Damning report unveils how energy-saving wood burners are ‘deadly’

Fireplace and log-burner rules explained in 2021

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A scathing report from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has found that so-called “eco-friendly” wood-burning stoves produce 450 times more toxic air pollution than gas central heating. Amid the energy crisis, many households may be opting for wood burners to heat their homes as the products offer an efficient and cost-saving way keeping your house warm. But the self-contained heating systems, which are designed to produce indoor heat through wood combustion, carry a “significant air pollution risk”, data has revealed. 

According to the report, the small particle pollution produced by wood burning is very dangerous to human health and levels in England increased by more than a third from 2010 to 2020.

Mr Whitty said that up to 1.5m households have wood burners in the country, sparking serious air pollution concerns. He warned: “It [air pollution] kills a lot of people [and] causes a lot of disease and disability throughout life….Air pollution causes problems from the time before people are born all the way through till their last day on Earth. 

“If the Government doesn’t do something about it, it’s not obvious who else can. Clearly, my wish is for air pollution [action] to move as quickly as possible.” In fact, an estimated 26,000 to 38,000 deaths a year from outdoor air pollution, the report claimed. But Mr Witty said there was no estimate of the impact of log burners on indoor pollution as it urgently needs more research.

The report warned: “Solid fuels are by far the most polluting method of domestic heating, and wood burning has increased in popularity over recent years.”

But older wood burners, the sale of which is now banned, produce a staggering 1,300 times more toxic air pollution than gas heating. Commenting on the report, the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) said that it was pleased that Mr Witty recognised the advances made to the appliances. 

Andy Hill, chair of the SIA, said: “In this Report, the CMO and his team have considered a wide range of contributors to air pollution from industry, transport, and transboundary sources, as well as domestic solid fuel heating.

“We are pleased that the report recognises the huge advances in stove appliance technology that have been driven by the Ecodesign regulations and that it calls for the Clean Air Act requirements for smoke control areas to be properly adhered to.

“The report also highlights potentially ground-breaking new technology in some industries, and, similarly, the stove industry continues to develop and invest in new technology to reduce emissions even further.” He added that the industry is doing its best to make sure that the technology is as eco-friendly as possible.

Mr Hill said: “Already as an industry we have been looking at improving the emissions and efficiency performance of wood burning stoves beyond the requirements of Ecodesign. A clearSkies certified level 5 appliance offers almost a 30 percent reduction in emissions and higher efficiency than the minimum legal requirements set out within the Ecodesign Regulation.

“All clearSkies Level 3 and above appliances have also been verified as having Defra exemption for use in Smoke Control Areas.”He concluded: “Burning sustainably sourced wood fuel is currently the most cost-effective low carbon heating available.”

The SIA also claims that amid increasing electricity and gas prices and the prospect of power cuts,  og burners offer people a reliable source of heat, without the need for electricity or gas use.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma + Lung UK, said the report has raised the alarm over a “public health emergency”. She said: “This new report should act as a rallying cry to the government to be bolder in tackling dirty air. Air pollution is a public health emergency.”

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Despite the health warnings attached to the wood burners, demand has soared as people try to avoid switching their heating on. One company, called Choice Stoves, has suspended sales of its product due to a shortage.

While it does not detail why this has happened, sales of wood burners has shot up this year. In a statement on its website, it says: “Dear customers, due to a UK stove shortage we have currently suspended taking online orders. If you would like to check availability or place an order then please get in touch with us. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

According to new data, between April and June this year sales increased by 40 percent totalling more than 35,000, compared with 25,000 for the same period last year.

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