Keep a clear con­science

Low-emis­sion wood burn­ers

Evening Standard - West End Final Extra - ES Homes and Property - - Front Page -

LON­DON’S air qual­ity is caus­ing a pub­lic health cri­sis. Last week, Mayor Sadiq Khan trig­gered a “high” air pol­lu­tion alert for the sev­enth time in 13 months. Now he has an­nounced plans to crack down not just on the cap­i­tal’s diesel-en­gined transport but on other sources of pol­lu­tion, too.

Taken to­gether, heavy-duty bull­doz­ers and dig­gers, river and canal ves­sels and solid fuel burn­ers in the home are re­spon­si­ble for half of the deadly emis­sions in the city and all are now un­der scru­tiny.

Wood burn­ing fires are seen as a beau­ti­ful, cosy al­ter­na­tive to coal. They are also car­bon neu­tral, so long as the trees they burn are re­plen­ished. But they have a dirty se­cret: burn­ing wood re­leases in­vis­i­ble par­tic­u­lates into the air that are as bad for us as traf­fic fumes. As Lon­don clamps down on ve­hi­cle emis­sions, ex­perts says we must also tackle emis­sions from our own homes.

“Lon­don is the worst city in the UK for air qual­ity,” says Sa­man­tha Heath, head of the Lon­don Sus­tain­abil­ity Ex­change think tank. “Air pol­lu­tion leads to nearly 9,500 early deaths in the cap­i­tal ev­ery year. Lon­don­ers need to take con­trol — that means look­ing at our own par­tic­u­late emis­sions from cars and heat­ing.”

Dr Gary Fuller of King’s Col­lege Lon­don is study­ing ex­actly this. He says do­mes­tic wood burn­ing is a large source of the deadly, in­vis­i­ble par­tic­u­late PM2.5. “In win­ter, 10 per cent of the PM2.5 in Lon­don can come from burn­ing wood,” says Fuller. But not all wood burn­ing is equal. There is a hi­er­ar­chy, with open fires eas­ily the worst cul­prits.

“Air­parif, the Paris pol­lu­tion net­work, es­ti­mates heat­ing a home for one day with an open fire emits the same par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion as driv­ing 3,500 kilo­me­tres in a diesel car,” says Fuller.


Burn­ing wood on an open fire is pro­hib­ited through­out most of Lon­don un­der the Clean Air Act, the smoke con­trol leg­is­la­tion that came into force after the Lon­don smogs of the Fifties. Fires must use smoke­less fuel or be con­tained in a De­fra-ap­proved stove that burns cleanly enough to meet the reg­u­la­tions for Smoke-Con­trolled Zones.

But many Lon­don­ers ig­nore this and con­tinue to burn in open fires. Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of En­ergy & Cli­mate Change, 70 per cent of wood burnt in the city is on open fires: the very worst for air qual­ity and a very in­ef­fi­cient way to heat our homes.


“A mod­ern stove emits a lot less par­ti­cle pol­lu­tion than an open fire­place,” says Dr Gary Fuller. “So if you are go­ing to burn wood, do it in the most ef­fi­cient way pos­si­ble. Even older-style stoves are bet­ter than open fires, and mod­ern Ecode­sign stoves are best. Also, don’t burn waste tim­ber be­cause the fumes from wood that has been treated may in­clude lead and arsenic.”


Wood burn­ing stoves still put out par­tic­u­lates, but far fewer than open fires. And the par­tic­u­lates from a stove don’t come into our liv­ing rooms.

“A prop­erly in­stalled stove lets no fumes or smoke back into the room. If it does then the chim­ney isn’t work­ing prop­erly, so get it cleaned,” says John Nightin­gale, man­ag­ing direc­tor of sup­plier Stoves On­line. He adds that a car­bon monox­ide alarm in the same room as the stove — es­sen­tial for safety — is the best way to en­sure your chim­ney is do­ing its job. New EU stan­dards will reg­u­late emis­sions from wood burn­ers from 2022 and Brexit Bri­tain may also ap­ply these. The UK’s Stove In­dus­try Al­liance (stovein­dus­tryal­ is work­ing to get the most ef­fi­cient stoves to an Ecode­sign Ready standard well ahead of that dead­line.

If an open fire is the equiv­a­lent of a diesel car, an Ecode­sign Ready stove is sim­i­lar to a hy­brid car. The fire box is de­signed to be very hot, to burn par­tic­u­lates away. The re­sult is 90 per cent fewer emis­sions than an open fire. Prices start at £700.


You can also re­duce emis­sions by choos­ing cleaner fu­els, as well as a cleaner burner. Fire­wood is of­ten sold too wet to burn ef­fi­ciently and cleanly so you need to buy wood that car­ries Wood­sure’s Ready to Burn logo (wood­sure. and it will have been sea­soned or “kiln dried”. These logs have a max­i­mum of 20 per cent mois­ture; sim­i­lar pel­lets and bri­quettes have no more than 10 per cent. This in turn leads to lower par­tic­u­lates emis­sions.


If you have an older stove that you re­ally don’t want to re­place, there is an al­ter­na­tive. How­ever, it doesn’t come cheap. Mount an elec­tro­static fil­ter, such as the Pou­joulat Top Clean — priced £3,000 from pou­ — in the top of your chim­ney. Par­tic­u­lates are ionised and at­tracted to the flue wall, then cleaned away when the chim­ney is swept. So you do have to have your chim­ney swept reg­u­larly. It cuts emis­sions of fine par­ti­cles in­clud­ing PM2.5 by a very wel­come 92 per cent.


If you want to get cleaner still, you’ll have to stop burn­ing wood. “Even your gas boiler is bet­ter from a health point of view,” says King’s Col­lege Lon­don’s Dr Gary Fuller.

It’s also worth not­ing that re­al­is­tic flames don’t have to mean burn­ing fos­sil fu­els, thanks to a new breed of non-pol­lut­ing elec­tric fires such the Olym­pus model from Ch­es­neys, priced from £924 in­clud­ing fire bas­ket. Ul­tra­sonic tech­nol­ogy cre­ates a fine mist that’s il­lu­mi­nated to pro­duce amaz­ingly re­al­is­tic flames and smoke.

And elec­tric fires are car­bon neu­tral as long as you have a green en­ergy tar­iff — which means your sup­plier only sells you elec­tric­ity from a re­new­able source. Visit good­en­ and ecotric­ity. for more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion.


The Mayor’s of­fice has re­quested new powers to tackle air pol­lu­tion in Lon­don, in­clud­ing tighter lim­its on emis­sions. These lim­its have not yet been set, but Ecode­sign Ready is the likely standard to be used for them — so you should seek out such stoves if you are plan­ning to go the wood burn­ing route.

The Mayor has also pro­posed small zero emis­sions zones where solid fuel burn­ing would be banned com­pletely. These zones would be re­served for ar­eas with the worst pol­lu­tion, and are pro­posed from 2025 on­wards. They could also only ap­ply at cer­tain times, such as dur­ing “peak” pol­lu­tion pe­ri­ods, rather than all day.

So it’s wise ei­ther to buy an Ecode­sign Ready stove, or don’t buy a wood burn­ing stove at all. “Un­like the Fifties, al­most ev­ery home in Lon­don now has gas or elec­tric for heat­ing,” says Fuller. “With grow­ing ev­i­dence of the health ef­fects of air pol­lu­tion, we have to ask — does solid fuel burn­ing still have a place in the city of the 21st cen­tury?”

Built in: much like tra­di­tional fire­places, to­day’s ar­chi­tects can in­clude stoves in their de­signs for build­ings, hid­ing wiring and chim­neys

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