There is currently a great deal of publicity regarding wood burners and wood burning stoves which begs the question are wood burning stoves good or bad for the environment?
A log burner is seen as a sustainable heating method – it uses renewable energy rather than fossil fuel. But there’s concern that they emit harmful particulates into the air.
The truth is, it depends on what you put in them and how old your stove is.
Wood is a renewable energy source, not a fossil fuel. Wood is plentiful and an excellent environmental choice, especially if it comes from sustainably resourced FSC® (Forestry Stewardship Council) managed UK forests.
Burning wood is kinder to the environment than using gas or electricity. On average, wood produces 0.008kg of CO2 per kwh whereas gas produces 0.198kg and electricity produces 0.517kg. Wood is generally thought of as a carbon neutral fuel.
What about emissions?
Wood burning stoves produce fewer emissions than previously thought but do still contribute to particle pollution. New data from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has cut the estimated proportion of small particle pollution produced by wood burning stoves from 38 to 17%.
All forms of combustion produce emissions and the use of a wood burning stove is no exception. However, a correctly used and maintained, modern wood burning stove is a very low emission option.
Defra has just published the national statistics on emissions of air pollutants and UK National Air Pollution Control Programme (Feb 2023).
There was an an increase in burning wood for fuel by 124 per cent between 2011 and 2021, and a decrease in use of coal for domestic heating.
Bruce Allen, chief executive officer for Woodsure which runs its Ready to Burn scheme said: ‘Last year we saw an unprecedented demand for solid fuel as more people turned to it as a less expensive way to keep their homes warm.’
The main pollutant emitted by burning solid fuels, like wood, is ultra-fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. According to Defra, PM2.5 can penetrate the human respiratory system. The effects of short-term particle exposure include worsening of asthma symptoms.
Swapping an older stove that is 10-years-old or more for a new version will see an 80% reduction in particulate emissions and replacing an open fire achieves a 90% reduction.
Dry wood is essential. Wood fuel should be used in lengths appropriate to your stove, split and stacked in a dry place. It is important that you use the correct wood or briquette to ensure an effective and environmentally friendly burn. Ideally the wood fuel has a maximum moisture content of less than 20%.
Since May 2021, wood with a higher than 20% 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% moisture and labelled with the Ready to Burn wood logo.
There’s no denying that you can’t beat the warm and cosy ambience that a wood burning stove offers and they offer a cost-effective heating option – but make sure you know what you’re putting inside it!