Wood burners and open fires

Open fires and wood-burning stoves have risen in popularity over recent years. This means we now see more smoke from chimneys which has a negative effect on air quality. This can cause breathing problems such as asthma attacks and contribute to other health conditions, both in the home where the stove is located and in the local environment, particularly in built-up areas where there is a concentration of burning. 

Home heating

85% of UK households use natural gas for home heating.   Using coal and other mineral solid fuels for home heating will usually result in higher emissions of both local air pollutants (such as particles and sulphur dioxide) and carbon dioxide (the greenhouse gas) than an equivalent natural gas fired system, and therefore coal fired heating will normally have a higher environmental impact than gas.

Emissions of local air pollution from a modern wood fuelled appliance are, however, usually higher than those of an equivalent gas fired appliance. The environmentally friendly choice therefore really depends upon where you live. If you live in a rural area where the air is relatively clean a wood fuelled system may be the best option, whilst if you live in an urban area with poor air quality a gas-fired system may be the best choice environmentally.

With the declaration of climate emergencies we are likely to see major changes to home heating systems in the coming decade.  Fossil fuel heating systems are likely to be phased out, with no new installations of gas central heating in new housing for example.  So, if you are in the market for a new heating system, check out alternatives such as heat pumps.

How can I minimise harmful emissions when burning solid fuel?

To reduce the amount of pollutants produced from burning solid fuel, make sure you maintain your appliance adequately and ensure fuel is clean and dry. Burning of wet fuel, such as unseasoned wood, will mean that the fuel will burn at a lower temperature and will result in higher levels of emissions, including dioxins, furans, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particles, and nitrogen oxides. Burning contaminated fuel, such as painted or preserved wood, will also lead to higher emissions.

A practical guide

Consider burning less

Think about why you are lighting your fire, as well as how much fuel you use. Is it necessary? If your house is already warm enough and you don’t need to burn, not burning is the simplest way of reducing your costs and minimising your impact.

Using your stove correctly

If you are going to light a fire do you know how to get the best from your stove to minimise pollution, and save money and fuel?  The Burnright website includes a video guide to lighting your stove,  getting it up to the correct temperature and keeping it there so smoke is kept to a minimum.

If you’re still not sure ask your chimney sweep to take you through it.  After all burning cleanly will reduce tarry deposits in the flue, reducing the risk of chimney fires.

You can find lots more information here.

Buy ‘Ready to Burn’ fuel

If you want to burn immediately look for this logo as a guarantee of good quality dry wood.


Season freshly chopped wood before burning

Wet or unseasoned wood, often sold in nets, is cheaper to buy, but it needs to be seasoned (dried) before burning. Wet wood contains moisture which creates smoke and harmful particulates when burned. This can damage your stove and chimney. It also means you’re losing out on heat for your home.

 If you use house coal, use approved smokeless fuels instead

These produce less carbon and smoke compared to house coal when burned. They also provide more heat, so cost less money to heat your home.

DO NOT burn treated waste wood (eg old furniture)
or household rubbish

Treated waste wood can emit harmful fumes and household rubbish may include plastics that can release toxic pollutants, such as arsenic, into your home when burnt.

Regularly maintain and service your stove (eg annually)

This means it will work better and will generate more heat from what you burn. Always operate your stove in line with the manufacturer’s guidance and only burn permitted fuels.

Get your chimney swept regularly (up to twice a year)

During use particulates build up in the chimney reducing the efficiency and increasing the risk of chimney fires. It is better to use a qualified chimney sweep who will be able to advise you on good burning practices for your open fire or stove.

The ready to burn certification

The “Ready to Burn” label shows logs are ready for use as wood fuel. These logs burn more efficiently than unseasoned, green wood and reduce environmental impact.
Ready to Burn firewood has a moisture content less or equal to 20%; using it in place of wet wood fuel is proven to reduce the levels of emissions in the air we breathe. This is better for your appliance and chimney and reduces maintenance and fuel costs.

Why Dry, Clean Wood??

  • Dry, Ready to Burn wood/logs & briquettes
    make any appliance more efficient.
  • Burning dry wood instead of wet wood
    is part of the solution to reducing the
    impact on our environment.
  • Burning wet wood increases emissions
    and has a greater impact on air quality.
  • Any appliance and chimney system will
    suffer from smoke produced from wet
  • Burning waste and treated wood (e.g.
    old furniture) can emit harmful fumes.
    wood, which increases maintenance and
    repair requirements, making it harder for
    chimney sweeps to keep systems in
    safe, effective condition.

More information

The official Ready to Burn site  lists further benefits of switching to Ready to Burn wood fuel products. Ready to Burn is a Woodsure scheme which has a list of wood fuel producers who have achieved Ready to Burn status:

HETAS and DEFRA support the Ready to Burn Scheme.woodsure-RTB-logo