blue living room with wood burning stove
  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.

  • Sustainability increasingly needs to be at the heart of many decisions we make for our homes, so it is no surprise that many people ask ‘are wood burning stoves bad for the environment?’ when considering the investment.

    There are lots of factors to take into consideration if you’re thinking about investing in a wood burning stove. A log burner can be seen as a sustainable heating method, because it uses renewable energy rather than fossil fuel. However, a number of incorrect studies and media misconceptions have portrayed the appliance in a negative light stating that they contribute far more particulate emissions than they actually do.

    Here, we speak with the experts to answer your questions when it comes to purchasing and using a log burner.

    Are wood burning stoves bad for the environment?

    blue living room with wood burning stove

    Image credit: Future plc/Simon Whitmore

    Are wood burning stoves big contributors to pollution?

    Wood burning stoves produce fewer emissions than previously thought but do still contribute to particle pollution. New data from DEFRA has cut the estimated proportion of small particle pollution produced by wood burning stoves from 38 per cent to 17 per cent.

    Manufacturers and associations do agree that burning fuel in a wood burning stove will contribute to emissions. They maintain, however, that, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small percentage.

    ‘All forms of combustion produce emissions and the use of a wood burning stove is no exception,’ says Erica Malkin, communications manager at The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA). ‘However, a correctly used and maintained, modern Ecodesign wood burning stove is a very low emission option.’

    Are wood burning stoves bad for your health?

    The main pollutant emitted by burning solid fuels, like wood, is ultra-fine particulate matter. Also known as PM2.5. According to DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), PM2.5 can penetrate the human respiratory system. The effects of short-term particle exposure include worsening of asthma symptoms and a general feeling of being unwell. At the other end of the scale, the acute effects of particle exposure include increases in hospital admissions. As well as premature death of the old and sick due to diseases of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

    Vicky Naylor, general manager at ACR Stoves, says: ‘An EcoDesign stove creates very little PM2.5,’ she says. ‘They actually contribute only 2.7 per cent of the domestic PM2.5 emissions from the burning of logs and only 1.1 per cent of the total UK PM2.5 emissions.’

    However, Vicky Naylor does recognise that using an old and basic wood burning stove or an open fire isn’t great for the environment. ‘If you run an old stove then your emissions leap from 1.1 per cent to 5 per cent for PM2.5 levels. If you use an open fire, these contribute to 15 per cent of the PM2.5 levels.’

    Are wood burning stoves energy efficient?

    white living room with log burner

    Image credit: Future plc/Colin Poole

    As part of DEFRA’s Clean Air Strategy 2019, all wood burning stoves manufactured and placed on the market on or after 1 January 2022 now have to comply with the Ecodesign regulation. This means they must adhere to minimum requirements related to energy efficiency. It doesn’t mean that it is illegal to have an older non-Ecodesign stove in your home. However, if your stove is dated, it might make sense to replace it with a modern stove with the accreditation.

    You could even go one step further and purchase an Ecodesign stove with a clearSkies certified model. clearSkies certified stoves and fireplaces have low emissions and high efficiency whilst still being a very low carbon, environmentally friendly heating.

    ‘It will produce up to 90 per cent less emissions than open fires and 80 per cent less emissions than the average 10-year-old stove,’ says Jon Butterworth, director at Arada Stoves. ‘By choosing a clearSkies certified product you’ll be doing your bit to lower emissions, improve air quality and make a change for a better world.’

    Can I burn wet wood or coal?

    Since May 2021, wood with a higher than 20 per cent moisture content and pre-packaged bituminous house coal should not be sold or bought in England. Instead, homeowners have to buy wood that has a certificate stating that it contains less than 20 per cent moisture and labelled with the Ready to Burn wood logo.

    ‘Choosing an Ecodesign wood burning stove, having your chimney regularly swept, and cleaning a chimney heating stove as per the manufacturers’ instructions will ensure that emissions are minimised and efficiency is maximised,’ says Erica Malkin.

    Jon Butterworth also recommends:

    • Only opening your stove door to restack your fire.

    • Reloading onto embers.

    • Restacking your fire with multiple logs to prevent multiple door openings.

    • Burning the wood at a high burn rate.

    ‘All these actions will help homeowners ensure a cleaner burn,’ he says.

    What are the rules for smoke-controlled areas?

    black living room with small log burner

    Image credit: Future plc/Matt Cant

    Some areas of the UK are designated smoke control areas. In these areas you cannot emit smoke from a chimney unless you’re burning an authorised fuel or using exempt appliances.

    ‘You could be fined £1,000 for breaching this requirement,’ says Jon Butterworth. ‘We offer many DEFRA Smoke Exempt Stoves at Arada which have been modified and have passed the criteria for emission levels. A DEFRA Smoke Exempt Stove will always provide the minimum level of combustion air so that the wood burns effectively without producing unnecessary smoke, which therefore complies with the Clean Air Act,’ he says.

    So, are wood-burning stoves bad for the environment?

    There’s no denying that you can’t beat the cosy ambience and welcoming flickering flame that a wood burning stove offers. Alongside the welcoming inviting ambience they create, they’re also a cost-effective heating option when weighing up the cost to install a wood burning stove.

    That being said, as recent studies have revealed, log burners are not without fault. Opting for a wood burning stove requires careful thought. You need to consider the rules, and be prepared to run your appliance safely and correctly to ensure you minimise your carbon emissions as much as possible.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.