Wood burners given the chop in new London homes

Fireplace and log-burner rules explained in 2021

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Wood burners have effectively been banned in refurbished or new London homes over air pollution concerns. Under planning guidance announced by the Mayor Sadiq Khan this week, air pollution limits for home and office developments would be breached if burners for logs or other solid fuels were installed. Home burning of solid fuel (wood and coal) is now estimated to produce around 39 of the particle pollution (PM2.5) emitted in the UK, even more than that from road transport. This makes it the largest single source of PM2.5 pollution in the UK.

This type of pollution has been linked to a large number of health problems ranging from heart failure and lung problems to dementia and mental illness in children. Particle air pollution has also been linked with around 29,000 attributable deaths annually in Britain, with thousands of these occurring in London alone.

Currently, around 150,000 to 200,000 wood stoves are sold in the UK each year.

But in London, new purchases may come to a grinding halt due to Mr Khan’s new planning guidance which is now enforced across all boroughs of the city.  

It covers new buildings and refurbishments big enough to warrant planning permission. 

Developers are also urged to meet air quality standards by installing solar panels, heat pumps, cycle storage and electric vehicle charging.

Mr Khan said: “Toxic air is a matter of life and death, causing around 4,000 premature deaths every year in London, and leading to asthma in the young and dementia in the elderly. I have made it a top priority to tackle London’s air pollution and the climate crisis.”

“Now developers will have to put air quality and carbon emissions at the heart of their projects from the very beginning,” he said. “This will help us to continue building a better, greener London for everyone.”

This comes after a scathing report from England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty, published in December, found that so-called “eco-friendly” wood-burning stoves produce 450 times more toxic air pollution than gas central heating.

The study found that the self-contained heating systems, which are designed to produce indoor heat through wood combustion, have a “significant air pollution risk”, which has been shown to have worrying impacts on human health. 

The study also found that pollution levels in England increased by more than a third from 2010 to 2020.

Tim Dexter, the clean air policy manager at Asthma + Lung UK, told the Guardian: “The impact of wood burners on air pollution levels is a big concern. We’re calling on the government to provide the public with more education about the risks posed by air pollution, including the dangers of domestic wood burning and information on cleaner and affordable alternatives. We are encouraging people to not use wood burners.”

Meanwhile, households using older log burners could be slapped with an “on the spot” £300 fine for breaking emissions rules as part of the UK’s new 25-year Environmental Plan to tighten restrictions around solid fuel heating systems.

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Under the rules, emissions regulations around wood-burning stoves state that the amount of smoke new stoves can emit per hour has cut reduced from 5g to 3g.

It applies to households in “smoke control areas”, effectively covering most of England’s towns and cities. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been cracking down on coal fires and log burners in recent years and has ordered local councils to use powers from a law passed in 2021 to issue civil penalties for old-fashioned wood-burning stoves that do not meet the UK’s standards for emissions.

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