Rural charm without the harm

Solid fuel stoves are gaining in popularity in urban areas, but do they contribute to pollution? Phil Lowe of Schiedel Chimney Systems tackles some misconceptions.

Despite the wide variety of heating systems available today, nothing quite compares to the distinct atmosphere and warm ambience created by a solid fuel stove.

Their timeless appeal is fostered by the simple fact that these appliances generate a different kind of heat, one which is more palpable than that produced by gas-fired, oil or electric heating. Offering a real semblance of rural charm in urban settings, stoves are becoming increasingly popular in such areas.

This popularity is further fuelled by the appliances’ contribution to minimising energy bills, since net solid fuel prices are lower and more stable than the cost of electricity, oil heating or natural gas. Securing lower energy bills would in addition mean a property equipped with a stove could benefit from higher market value.

All this has contributed to tackling the scepticism towards certain types of solid fuel stoves. As demonstrated by the findings of a 2016 government survey, the use of wood as a heating fuel has risen three times higher than previously estimated. The ‘Domestic Wood Use Survey’ revealed that 52 per cent of woodburning appliances are stoves, and 40 per cent are open fires. The average weekly usage for a woodburning stove is 27 hours, down to seven hours in London.

The survey also showed that an astonishing 70 per cent of woodburning appliances in London are open fires – the worst way to burn wood because of the material’s low heat generation and high CO2 and particulate emissions.

Myth busting

These figures help to explain the background behind potential concerns around using solid fuel stoves in urban areas. Since the Great Smog of 65 years ago, there has been strong emphasis placed on air quality and stoves are seen as likely culprits to urban air pollution, particularly in the form of particulate matter.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Although smoke from woodburning is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles, these are produced by incomplete burning. Modern clean-burning stoves can cut emissions by up to up to 90 per cent and generate 14 per cent less CO2 than burning wood in an open fire. In fact, it has been estimated that the smoke escaping through London’s chimneys contributes just a small proportion – around five per cent – of the city’s particle pollution over the course of one year.

Modern wood burners, in particular, are considered by many to be a ‘green’ option because they are a form of renewable energy, and can be highly efficient.

The Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) reckons that by 2020 wood heating could contribute to the Government’s carbon reduction targets by10 per cent, with the potential to produce 25 per cent of the domestic renewable heat energy target.

Exemptions

As so often, there are some caveats. For example, if your client opts for a solid fuel stove in a smoke-controlled area, then you must specify one of the exempt appliances on the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) approved list. There are different exemptions in force across the UK, so it is essential to consult the DEFRA website for more information; fuels are also authorised separately in the different countries.

However, all this is a small price to pay for the benefits that solid fuel heating brings. Wood, incidentally, is not a smokeless fuel, but when burnt in a DEFRA-exempt stove, it meets the Department’s air quality requirements.

Smoke control

Smoke control areas are designed to protect people from poor air quality. They are commonly used in urban areas to combat the negative health effects of chimney smoke.

Following the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1956, local authorities were able to declare smoke control areas within their boundaries to control the emission of smoke, dust and fumes from residential and industrial properties in urban areas. Today, many large towns and cities are located in smoke control areas.

It’s an offence – punishable by fines of up to £1000 – to use unauthorised fuel in a smoke control area unless it’s used in an ‘exempt’ appliance. The most recent Clean Air Act, which dates back to 1993, contains specific legislation to address legal requirements such as the height of chimneys on trade and industrial premises, the operation of furnaces, problems caused by dark smoke, and the use of authorised fuels.

Phil Lowe is a training manager for Schiedel Chimney Systems