Wood burning stoves (the new rules you need to know)

If you thought that wood burning stoves were an eco-friendly way to heat your home, you may need to think again as concerns about their emissions have led to new regulations.

We explain:

  • The background to the new rules
  • Options for buying a new stove
  • Marks and logos to look out for
  • Tips for buying and operating a new wood burner
  • The future for log burning stoves

Dive in to find out the facts!

Wood burning stoves offer warmth and character.

Background to the new rules about wood burning stoves

It can be very difficult to keep up with the environmental agenda. Not so long ago, wood burning stoves seemed to offer a low carbon, environmentally friendly way to heat a home. However, next we hear that the particulates they produce during the burning process affect air quality, leading to doubts about their future. But fear not: if you love the idea of an atmospheric, comforting wood burning stove in your home, technology appears to be keeping them firmly on the middle-class wish list.

Wood burning stoves have risen massively in popularity over recent years; they are desirable because they provide warmth, give character to a room and can be relatively carbon neutral and sustainable in comparison to fossil fuels such as oil and coal. However, while UK air quality has been improving over the last few decades, progress has slowed; emissions from homes have risen while emissions from other sources, such as transport and industry, have decreased.

Changing times

Unfortunately, according to the government’s Clean Air Strategy, the popularity of wood burning stoves has made them the single biggest source of particulate matter air pollution in the UK – the most damaging pollutant to human health. This equates to 38% of the UK’s air pollution, but the figure is challenged by the Stove Industry Alliance (SIA) and the Heating Equipment Testing and Approvals Scheme (HETAS): HETAS believes that the figure is inaccurate as it includes other types of unregulated burning.

All this leads to confusion for potential stove buyers.

There is no plan afoot to ban log burners, but from January 1st, 2022, all wood burning and multi fuel stoves were required to meet Ecodesign standards for solid fuel heating appliances to ensure that only the cleanest stoves are now sold in the UK. The move is part of the government’s Clean Air Strategy and aim of reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. Now, only verified stoves are being sold; compliant stoves will carry SIA approved Ecodesign Ready Stove quality assurance certification.  

The options when buying a wood burning stove now

Ecodesign stoves

The Ecodesign mark means that a stove has been independently tested by an approved laboratory and meets requirements on air quality and particulate emissions in EU regulations. Stoves are tested on five points: seasonal efficiency (assessed over a year); levels of nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and organic gaseous compounds produced by burning fuel. A properly installed and maintained Ecodesign stove, used with good quality dry wood, is a low carbon heating method using renewable and sustainable fuel. 

Stove models compliant with the Ecodesign Regulation requirements for emissions and efficiency that came into force on January 1, have been available since 2017, when the government announced new regulations and the SIA introduced the Edodesign Ready scheme. In 2017, Ecodesign compliant stove models made up around 20% of total sales, while at the end of 2021, this figure was 80% (based on latest figures from SIA members which represent 80% of all UK stove manufacturers).

Ecodesign stoves meet stringent criteria and are clean air approved. Taking into account seasonal variation, Ecodesign stoves must demonstrate a minimum seasonal efficiency of 65%. They burn wood more completely, and the burning method reduces particulate emissions by 90% compared to an open fire, or by 80% for stoves which are 5-10 years old.

Defra-exempt stoves

A Defra-exempt stove is needed if you live in a smoke free zone where only smokeless fuels are allowed to be burnt; they will reduce emissions and minimise soot build up, keeping the flue clearer, allowing gas to escape easily. According to The Clean Air Act, wood cannot be burnt in certain areas unless approved appliances are used to the approved emission level.

A log burner pumping out heat.

Marks and logos to look for

clearSkies Mark

This is the highest kitemark and is an independent UK certification scheme for wood burning stoves based on emissions and energy performance. It was initiated by the SIA in conjunction with its own members, chimney system makers, testing laboratories and biomass technicians in a bid to protect air quality. clearSkies certified stoves have low emissions and offer high efficiency, while being low carbon and environmentally friendly. clearSkies certification at Level 3 and above offers futureproofing as it meets or exceeds the emissions and efficiency requirements of the Ecodesign legislation that became law in January 2022.

Appliances with clearSkies level 3 and above certification can legally burn wood in a Smoke Control Area. clearSkies stoves are independently assessed for emissions and energy performance; they are rated from 2-5; stoves above level 3 are also Defra approved and Ecodesign Ready. The clearSkies certification may supercede Ecodesign Ready stoves as they combine verification of Ecodesign and Defra exemption in one mark.

Eco Label

This indicates that an appliance meets the requirements of the Ecodesign Regulation for solid fuel local space heaters. A manufacturer can self-declare this providing they have the test results as evidence. Eco labels carry ratings from A++ to G, which indicate the amount of energy used to generate heat. The labels clarify which stoves can use less fuel to produce the same amount of heat, for example, an Eco ready stove will use fewer logs.

Hetas Ecodesign Compliant

Hetas has a list of log burners and multi fuel stoves assessed to qualify for its `Hetas Ecodesign Compliant’ logo.

Tips for buying and operating a wood burning stove

  • If, after absorbing all this complicated guidance, you are still keen to buy a wood burning stove for your home, look for models bearing the Eco label and choose one with an energy efficiency of 80% or more.
  • Find out if you are in a smoke control area; if so, you will need to buy a clearSkies Level 3 or above stove which has been verified as Defra approved, as well as meeting requirements for Ecodesign.
  • Ensure the stove holds the SIA approved logo making it compliant.
  • Measure your room to ensure you buy the right size of wood burner to heat it effectively; also consider whether the room is double glazed, insulated, and the age of the property.
  • Use a qualified fitter to install your new stove and make sure it will work correctly, ensuring minimum emissions and maximum heat output. Any changes made to an existing chimney constitute building work and UK Building Regulations must be adhered to.
  • Only burn approved fuels: wet logs and coal produce more particulate matter than dry wood.
  • Get the chimney swept at least annually and ensure that the log burner is serviced each year to check for cracks and other problems.
  • Buy a stove thermometer to monitor its temperature, which should ideally be between 200 degrees C and 250 degrees C.
  • If your stove is 10 years old or older, and therefore not Ecodesign compliant, consider an upgrade which would reduce fuel costs and emissions. If you are upgrading a stove, some makers and retailers offer incentives and may offer trade-in deals.
  • If you are throwing out a stove, investigate recycling it through a registered waste disposal company or your local recycling centre.
Dry wood must be used in a log burner; wet logs create smoke and harmful particulates.

Use the right type of logs

You must buy the correct wood for your stove: it must be dry (kiln dried logs are ideal), with a moisture content of less than 20%. To find out, use a moisture meter. Buy wood with the `Ready to Burn’ label, which applies to suppliers who can prove their logs have a moisture content of less than 20%. When wet wood burns it creates more smoke and harmful particulates of air pollution than dry wood. In 2021 the government banned the sale of wet wood measuring under 2 cubic metres. Larger units of wet wood must be sold with advice on drying it before burning. Store wood under cover in your log store until it has a maximum 20% moisture content.

How much do wood burning stoves cost?

Ecodesign Ready models cost from £550 upwards, plus installation costs, which can be high, especially if improvements are needed to the existing chimney and flue: for advice contact HETAS.

The future for wood burning stoves

Erica Malkin, communications manager for the SIA, said:

Overall sales have seen a small peak in the last two years with 2020 being the year of lockdown which prompted people to invest in their homes, and 2021 being the year of growing awareness of energy price rises.

Continual improvement

The industry can and is staying well ahead of increasing legislation on particulate matter emissions and is committed to the continual improvement of appliance technology. In 2020 a new appliance certification scheme, clearSkies, was launched. All stoves bearing the clearSkies mark (Levels 2 & 3) have been independently certified (through the verification of test results) as meeting Ecodesign. A clearSkies Level 3 mark also means the stove is Defra exempt for use in a smoke control area, and those stoves that achieve clearSkies Level 4 or Level 5, have even lower emissions and even further improved efficiency than the levels required under Ecodesign (and are Defra exempt.)

The clearSkies scheme is open to all manufacturers and there are already well over 300 stoves on the product listing, with many more applications for certification being processed. The clearSkies scheme has been welcomed by government and local authorities.”

Ms Malkin added that wood burning stoves are a vital part of the heating energy mix.

A modern wood burning stove costs about a third of the price of electric heating and approximately 13% less than gas central heating for the average household under the current price cap. These savings are set to rise even further in April when the energy price cap increase is introduced.

Low carbon benefits and savings on energy bills

As well as offering protection against spiralling energy prices, a modern wood burning stove is not grid dependent and can therefore be used in the event of a power cut. Stoves complying with the requirements of the Ecodesign Regulation, such as a clearSkies certified model, emit up to 90% less particulate emissions than an open fire and will use approximately a quarter of the amount of wood fuel compared to an open fire to give the same amount of heat.

This cost effectiveness, combined with wood fuel’s renewable and sustainable credentials, and the ability to source fuel locally, helps to further reduce the carbon intensity of home heating and means responsible wood burning has a clear role to pay in our low carbon future.”

The Dik Geurts DG Ivar 5 wood burning stove, priced at £1,350 including VAT.

Julian Patrick, managing director of Stovefitter’s Warehouse, which supplies and installs wood burning stoves, believes that the rules about more eco-friendly designs have increased customer confidence and boosted the whole market – which he says is booming.

And on the question of whether the industry can stay ahead of any further legislation on air pollution and provide assurance to potential customers, he said:

Although there was bad press in 2019, it did lead to the actual facts emerging, albeit a couple of years later: open fires, traffic and commercial operations cause the vast majority of air pollution and not modern wood burning stoves, which are an easy target. Every open fire changed to a modern wood burning stove is a step towards a cleaner future for all.

The industry has already moved to comply with the latest standards and very few non Ecodesign stoves are available for sale from major retailers. As a retailer, we have already switched to all new Ecodesign Ready models. This is the very latest legislation that took many years to prepare for and come to fruition, and as an industry we do not see any further changes in the pipeline.

The many benefits include lower heating bills

Mr Patrick added that wood burners are an important alternative heat source in view of the rising cost of gas and electricity.

One might also look at a wood burner as running alongside other heating sources. Having said this, my wife and I have a well-insulated house and never use the central heating. We just use one wood stove for a few hours each evening and it is enough. At weekends, we might run the stove in the day for a few hours as well.

People often congregate in one room of the house in the evening yet heat the whole house with central heating, which leads to energy being wasted. There is also a lot of free fuel about if one is a bit canny. Builders or householders are often very happy if you take waste wood from house renovations away. The last few nights I have heated my house using two untreated pallets I discovered on my street. I chopped them up using a mini-chainsaw and it took just minutes of my time. I do this because I get a buzz out of heating my home for free – but for some folks, who cannot afford these high energy prices, it might be the difference between misery and happiness. In the countryside, it can be even easier with fallen branches and trees providing free fuel; just chat nicely to the landowner.”

Did I miss anything?

Maybe I didn’t mention something you think is important about wood burning stoves.

Let me know by leaving a comment.

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