Statistics conclude domestic wood burning is a major source of UK air pollutants, with an industry body arguing that a distinction must be made between more and less efficient appliances

The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) trade body says older open fires should be upgraded to more modern, ecodesign-compliant appliances to limit particulate matter (PM) emissions.

The comments from the association have coincided with the publication of new government figures on the UK’s air pollutant emissions over the course of 2020. Among the main findings of the latest national statistics is that domestic combustion of solid fuels such as wood was a “major source of PM emissions in 2020”.

PM is a term used to quantify a variety of tiny chemical compounds and materials in the air that are not a gas.   Some of these compounds can be toxic and harmful when exposed to the human body and are therefore an important measure of pollutants. These pollutants are measured in cases where they are less than 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10) and under 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).

The government said that all forms of domestic combustion – with wood being the main source of fuel – accounted for 15 per cent and 25 per cent of PM10 and PM2.5 UK emissions during 2020.

These findings are expected to intensify arguments about the role of domestic burning in line with concerns about UK air quality and calls for much stricter legal standards on emissions.

The SIA responded to the latest figures by noting that the findings should serve to highlight the importance of more efficient stoves in homes. This should also be backed by best practice campaigns around the storing and drying of wood before being burned, or ensuring solid fuel is certified for use via industry-backed schemes such as the ‘Woodsure Ready to Burn’ label, according to the alliance.

Open fires vs close fronted stoves

The SIA added that it was important to note that the statistics noted a difference between the emissions from open fires compared to closed fronted stoves when burning wood.

Open fires were found to account for 72 per cent of PM2.5 emissions attributed to domestic combustion for purposes such as heat, said the alliance.  This figure alone accounted for 18 per cent of the UK’s total emissions of PM2.5 for the year.

Andy Hill, Chair of the SIA, said that the body welcomed what it called revisions in the government’s approach to measuring PM2.5 emissions from domestic sources.

He said, “The SIA has long maintained that the volume of wood fuel used to calculate the previous figure had been significantly overestimated, and this has now been officially acknowledged.”

Mr Hill also argued that it was important to encourage homeowners that rely on domestic burning of wood to upgrade to an ecodesign stove if they are using an open fire.

He said, “These stoves produce up to 90 per less particulate matter emissions than an open fire so the further reduction in emissions levels that could be achieved is significant.”

“A professionally installed, regularly serviced modern ecodesign stove used with correctly seasoned wood fuel is a very low carbon, low emission, sustainable and cost-effective way to heat our homes.”

Last year, the government introduced new legal restrictions on the sale of wet wood and other solid fuels for domestic burning.  The revisions, which came into effect form 1 May, apply to the use of solid fuels in both open fires and close fronted stoves.

These requirements outlawed the sale of house coal or wet wood in units of under 2m3. Sales of wet wood in larger volumes must meanwhile be provided with advice on how to dry the product before burning.


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