Burn better: Making changes for cleaner air

Fireplace with open fire

Burning the wrong fuels at home, such as wet wood or some types of coal, releases harmful smoke into the air which, when mixed with other emissions in your chimney, can affect your health.

If you have an open fire or stove, below outlines some easy steps you can take to improve the way you burn.

Why is it important to improve the way we burn in the home?

Air pollution is the biggest environmental risk to public health and we need to take action to reduce the most damaging air pollutants.

Burning at home is a major contributor to a type of pollutant called fine particulate matter, which is present in smoke. These tiny particles can damage your lungs and other organs, and harm the health of you and your family.

Making small changes to how you burn can provide benefits such as helping to:

  • improve the air we all breathe by reducing the amount of pollution produced
  • keep you and your family safe by reducing the risk of chimney fires
  • get the most out of your open fire or stove so that it performs better, helping you use less fuel to produce more heat

How do you know which fuels to burn?

Cut Wood

It can be difficult to know which fuels to choose to reduce pollution.

You should start by checking with your local council to see if you are living in a smoke control area. There are regulations that apply to burning in these areas and you could be committing an offence if smoke is released from the chimney of your home: See www.gov.uk/smoke-control-area-rules for details.

You should always check which fuel types are recommended for your appliance. Using the wrong fuel could damage your appliance, affect your chimney, as well as invalidating your warranty.

Wood

It is best practice when burning wood at home to make sure it is dried properly.

It is recommended that freshly cut wood is air dried for a minimum of 2 years before it’s considered dry enough for burning.

Burning wet wood produces lots of smoke and creates tar deposits which can damage your appliance and chimney, increasing maintenance costs and the risk of chimney fires.

Look for sustainably sourced and dried (seasoned) wood. Make sure that you store it in a way that keeps it dry. You’ll get less smoke and better heat efficiency. This also means your appliance and chimney will require less maintenance, saving you money in the long run.

When selecting wood you should:

  • look for the ‘Ready to Burn’ logo on packaging
  • ask your supplier for advice on how to properly store and season wood at home, especially if you’re buying loose logs to dry yourself
  • store logs in a dry area, allowing them to air dry for at least 2 years before burning if you’re producing your own logs for burning
  • use a moisture meter to measure the water content of the wood - moisture levels should be 20% or less before burning
  • check for signs your wood is ready to burn if you cannot use a moisture meter
    • weight – when comparing similar sized logs and the same species, if the log is heavier this can indicate it is still wet
    • sound – a hollow sound when tapping indicates dry logs
    • cracked ends – can indicate dry logs
    • bark – the looser the bark the drier the log
    • colour – dry wood can be lighter in colour
  • always avoid burning treated wood, such as painted, stained or chemically treated wood (such as old furniture, pallets and medium density fibreboard) - these release dangerous pollutants which could have a serious impact on human health

The Forestry Commission has more information on their website about choosing and drying logs (PDF).

Manufactured Solid Fuels

Manufactured solid fuels are available in a range of forms, such as briquettes and fire logs.

Some manufactured solid fuels produce less smoke than others. These can be easily identified, as the packaging is marked as ‘suitable for use in smoke control areas’.

Before purchasing manufactured solid fuels, check your appliance manual to make sure which specific fuels can be used. Incorrect use can cause damage to your appliance.

Check this list of fuels that are approved for burning in smoke control areas and can be used more widely.

Coal

The World Health Organization classifies coal smoke as a carcinogen. If you currently burn coal, you should consider switching to an alternative fuel, such as manufactured solid fuels known as briquettes for use on open fires and for stove users you could use smokeless coal known as anthracite or consider manufactured solid fuels but make sure the fuel used is suitable for your appliance.

Find a local approved coal merchant.

How do you maintain your open fire or stove?

Stove

Regularly maintaining your open fire or stove means it will perform better, using less fuel to produce more heat.

To properly maintain your appliance you should:

  • always use your open fire or stove in line with the manufacturer and installer’s guidance including only burning suitable fuels
  • make sure your open fire or stove is installed by a registered/certified installer - if you’re unsure whether your current system was installed correctly, you may want to consider having it serviced
  • get your stove serviced once a year
  • consider buying a new stove that has a Defra exemption, or an Ecodesign Compliant stove
  • get your chimney swept at least once a year as soot and tar build up in your chimney over time, reducing its efficiency and increasing the risk of chimney fires

To find a professional and/or registered chimney sweep near you, you can search online or click one of the following links; the Federation of British Chimney Sweeps website, the Sweep Safe website, or the HETAS website. Alternatively, contact your stove manufacturer for their recommendation.

Further information