away.
If you live in a Smoke Control Area, it may be an offence to burn fuel where smoke is released through your home’s chimney.
There are regulations that apply to burning in a Smoke Control Area, and you could be committing an offence if smoke is released from the chimney of your home unless you are burning an authorised fuel or the appliance is exempt.