Wood-burning stoves: What do the new rules mean for your heater? 

Wood-burning stove 
Wood-burning stoves will be regulated under new clean air rules

More than one million British family homes warm their cockles with a wood-burning stove during the winter months. This year, however, they will face a crackdown, after the Government announced plans to outlaw all but the cleanest stoves by 2022 as part of its wider Clean Air Strategy. 

The Government will ban the sale of stoves that don't meet environmental standards, encourage the sale of cleaner wood and ask those who own older, less green stoves to consider upgrading. It could also introduce "no-burn notices" that give councils the power to block people from using their stoves on days when air quality is particularly low. 

Michael Gove, Environment Secretary, said "strong, urgent action" is needed to reduce harmful emissions and improve the air we breath.

 "The evidence is clear," he said. "While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life.

Wood- and coal-burning stoves currently account for 38 per cent of particulate matter air pollution, which the Government plans to reduce 30 per cent in total by 2030. 

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But what do the new rules mean for current, or would-be, wood-burner owners?

"The message we're putting out, with the the Government, is burn the right wood on the right appliance," says Dennis Milligan, from the Stove Industry Alliance. "Then, there'll be a progressive improvement in emissions." 

Here's a quick guide to owning a wood-burner under the new guidelines. 

Buy an environmental stove 

The Government has introduced a certification for stoves that meet green standards. These appliances, soon to be the only available in stores, are labelled with an "ecodesign" sticker and have improved air circulation that burns more cleanly. 

As well as looking for this sticker, check the efficiency rating and emissions level on your stove. If you live in a smoke-controlled area, like London, the only stoves you can legally buy are DEFRA-approved smoke exempt ones, which have been tested for emission levels during all stages of normal operation.

All of the main stove manufacturers now make all of their stoves green, according to Milligan. Some brands to look out for are Stovax, Charlton & JenrickCharnwood, and Jøtul

Wood-burning stoves are still cleaner than open fires Credit: Steve Mansfield-Devine 

Upgrade to an eco-friendly model  

"If your stove is 10 years old or more, you should seriously think about replacing it," says Milligan.

Stoves available on the market now release 90 per cent fewer emissions than open fires and 80 per cent fewer than the stoves of 10 years ago, he adds. Newly designed stoves are also 80 per cent efficient, increased from 60 per cent in 2008, meaning new owners get more heat for their money. 

Unfortunately, it is difficult to make older stoves cleaner, according to Milligan: "You can retrofit filters, but they're very expensive and not really proven technology." 

Install a filter

Electrostatic filters can cut emissions of fine particles by up to 92 per cent, according to recent research. Filters such as the Poujoulat Top Clean (poujoulat.co.uk) ionise particulates to attract them to the flue wall. Rather than escaping into the atmosphere, they stay in the flue and can be swept away when you clean the chimney.  

Burn dry wood 

There are a couple of measures you can take if you already own a stove to make wood-burning more environmentally friendly. 

"The best thing to do if you have a stove is to ensure you're burning dry wood," says Milligan. "It will cut the emissions and give you more heat." 

Garage forecourts, garden centres and DIY stores have started selling Government-approved "ready-to-burn" wood, which contains just 20 per cent moisture. Soon, this could be the only wood available.

Wood should be left to dry for two years before going on the stove  Credit: Doris Beling 

For those who burn wood they have chopped themselves, Milligan recommends letting it dry for two years before putting it on the stove. 

"If you cut a tree down today it will be around 60 per cent moisture," he says. 

To get to a point where it is safe to burn, Milligan says cover the wood and leave the sides open, so the wind can dry it, then wait for around two years.  

Regularly sweep your chimney 

Clearing chimneys of soot can help make the smoke that leaves houses cleaner – not to mention help prevent the 7,000 chimney fires that ignite every year in England

"We would recommend getting your chimney swept at least once, if not twice, a year," says Milligan. "Certainly clean it before the start of the heating season. Some sweeps say up to four times a year, but that's not always necessary." 

And as chimney sweeps operate independently from stove makers, they are often a good source of advice on the best stoves to buy and how to make those already-owned more environmentally friendly.